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Hattie’s sick today. Leva suggested that she take her out to Jeni’s to help her feel better. We popped her in the stroller and walked up, Hattie pathetic. They stood at the counter picking their flavors, Hattie shivering with fever. Then Leva pulled out her wallet, counting out 5 dollar bills, six quarters, and the balance in dimes. The girl at the counter was so impressed that she gave Leva a coupon for a free triple the next time she stops in.

This morning, we woke up to spend the morning at the cheese market. We had recently watched a PBS special about what it is, so I had some idea of what to expect, but it’s always amazing to see how a town square can fill up and transform over night! The cheese was there. Laid out in long piles, with farmers in traditional dress there to do the bargaining. According to the tv show, the farmers will hold hands as though shaking right hands and then pat their left hands over the right as they negotiate a price for the lot. The gratuitous girls in their wooden shoes and traditional dress wandered around holding giant wheels of cheese. I don’t know why.

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We watched for a while, and suprisingly, saw two farmers NOT reach a deal. Got pretty heated. Cool.

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Then we went to check out the market. They had an appropriate cheese making display.

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And there were tables of cheese for sale.

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And oh thank goodness, Olie Bolen and waffles! (not cheese)

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We perused the stalls. Bought some fruit for later, looked at hats for G but couldn’t find a good one, and ultimately, Geert got bored. We had walked into town the same way as on our tour the last night, so I had a surprise: I knew where the Lego store was. This was appreciated much more than the market stalls, and we spent at least an hour here. First, looking at a car to buy (he settled on the exact some one that Malachi had bought), then just spending time at the table playing. It was much needed downtime.

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We had to be back at the boat to ride before lunch, so headed back with a snack stop for mom.

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We rode through town, and like all Dutch towns, it was darling. It opened up on the “other side” and turned a bit more of what looked like metropolitan Europe. Neat apartments, tiny yards. We rode next to a small canal in the shade for a while, through a relatively busy part of town. A small green dingy with a mom and three girls in it puttered by. The oldest girl was navigating while the others ate sandwiches. I wanted to do that.

A bit of construction slowed us down, but we hit the next town to eat lunch at the canal. We sat and watched the drawbridge (that we had just ridden over) go up and down to let boats through. It didn’t wait to go up and down at particular intervals, like I oftentimes see in the states, it just went every time a boat came through, which was OFTEN. We sat eating sandwiches and feeding ducks for 30min and it must have gone up 5 times. Fun also to see all the different types of bridges – the one went up with counterweights.

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Not much longer and we arrived at the dairy farm Kaasboerderij Lena’s Hoeve (I think). We were there to sample, and apparently, hopefully buy, cheese, and so the kids could play. They had fresh milk and cheese (delicious) in the courtyard, and ran to play in the barns.

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Loads of fun. Then it was time to play “Dutch golf”, where the golf club is a wooden shoe. I wasn’t sure how this was supposed to work, but had been given warning the night before to bring a change of clothes and perhaps even shoes. This I promptly forgot in the morning and had brought neither with me. But it looked okay. The kids got these ridiculous sticks with wooden shoe carvings on them, and were supposed to whack these rubber balls around between holes on this picturesque green field, wind turbines turning in the background. Bucolic and idyllic.

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So the field was surrounded by a little moat or waterway. No idea how deep it was, but if the ball went in the water or across to the other side, the children were expected to retrieve it. They hop on a “float” which may or may not have a guideline to pull to get across. They looked pretty stable and I wasn’t too worried. Aine lost a ball across the way and went to get it, seated on the boat, gently pulling herself across, no problem.

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Next, Geert lost a ball, and I thought it would be fun for he and Aine to go get it together. Look how pretty:

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Except that right after I took this picture, the float began to drift towards Aine, pulling Geert closer to the line. As it did so, he got pulled until the best decision he could make was to just jump right off the float and into water almost up to his waist, feet deep in sticky muck. It literally looked like he just hopped off and into the water for no reason. This was not good. I sort of freaked. “Geert! What are you doing?!” He waded through the thick, sucky muck to the edge and I pulled him out, dripping and muddy, and confused.

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We stomped back to the barn where the farmer’s wife and kids were still playing and talking to Rita and asked if she had an extra towel I could use to help clean him off. No. A hose? No. Rita piquantly added that this is why they told us to bring things “just in case”. Grrrrr. Okay fine. I took him into the little bathroom with a little tiny tiny sink and a little tiny tiny cloth towel, stripped him naked below the waist and rinsed him off. Fully aware that I’m wrecking the bathroom, but grumpy that I can’t get any help and grumpy that I didn’t know or remember enough to bring what would have helped. I sort of got mud every where, but ultimately, he was wet and shiny and mudless, and his socks, and shoes, and underwear and shorts ran with clean water. I wrung them out, put his shorts on him commando and we walked out. Here the farmer’s wife helped a bit. I laid his socks and underwear in the sun to dry on the warm pavement and she gave me newspaper to change in and out of the shoes and they dried in the sun. He played happily, oblivious, without underwear, while everything dried.

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The other kids came back from playing and added to the fun.

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I cooled off a bit and decided that I would, in fact, like to buy cheese. They could vacuum seal it so we could take it home without refrigeration. I chose an aged cheese and one with cumin in it, which was surprisingly good. I even took a picture of the farmer’s wife and her cheese store. Harumph.

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And a really big cheese pot.

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Geert’s clothes and shoes were quite dry by the time it was time to go, and we went back to the bikes and mused at the cows, all lined up with colossal udders, waiting to be let in to be milked.

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A short, but pretty ride to the next town.

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The kid with the big muscles helped bring the bags in,

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And took in his surroundings for the night.

