Keukenhof Gardens – After Over 20 Years Waiting – I finally visited!

TWENTY ONE YEARS AGO – August 1999 an American girl who never left the country (well except for many trips to Montreal, Canada) left for a two-week trip to Europe with her Dutch boyfriend. As I only had 14 vacation days, we planned to spend a a week in the Netherlands and and then a week on Ibiza. When we arrived in the Netherlands, I was so excited to visit the Keukenhof Gardens and see the tulip fields but I was quickly informed that that was a seasonal thing and that I would have to wait and return another time. Disappointed we headed to the Zaanse Schans instead to be tourists – check out this photo! It’s been now 21 years that I’ve waited to visit – and now I finally visited and it was AMAZING! I’m convinced my experience now was better than it would have been had I been in the past – I’ll elaborate why below.

HOW WE VISITED THE GARDENS AS A TEST EVENT

Typically this time of year the Keukenhof would be open for eight weeks late March to early May and millions of tourists from around the world would be jamming the roads and walking around admiring the 7 millions flowers meticulously planted and maintained at the world-famous gardens. But with the corona pandemic it was forced to remain closed for the second year in a row.

FACT: Keukenhof is not the world’s largest garden – that is actually Dubai’s Miracle Garden which looks spectacular too.

However, the gardens have been allowed by the Dutch government to participate in a trial to test how locations could be safely opened during the corona pandemic. They are also doing trials at museums, theatres, parks and zoos. They are allowing 5,000 visitors a day to enjoy the flower park on a two weekends in April and how lucky was I that I was able to enjoy it this way!?  Of course, all applicable corona measures such as the 1.5 metre distance rule apply in the park. The restaurants were closed but takeaway food & drink options were available.

When you see my photos, you’ll won’t see that many people which is one thing I LOVED about this experience. Friends even made comments about this how they had visited in the past and not a photo didn’t have tons of people in them. They limited the number of visitors to 5,000 in one day between 8 am and 7:30 pm. Previously, on normal days they can receive 50,000 in one day!

Also the main difference with normal opening days is that anyone who wants to visit Keukenhof during the trial days must have a negative corona test that is not older than 40 hours upon entering the park. The corona test is free of charge and must be taken at one of the 100 special corona test facilities. There is also a test site close to the entrance of Keukenhof. The one location which is in Noord Brabant, closest to my house, is is the middle of nowhere so without a car, it would require a long bike ride on Friday evening and that wasn’t in my ideal plans. I don’t mind the bike ride as that is my main method of transport but I chose to get mine done in Rotterdam’s Ahoy – which is the home of this year’s Eurovision Song Festival so it was set up perfectly.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH MY FIRST COVID TEST

I personally have not yet had to take a test. My kids both took one and I was there with them so witnessed first-hand that long swap and dreaded the thought of having it done to myself. But going to the Keukenhof was well-worth the test so I knew it was time for me to “put on my big girl pants” and just do it. Yet it wasn’t without some anxiety the days before. Looking back it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Would I like to do it again no, would I do it again just to visit the movies… no unless the new Top Gun was playing on the big screen. The worker was wonderful – the instructions were 100% in Dutch but easy to follow. And as it was a “sneltest” we had our results emailed to us before we even got back to my friends’ apartment. Both our results NEGATIVE – as expected! You then put your code into a special Corona Check app on your smartphone which you would be required to show before entry into the Keukenhoff. We were not allowed to take photos inside but I took a few photos of the waiting area, etc.

When you arrive at the park you have your QR code scanned proving your are negative and then you can scan your tickets, enter and enjoy!! We arrived for our slot which was between 10 am and 11 am. When we booked, the earlier slots were already sold out. So at 9:50 am, we parked right in front of the entrance and had to queue for about 1 minute. We wore out face masks in line but apart from that one time and then when you are in the toilets or inside the one open indoor exhibition area, you are free to remove them in the park. Tip: For furture visitor, if you want to beat the crowds you should know that Keukenhof is less busy before 10:30 a.m. and after 4:00 p.m. When we left just before 1 pm, the parking lot was very full and there was a line to get in.

Here is my first photo – I was finally inside, we set off to explore.

FUN FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY

Keukenhof is a great outing for the entire family. While didn’t take my two kids this year, there were tons of kids there. The garden has a petting zoo, has scavenger hunts, a maze, playgrounds for both small and big kids. There is a prominent presence of Nientje, the beloved bunny, created by the late Dick Bruna, is on display throughout Keukenhof. I think the kids would love walking over the stones and even taking their shoes off and walking in the water on the stepping stones and eating poffertjes!

VISIT THE NEARBY BULB FIELDS & AREA BEACHES

As you have read, I was a HUGE fan of the Keukenhof, but I’m also a huge fan of the nearby tulip fields. In the past years you could buy a ticket for a whisper boat tour through the fields

The entire region is called the Bollenstreek and you can read all about it on the following website – see maps, info on our & bike rentals, etc. Many people were out on rented bikes and electric scooters taking in the sites, standing in the fields and taking photos. Of course, we had to join one time for some photos. A bit windy but had to do it once. While I live in the Netherlands, going to the flower fields is not a common thing for me so why not do it.

Afterwards we drove over to the seaside specifically Langevelderslag in Noordwijk where one could spend hours walking in the dunes or playing on Longfield Beach. The area with the beach cafes and Natuurspeeltuin NederzandT, was only open for takeaway but was packed with people, like us, out enjoying the sunshine. We had brought some 0.0% beers which we fully enjoyed in the sunshine on a bench mostly out of the wind. Then a short drive by Noordwijk Beach to see what it was like. It is far more built up than Katwijk but a lovely area nonetheless. As I love the sea, I know I’d enjoy a holiday there. Again as it was VERY windy, we didn’t walk the beach. It’s also worth noting that the city of Leidin is also nearby, so you could combine a visit there the same day. I’d say you would stay at max of 4 hours at the Keukenhof and feel you’e had seen enough.

