Friday, December 30, 2016

Vacation stop #5: Maastricht

We only had the idea to drive to Maastricht the day before. First we simply thought to go home early on Friday.
When I just met Jan, he was shocked to hear I had never been in Maastricht. He had been so often so it seemed unreal that I had not done so but Maastricht is quite a long drive from where I grew up  (although we drove each year to Germany which was further).  He concluded right away that we should go and I agreed.   15 years later, we've been to so many places everywhere...but I still had not been in Maastricht.

We had driven closeby on our way to Dusseldorf but the idea really only popped our mind on our way to Eindhoven. And so I finally arrived in the city at the borders of the Maas.

We parked in a parking lot near an old city wall aligned with canons and I loved this city already. The contrast with Eindhoven couldn't be bigger.  We strolled through narrow streets with small design stores that Kabouter wanted to see (much to my amusement).

We visited the Christmas market where Kabouter and Jan visited Santa's house and Beertje and I took some selfie's outside.  We shopped for books in the former Dominican church, had lunch and walked around a bit more. A very pleasant last day of our 5-day road trip, and a city to return to.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Vacation stop #4: Eindhoven

I must admit: Eindhoven didn't bring any image or thought to my mind when Jan suggested it as a vacation stop. He had been there often for work, even just the week before on an event but it was totally unknown to me.  I knew Sofinesse had been there on a weekend but her shopping didn't make me excited to go.   I googled a bit, found some museums like the Van Abbe museum that seemed nice to visit but I couldn't figure out online how toddler friendly they are. All museums claim to be child friendly online and they all have child activities, but usually those are suitable for 7-10 year olds.

But we had once again found a nice hotel with pool and in worst case we'd coccoon together in our room which had been quite pleasant so far.  

We decided to check out the Philips museum: after all Eindhoven = Philips and Philips = Eindhoven. (Hey, I just discovered that PSV = Philips Sport Vereniging. How many of my readers knew that?). The museum was a fun trip into the past: so many devices that we know from growing up or from our grandparents homes. Most of them had become completely obsolete.  Old tv sets, radio's, shavers, juicers, cassette tape recorders, mixers, walk men's, ... Their designs that were so recognisable and have shaped our rooms.  We had a lot of explaining to do to Kabouter and he couldn't grasp it all. In a way it seemed a bit sad: the list of innovations per decade were so impressive and Philips seemed to have had a huge impact on our lives with all of our consumer goods. But the consumer goods display stopped with the Senseo machine in 2001 and one sort of daylight lamp out of 2010 that I had never seen before.  2 items in 16 years.  Clearly they are not playing a leading innovative role in our consumer lives anymore.

But that's not their strategy anymore either: they've sold their tv and several other consumer divisions and last parts of the expositions was about sensors, big data, medical equipment etc.   Their focus simply isn't so visible anymore to us. They had a very cute child MRI scanner that Kabouter and Beertje loved and played with for a long time.  This scanner is part of a program that is used in hospitals to put their little patients at ease (and have better scans as result).   The kid's MRI allows you to scan (your) toys and the results are shown in little fun movies. This way the children get to know the machine in a fun way and are relax when they go in it themselves. 

Afterwards we walked through the city but I didn't click with Eindhoven.  Similarly to Rotterdam which also got bombed in the 2nd world war (Eindhoven = Philips remember and Philips was war critical) there is no historic city center anymore.   There's some modern fun buildings but the majority of the office and residential buildings were boring.  I miss character in new cities. For the same reason I have difficulty to love the (modern parts of) north-American cities.  I simply need history to enjoy a city.  And I couldn't care less for the shops. Any city has shops.  I didn't need to buy stuff.

Fortunately we found a tiny Christmas market on our way back where Kabouter fished himself a Thomas the train set.  Score! So we hurried back to our room to go swimming and to play on the bed. 

Vacation stop 3: Noordwijk aan zee

Vacation day 3 was only a short drive from Utrecht to the Dutch coast on a predicted grey and a bit rainy day.