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I started letting Geert “sleep in”. I would get up and dressed, set out his clothes for him, and all by his big old self, he would wake up, see the clothes, put them on and come upstairs. This seemed to get him 30-40 extra minutes of sleeping time, which he desperately needed. After being used to anywhere from 11-12 hours of sleep every night at home, 10 and activity all day was starting to catch up. This morning, however, he came up to THIS. Dutch pancakes with margarine and chocolate sprinkles. Dad would be proud.

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We had some sailing to do this morning, so he started the day playing Legos with Malachi, who always shared without being asked.

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We started calling the boys the “twins” because they always seemed to be wearing similar clothes and were the same size, despite Malachi being almost a year older. We cruised for a few hours down a large canal towards Dordrecht and then up towards Kinderdijk. We always had great weather for sailing.

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We got off the boat and had a short ride towards Kinderdijk, a place I’ve wanted to see forever! It wasn’t as majestic as I’d imagined, but still, that’s a lot of windmills in one place.

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Apparently, we came in the back way – which afforded us this great view, without a lot of traffic.

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Unfortunately, right after I took this picture, the path got a bit congested. Folks were stopping to take pictures (unlike me, with my catlike mobile phone snapping) and Hans, who perpetually was looking around where he was going, rather than at where he was going, sideswiped an old lady who was paused on the side of the path. I heard a yelp and so as I pulled up, got off my bike to make sure she was okay. She was frozen and when I looked down, she was bleeding everywhere. I think the fender had sliced her calf. She handed me a tissue (she spoke no English) and I held pressure until it seemed to stop. Sitting, on the ground, getting blood all over myself. Once it stopped, it wasn’t too deep, but her skin was so fragile that she was developing a hematoma under it. Katherine stopped by and what do you know, she’s a wound care nurse. We used Rita’s kit to make a pretty pathetic bandage and Rita explained to her that she needed to go right to the hospital for stitches and to make sure she had a tetanus shot up to date. When she pulled her foot out of her shoe, it was filled with a giant clot of blood. Ew. Hans was crying – he knew it was his fault – and stayed away. But ultimately, they left, and we rode close to the windmills.

At this point, Geert really started lagging behind. I saw him really pushing on the pedals and he was going NOWHERE. He started to cry. I got off and checked his bike and his brakes were on so hard he couldn’t turn the pedals over! I felt TERRIBLE – had his brakes been on this whole trip?? What happened that they suddenly got so much worse? My baby! He walked his bike closer to the snack shack, where we were going to take a break, and we let Rita take a look at it.

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Here she is looking at the bike (which took, seriously, over 30 minutes) and if you look closely, you’ll see that his handlebars are spun around 360deg. Which puts on the brake. Which she didn’t notice.

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She examined the brake forever and I slowly realized: she doesn’t know how to fix bikes. But she has the tools. And I don’t know how to fix bikes. This would have all been so much easier had Brad been there – he could have figured it out immediately AND fixed the brake (which was also broken, it turned out), but rather, we watched her fiddle forever. After she got the bars turned around, we saw that the brake pads would keep listing to one side and rub against the wheel as well. Tightening helped temporarily, but soon they would move and the “run” of the bike would slow down impressively. So we developed a system. Geert would not realize he couldn’t keep up because he was jetlagged and on the oblivious side anyway, but I would realize and have him stop his bike. I could reach over and re-center the brake pads, and he would speed up double. We did this for the rest of the trip, and yes, he was fast, and yes, his brakes had been on pretty much the whole time since we had started. Sorry, G. :(

We took a group shot for posterity

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Wrestled Aldo (which was great, I think Geert missed his dad and Aldo was so generous to let him in on the pile-on)

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After lunch, the twins got a snack

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And we headed off again. Before we even got out of the town, Aisling blew another flat. The same one from Efteling. Argh. So we spent an hour (an HOUR), while Rita attempted to fix the tire. Again, I’m not sure why there’s not a test for this before you get the job. Rather than just replace the tube and patch the flat at the boat (which would have taken 5 minutes), she spent the hour trying to patch the tube while it was still ON THE WHEEL. This is 100% embarrassing. When I told Brad later, he laughed incredulously. But now resigned, I sat in the shade, and the Malachi taught Geert to wrestle up on the Dike. It was so funny – the report I got from Malachi (in his Irish accent): “I taught G to wrestle! He was quite good. I beat him three times but he beat me twice!” Geert beamed. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever really known Geert to wrestle around with another boy. It might seem silly, but it was like magic to me.

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We rode an hour or two and stopped for a snack in a small park. Rita brought out a soccer ball, but the kids weren’t too interested. We looked for bugs and someone accidentally sat in stinging nettle, which I’d heard of, but never seen before! Apparently it really burns, but there is another plant that grows nearby with leaves that you tear off and rub on your rash to help it feel better. Hmmm. Malachi said it worked.

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Rode in the sunshine for another hour or two, which was lovely. Here we are on a path that’s 2 meters BELOW sea level.

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The path wound through parks and over canals

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And when we finally arrived at the boat in Gouda, the captain had set up the ladder from the side of the boat and encouraged the kids to jump right in! Rein facetiously told us how warm the water was (we all knew he’s a big liar by now), but the kids ran to get their suits on. Even I jumped in. No, I did not touch the bottom.

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We had a stupendous dinner (yes, I took a picture of my plate, don’t judge me) and Geert was thrilled to have pork cutlets!

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After dinner, we propped the kids up in front of a movie on Aldo’s laptop, and Rita took us out for a brief tour of Gouda. Here’s the “land side” of our docking for the night – reminds me of Oma’s windmill painting.