BRING HOME SOME FRESH FLOWERS

You can take home fresh flowers from one of the many local stands in the area. We stopped to adjust our navigation and coincidentally we saw a farmer selling freshly cut bunches of tulips out the back of his farm and at €1 a bunch, I bought 5 bunches! I always love having fresh flowers around my home especially tulips this time of year!

VISIT VIRTUALLY

Last year 22 million people visited the garden virtually. So while I know most of you reading this would have liked to go see the 7 million flowers too, it’s worth mentioning they do a great job on their socials. So for those of you who want to see what Keukenhof looks like at the moment can see this via @keukenhof on Facebook and Instagram, and take virtual tours on YouTube or visit www.keukenhof.nl

WOULD I GO BACK?

Absolutely, but… ONLY if I had an out of town friend or family in visiting (during the right time of year) but I would not find myself returning each year. I was TOTALLY spoiled this year with the opportunity to attend this test day – limited people, amazing weather, an extremely patient companion who didn’t mind me stopping for over 300 photos of flowers from all different angles and was so kind enough to join me on this adventure! He even took some photos of me as I’m always the one behind the camera so photo credit is due to him. 🙂

Oh and of course, I bought a magnet!

A day out in Arnhem, Netherlands

Last Saturday a girlfriend and I explored the city of Arnhem.  Well, when I say “explored” we essentially picked a Dutch city neither of us has visited before and walked around.  This was the first of many cities we plan to do. There are some others who want to join us on our city trips here & there so I’ll update when I do them.

Here in the Netherlands, we are still up to our necks with COVID restrictions, all the terraces & restaurants (except some which offer takeaway), museums and interesting tourist attractions like zoos are still closed for the public – with some exceptions of test trials – and I’m doing one this coming weekend – but more about that later! What we an do is book an appointment to shop at some stores – but there are also rules around that.  Need to book at least four hours in advance, wear face masks, social distance, etc  So when walking down the street you see a nice shop, you cannot go in.  We even asked at the door, but were turned away.  [I so look forward to the day when we can look back and read these restrictions and all this be in the past]. We had an appointment at TK Maxx (Europe’s version of TJ Maxx!) and a Kringloopwinkel located on the outskirts of the city. So our plan was to wonder around, take in the city, admire the Dutch architecture, I would take some photos, find what, if anything, makes Arnhem special and chat – which is what we did.   We had a LOT of laughs along the way.    I downloaded a walking city tour in Dutch on WalkMyCity before we visited, but we didn’t end up following it. 

BRIEF HISTORY OF ARNHEM

Situated on the banks of the Nederrijn and Sint-Jansbeek rivers in the eastern Netherlands, the city of Arnhem – capital of the Gelderland province – is a home to a number of notable sights – some listed below. In the current area of the town of Arnhem, there were signs found of human habitation that dates back to 70.000 years ago!! Which seems that Neanderthals had populated the area. The oldest remains of the modern human in the area of Arnhem dates back to 5000 years before Christ. In the towns of Warnsborn and Schaarsbergen near Arnhem traces were found from farmers, which means that they had a permanent residence there, that date back to 2400 before Christ. Of course it’s famous in WW2 with the Battle of Arnhem – for more info you can visit this wiki site here. It’s also surrounded by nature reserves, such as the Hoge Veluwe National Park. That is worth it’s own trip in a future.

GETTING TO ARNHEM FROM DEN BOSCH

Originally, we had planned on taking the train which would take just about an hour to get between Den Bosch & Arnhem Centraal Stations but in the end, she decided to drive as I don’t own a car so it worked out perfectly.  That was handy for our shopping and for the “avondklok” – the evening curfew which is still in place.  Essentially everyone has to be off the streets at 10 pm (it was 9 pm but recently moved to 10 pm).  We parked the car in the lot of Centraal Station – an easy drive and parking cost €15 all day.   

When we arrived, we stopped by the VVV (Tourist info desk at the station) but there you also needed to pre-book an appointment 4 hours in advance to talk to them.  How dumb is that? A tourist office not to be open representing their city – so the two employees stood there chatting the entire day.  So we left on our own to explore the city without anything from the VVV.   Having already read a few great blog posts about the city, I had a bit of an idea of what to expect and just went with the flow.  

SHOPPING IN ARNHEM

As with all large Dutch cities, they have main shopping streets which criss cross have every store possible – here was no different.  One after another you see all the big shops including some big ones we don’t have here in Den Bosch – such as Primark and TK Maxx. But what Arnhem does have is a reputation for unique shopping and fashion aka “MODE”. It’s home to the top design school in the Netherlands. So many of the man had a very trendy look – which of course, I liked 🙂

Seven Streets – Unique!

While Amsterdam has the ‘Negen Straatjes, Nine Little Streets’ the fashion & vintage heaven for fashionistas, Arnhem has its own version, called the Zeven Straatjes, Seven Little Streets, where interior lovers can shop to their heart’s content. The Arke Noachstraat, Bentinckstraat, Eiland,Kerkstraat, Pastoorstraat, Wielakkerstraat and the Zwanenstraat offer a different shopping experience to the main high street stores on and around the Ketelstraat, Bakkerstraat and Koningstraat. You enter this area under two bronze gates – super cute!

We wandered through here a few times – super cute shops – again couldn’t simply go in any of them – you needed an appointment which again needed to be booked 4 hours in advance – unless it was an essential store with food – then you can go in.    

While we wandering that is when we discovered the store Medikamente Die Grenze Parfumerie!   It was crazy – it was a German discount store which offered a bit of EVERYTHING for cheap.  Some things had a short shelf lives though not all. I think we were in here for at least an hour.    I bought Thai shrimp soup starter mix which has been discontinued at the AH. I love this soup and used to get it all the time. At AH was over €2 but here is was 3 packages or €1 so bought 6. In hindsight, I should have bought more! I grabbed a box of Starbucks coffee (which turned out to be the WRONG pods again – how did that happen again?! – thankfully I put them on a Gratis Facebook site & a local lady came and picked up them yesterday so not wasted. I bought Knorr bullion, a variety of make up from Douglas, etc.   Cognizant of the fact we’d have to carry our purchases until we got back to the car hours later, I didn’t go overboard. Not that I would ever buy them but look at those giant cans of beans!   But I will certainly look up this store again on future trips to the East of the country as it was brilliant and worth visiting.    

