Beekse Bergen – Safari Park in North Brabant, Netherlands

Yesterday the kids were off school (it was a planned day so not sure if they were striking as I read on the internet but they had the day off and we needed to do something outside of the home). The weather was nice (about 14 degrees and sunny – celsius – we’re not mad). After doing a bit of searching for something fun to do outside, I remembered the Beekse Bergen Safari Park which is about 11 miles from our house (but driving it’s about 30 minutes. I know you can go the back roads, but I find the highway much easier.

When we arrived the main gate looked a bit like Disney World – and I actually thought it was closed at first, but then decided to follow a few people who drive into the main gate area and glad we did – we had a fantastic day out!

There are various ticketing options available including tickets only to the Safari park or only to Speelland (which was still closed for the season) or a combi which is entry to both! As we now live nearby, it hard to justify spending €24,00 p.p. for me and the two kids to visit the park once when we could get a YEAR LONG pass (called jaarkaarten for both parks for €62.50 each. Just attending three times in the course of a year, pays for itself. We do still have to pay for parking but instead of €9. it’s €3 and in mid-March they are running an offer buy 10 tokens, receive 2 free – so we’ll do that. I also received three booklets with coupons for 50% off entry tickets to other attractions like Blijdorp in Rotterdam, Apenheul, Zoopark Overloon, Aquazoo, Dierenrijk, Klimrijk and Aquafun at Sportium and Icefun at Sportium in Den Bosch and a lot more discounts including food in the park.

There are four ways to see the Safari park. 1) Self-driving in the car through the free-roaming animals. 2) On a bus which stops at various spots allowing you to see the animals. 3) By boat, which is seasonal so closed yesterday. And finally 4) by walking in the park (safely on paths of course. So with our new cards printed, we set out to visit the park. We agreed to first drive through the animal park.

As we started to drive into the park, I was telling the kids about the only one other time I was in a self-drive safari park in France where lions and bears were able to come up to the car. Here there were cheetahs free roaming but in the grass resting. Inside the park behind a cage, there were jaguars – but they all look alike to me 🙂


Of course, there were zebras and giraffes and camels and deer – the gentle animals all roaming around and able to come near the cars.

Happily the lions were not able to walk up to our car but within distance to see them.

At 3:00 pm, we watched the Birds of Prey show on the far end of the park – which was cool. Unfortunately it was 100% in Dutch, so we didn’t quite get the whole thing but we’ve been to a few of these shows, we get the idea. Plus we were there to see the beautiful birds, right. My favorite was the owl – he was cheeky.

There is not a bad seat either, as there are two bird handlers so one guy walks at the top of the viewing area so the birds fly over each section.

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bird show2

bird show1

bird show

Throughout the park are playground areas for kids with slides, large jumping pillow and these wooden obstacle courses with ropes, which is prefect with kids full of energy. Our kids LOVED them…

There were other animals which we saw like rhinos, hippos, monkeys, goats. I personally found it comical there were black bears and otters sharing an area. The place is really big so I’m sure we missed some animals. Now that we have our annual pass, we can return again soon.

Apart from a snickers bar we bought at the vending machine, we didn’t eat anything but there are some places for meals and snacks in the park. Next time we’ll have an ice cream oh and claim our free churros from our discount booklet which we discovered when we got home. 🙂

Overall it was an awesome day out and we look forward to future trips and visiting Speelland when warmer. Two afternoons a week they get out of school early at 12:30 pm, so will surprise them by going straight from school as we’re already half way there.

Here are some tips:

  • Dress in comfortable shoes and in layers.
  • Drive into the safari and then you can easily park at the top of the park in the Congo.
  • Bring your own food (you can bring your own lunch/drinks/etc).
  • Parking is €9 but they run deals where you buy 10 tokens you get 2 free!
  • There is a holiday party and new resort being built so consider staying in the park – camping, safari lodges, and something really cool called a JUNGALOW are available.
  • Try your best in Dutch, but everyone speaks English and their website translates into English too.
  • If you plan on visiting more than 3 times in one year, buy the jaarkart.

Importance of Swim Lessons in The Netherlands

There is a lot of water in The Netherlands between canals, canals, lakes, rivers the sea and pools – loads of pools –  kids learn to swim safely & proficiently.   They have a standardized swimming program where kids receive diplomas A-C over the course of several years.   I have no idea what they do in the US, as our kids were too young when living there to enroll in a learn-to-swim program in our area.  Plus ours had chronic ear infections, public pools were not top choice as each time they were in a pool, they would up with an ear infection.

I know loads of friends kids who can swim – but nothing involves lifesaving skills or sailing under a tarp to the hole etc.  It’s more from point a to b.  I do know from being 3+ years in Dublin, it was really slow and took forever there.   A few parents and I complained about this before.  I understand it’s money-making but our kids took several sessions of group lessons and swam with school and I would say they are not proficient to swim to any of the levels below.  S is much better than M and I suspect will get his diplomas quicker, but with lessons hopefully both will be good swimmers soon.