Before the anticipated rain would come, we took a walk along the beach in the icy strong wind.  We were almost the only ones out there.   There were a remarkably high number of catering businesses for sale but we could warm up in one of the rare businesses at the beach that were still open.

Afterwards, while it stayed dry, we checked out the beach town of Noordwijk, which was filled with boring uncharacteristic blocks that are is so common in Dutch and Belgian beach cities.  A rare historic farm house that has remained and is now part of a museum was a refreshing sight among the rest.  We checked out some stereotypic stores and then decided we had had enough fresh air for the day.

For the remainder of the afternoon, we enjoyed the pool in the hotel and the kid's play room. The kids played and played until we were certain they'd drop asleep any moment. Beertje sure didn't want to let his young age count and tried to match his older brother into the playground. Wow, he'll become a handfull later on !
We were pleasantly surprised by how child-friendly this hotel was. Unlike other Radisson Blu's that we often visit, it didn't have a modern look and feel, but the services won us over.  We had checked in a very big (business) room where we got spoiled by not only 2 baby beds in a separate part of the room, but also by 2 changing pillows and 2 diaper bins.  That's the first time in all of our travels with the kids that we received such a thing.  We believe we'll come back here for a long weekend in spring or so, just before the summer top season would start.

We finished the day with a nice dinner in a restaurant across the street, near the hotel where I had been before on a congress with my previous job.   As anticipated, Beertje didn't last awake until the end of the dinner. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Vacation stop 2: Miffy's house in Utrecht

In Utrecht we arrived in a familiar hotel where Jan had spent countless nights before when his offices were still nearby a few years ago. I sometimes visited him over there when I was still working in Amsterdam.  The room was rather cramped with 2 extra baby beds, which was fine for just one evening.

The city is nice but somehow I can't get a vacation feeling in a city where I have mostly work related memories. Utrecht seems nice, but can't tip to Amsterdam or The Hague.   But it was the first time I got to see the impressive Dom tower.

But we came with a special mission to Utrecht: we'd visit Miffy's House (or Nijntje, as Kabouter and Beertje know her).  Jan and Kabouter studied in depth the map to know how to walk there and then off we went. 

Het Nijntje Museum (Miffy's house) was an absolute fun revelation. I assumed it would be fun for the kids but had no clue what it would really be like.  But it was a great 2-story museum with rooms like "Miffy's house", Bruna's atelier, rooms themed the museum, traffic, the doctor, the zoo, ... It's probably one of the rare museums that is totally aimed at toddlers.  Everything was in the big clear minimalistic forms and a limited number of bright recurring colors which is typical for the Miffy's books by Bruna.  All materials were soft, forms big, even Beertje could simply crawl around and explore at his rhythm while Kabouter could run around and fulfill the assignments right for his age.  He could create art with magnets, crawl through a zoo maze, make a christmas decoration, play in Miffy's house, ...
The most popular room where we spent most of the time was the traffic room.   He could ride a bus, control the barriers for a train crossing (and cross the train), he could dress up, he could test ski's and watch traffic movies and game assignments.

It was so much fun to observe both kids and as a result I had a lot of fun myself.

Miffy's house

Art by Bruna

Kabouter the train conductor

In order to allow sufficient room to play, they only allow 180 -200 people inside per timeslot of 90 minutes.  So it's best to reserve tickets for a timeslot beforehand to avoid disappointments. While we are typing I see on their website they are sold out for the rest of the Christmas vacation.
E-tickets are cheaper and funny enough the kid's tickets (age 2 - 7,5 years ) are the most expensive: 7,5€ while we paid 2,5€ as an adult.

Our timeslot was from 15h to 16h30.   Combined with a little visit to the gift shop, we were in time for the animation film that gets projected on the entrance of the closed museum after 17h. We stood there out in the dark on the sidewalk, together with some more people that just left the museum, as well as Dutch parents that biked by with one of their children and that stopped for a while to have a look.