Looking back on my childhood, I’m struck by how often the experiences that delight me still took place on family trips to Europe. There was the insanely swell day in 1970 when, driving along a rainy mountaintop in Norway, we stopped our rented VW Bug literally in a cloud. My mother had just stepped out when two sheep trotted out of the mist straight into our car, snuggling their soggy grubby bodies on top of my brother and me in the backseat while we – 3 and 5 at the time – shrieked with glee.
Fast forward to many years later; I couldn’t help but recollect my European adventures etched to my memory as I made plans to give my son and my husband (Tim) a tour of my childhood. My son Charlie turned 3 last Spring, and then I decided it was time to start our family ritual of visiting Europe. But being of the generation famously more cash-strapped than our parents were when we were kids – and watching the dollar nosedive against the Euro while airline prices soared ridiculously – I didn’t see how we could swing a trip.
Then I got word that my parents would be travelling to Holland a few months later. While my dad sailed on the coast, my mom would spend a week kicking around Amsterdam by herself. My scheming brain went into overdrive. If we could meet up with my mom, she could help us look after Charlie, and it also excited me to think it’ll be the 30th anniversary of my last visit with her.
Through a rental agency with various family-friendly properties (houseboathotel.nl), I found an IKEA-decorated duplex in the low-key Jordaarn district where my mom could have her own room. And when I pointed out sharing rent for a week would cost less than even a mediocre hotel and allow us to save money by cooking for ourselves, my mother readily agreed to my plans.
Although I couldn’t help but go over the possible scenarios that could make my plans go south, the trip turned out to be more than what I hoped for. However, things pick up just as we landed, and I quickly rediscovered why I love Amsterdam.
No, we didn’t end up cooking for ourselves as we realized that we could find relatively quick, cheap and tasty food on the streets whenever our feet gave out at the end of the day. We had fantastic Thai, Indian and Indonesian meals, and in a pinch, we were pretty happy to grab another sandwich for supper
When I ask Charlie now about his favorite memories of Amsterdam, he talks about the playgrounds, the salty black licorice and a gray heron we saw sitting calmly on top of a car parked beside Prinsengracht. He also talks about the moment when standing on a bridge with his grandma; he finally screwed up the courage to wave at an approaching boatload of lads out for a Friday cruise, and every guy on board beamed and wave back.
But if I have to choose my favorite moment, it would be standing with my mom on our last night watching Charlie and Tim chasing each other in a circle around the same fountain where I saw a group of footballs mourning the loss of Holland to Argentina during the world cup, as they pranced about in their underpants, thirty years earlier.
The scenes stayed separate in my head for a while. Then weirdly – but in a good way – they overlapped to form moments that are forever engraved in my memory… not moments I will forget in a hurry or ever at all.
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POSTED IN: TRAVEL. TAGGED: EUROPE TRIP, EUROPE WITH KIDS, FAMILY TRAVEL, TRAVEL WITH KIDS, VACATION