We are visiting the local swimming pool this week to have our kids do a small swim session to access their swim levels and then sign up for swim lessons.  At nearly 8 and 10, they need to know how to swim.   Hotel pools and vacations will be just that much more fun when they can swim safely – especially the big slides and waves.  Might even do some sessions of private lessons during the vacation weeks, to get them going and into their diploma A.  Also, these lessons will be in Dutch, so need to see how that goes and, if necessary, we might need to take them to Eindhoven to take lessons in English.

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The three key national swimming diploma’s are referred to as A, B and C. They teach water safety to children and aim to instill confidence and enjoyment in recreational swimming and water sports. Most swimming schools offer the diplomas with more advanced swimming lessons to follow, called Zwemvaardigheit 1, 2, and 3 diploma.

For the first diploma (A) the children go through 4 different levels;  ‘bad A1’ for beginners, then ‘bad A2’ and so on up to ‘bad A4’. When children earn a passing grade for each element through level A4,  they receive an invitation (usually by e-mail) for the practice session for the A diploma and in one of the following weeks the children perform the official swimming exam to earn their certificate. Once a child has earned his swimming diplomas, they can take part in water sports such as synchronized swimming, surfing, diving and water polo.

During swim lessons children learn such things as swimming with their eyes open. Diploma exams require children to swim with their clothing and shoes on and they’ll need to perform such exercises as a forward-roll into the water followed by getting out by lifting themselves onto a large floating mattress unaided.

As most accidental drownings occur after a person has fallen into a canal, the exam tests realistic scenarios. For children (and adults for that matter), it is vital for them to to be able to handle underwater disorientation while dealing with the additional weight burden of clothing. During swim lessons children are taught not to panic and to react in a calm, controlled manner to maintain a safe environment while in a water setting.

The certificate A program requires a child be able to swim 50 metres using both breast and back strokes, and swim 3 meters underwater through a large ‘escape’ hole in a canvas panel. The parameters increases to 75 meters and 6 meters under water for the B certificate. The C diploma requires 100 meters of surface swimming in swimsuit and clothing with additional obstacles, the forward roll, and finally 9 meters underwater.

Children who have not earned at least a diploma A are required to wear inflatable armbands in all public swimming pools until they have earned the required certificate.  I’m sure Soren will be very embarrassed being TEN!  Most school and children’s sports clubs in The Netherlands will not let children take part in water activities until they have achieved the A, B and C diplomas.

Update:  Both kids did their assessment today at the local pool.  They’ll both be starting in group two to get proper leg techniques down, then add arms and then will be off and running in no time.   Felt good when we left – signed them up for weekly lessons.   Plus free swim in a few times a week, so I’ll join them in the pool which will only help them along.

Daf Museum Eindoven

Yesterday the kids and I headed to Eindhoven to first visit some museums as our Museumkaarts arrived in the mail this week. First up, the Daf Museum and then if time and S’s toe (which is infected) was okay then we’d stop in the Philips Museum for a quick visit, though we did that museum before so not such a big deal.

For some reason Peggy Sue, our navigation lady on my phone, was not too clear and somehow I took a few wrong turns (probably just me reading the map wrong but easy to blame her) but we were diverted and ended up at the Van Abbemuseum which M and I visited last year. We ended up figuring it out and finally reached our destination.

In the future, you can easily park on the streets nearby and pay the meters but for us part of the adventure is taking the Dutch train into the city.

When you first arrive the kids are given a pencil and type of scavenger hunt which keeps them entertained through the museum. Then when finished, you bring it back to the gift shop to get a small gift – which was wooden yoyo’s.   As it was 100% in Dutch, they managed to get most of the answers – great for practice but at the same time they got a bit bored with it, I started filling in answers.  Didn’t matter – they still got the wooden yoyo’s which was great as that saved me from having to buy them something else.

The museum was nicely done and if you are a car aficionado, this place is for you!  Loads of history and cool stuff.  Here the kids found a truck which they really liked!

veenstra truck




This next section is especially for my father – thought he’d like to see all these items in the workshop.



Soren likes cars, but truthfully after about 20 minutes they saw enough.  They prefer more interactive museums where they can touch and do things.  Next time we’re heading to a children’s museum or science museum where they can interact with things.  There are so many museums which you get free entry with the museumkaarts.

I think they’ll enjoy the Nationaal Militair Museum in Soest – a former US Air Force Base.

The NEMO in Amsterdam is a big on one our list – but I want to spend all day there.  I think during the half term break, I’ll take the kids up to Amsterdam and spend the night in hotel.

Dutch trains…

The kids and I took the Sprinter from Boxtel to Eindhoven. It’s only three stops – Best, Strijp-S and then Central Station. These new Dutch trains are amazing! Not only are they on time, they are super clean and modern! While not cheap, at a total price of €17 round trip for all 3, they are well-maintained. Nils has a train card which gives major reductions but he needs to be with us. (I think)

In our 2nd class carriage, there were CCTV cameras, electricity plugs and USB plugs and are toilets (super clean) ones too! Both kids suddenly had to go, just to use it while moving.