TK MAXX

Us two were just like most American’s living here in Europe, when we see a TK Maxx we are like YES, we need to go in there – we just love the store. But this one wasn’t the best.   We had an hour-long appointment booked.  Of course, I went straight to the shoes – but nothing – not a single pair that I’d buy.  I had my eye on a a travel Triominos game, and one pair of city sneakers but they were too bling bling.  I think I’d be sick of them after a few wears.   So I ended up with some night face cream , a kitchen thong gadget, and some nie olive oil which yes was heavy in the backpack. I did like the o Bags there too but even with the discount out of my price range and not the colors I’d choose. Oh and by the way, the Dirty Vegan – Matt Pritchard is quite unique – check out his insta page as currently rowing in the Atlantic ocean!

Kringloopwinkel 2 Switch

After our hour-long shop at TK MAXX, we had to get across town walking to the next appointment which was at a kringloopwinkel – it was HUGE!  But we didn’t factor in travel time so it cut down on our shopping time there, but that was fine.  I ended up getting a little mustard jar which reminded me of the time we lived in in North Norfolk UK (north of Norwich – home of Coleman’s mustard) and a small jacket for working out. 

I saw this really nice large glass jar (probably used for pickles or something years ago) and if I had a car outside in the parking lot, I would have bought it). But that I was not walking 20 minutes back into the city with that and my bags, etc. I soo wished I bought it. But I’ll be on the lookout for something similar next time we go closer to home!

DINNER AT SONSBEEK PARK

We ended up meeting up with another girl from the US who lives in Arnhem for dinner.   We ordered takeaway Poke Bowls at Poke House Arnhem, grabbed a couple of nice Brouwerij Ijwit beers from the SPAR (which I continue to pronounce incorrectly as “Spaaaa” with my Boston accent) and headed up to Sonsbeek Park – overlooking the city.   What a beautiful park and upmarket neighbourhood. The houses are pretty lux (many 30’s style – my type of house but updated a bit inside with a mix of old and new. I know this because, as with most Dutch homes, myself included, we leave our curtains wide open all day long ha ha) and just on the edge of the city. Of course, here we didn’t a have beer bottle opener here either, so had to ask a man here too if he could open for us hilarious! Once again grown giggling women looking for a person to assist in opening our beers.

Speaking of beer – if the terraces were open we saw some from which looked great including the ‘t Taphuys.  They have over 80 different wines and 100 beers – I’d be I heaven.  It’s one of those places where you get a card and pour your own beer. I’ve NEVER done that before – on my list!!  Just look at this photo from their site – HEAVEN for me! The building is amazing too – the old post office – the details! 

foto credit: Taphuys Arnhem

A couple others we saw were Cafe Meijers and Cafe ‘t MoorgatAnd this little place Oranje Koffiehuis is a cosy brown cafe which you know I’d have to visit if open. 

And here I am with one of my Brouwerij Ijwit beers outside on our self-made terrace in the sun! I also suggested we order takeaway and have the bike driver bring it to us at this picnic table but was overruled by the other two ladies – I found it a good idea but it was pretty windy – looking at my hair 🙂

LOCAL ITEMS TO BUY WHEN IN ARNHEM

Arnhemse Meisjes – local cookies at Bakker Hilvers

At Bakker Hilvers in Arnhem, you can buy Arnhemse Meisjes, which are traditional cookies only made in Arnhem. And in fact, this bakery makes the only original ones.  We did NOT try these but I do regret not bringing some back for the kids.

foto credit: Bakker Hilvers

Grofjes at Arnhemse Bakkertje

At the Arnhemse Bakkertje, you will find something that is called ‘grofje’. This is bread that you can tear apart and is filled with raisins & currants. It was already made before the Second World War and they luckily brought this delicious bread back. When we were walking we walked by the shop so we went in and bought 4 each – and of course, I took a few photo outside.  So cute, right!   I popped them in my freezer and gave to the kids to try.  They thought they were okay – too many calories for me so sad to say not a huge hit in our house but they do look amazing.

The walk back to Centraal Station was really nice – Sonsbeek is a great neighbourhood!  I was also was told that Klarendal is the most fashionable and hipster neighbourhood in Arnhem but we didn’t make it there but I would have liked to see it.   We did a lot of walking that day 26,000 steps per my Fitbit but I know it was more as my arm was holding two bags for our 20 minute walk back to the city so that part wasn’t registered.

WHERE TO EAT?

I LOVE Food Hallens (viisited Rotterdam, Amsterdam & Eindhoven) so we decided to go there.  As their website was not updated, we were not 100% sure if it was open or closed.  We thought perhaps it would be just takeaway from one of the 13 vendors, so we walked up to see.  Clearly it was VERY much closed!  Located on the river Rijnkade, this place is where we would have certainly had our dinner but yep – COVID!   A future trip back to Arnhem, I’m going here for sure.   Read about my visit to the Amsterdam Foodhallen. Never made one for the other two.

During the day when we were walking around, we were both a little hungry and we saw an Indian & Pakistani Street food vendor, so we had to stop and get a portion of something he was selling.  I choose the Vegan Pakora and my friend chose the samosas.   So yummy!  

Again all the terraces were closed but we had a takeaway Verse Munt thee and sat on a bench outside what would be a bustling terrace, but there were so many cool looking places from Vegan restaurants to Café Dudok like the one in Rotterdam.   Like all large Dutch cities, when open you have so many choices. As I am far from local, I cannot recommend a place unfortunately. During the walk, I did see three super cute benches which I had to take photos.