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We headed over a lock that once upon a time kept boats from coming into Gouda unless they paid a toll, and up the little canal towards the city center.

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And I really wish I could remember why I took this picture. It had to do with the architecture of this particular building – the glass maybe? But already I don’t remember. I need to write these blog posts sooner after I get home than I do.

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Gouda was darling. This is a church from the 1300’s that is famous for its windows and something else that I forget. See what I mean about writing these posts?

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And this is the little alley directly across from its front door. Directly across – 20 feet, I think!

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Tiny, well-kept gardens were everywhere. I took a picture of this one to think of tips for my own garden back home (which will never look like this).

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Towards the city center and to the main square

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Where we found city hall

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This square is where we would come for the Kaas Market tomorrow (cheese market!) So we went home, put the kids to bed and called it a day.

Today was considered a “rest day”, and also, coincidentally, Malachi’s 8th birthday. We would be staying in Heusden for another night and folks were encouraged to do whatever they’d like for fun. The Canadians decided to visit Eric’s dutch relatives (much to Thomas’s chagrin) but all other involved parties decided to make the trek to Efteling Amusement Park. Rita decided it would be a good idea to lead us out, since the route was a bit tricky, and we got ready. With help from Aine.

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We set off on a beautiful sunny day, for the 30k round trip – our longest yet! We sailed through Heusden, which was beautiful, and out into the countryside. I tried to remember each turn and look on signs for what number we were on, but soon got muddled. Geert seemed to be holding his own today and had the privilege of riding behind Rita (the kids had taken daily turns for this honor). We were riding down a narrow, but rural road when we approached a one lane tunnel through a dike. A car was coming on the other side. I called out to Rita (since G was right behind her) that the car was coming, thinking she would stop and yield to the car, but no, she goes right into the tunnel and G goes right through behind her. My heart seriously stopped. He was in a one lane tunnel going head-on towards a car traveling at least 40mph. He stayed the side, kept a straight line, and did not die. But i think i did. Seriously, just typing it makes me die all over again. Freakin’ Dutch!!

We all made it alive (with the exception of yours truly) to the park, which was situated in a rather busy section of town. It was MUCH larger than I expected. We parked in the impressively expansive bike parking lot (okay, another point back to the Dutch) and got in line for tickets. Right through the gate was the park lagoon with Aladdin’s castle and a watershow. Kinda boring, but kinda impressive.

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Despite the long ride, Geraldine suggested we hit the roller coasters first and eat snacks in line. She’s a wise amusement park veteran. The first was a racer-type coaster with some type of dragon motif. When we got there, it became obvious that the German boys were not fans of coasters and they begged off, so it was just G and I and the Irish.

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We snacked in line (more pan aux chocolat) and watched it go over our heads. No loops or tricks, so G was excited. He and Malachi were brave enough to ride together!

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This ride was fun. Big hills, a water vs fire thing where my coaster spiraled around a blast of flame and Geert’s around a spurt of fountain (that did a good job getting him wet), so the Irish kids got into high gear and were clamoring for “the big one”. G was nervous. “The big one” had a double loop. And a double spiral. Whoa. I talked him into waiting in line to at least kill time and told him if we got to the gate and he didn’t want to go, we’d wait for the Irish on the other side. He was still nervous.

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This line was a bit longer, so we ate sandwiches and had drinks from our packs. All the Irish kids, especially Malachi were excited about this one and kept talking it up to Geert. When the time came, he VERY nervously stepped in the car and decided to make a go of it. I was extremely pleased that they had shoulder harnesses with this rubber vest inside that actually held his tiny body into the seat (unlike the Phantom’s revenge in Kennywood where Brad had thought he might pop out). He squeezed the handbars with white knuckles and as the car started to ascend the first hill, he started to cry. A panicked weeping. Oh man. No backing out now. We climbed higher and higher and he cried louder and then WHIZZZZZ!!! we dropped down the first hill and through the first loop and I looked over to see him laughing. LAUGHING! hysterically! He laughed and whooped his way through the second loop and the spirals and the corkscrews and was beaming terrifically when we came to a stop. He demanded to go again. Phew. But no, let’s go check out another ride. It’s already after lunch and all we’ve done is two coasters.

We headed for the flying Dutchman ride, since the park seemed to be directing attention towards it and waited in an incredibly long line. Over an hour, I think. Fortunately, most of the waiting was inside in the airconditioning, but it was in dark spooky rooms with pirates and skeletons and fake treasure and weird music. The kids weren’t scared, but it was weird. And honestly, we didn’t even know what kind of ride it was. We finally got to the cars and they were hybrid coaster/boats. Hm.

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The ride wound around inside the building around other “ships in the night”, then went up this big hill in the night, then paused with us practically on our backs. Then we screamed down a hill, diving back into the sunlight where the ride kind of turned into a log jam thing. Totally weird and not worth the hour wait at all. Loops were better. So we got ice cream.

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We decided to check out the other side of the park and got to ride fun cars. At Kennywood, the cars rather drive themselves and you just push on the gas, but Geert actually got to steer this one, which he really liked.

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The Irish wanted to do the giant pirate boat swing, so G and I tried to shoot stuff.

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We got back together, and with the limited time left, went for one more run on the double loop coaster (atta boy, G!) and then headed to the fairytale forest, apparently the oldest part of the park. Stopped for jelly beans and fake youtube photo ops.

