This week’s guest post is from Lhasa Hetherington, a Pint Size Pilot reader, blogging while on a European adventure with her husband and two young boys. Happy travels Lhasa !
We are in The Netherlands right now on a home swap. If you have ever considered one, or have been on the fence about them, get off that fence. They are amazing! We found a beautiful house that was perfect for our family. Our swap included a car, a house full of all the toys and baby stuff we needed, bikes, and even a trampoline in the back yard. Having a swell home base has made everything seem easy!
We ended up in a little town called Uitgeest, which is 1/2 an hour north of Amsterdam. Of course we had never heard of Uitgeest prior to the swap (who has?), so we didn’t know what to expect at all. I mean, you can only get so far on Google Street View. It is an understatement to say all of our expectations were blown out of the water (in a really great way).
Our kids are five and almost one, and this is has been one of our easiest trips. Most people speak English, everywhere we have visited has been clean and tidy, and we have always felt perfectly safe. There has been enough to do so as not to be bored, but we have never felt overwhelmed.
We have really gotten into The Netherlandish way of getting around – bikes! Everyday we have hopped on our bikes and peddled around. It is completely flat here, bikes are everywhere and bike lanes and paths snake through the countryside. In a 10 minute bike ride you can tour through lush farmland dotted with cows, sheep, horses and of course windmills, through city green spaces, and end up in a little town relaxing with a coffee and a treat for the kids. Let it be known that at home we are not bike people…but here it is just so easy and so beautiful that it has made us bike converts (at least in Holland). Hudson, our eldest, is now a bike master….he can go on rides that are over an hour long. Our youngest, Hank, sat in a bike seat up on our handlebars (that our home swap people borrowed for us). It is truly an amazing and relaxing way to get around.
The towns are so close together that it makes for easy exploring (either by bike, car, or train). Every town has its own feel. Some have great shopping, others amazing museums and galleries…with almost all having a playground or large green space where you can run the kiddies out. All have a charming vibe well worth checking out, with their cobbled narrow streets, twisty canals, big old church, old brick buildings built on top of one another, and great eats . Fortunately most are also easy to navigate (even we could do it!).
Here are a few of our favourite day trip suggestions, keeping in mind that a day trip for us is usually under four hours (when will I not be a slave to nap schedule’s??), includes some eating, a kid thing, and a bit of window shopping for me.
Alkmaar is a little town ten minutes away from Uitgeest…40 minutes from Amsterdam. Our guide book did not talk this town up, so we were not expecting anything special. But it is one of those quintessential medieval towns that evokes a deep feeling of history. When you stand in the main square with the church towering over you, and the canals twisting away from you, you can imagine village life a thousand years ago. I always think of hustle and bustle of a market with peasants shouting and bartering, or battles and bloodshed. Macabre, right? But it is really spectacular there.
Shop: All of the narrow cobbled streets are dotted with neat little shops (which your kids won’t care about, but they will like the feel of the town and the French fry stand). There is a more commercial shopping strip as well with all the big name stores.
Eat: We had a few great meals. Abby’s Restaurant sits under a windmill. It’s a bit pricy, but really good. They have high chairs and a kids menu. Another great place in the main square is Mojo’s, both times we ate there the food was delicious. You could have lunch or just a coffee break at Echt Almaar. There is a really clean and sweet play area and the food is tasty. Home made cushy spelt bread sandwiches and delicious treats.
Play: We took a canal tour with the company Grachtenrondvaart Alkmaar, which was amazingly fun! Some of the bridges you go under are only inches high so you have to duck WAY down.
Haarlem & Spaarndam:
Haarlem is closer to Amsterdam and is bigger then Alkmaar and maybe not as touristy. It has a big main square surrounded by shops and restaurants, but if you wander outside of this main tourist area just by a few blocks, you will find some neat areas.
Shop: Shopping here is a little more upscale then Alkmaar. Nice boutiques and a lot of shoe stores. There is one street that has a ton of second hand furniture shops filled with amazing mid century modern finds.
Eat: For eats here we went to Meener Paprika. It is one of those amazing dutch eateries that has a play area attached. Good food and friendly service, but most importantly the kids were occupied and happy! We also managed to stuff some fries in us. Seek out Freithoes and you will not be disappointed.
Play: From here we drove up to Spaarndam, just a few minutes outside of Haarlem. This is a sweet small village. We had a latte on the canal. The main area is car free (most towns share this), so Hudson could wander a bit. We then came across THE BEST playground. Built into the side of a hill it has a ton of climbing structures for all levels, and a huge long rainbow slide. There is an area for little babes too.
Shop: Of course there are a few shops here as well (grocery stores, toys store, butcher, fish shop, bakery, and a Hema. Hema is a Dutch department store that has low prices and clever design. It’s sort of like the superstore- if you are familiar with that. The one in Uitgeest is tiny…but none-the-less I LOVE Hema!!
Eat: There are a few restaurants in the main town…or grab some goodies from the grocery store and have a picnic!
Play: Right in our village is an outdoor swimming pool with a giant grassy area. You can set up shop and stay all day, people watching, picnicking, and swimming. There is a wading pool for the babes, and a couple of bigger pools for those that can swim. Also in Uitgeest is a bowling ally and a big indoor play area called Monkey Town (this is really worth it, it’s insanely cool & of course they serve food, coffees, wine and have wifi), as well as a big outdoor playground. Hudson even made some friends. I guess they just need the language of play.
The ocean is close as well (see, they have it all). The Netherlands is surrounded by the North Sea, which Hudson found compelling. He loves his geography! There is a really neat campground called Gasterji De Kruisberg, just outside of Castricum, that has walking/biking trails as well as a restaurant with huge outdoor play area. We spent a few lazy afternoons here. The sandwiches were good and cheap!! Or you can go to Bergen Zee, outside of Bergen. Bergen is good for an eat and shop too!
To read more about our journeys through The Netherlands, Paris and London, check out my blog. 2guysandus.blogspot.com
note: Lhasa told me that she used homeexchange.com for her house swap.