WALKING TOURS OF ARNHEM

There are various origanized tours offeredin Arnhem. LIke all big Dutch cities, they tend to be advertised as FREE a contribution at the end is grately appreciated. Petra Dielman from Arnhemlife.nl offers various tours from walking, bus, bike, street art, Battle Field, etc – the list goes on… but you can also use your smart phone and do it yourself walk. Two major players in this spare are GPSMyCity and WalkMyCity. The later only offers Arnhem in Dutch. Just a simple google and you’ll find options if walking tours are your thing.

SOME TOURIST THINGS TO DO IN ARNHEM – Outside of COVID LOCKDOWN

Cellars of Arnhem – Experience the city from below!

As it sounds, you can enjoy the city from below. There is a part of the city of Arnhem, under the shopping streets, which you can visit. The 30+ Historische Kelders or historic cellars in Arnhem were restored in 2001 and the Stichting Gilde Stadswandeling organises guided tours of these cellars throughout the year for a small fee.  Unfortunately, almost entirely not accessible for wheelchair users and yes closed now with Covid! But I would have loved this tour!

Oude Oeverstraat 4a
6811 JX Arnhem
https://historischekelders.nl

St. Eusebius Church (SINT-EUSEBIUSKERK)

St. Eusebius Church also known as the Eusebiuskerk or the Grote Kerk, at 93 metres is the largest church, and the largest building in Arnhem. It is named after the 4th-century saint Eusebius, Bishop of Vercelli. Notably the building contains an elevator that was added to the church in 1994, which allows visitors to travel to the top of the spire and view the city of Arnhem from its highest point. The glass balconies – completely made of glass! – are on the east and west sides of the tower. Constructed at a height of 60 meters, they offer a phenomenal and unobstructed view of Arnhem and the surrounding area. It is the selfie place par excellence. Each balcony weighs around 2,500 kilograms and is attached to the tower by a variety of methods including steel cables. The glass plate that forms the bottom can easily carry up to six people at a time

Visitors to the church are also able to enter the crypt below the building. This part of the building has only very dim light in a central part. By carefully exploring a number of darkened cavernous areas, most of which are either barred as if being a part of old gaol cells, or in some cases as clearly exhumed shallow graves, the visitor can find ancient human bones which have been left in the state of their burial or death

View their website for booking details corona restrictions and see photos of the glass balcony – not sure I’d stand on it. Part of me says yes – live a little and be adventurous, but the sensible side says NO WAY!!

Sabre Gate (Sabelspoort)

Sabre Gate (also known as Eusebius Gate). The gate was first mentioned in 1357 and that is considered to be the period when it was built. The main function of this gate was initially to defend the city. Later it was also used to guard the prisoners and the insane people. Before the WW2, the gate was surrounded by houses, but during the war years these houses were so badly damaged that after the liberation they were demolished. The tower itself was damaged but restored. The gate was restored 2 times, once in 1642 and then in 1952. After the restoration the second gate part of the Province House became the province of Gelderland.

Devil’s House (DUIVELSHUIS)

This is a city castle from the 16th century. The house was owned by Duke Charles of Gelre and was sold to Martin of Rossum after his death. Then it came into the hands of the municipality and got the name: Maarten van Rossum Huis. Yet the name Duivelshuis is still used, which is derived from the satyrs (beings where the lower body is a goat and the upper body is a human). There are several folk tales about the Duivelshuis. The house is still part of the town hall where many marriages are closed.

MUSEUMS OF COURSE

Located in Sonsbeek Park, this museum has been on my to visit list with the kids for a long time.  So when things open up again we’ll have to return and visit it.  Then I have an exuse to stop in that crazy shop and eat the FoodHallen.

Airborne Museums Arnhem

Two museums belong to the Airborne Museum. The first one ‘Airborne at the Bridge’ can be found inside the city of Arnhem near the John Frost Bridge. This museum in Arnhem will mostly give you information about the battle on the John Frost Bridge and in this area of Arnhem.

There are other museums in the area – including the very popular Netherlands Open Air Museum (Nederlands Openluchtmuseum), which you can find on the Museumkaart website.

Burgers’ Zoo & Safari Park

Also on my list to visit is this one Burgers’ Zoo – I hear it’s huge and would be a great day out for both adults & kids.

Rent a bike and explore the surroundings of Arnhem

The area of Arnhem is lovely for cycling. You can cycle to the Hoge Veluwe National Park or The Netherlands Open Air Museum, for example. But cycling along the Nederrijn river is also a perfect idea. Renting standard city bikes in Arnhem can be made at City Bike Experience (note there is also always a deposit which must be paid in cash, and you need to bring an id/passport).

Walk the bridge to bridge route in Arnhem

Every September there’s a running event in Arnhem that is called the ‘bridge to bridge’. You can participate in this running event that exists out of several routes, but if you’re not there during that time, or don’t want to run you can just walk the bridge route.

To walk the bridge to bridge route in Arnhem you have to walk from the John Frost Brug to the Nelson Mandela Brug. You could walk a full route and walk on the side of the centre of Arnhem one way and along the park on the other side the way back.

Go for a ride on the trolley bus

Trolleybuses in the Netherlands are very rare! Arnhem is the only city in the Netherlands and the Benelux that still has a trolley bus network and it is one of the biggest networks of trolleybuses in Western Europe. If you want to know more about the trolley bus, then you can visit the Trolley Bus Museum in Arnhem. This is one of the free things to do in Arnhem. You can see what they look like in the photo behind me and my friend – nothing special to look at truthfully. I think the old trams in Den Haag are much nicer!

Of course, as stated above as most things were not open, so we didn’t go inside the famous tourist things mentioned above so this post is not the most insightful but rather a place to capture my memory of our trip to Arnhem. 