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The kids were really doing well, but starting to fade a bit. We got to the forest and couldn’t help but laugh. Talk about weird. Different scenes along winding paths, with a moving character or two and recorded mini-stories. Here’s Rapunzel:

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and Hansel and Gretel:

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You know the kids are losing interest when they start hanging from poles that are not part of the attraction:

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It was just about time to meet up anyway, so we headed towards the entrance and the conveniently placed giftshop, where we found the Germans. After the Irish picked out a few things, we headed to the bikes. We loaded up and got out of the lot and to the car parking lot when Aisling discovered she had a flat tire. And we didn’t have Rita with us (the lady with the equipment, of course). Aldo and she headed back to the bike lot to ask about patches and we sat. In the sun. For at least an hour. Hungry, and with a 15k ride ahead of us. Apparently, they tried three patches and glue didn’t hold or something. I thought the Dutch would know how to fix a tire, seriously. FINALLY, we felt ready. Somehow I took the lead and we truly magically managed to find our way back with the map. The bike routes seem similar to how the streets are labeled – you make your way to the next numbered marker, not along numbered or named routes. So rather than looking to see if we’d reached a landmark, we’d have to look for the next sign with an arrow, apparently meaning we were on our way. But some signs were missing. At least twice, we’d realized we’d missed a turn and would have to double back. In a park, I realized we were off track and found a bunch of cycling geriatrics who spoke no english. We figured it out by going towards the right town name and actually made it back on track! We so happily found ourselves back in Heusden and I was completely amazed by Geert’s stamina. The kid was fast today. He stayed right behind me and was FAST! Miracle! We pulled back into the dock and saw this:

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Glory of glories it was a cookout. The night was perfect and somehow completely bug-free. Chef and Rein and even Captain manned the grill and we ate like kings.

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The next surprise came out as we finished eating. For Malachi’s birthday. How unbelievably thoughtful and special!

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Malachi was congratulated by the captain and we ate a fantastic cream cake.

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Then time for some night swimming! Captain set up the ladder from the dock into the water for the kids. Here they are deciding who will be brave enough to go in first. It was Aisling.

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Then time for bed. The wifi signal here was great, so I sat out on the deck after putting Geert down and was able to call Brad. Somehow he was free and I got to tell him all about the trip. So nice to be able to be in touch even if just for a night.

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Today we woke up to sunshine! Rein, the first mate, told us that there was a “zero” percent chance of rain, so I skipped the rain jackets, packed our lunches, and we headed out to the bikes!

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We started our ride on the outskirts of town (after a blissfully peaceful night with no boats knocking around), and headed towards the city center of Gorinchem.

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We arrived at a very small ferry terminal (which we would catch later) and parked our bikes for the walk to the center square.

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I saw this on the way:

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If you look closely, you’ll see the battery on the rear mount. Sigh. Why don’t we have set-ups like this just sitting in front of a window on the sidewalk in the States?

In the town center, we got our bearings, and split into teams. Geert really wanted to stay with Malachi, so Aldo took G, Malachi, and Thomas, and the four men made a team. I teamed up with the Irish lasses (Geraldine, Aisling and Aine), and the Germans stuck with the Canadians.

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This was our “treasure hunt”:

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What an INGENIOUS way to discover the town. We girls walked, briskly (we don’t want to lose, you know) toward the first stop. Some were a bit tricky, but we meandered through small stone paved alleyways, under ancient arches, popped up on medieval dikes and learned more about the city in such a fun way,than I ever expected to learn. Here’s an archway from the 14th century: (the fourteenth century!!)

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And a view of one of the old gates to the city and the canals, from atop the medieval fortress wall:

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We made it back to the city center and found Rita waiting for us at the fountain. We were the first in, but we’d also started first, so our standing was yet unassured. But after 5min, 10min, our victory was sealed! But then we kept waiting. After a rather long while, the Canadian/German team made it, despite starting after the boys. Hmmm. We waited. And waited some more. We had a ferry to catch, you know. People started talking about coffee and hot chocolate, so I decided to walk back to the ferry terminal to see if somehow they’d ended up there by the bikes (the hunt ended with an arch in the city center, the one that Hugo de Groot had been smuggled under in a book trunk in the 1600’s before the Spanish Inquisition – I think). If they finished the tour, they’d HAVE to end up in the center, and we’d have seen them. As I neared the dock, I saw Aldo sitting on the bench, boys running around him. He looked tired.
“Where ya been, Aldo?” I quipped.
“What do you mean? We won! Where have you been?” was his retort.
Hilarious. I asked him if he’d checked everything off his list? “Yep” Are you SUUURE? “Yep” Did you find the arch with the 13-something date on it? “Yep” Right, sigh, okay, come get some coffee. So we walked back into town, the boys trailing behind, and got coffee, just in time to finish and catch the ferry.

To get to Castle Loevestine, we got to take two ferries. We had lunch on the first, but it was starting to get a bit cooler and cloudier out and Geert and I ended up back inside.

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Our first ferry stop was some ancient wall, where we got off to wait about 10min for the next ferry.

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Then off to the castle!

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The ferry dock was right in front of the castle, upon which ground broke in 1361. Whoa. See the moat?

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Inside, we headed to the visitor center/gift shop, where we picked up our “tickets”, which were plastic keys hung from lanyards to wear around our neck. These keys would allow us access to the buildings and also, if you saw a info post, you could slide your key in the lock and a short audio tour would start in your own language. Genius.

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The boys sword fought in the gift shop (as any good knight would), then we gathered our things and went to explore.

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This is the the original part of the castle, and it expanded out from this center building over hundreds of year. There’s a draw-bridge for the inner moat, in addition to the outer moat, AND the castle is on an island. Triple water crossing. Cool.

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Just sitting in a box under the trees were some kid toys – stilts, iron rings to push, and hobby horses, so kids could just see what they felt like horsing around with (ha).

