24 (ish) hours in Amsterdam

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Our original plan for Amsterdam was to meet some great friends from Charleston at the beginning of their European vacation. We booked tickets for the Anne Frank House back in July, before we’d even moved to Maastricht. COVID had other plans, though, and the Delta variant derailed our friends’ plans. While they are vaccinated and super careful, they felt it just wasn’t the smartest thing to do to fly overseas and tour Europe when things in the US are, in so many ways, on fire. Even though they canceled their trip, we decided to keep our tour tickets and take the train from Maastricht for a quick family overnight trip. The train ride is about 2.5 hours so we decided it was a bit much for one day with the kids, and booked a super nice hotel stay (recommended by Little City Trips, a blog I stumbled upon).

Josh and I have been before to Amsterdam on previous visits to see Melissa and many years ago we toured the city with her. On our 2017 family trip, though, only Josh went with our parents while I stayed in Maastricht with the boys. A 4 year old and 6 year old in Amsterdam just seemed a bit much at the time.

Our arrival at Amsterdam Centraal Train Station

This time, we took a mid morning train and arrived around 1 in Amsterdam. We were traveling light  and we walked right out to our tram stop for our first tram ride in Europe! The tram was super efficient and dropped us off about 3 mins walk from our hotel. Check-in was a breeze and after unloading our things we opted for a lunch at the hotel. The day was gorgeous and sunny and even a little warm. It gave us a false sense of the weather to come.

About to board our first tram

Here’s the thing about traveling with younger humans. We try to impart on them how lucky they are. How making this move and traveling regularly to other cities near and far is not super common at their age (at least not in our families) and they need to appreciate the destinations and experiences. And also the nice hotels. We do tell them this. And try to show our own appreciation and gratitude for our circumstances. But y’all…they are kids. And at the end of the day, they just want a playground. They don’t care what city we are in. Or how old the buildings are. OR what important historical things happened. If they have to walk 15,000 steps, they better get to see a merry go-round or some monkey bars. My boys are 8 and 10….anyone have ideas on when that ends?? I swear I don’t want to rush their childhood and I do love that they are fairly self sufficient in a lot of our travels (they pack their clothes, toiletries, books/iPads/games and carry a lot of it themselves). BUT, as I shivered in the shadows of a graffiti covered playground we just happened to spot on google maps that wasn’t near any landmarks or cafe…I did start to wonder how long this would be central to our travels.

The playground. I’m sure it is actually a well loved space by neighborhood kids.

So where was I? Yes, playground. Somewhere in Amsterdam. We did have a call via Google Duo with my brother and his family while there and since it has been a couple weeks since we’ve talked I was really happy to see their faces on video chat and get caught up a little.

After the call we strolled through what was a street market that was starting to close up, and through some pretty well known/touristy areas (like the Browersgracht and also by the Royal Palace). Amsterdam is lively with a LOT of people out and about and there also seemed to be a protest of some sort nearby that we could hear but not see.

I just can’t get enough flower, bikes, bridges, & canals photos 😍📸
A singing seafood salesman on one of the canals
Some late afternoon cafe/pub life on one of the canals we passed
Just another cool canal + boat video. Can you ever have too many? One regret – not doing a boat tour…
Me with bunny ears on a cute pedestrian street in Amsterdam
Royal Palace
Me chilling out at the hotel just before we put the kids to bed.

The next morning we slept in, ate a huge breakfast in the hotel, did a tiny bit of shopping, and then made our way to the Anne Frank House.

A beautiful statue of Anne Frank.

In the summer of 2020, Caleb pulled my childhood copy of The Diary of Anne Frank from our family bookshelf and we would read it together at night. I have to say it was an eerie time to be reading about a family in isolation while the current world was also starting to isolate (albeit for very very different reasons). There were parts I’m sure Caleb did not understand, but in talking to him about it this morning before our tour (and in trying to explain to Mason who had not read it), it seems Caleb remembered more than I expected. Hearing him give facts about how Jews were treated and the measures families tried to take to protect themselves, and what happened when they were caught, is also chilling. He seems too young, but at the same time he needs to know these things.

There is a free English audio guide for the tour. The museum operators are very cautious now about how many people can enter the premises and all tickets have to be purchased online in advance. The museum encompasses a bit more than just the building where the Frank and Van Pelz families hid. I found it really special that once you are in the exact secret annex space, even the audio guide goes quiet. You can read information on the walls, but it is treated like a sacred space. We have no pictures from the inside as they ask you not to take any photos. When Otto Frank, the only surviving family member first returned to the annex, most of the family’s things had been removed. He decided to leave it that way to honor what had happened, though he did save some things left behind and on the walls to preserve the history and after it was restored/made into a museum, those things were placed back in there. 

One of the last impressions I had that I don’t want to forget, is at the end there are some video interviews with Otto Frank. One of the things he says is that he knew that his daughter was keeping a diary because she would keep it in a suitcase under his bed. He never broke her trust to read it until he was certain that she had died, along with her sister and mother. When he read her journal he was so surprised by her deep thinking, self criticism, and perspective. He said that the Anne she presented to her family was not the same as the Anne she was internally and that he believes after reading this that no parent truly knows their child or what they truly think/feel. Open. Floodgates. 😭I was actually able to find the video tonight on YouTube:

There were many videos and a couple of interviews at the Anne Frank House museum. This one had me the most emotional.
The boys in front of the Anne Frank House. The museum entrance is around the corner.

We left the museum around 12 and debated on whether to have lunch closer to the hotel or head out to one of the more famous parks where I’d read about **playgrounds AND cafes!**, the Vondelpark. Ultimately the promise of a playground won and we found our tram/started our trek. Here the weather really started to turn. Grey skies, misty rain, and temps in the low 60s… I won’t bore you with all the details but the one playground was maybe a bit too small for these boys (though they did have some fun) and the nearby cafe pretty limited in lunch options so we walked another 5 minutes to a place called Proeflokaal ‘t Blauwe Theehuis that I would recommend. No playground, but there’s a pizza bar on the upper level that looks out over the gardens. We didn’t actually eat up there but grabbed a bit at the outside picnic tables where we hoped for the rain to stop.

Cute pond in the Vondelpark

We walked back in the slightly heavier rain to our hotel, had forgotten our umbrellas, arrived drenched, and had the concierge call us a cab to get to the train station. It isn’t terribly far away, but we’d had our fill of being cold and wet thankyouverymuch.

Cold and wet 30 minute walk to the hotel.

Feeling pretty proud of ourselves for getting out of town by 3:00, we boarded our train only to realize Mason had left his backpack with his iPad in our cab. We quickly jumped out of the train before it left and spent the next 30 minutes calling the hotel, getting a hold of the driver, and getting the bag back. Not the most amazing ending to our super quick trip, but a good lesson learned in trying to keep up with your stuff, right? We’ve all been there. 

Now to get home, do allll the laundry, and get packed for our upcoming trip to Greece!

Some other fun photos from the trip:


    1. Try again Mom! It’s a bit heavy with images/videos so it can take a minute to fully load the page. I’ll have to be more careful next time not to overload it. But they seem to load fine when we pull it up.


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