Do you have a tip or suggestion of a great place to see, restaurant to try, or something off the beaten path to do in Arnhem for a future visit?  I KNOW there are tons of things to do in the city that I have not touched upon here.  Send me a message and let me know any hidden gems or off-the-beaten track things worth seeing. I know for sure that I will go back and visit again when things open. Plus as my Taalmaatje is originally from there she offered to show me around a bit too.


The Dutch Museumkaart: A Must For Museum Lovers!

Depending on where in the world you are from you might be used to having free entry to government-funded museums.  I know in the UK and Ireland that was the case, but not in the US.  But then again, back in Boston, you could borrow museum passes at your Boston Public library – many giving you FREE entry and others giving a significant discount.  But here in the Netherlands you have to pay for entry and warning the prices can be quite steep – around €6-10 for small, local museums to €16-25 per adult for some of the larger, more popular national museums like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Hermitage, Maritime Museum, NEMO and Stedelijk.

If you live in the Netherlands it’s definitely worth investing in the Museumkaart if you enjoy museums and expect to go several times in the year. While the actual museum card isn’t that cheap at (€64.90 for adults and €32.40 for children), but once you’ve bought it, you can freely enter as many museums over the year as you want. After just three visits to major museums in the year you’re getting the full return on your investment. There’s no information on the Museumkaart website in English. You can buy the card online, but will have to pay €4.95 admin costs – which includes insurance against theft or loss. When you renew your card online the next year, you don’t have to pay the €4.95 fee.   It’s also important to note that it’s personalized with your photo.  Occasionally the museum will charge an additional small fee for special exhibits. This fee is the same for every visitor. 

NOT ONLY FOR ADULTS

My kids (at 10 & 12) both have their own cards and really enjoy visiting museums too.   Some can be very crowded on the weekends during the heavy tourist season like NEMO their favorite – so consider going on a Study Day when they are off school.    My kids haven’t done this but kids can become a “Museum Inspector” where they can tell about the museum during and after a visit. Completing the questionnaire, they let other children know how much fun they think this museum is for young people. The museums uses the answers to devise even better children’s programs. Plus they have a chance to win great prizes. Oh and there are games online too!

WHAT IF I DON’T LIVE IN THE NETHERLANDS?

If you don’t have a Dutch bank account or want the card asap, some museums allow you to buy a temporary card at the ticket desk.  The “temporary card” is valid for a month and only allows 5 museum visits. Dutch and EU residents can now officially register the temporary card (photo required) to upgrade to the full annual validity.  So with that said you could technically buy the card, use it 5 times and then re-sell it on for a discounted rate and someone, who lives locally, can then register it online for themselves. Once you register your “temporary pass”, you’ll receive a standard pass within five working day which will then be valid for one year from the date of purchase.  With Covid, some locations stopped selling in person – to limit person-to-person contact, so check before you go!

CAN WE JUMP THE QUEUE WITH A MUSEUMKAART?

Normally you just queue up as usual and present your museum card at the ticket desk. The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum both have a fast-lane entry for Museumkaart holders though pre-booking online is mandatory; the Maritime Museum has a special desk for Museum cards and pre-booked tickets; at the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk you just get your museum card scanned at the main gallery entrance – no need to queue at the sales desk. Each time the Dutch government has shut down entry to the museums due to the lockdown/Covid restrictions, valid cards have been extended for the periods. In addition, to control the number of guests, pre-booking time slots have become mandatory.  Same day is fine for most museums. Some of the more popular ones – especially the Anne Frank House you should know that you have to book WELL IN ADVANCE. Your pre-booked ticket gives you a specific entry time. Museumkaart holders get free entry but need to pay a €0.50 fee during the online booking process. You only need to show the card (with ticket) when you arrive at the museum. Also one point to note: that many museums have online virtual viewing components now with COVID – click here for Anne Frank House.

MUSEUMS WE HAVE VISITED & PERSONALLY RECOMMEND

While I try to blog about my trips to the various museums, for one reason or another, I don’t always find time to update the blog. Some previously visited include Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Van Abbe in Eindhoven, Noord Brabants Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands Open Air Museum in Arnhem, Photography Museum & Mauritshuis both in Den Haag and the Nationaal Militair Museum in Soest. Some also do not allow photography inside like the Anne Frank House which Maebh and I visited during our outing in Amsterdam.

Panorama Mesdag  – Den Haag
Philips Museum – Eindhoven
DAF Museum – Eindhoven
Van Gogh – Amsterdam
Royal Delft Museum
TU Botanic Gardens – Delft
Spoorweg Museum – Utrecht
Royal Palace (Koninklijk Paleis) – Amsterdam
Groninger Museum – Groningen
NEMO Science Museum – Amsterdam
Museum Giethoorn – Giethoorn
Oorlogsmuseum – Overloon
Natuurmuseum – Tilburg
Louwman’s Museum – Den Haag
Naturalis – Leiden
Maritiem Museum – Rotterdam
National Monument Kamp Vught

HOW MANY MUSEUMS?

In this tiny country, there are over 480 museums, on almost every topic including water, science, WW2, cars and art and so much more. There are of course museum about sex industry, marijuana, houseboats and cheese – but those are not included in the free entry so you’ll have to pay an additional fee. Just having a look at the SMALL list below there are SOOO many more museums for you to make the most of your time in the Netherlands. I didn’t include them ALL but you can go on the site and search by region, subject – art, history, technical, etc and find what interests YOU! And if, like me, you sometimes need a bit of an incentive to get you out more (especially if it’s cold and wet), once you’ve bought the card, you really feel like you should make the most of it! If we visit a city we have never been, we try to combine it with a museum visit.

Amsterdam (and suburbs)

Rotterdam

Utrecht

Den Haag

Haarlem

Leiden

Other parts of the Netherlands

IS THIS A GOOD OPTION FOR TOURISTS?

For residents it offers a fantastic value over the course of the ENTIRE YEAR. The card is great for the ability to just pop into a museum for 30 minutes and visit a new exhibition – and you won’t feel the pressure to see everything.  The Museumkaart has always been aimed at the local Dutch market and never really been promoted for use by foreign tourists staying a few days.