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We crossed the bridge, and “unlocked” the gate to get inside the castle. Down a kind of creepy staircase was a room with gear to dress up like a knight or a lady. The Irish kids were into it. Geert, not so much. He seemed to already be dragging a little bit.

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We went through various rooms in the castle – this is an ingenious bench in the enormous dining room, with a backrest that swivels from side to side. If your belly gets too hot in front of the fire, you can switch the backrest and warm your bum!

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We got to another chamber where a woman was stationed who could give a history story in any language (oh, the multilingual Dutch), in front of a scene set up on the floor with plastic soldiers. The boys weren’t interested, but she told us how during WWII many important Dutch documents were smuggled into Castle Loevestine and successfully hidden from the Nazi’s.

We saw frescos that were 600+ years old

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And found an outhouse, which was amusing. I don’t remember the exact story, but apparently in medieval times, foes used to dump dead bodies in the moats of castles to poison the drinking water and force defenders out. Castle Loevestine had a very deep well, which was protected from that disgustingness, and could hold out sieges much longer than the average castle.

Alas, even that didn’t hold G’s attention. He started to wander, so I followed his lead and we went back outside. He found the gunpowder tower and we climbed the stairs to find a fun interactive display. They were teaching you the ingredients to make gunpowder with ye so much charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur. So Geert got to try different recipes by slipping bags in the holes.

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The voice would heckle him about what a crappy soldier he was for getting the ratios wrong when all of a sudden LIGHTNING LIGHTNING BAAAAMM!! The room flickered with bright lights and then a red light explosion! Geert and I both screamed! and laughed so hard, we couldn’t breath. Nice job, G, you finally figured it out, and holy cow we weren’t expecting it to blow up. We left to find the next thing to do.

Outside we found a bunker, but it only had an audio display (boring), then saw some kids firing muskets and gave that a try.

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The guns had laser pointers so you could hit the faraway targets, and again with the heckling. So funny.

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Then we gave the canon a try, which was really heavy. We were rewarded with another loud BOOM when Geert figured out the order for how to load and tamp down, etc the canon.

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We wandered around a bit more, checking out some of the living quarters. Soldiers who lived there had families at one point, so there was a small school room and some kid artifacts, which were fascinating. We met up with the others at the appointed time, got to keep our keys, and headed towards the bikes as the drizzle started.

We rode in POURING rain for what seemed forever. Geert had been dragging a bit at the castle and now on the bikes, he was having a really hard time. He seemed to be able to up his effort when I “cheered” for him, but otherwise we were way off the back. In the pouring rain.

We stopped at a little family bar for hot chocolate in small paper cups. Somehow the kids found South Park? Great. When the swearing got pretty good, we were able to change it to the Tour de France, which no one was really interested in. Ironically.

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More riding through the rain. We passed fields and went through ten house towns. We rode up on the dikes for most of it, at one point passing a small house seemingly in the middle of a tiny tiny nowhere town. The house was nestled at the bottom of the dike and two 12-ish year old girls were walking a horse in the yard next to it, beautiful and pink-cheeked and laughing in the rain. What it’s like to live out here, where you can see the sky, I wondered. Then another cable ferry crossing, the biggest one yet!

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Rain was dripping down the inside of my coat, my pants were stuck to my legs. Geert seemed relatively unphased, because he’s awesome, and because when I stripped him out of all his wet gear one back at the boat, I was shocked to find him DRY inside. Dry! What the…

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We finally made it back to the boat, docked in the lovely town of Heusden, took hot long showers, and had the daily snack along with some good Uno playing.

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What a beautiful spot, especially as the sun started to peek out from underneath the clouds.

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Dinner was, as usual, superb. Having a chef on the boat was such a great experience. Home-cooked meals that were balanced and delicious made such a difference over eating out every night. Geert impressed everyone with his exceptional vegetable eating (more than any other kid there) and was always happy with what he ate. He still asks me to make “Dutch meat on noodles”, but I have no idea what that was. Some kind of spicy, dry shredded/chunked beef, with a gravy sauce and buttered noodles. I think he ate three servings this night.

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We plopped the kids in front of Aldo’s laptop for a movie, and I headed out for a self-guided tour of Heusden with Aldo and Geraldine.

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What a beautiful town. All the Dutch towns we saw or rode through were beautiful. All neat and clean. All with manicured, even if tiny landscaping. There must be a vestigial part of me that’s Dutch. Geert, well, that’s obvious.

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We got back right at the end of the movie and put very tired kids to bed.

It was raining when we got up at 8am. I woke G up, got him dressed and headed up for breakfast, which was announced, like all meals, by chef telling a kid to ring the bell. This morning he had a buffet set out on the bar – yogurt, muesli, granola, chocopuffs, breads, meats, cheeses, sliced cucumbers, rolls, milk, coffee, tea. Geert got chocopuffs with milk and juice, which he loved and ate two bowls. At each placemat there was an extra piece of fruit, a juice box, and a mini candybar. Also a mug filled with a roll of plastic bags and ties and after breakfast we would head back to the bar and make a packed lunch. I made some PBJs, took a bag of cukes and a pain aux chocolate and put them in our new red bike bags with all the extras from the table. Rita blithely said that riding in the Netherlands means riding in the rain, so we got on our rain jackets, and, spirits relatively high, set out.