I think many countries can learn from these guys!

Vinkle: IJsboerderij op de Nieuwekampen

For the second day in a row the kids visited a farm with their class and as I have a big car and nothing but free time til my class starts, I volunteered to drive and join them.  It was a lot of fun. Not only that I’m there for my kids, but I can learn a lot of Dutch too – which I did.

Baby pigs = Bigetijes
Moeder varken = Zueg  (and there are Super Moeders – can’t seem to figure out how one becomes that 🙂
Father pig = bear
Female farmer = Boerin 🙂   I also learned about insemination of the pigs and how they are fed and raised and then slaughtered.  Not too far from us is a pig slaughter house were we often see the large trucks full of pigs going there.


Look at this cute bigetije.

The kids had some free time to play on the tractors and the milking cow.

After a slide show and explaination of how the farm works and how the pigs are kept, born and live, the kids were brought into make ice cream – ijs.   Each child first got to take part in measuring the cream, sugar, chocolate, etc and then it is poured into a machine to first heat it to kill bacteria and then cool.  Later we all had a lovely ice cream.

The girls made ice cream. First each had a part in the measuring and then later had a taste.

They have little shop which was closed when we were there, but it had loads of little treats to buy and of course, ice cream!


Den Bosch: Urban Farm – Kinderboerderij De Bossche Hoeve

The kids are settling in well here in the The Netherlands. As expected the language goes quickly and the kids are picking up so much Dutch each day.   On Wednesday, I joined them and drove them  +3, to the Kinderboerderij De Bossche Hoeve which is not to far from their school. It is nothing fancy like Davis Farmland but rather a simple, well-run urban farm where schools and families can visit while in the city.  It’s still early Spring so they were very busy putting together equipment like a new slides and pavement, etc.

The nieuwkomersklaas of 13 kids learned about the animals, fed them and enjoyed playing for a bit after some hot chocolate inside.

They have an albino peacock, along with some turquoise ones, but unfortunately it didn’t open it’s feathers while we were there.  First photo is mine but the second is from the internet web search.

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kinderboederij - rectangle eye sheepkinderboerij maebh and sheep

soren with goatssoren feeding deer

Entry is FREE so you can support by donating cash into the box, buying feed and Soren and I bought 6 eggs which we ate for breakfast the next day.

Kinderboerderij De Bossche Hoeve
Kruiskampsingel 565A
5224 KL ‘s Hertogenbosch
Telefoon 073-6233592

Opening times & more information:

Thursday, they are visiting a pig farm in Vinkle where they’ll learn about the pigs and make ice cream and if lucky, taste it.

There are several kinderboederij’s in the area, which we will also explore in time.  This website has a handy list and information about each one.


Tis’ the day to cut down our Christmas Tree

Every December, buying our Christmas tree is a major event in our house.  Okay when I think about it more, it is ME which makes it a bigger deal than it and I love the memories it brings for me and the kids.  As a child, we never cut down our tress – we just bought  one from the local seller and brought it home and put it up.  I have no cozy memories of tree farms  and I want that for my little ones.


Our first year in Dublin, we set out on an adventure to cut down our own tree and ended up at Slade Valley Christmas Tree Farm. and it was brilliant.  The tree was lovely and I want a good experience again this year with a bit more atmosphere.  You can’t beat a real tree which we pick out, cut down and enjoy in our home.  Plus a real, freshly-cut tree looks and smells great.

Only this year we willtry a different tree farm in the Wicklow Mountains – Wicklow Way Tree Farm in Roundstone.  Their  website looks great, clearly a full campaign was put in place.  If for some reason we could not find it, there are several in Wicklow so I’m sure it would be fine.

While it seems far, the drive from our house was just over 1 hour so not bad at all and we were into the mountains.  There was a bit of snow the night before and much more expected Sunday along with the fact that Nils is heading to the US for a week, we took advantage of this one day we had to get the tree in the mountains.

Once we reached Roundstone it was very easy to find our way – these blue signs lead us right to the farm.



The farm was lovely – the staff was very friendly and informative and the instructions were clear.  Tag the tree, flag down a guy in blue and then relax and warm up while they cut down.  We parked the car and got out wellies on as the ground was very mucky and wet.  It wasn’t even 5 minutes before the kids noticed the white fluffy snow which fell last night and they were off and going crazy in it.



We walked a while trying to find the right tree… kids played with the snow while I keep searching for the right one.  A few measurements and we found one that we all liked.


After Soren watched the man cut down our tree, we had complimentary hot chocolate and minced pies & treats while we waited for our tree to be brought down from the field and a net put around it.


Overall the experience was great – we’d highly recommend this tree farm to anyone who is looking to go pick out your own tree.  The cost was very reasonable too at £8. a foot, you can choose how much you want to spend.

Only problem is that our tree this year is a bit taller than before so I don’t have enough lights to cover it so tomorrow, we’ll go buy more led bright lights to add to it.

Will post a photo when completed with loads of new glass ornaments.

And the final decorated tree.