That said, it is an option but if you are a tourist visiting Amsterdam for a couple days, I think you might find more value in one of the city passes:  iAmsterdam.com pass, Holland Pass or Amsterdam Pass all offer additional discounts which might suit you better like entry to Artis – the zoo, canal boat tours, bike rentals (if you dare) and SOME museums, etc.

Do you have a Museumkaart? What are some of your favorite museums here in the Netherlands which you have visited?

Verkeersexamen – School Cycling Training

The Netherlands has 17 million inhabitants and 23 million bicycles – 2 million are e-bikes. If you are interested in the safety cycling stats in the Netherlands you can see them here online.  In addition here are some addition outtakes found on the same PDF. 

  • Cycling leads to a longer and healthier life: – it helps counteract various illnesses, such as diabetes, some forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and depression; – it is an efficient way to prevent obesity. 
  •  Cycling is relaxing, convenient, and economical: – cycling takes you from door to door and offers individuality, flexibility, and freedom; – it is a cheap mode of transport and yields substantial social benefit.
  • Cycling improves accessibility and, compared to cars, involves lower greenhouse gas emissions and less air pollution: – switching from a car to a bicycle saves an average of 150 g of CO2 per kilometre and 0.2 g of NOx per kilometre.
  • Bicycle traffic safety remains an important point for attention: – the traffic mortality rate among cyclists is not declining and the number of serious injuries is increasing. I am certain that one way to reduce the traffic mortality rate among cyclists and the number of serious head injuries is to require helmets, but I’m 100% sure that will NEVER happen.

No idea how many of those are kids bikes but Dutch kids learn to ride a bike VERY YOUNG! Most kids under two are zooming around on scoot bikes and by 3 many are riding without training wheels! It’s really cute and hard not to stare when you see a tiny kid riding a bike! Our kids both were seven when they learned to ride bikes without training wheels! So “late” but we were not living in the Netherlands so it was a bit different. They both had steps and used those to get around more.

A bit like the water safety and the swim diplomas, In an effort to keep the kids safe on their bikes, they created a special bicycle safety program.  Apart from parents teaching them how to ride safely, each year, most Dutch school children between Groep 7 & 8 take a “Verkeersexamen” (traffic test) sponsored by Veilig Verkeer Nederland . Depending on which region you are in and your specific school, of course.  The exam at our school is normally done in Groep 7 during the Spring, but with COVID the kids couldn’t take their exams, so that is why they are doing it today, September 18th in Groep 8. 

EXAMS – THEORETICAL & PRACTICAL 

The exam consists of two parts: an obligatory theoretical part, to test the children’s knowledge of road safety rules, and an optional practical part, to test if the children can apply what they’ve learnt when riding their bike in regular traffic. I only just today learned the second part was optional, as all but one child in my son’s class took the practical part.   I also learned that some schools do not currently participate. The main reasons are: not enough time to organise the exam, the exam route is unsafe (in larger cities) and some pupils don’t have sufficient cycling skills to take part.  The last part is due to a growing number of children with immigrant backgrounds who do not learn to cycle from their parents and they often don’t own bikes.  Surely, it is this group that would benefit most from compulsory cycling lessons and a cycling exam.      I’m part of this group, so I can relate. I never rode a bike around major cities like I do here and some rules are different than back in the US.   So when I first rode a bike around Rotterdam I was nervous but now I’m much better at it and do it often.   I still have a hard time getting used to foot breaks but my bike here in Den Bosch is easy and my main method of transport.    I am so acclimated to riding it around the city, I’d never consider walking to the grocery store when I can ride my bike.   

Most kids in primary school walk or are taken to school by car or by bike with an adult. But by the age of 12, they are expected to be able to cycle to school independently – whether it’s a short ride through the busy traffic of cities like Amsterdam or even in a 15-km ride along rural road if they live in the countryside. The cycling infrastructure is set up here and truly amazing. We don’t know yet where our son is attending middlebare school next year, but as of today his favorite school is 7.3 km from our current house which he’d absolutely ride himself daily. Unlike in the US where you take a school bus (and drive a car at 16 to high school) or and in Ireland/UK where kids take public transport alone due to the lack of cycling infrastructure, safety and overall a non-cycling culture. Here they go by bike in all weather conditions. Even in the cold, pouring rain – they wear waterproof outer clothing – that is miserable if you asked me! 🙂 Luckily we have *many* apps on our phones which we can see when we expect downpours and we can attempt to dodge the heaviest showers – though many times they all show different amounts of rain so it can be quiet comical.

The full route of the “Verkeersexamen” (traffic test) in our area was done for two city center schools. They kids were given a map and a route with a few weeks to practice. The nearly 5 km bike route provided different traffic situations that they would also encounter once they ride their bicycles to secondary school. The children had to cycle a set route with traffic situations that are typical for the area, such as a crossing with traffic lights, bridge crossing or even a railroad crossing. The route has to include certain basic traffic situations, such as turning left and crossings with and without priority. Parents and volunteers are posted along the route to score the children’s traffic skills and behaviour. Everything is taken into account, from sticking out the correct hand to indicate a left or right turn, to giving priority when necessary and stopping at a red traffic light.

My son practiced the route four times with different friends, and I even went along one time with him so he could show me the route and how he was to do certain movements. He was very experienced and confident and looked forward to the exam today! Coincidentally, when I was coming home from an appointment, I saw some of the children in his class coming around the corner near our house, so I knew if I waited a bit longer, I’d see him. Sure enough, he came around the corner and I was there with my phone waiting for him. Thankfully, it didn’t distract but I’m thinking he was thrilled to see me and his dad waiting for him on the corner.

You are allowed to make up to three mistakes. Truthfully I think it would be pretty hard to fail the exam unless of course, you ignored a red light, failed to apply the priority rules correctly and any other serious road safety offence. When he returned home from school, he reported all kids passed!