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We headed up the canal, in the rain, Geert on his too-big bike that prevented him from being able to put his feet down without getting off the saddle. Without helmets on. Brad and I had discussed this before the trip – the Dutch NEVER wear helmets. You are on bike paths. The other bikes and cars respect you. They are large and cumbersome to carry. But the Dutch don’t ride on tours with kids from Ireland, Canada and Germany who don’t pay attention and who crash. A lot. In the first hour and a half of riding, we had three wrecks. Malachi went off the edge and swept out, screaming, but recovering nicely. 20 minutes later, Eva (German mom) wasn’t watching where she was going and ran into her own son, Joseph, and wiped them both out. He cried pretty hard for a ten year old who’s as tall as me. Not 20 minutes after that, Malachi wipes out again. SERIOUSLY PEOPLE!! Now I’m really wishing Geert had a helmet on and mad at myself for not bringing one. I kept him towards the back of the back, in front of me, talking to him the whole time (I’m sure in a not at all appreciated way) about slow down, speed up, stay to the right, heads up. He didn’t complain. Actually, I’m not sure how much thought was being processed in his tiny, jet-lagged head. He seemed a bit on auto-pilot. And still a bit slow. I’d usually have to encourage him to catch up, which struck me as a bit weird. Maybe it was the too-big bike or the jet-lag.

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And soon, we saw our first real windmill.

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And shortly after, another one! (Man, they’re really everywhere!)

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We paused for a group shot. From left to right: Thomas, Eric, Catherine (the Canadians), Eva, Joseph, Hans (the Germans), Aldo, Aine, Geraldine, Aisling, Malachi (the Irish), and me and G

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We continued on, and while the rain had paused for a moment, it started up again, with quite the vengeance. Luckily, we were close to our first stop, a little cafe in a tiny town with a name I forget, and we stopped in for hot chocolates and coffees. They had games for the kids there (to be a recurring theme everywhere we went, the Dutch are so family friendly),and they played while it poured.

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Geert took to the Irish kids and Thomas like they were his own siblings. At home, he’ll sometimes cling in situations where he doesn’t know the other kids, but here he stepped right into this new family like he’d known them forever. I was happy, if somewhat surprised. He and Aine made a connect 4 picture.

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Geraldine and I cracking up about something

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After waiting as long as we could, there was a temporary break in the downpour and we kept riding. Nothing particularly touristy, just the canals through the countryside, which are certainly pretty enough. The rain started up again. I couldn’t take any pictures because, you know, we’re riding in the pouring rain. About another hour and a half later, going at our 8 mph speed, we got to our next stop. Another little family run cafe in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, set up with plastic roofing over patio furniture and a tiny outdoor kitchen/restaurant. They let us sit to eat our lunch, while their pet rooster and dog wandered between our feet and their cat jumped on the table next to our sandwiches. Malachi left his sandwich on the stool and the dog stole it and ran away.

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It continued to rain and the kids had to use the bathroom. They let us use the bathroom in what I presume was their house, behind the patio, and while it wasn’t immaculate, the dirty wet children made a bit of a mess of it. And we were using up a lot of their tables (not that anyone else was there by this point), so we ordered tea. Fresh mint tea. On the spot for a rainy afternoon.

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The cafe also served as the gatekeeper for the motorized float that crossed the canal to the other side. How fun is that?! We watched some girls get pulled across the river, after they had looked both ways for boat traffic. Apparently, the motor pulls a thick cable that sits on the bottom of the canal. I’m still amazed it’s deep enough not to snag passing boats.

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We paid our tabs, saddled up, and what?? We get to cross on the float?! Hooraaaay!! One euro paid the toll.

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We rode on for a while more, and arrived at a pond in a park.

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Rita said that last week the weather was sunny and really warm and the place was packed. Today, while it had stopped raining again, it was cloudy and quite cool, and we had the place to ourselves. There was a beach with grass and picnic tables, and water toys in the sand. The kids played on a zip-line, deciding if they would change into suits for a plunge.

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Geraldine, who turned out to be the one we could count on to swim in any weather, encouraged the kids to suit up and get in.

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It was BRISK.

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Geraldine and Aisling swam out a bit further and Thomas followed, Geraldine claiming that the water was warmer where it was a bit deeper (she’s a big liar) and Geert tried to get it to get used to it.

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I joined him and seriously, it caught my breath away to dunk. Geert was freezing and despite lunch and snacks, starting to lose it a little bit. We dried off and warmed up, and soon were on our way again, actually quite close to the boat.

Arriving at the boat, chef had cookies and kool aid waiting for the kids. They played more Uno, had their snack and waited for dinner. At 6pm, one of the kids range the bell and we had a nice warm dinner. Chef (who’s real name is Bauke) turned out to be quite the master in the galley kitchen. Our dinners were delicious, well balanced, home cooked meals and Geert ate like a champ. We didn’t do much after dinner except let the kids play while the parents uploaded pictures to relatives or facebook. Everyone stayed up a bit late and Geert finally crashed. A great first full day of riding.

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The hotel was really nice. Although our room was the first room down the hall from the lobby and restaurant, it was quiet. Geert woke up at 8am (perfect!) and went straight to the hotel breakfast buffet. I honestly didn’t care how much it cost. We needed to fuel up.

It did not disappoint. All of the breads and pastries and yogurts and meats we could eat. And an orange juice machine that squeezed your juice for you and a cappucino maker that I operated with the touch of a button. Perfection.

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Sinasappelsap!

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Snapped a picture of the mermaid for the girls

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and headed out to the electronics store across the water, so I could buy a USB port european charger. My stupid charger wasn’t working again. We got to the store, but it wasn’t open yet, so just started walking. We happened upon the public library which was open, and stepped in to check it out. Beautiful. Crisp and clean, and then a chartreuse wall of wool

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We checked out the kids section, which had a really nice set up. Places to read and explore, a large doll house and a loft for kids to read in.

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Still having time to kill, we decide to go up all the way to the top on the escalators (why not) and check out the view. On the 8th floor, we looked out over the inner harbor just in time to see our boat, the Vita Nova, sailing away from the dock to our meeting spot. Amazing! Geert was beside himself.

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When it was out of site, we returned to the Dutch version of Best Buy and got a really cheap and really good iPhone USB charger. I still feel dumb for not thinking of this last year. Outside, we took a picture of our hotel, as we walked back to check out and start for the embarkment spot.

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We began the walk to the docks, what was supposed to be about 10 minutes but it seemed to drag on longer than that. A picture of the canals and our first windmill siting.

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We got to the area on the map called Veemkade, but didn’t see our boat. We walked in the direction that the map said it continued and still didn’t see our boat. Once we got to the cruise ship terminal, we went inside the SwissHotel to ask directions. The very tall and handsome concierge treated us like we were stupid and said that we’d already passed it. But I didn’t see any boats! Ultimately, he finally explained that the dock went in the opposite direction too and maybe we just didn’t go far enough. Thanks, pal. We walked back the way we had come as I explained our likelihood of getting constantly lost to Geert and he nodded in understanding. Leva must have told him.

Finally, we found the boat and were shown to our teensy tiny room with our teensy tiny bunkbeds. I got the top, worried that if Geert fell out, he’d hit his head on the sink.

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We put the blankets in the duvet covers, left our things and went up to check out the boat.

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Not long after, the boat set sail, headed for our first stop of Vianen. We met our co-passengers and were delighted that most of the spoke English. The Fuschiardi’s from Ireland, the Boer’s from Vancouver, BC, and “The Germans” from Hamburg. And us, the Americans. We sat down to lunch, and afterwards Geert immediately started playing with Malachi (pronounced Mala-KEE), since he’d brought lego cars, and the girls hung out and colored. The steps on the boat to get up to the deck or down to the cabins were crazy steep and it took us a while to get used to them, but the kids would go up to the deck, and down into the dining room to play. They honestly settled in as though they all knew each other before the trip. It was amazing. We learned that Aine (pronounced OHN-yah) was 10, Aisling (OH-shling) was 11, Thomas was 12, and the Germans, the children who didn’t speak any English, Hans was 8 and Josef, 10. They played Jenga, Uno and cars for a few hours.

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The boys talked to Rein, the first mate

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and were impressed as we went through a big lock

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we arrived a few hours later at Vianen, where we just pulled up to a dock for the night. This struck me as a bit odd – you can really just pull up to a dock for the night? I guess you can!

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The boys played tag to get the lead out, and then we headed out on our first bike ride to try out the wheels.

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Geert’s bike was big for him. I was surprised, since we’d sent in his age and height, but not only did he get a pretty big bike, he got a GIRL’S bike. Green with flowers on it. Rita, the tour guide, brushed it off with “a bike is a bike” (oh, the Dutch), but he was upset. I have to hand it to him, though, he didn’t throw a fit. Or complain. He just took it. Over the week, he would really grow to like his bike, and I was so proud of him. We passed some beautiful scenery and hot air balloons. Geert was kind of slow, but I chalked it up to jetlag and a gigantic bike, and we rode for about an hour before settling in for the night.

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Geert slept well, but I didn’t. The boats next to us were roped to each other and then to the dock, lengthwise to each other, and every breeze and every small wave made them hit into each other. At first I thought it was hammering (who would DO that at night??), but soon figured it out. I really really hoped this wouldn’t be how we would sleep the whole trip. Oh dear.

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For Geert, the 7 year old trip was to be to the land of his namesake Dutch (I mean, come on, his name is GEERT). And, in complete opposition to Leva’s trip, I elected to do a tour. This was actually a really hard decision. We totally got away with Leva’s trip: minimal planning, maximum fun and flexibility, and an amazing, hard to beat trip. We saw sites that she still talks about, met friends, took beautiful pictures and really did feel like we experienced Paris. Why mess with perfection? Because Geert can’t walk all day and stare into space and be happy (like Leva can). I found a tour on the internet that sounded too good to be true – a family tour where you stay on a riverboat, ride bikes all day on bike paths, and see some typical Dutch things like windmills and canals. As Geert is still enamored with all things transportation, it seemed a good fit! Ride a plane. Ride a train. Ride a boat. Ride a bike. Check check check check. And a windmill. Sold.

Signing up for the trip was nerve wracking. We found the site in Dutch and elected to buy tickets this way, so we could pay in Euros (which had just tanked and would give us a really good deal). But they don’t have any on-line security and i ended up just sending them an email with my credit card number on it for the deposit. For the whole world to use. Then they didn’t respond right away. Then the messages back and forth got a little cryptic. Ultimately, I took the plunge, sent in the balance, and bought airfare, actually prepared in case it was all an elaborate scam. We got a weird brochure for the company that wasn’t specifically for our tour. We never got an email confirming us. I really might show up in Amsterdam for the week without plans.

We took off on a Thursday afternoon. No one cried this time, although Geert was still visibly nervous. Knowing how well wi-fi communication went and that I could keep in easy contact with Brad made it much easier. Knowing what a 7yo can really do made it much easier. But still a step into the unknown.

Obligatory airport picture – we’re off!

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We arrived in Boston with six hours to kill. I had considered taking a water taxi to the waterfront, just to get out of the airport, but with boarding times and the confusion for how to make that work, we just stayed put. Ate an egg sandwich (a completely inconsequential detail that Geert remembers) and rode all of the people movers backwards. For hours.

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Ate a shrimp basket (I had lobster stew – it’s Boston! and it was terrible!)

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Played in the airport playground for toddlers

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and FINALLY got on the plane to cross the big pool. Naturally, Geert was a button man and picked out a movie (Home).