In March of this school year, it will be my daughter’s turn! While I’m confident she’ll also pass, she’s not trilled with cycling like her brother – who lives on his bike. She’ll certainly have a new, lighter bike before that, so that will of course, help her enjoy cycling more.

SS Rotterdam: Legendary steamship with a nostalgic atmosphere

I included a small section about our visit aboard the ss Rotterdam in my previous post A DAY OUT IN ROTTERDAM but after visiting a second time with the kids, I think this popular Rotterdam tourist attraction can justify its own blogpost.

The ss Rotterdam is a historical ocean liner from Holland America Line that sailed its first voyage from Rotterdam to New York in 1959.   On her maiden voyage she carried the then Crown Princess, Juliana of the Netherlands, to New York.  It was, at the time, one of the most elegant ships built in the Netherlands post WWII.  

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However, with the growing popularity of air travel, it was refitted to be used as a cruise ship for many years until it was finally retired in 2000.  In 2010 was brought back to Rotterdam harbor and used as a hotel ship.   [There was a bit of a scandal with a housing authority which bought the ship – you can read about it here in English]  

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HOTEL ROOMS

As we didn’t personally stay onboard the ss Rotterdam, I cannot give my opinion of the 254 modern rooms.   I’m sure they are pretty cool as they are all decorated in the 50’s style.  The rooms are divided into 3 different themes: Bahamas, Original, Manhattan. These styles are based on the various (exotic) destinations that ss Rotterdam enjoyed in her years as a luxury cruise ship.   You can look at the rooms online here.   I personally like aspects of all three – so no clear winner.  

 

TOURS ONBOARD

Today guests can stay, dine, and explore with a tour.  We didn’t do the tour – but there is a short movie about how traveling on ss Rotterdam really looked like back in the day.   With COVID-19 measures, a lot was closed off, but they offer several types of tours which you book at the gift shop.

Seabreeze Deluxe Tour
Steam & Chrome Tour
Rotterdam Complete Tour
Art Tours

Guided tours and even Kids tours – all of them highlight the ship, the facts and figures, some include visits to the steam room, and Captain’s Quarters. 

CHART & RADIO ROOM

During our first visit, we didn’t go exploring the ship too much.  However, when we brought the kids onboard during our Rotterdam – check out that blog post here: Euromast – Experience the Most Stunning Views of Rotterdam  we saw some guests standing up on a higher deck so we also went up to see what was there.  Turns out there was a whole area of the boat that we never saw – including a chart room, the radio room and the captain’s cabin – all of which you see during the self-guided.   I think that McElroy Chart of Codes and Signals would be very cool in Soren’s bedroom. 

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ESCAPE ROOM

If you are the adventurous type, and like to solve riddles, make the right connections, you might even find their onboard Escape Room fun.  I personally never did it before so I don’t know much about them but the record time of the Escape Room is 28 minutes and 17 seconds.  And the success rate is 40%.  I did a quick search as I thought was seemed pretty low, but the average success rate is 41% – guess it is normal after all. 

DINING OPTIONS

Clearly, the Lido Grill is a popular place to dine among the older folks – who were coming onboard for what looked like a special meal.    My guess is that if you want to have dinner in one of the restaurants at ss Rotterdam, you should book a table in advance. Again, we didn’t stay overnight but my guess is they’d have a great breakfast – as the hotel is a Westcord Hotel and from my experience with staying a week on Vlieland in the Westcord, they had a GREAT breakfast!

Once home to the largest red-light district in Europe, Katendrecht is now one of Rotterdam’s culinary hotspots. The Deliplein which is about a 10 minute walk from the ship is a small plaza that houses more than 20 restaurants and bars like Vislokaal KAAP – a fish restaurant whose menu looks great. This square is right behind the Fenix Food Factory (which we have on our list to visit) and very close to Hotel New York. Plus with the water taxi and water bus launches from behind the ship both taking you into the amazing city of Rotterdam.  I’d personally never dine onboard, if given the choice with all the option you have in Rotterdam! 

The fine dining option at the Club Room is temporarily closed as of March 2020 – which I suspect is due to COVID. 

GO OFF THE SHIP – VISIT THE CITY

If you are staying at the hotel for more than one night, you can rent a bicycle from reception.   Getting around the city is very easy – you can easily take it on the on the water bus and bike along to the windmills of Kinderdijk or in the Dutch Biesbosch – as it’s an e-bike so you can go even future!  Prices start at € 15, for the whole day!   They even offer scooters and rental cars if you prefer. 

LIDO DECK 

The kids found the pool cool – even though it was small, on a hot day, they’d definitely be interested in sitting it in too cool off. From what we can make out, no men can enter the pool without a shirt? Seems like an odd rule.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Rotterdam_1406
StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Rotterdam_1272
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On our first trip, we had a couple beers in the Ocean Wine Bar because it was very quiet and only the two of us for the majority of time we were there. But with the kids, we didn’t have anything to to drink.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Rotterdam_1329

WATER TAXI & WATER BUS

As I mentioned above both the Water Taxi (stop 56) and Katendrecht Waterbus (line 18)  both launch from behind (and next to) the ship and take you into the amazing city of Rotterdam.   Once you make your booking online for the Water Taxi, just go out the doors on the backside where you stand on the platform and wait.  Within minutes, your taxi will come and pick you up and speed you way – literally!  Hold on to your hat and your kids-  as they will fly!    The Waterbus is just down a bit from the boat but super easy to navigate your journey on their website (Dutch or English)

LOCATION 

ss Rotterdam
3e Katendrechtsehoofd 25
3072 AM Rotterdam

Apart from the Water Taxi & Waterbus (see above for specifics), you can park your car in the huge lot outside for a fee.  Our first time we came by bike and there is of course Metro station Rijnhaven.   With all the new construction going on in the area – check to be sure what is open and closed.  

Check out my blog posts relating to this fabulous city:

Top 8 Things For Families To Do in Rotterdam
A Day Out In Rotterdam
Maeslantkering: Visiting the Storm Surge Barrier
A Day at the Blijdorp Zoo
Cafe Dukok – Best Apple Pie in Rotterdam
Day & Day Hot & Hot – Hot Pot Restaurant Review

Have you been to the ss Rotterdam? Share your experiences in the comments!

 

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Royal Delft Experience: A Visit To the Museum & Factory

On Friday, we visited the TU Delft Botanic Gardens and while in Delft, we visited the Royal Delft Experience. The experience takes you through a history of the company – the last surviving ‘pottery’ of the 30+ that existed in the city of Delft in the 17th century. It was founded in 1653 as De Porceleyne Fles [translation: The Porcelain Jar].

Delft Blue started in Netherlands around the 17th century when the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) brought the blue painted porcelain back from China. This resulted in an inspiration for the Dutch ceramists, because this fragile porcelain was not created or seen before.

During your self-guided tour (available in various languages), we started with two short movies, presented in different rooms, with modern sound and other effects about the history and then the firing process. Their website explains the process in-depth and very well. Then you are free to wander through a museum, where we each had an audio guide to explain the 14 different stations. There is also a special audio tour for children and for the younger children (under 10) – for a €1 you can buy a picture hunt which the children learn all about the iconic blue and white earthenware on a picture hunt throughout the museum.

The tour allows visitors to watch one of the artisans, as he paints by hand, pieces of earthenware – very impressive. Notice the black ‘paint’ he’s using, it’s cobalt oxide, a substance that when fired gives Delft Blue its signature color.

The museum has a section dedicated to items made for the Dutch Royal family. You’ll see various commemorative plates, historic pieces, and a unique shaped tulip vases – which is for sale in the gift shop for €17,000!  

If that very large tulip vase looks familiar and you are in the Randstad area, you might have seen the giant version along the A13 going towards Rotterdam.  I never remember to have my phone ready to take photo so this shutterfly version will have to do for now.

Foto Credit: Robin Utrecht/Shutterstock

CREATION OF PROUD MARY

In 2019, Proud Mary was launched as a collector’s item as an attempt to create a contemporary look & feel to a very historical and traditional item.  She was named after Mary Stuart II, the wife of Lord Lieutenant William III.  She was a great admirer and collector of Delft Blue in the Dutch Golden Age and in large collections of Delft Blue were in all her palaces like Hampton Court and Paleis het Loo. 

The large ones are hand painted and that is why the cost €1299. and so much more than the smaller ones – which are €75.  These are decorated with a transfer.  See the entire collection here

BEHIND THE SCENES INSIDE THE FACTORY

Later in the tour, when you get into the factory, you’ll see workers spraying, molding, drying, painting and firing the pieces.

There is a very large replica of “The Night Watch” by Rembrant on the wall made up of 480 impressively painted tiles.

VISIT THE MUSEUM ONLINE

On their site, they have a nice kids tour which is even great for adults. No worries that it is Dutch, there are English subtitles underneath!  Alternatively, you can visit their VR online museum and navigate around the museum yourself. 

WORKSHOPS – PAINT YOUR OWN DELFT BLUE

PAINT A TILE AT HOME

You can paint your own Delft Blue tiles at home.  While true Royal Delft pieces are painted with black and fired (as explained above), but for this you will receive a blue paint.  The DIY home based, self-painting kits are €39.95 and are for two tiles! 

PAINT IN THE MUSEUM UNDER PROFESSIONAL GUIDANCE 

They also offer various workshops from plates, other pieces and tiles.  The tiles are done either in the DIY way above or in the traditional workshop – which means they are NOT ready to be taken home immediately as they must first be fired.  The products can be collected or shipped after approximately ten working days.   I would love to do one of these one day – just not sure what I’d paint on the tile or plate. 

BESPOKE ITEMS

You can also give a bespoke gift a tile or plate that is unique and personalized, which would be nice for a special occasion like births, anniversaries or weddings. You can add a name or date, etc

SCHIFFMACHER ROYAL BLUE TATTOO EXHIBITION

Delft Blue pottery and tattoos may not be the most obvious combination, but they have more in common than thought. Henk Schiffmacher is a renowned tattoo artist who has also curated exhibitions, written books and presented TV shows on tattoo art. The exhibition Schiffmacher Royal Blue Tattoo shows the link between tattooing and Delft Blue pottery, the Dutch traditional pottery that is made in Delft since the 17th century. Discover the history of tattooing and see the similarity between tattoos and Delft Blue. Henk Schiffmacher tells you the background stories of his drawings in the audio tour – which is only in Dutch regardless of which language your self-guided audio device is programmed.

Both craftsmanships, in fact, are rich with culture, tradition and symbolism. Henk Schiffmacher has made a number of unique objects with the master painters of Royal Delft, where the two worlds literally touch each other. The exhibition is visible until October 31st.

If you are visiting Delft and have an hour or two to spare it is a unique experience and I think worth it. The gift shop in the end is filled with some very amazing items from magnets to extremely expensive items.

I did, however, but a small little Christmas ornament to put on my tree. I already have a small blue and white porcelain windmill which I bought in the Netherlands many years ago on my tree – but I’m sure that is not “real”. You can always tell if your piece is genuine as it can be recognized by the hand painted signature on the bottom of the vase; the initials JT – Joost Thoof, the apothecary bottle and the word “Delft“with the code to indicate the year and the master painter’s initials.

ENTRANCE PRICES

Adults are €14 and kids (13-18) are €8.75 and kids under 12 with family are FREE!  Museumkaart holders receive a small discount. Check out their site for hours and more details about parking and other discounts offered.

Address:
Rotterdamseweg 196
2628 AR Delft
Netherlands

If you are interested in visiting Delft, check out my blog post Afternoon in Delft for ideas of what to do in the lovely city of Delft including a visit to the TU Delft Botanic Gardens.