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He watched the movie, ate a bit of dinner, and slept for about 3 hours. But like last year’s trip to Europe, the flight was relatively short and he woke up when the breakfast lights came on. He didn’t really want to eat anything, which was a bad sign, but seemed to be holding it together. We landed at Schipol, and headed straight for the trains.

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Learning from last year, I bought a ticket at the counter (to avoid wacky credit card malfunction), fed Geert cookies I’d saved from the plane and had in my purse, and we were at Centraal in 20 short minutes. First thing we saw and took pictures of for dad was the bike parking.

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Expectedly, Geert was tired and not impressed. Our hotel (to which I had detailed directions – another lesson learned) was a 10 minute walk away, and we arrived quickly and without trouble. We got settled into a VERY nice room, dropped off the bags and headed out for our walk-to-keep-Geert-awake. We decided to head towards Vondel Park, as I had read that it had a lot of kid-friendly things to do (a cafe, playgrounds, etc). Our walk was long. I took the most direct route to try to maximize park time, but it was rather ugly to walk down Damrak street. We saw Dam Square with the Royal Palace

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and De Nieuwe Kerk

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and stopped to watch the street artists for a while. But kept on pluggin’ on. By the time we got to the historic flower market, G was spent and tired. Brad’s advice was to keep a steady stream of strong sugar into the kid, so we stopped for Nutella topped Dutch pancakes and apple juice. About as straight up sugar as you can get. And predictably, it made a HUGE difference. His color came back, he smiled and was ready to go.

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But not to look at flowers with mom (I could have spent HOURS here). This is Geert’s pose, at his own suggestion, to show dad just how excited he was (not) to be at the flower market. Sugar = sense of humor.

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The walk to the park seemed to take FOREVER. And when we finally got there, it was not so impressive. And the park is really really long. And we both wondered if we could find a playground that G didn’t really feel like playing on anyway. So we took a few pictures and turned back, saving it for another day.

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We passed the Rijksmuseum (and didn’t stop in – only the second time I’ve walked right past this building – again, saved for another day)

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and soon approached a stop for paddle boats. Geert really wanted to try. I was worried that it would be hard to steer and we’d get rolled over by a canal cruise. But again, this is his trip, and what the heck, how hard can it be? We got a boat for an hour and set off on the “short track”, hoping we could get it done in that amount of time.

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I must clarify here, that I am not an expert paddle boat-ist. We got pushed into the canal to go on our way. Geert could barely reach the pedals and had to sit on the “floor” of the boat to even get his feet on them (an inconvenient spot for him, since then he lost his view of the canal, down there in the bellows of the boat). And I couldn’t really figure out which way to push the rudder to get us to turn in the right direction, because there was always a delay before we’d actually turn. This meant that we traveled in a zig-zag drunken line down the canal, running into several bridges. BAM, i’d hit a bridge. Then, unable to figure out how to back up and redirect, we’d do a full circle and try to go through again. BAM! We’d hit again. Geert is laughing at me. I’m laughing too. It was ridiculous. It indeed took us the whole hour to get to our drop-off site (even though I really did get the hang of it by the end).

Now G is losing steam again and we decide to head back. We wandered a bit through sidestreets, trying to avoid the red-light district which lay directly inland of our hotel, and made it back (our hotel is the brick building on the right, behind the trees)

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We went for a swim in the hotel pool at G’s request, which was warm and relaxing, and just the thing.

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And settled in for the night, at the crazy early hour of 4:00pm. Geert would sleep 16 hours.

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Today was the first official swim meet. An intersquad, but still, the kids had to go up to the blocks and swim in their own lane and be timed. Leva was psyched. She couldn’t wait to try to dominate (where is all of this competitiveness coming from??), and swam the 100 free relay, 25 free, and 25 back. The first race was the relay and she was the anchor. Her team was in dead last, by a lot, when it was her turn to swim and she swam as hard as she could, breathing out of both sides! She was all smiles when she climbed out of the pool and ran over to me. “Did I win?!” was her question. No, love, you lost, but did you have fun? I LOVED IT!!! Next up, the 25 free. She was in a heat of five girls and she and Marlo tied for first. She got a bacon flavored lollipop, which she hated, so she ate it as fast as she could. (?) She she caught the bug – she had won.

Geert was nervous. He kept remarking how deep the deep end is, and how it seems deeper when he swims towards it, rather than jumping off the boards and swimming away from it. He asked if he had to swim as hard as he could or if he could take a break. Then, when it was time for the bullpen, he goofed around with the other boys, and when time to report poolside, got up on the blocks, looking pretty cool. At the gun, he dove in (!!) and swam as hard as he could to the other side. He breathed to the side and slapped the water with his arms and made it all the way! He came out beaming. “I got fourth!!” After the meet, he was ready to try on his swim cap and was asking about the next practice. He bought it.

Waiting for the last event, Leva met Mo, a patient of mine. He had come up to say hi and check in and was very friendly to her. After that, all she could talk about was Mo. Where is Mo? Who’s that man, can he babysit us? (He’s 15) Did Mo see me swim? Before her event he wished her good luck and she proceeded to crush the 25y back. And Mo became her good luck charm (or source of first infatuation, whichever). Leva came home ecstatic. She loved swimming and was talking about practicing to become faster. She even asked if she could go to the pool tomorrow to “swim laps”. Uh, no. No pool tomorrow. How about the park?

That’s apparently how long it’s been since my last post. Five months. A lot happens in five months and all of it, certainly, is worth remembering. Big things like trips and events are noteworthy and tend to make the blog, and those are great things, but it’s life that I’d rather remember. The little things that aren’t caught on a thousand pictures and become a self-explanatory photojournal. Hmmmm…

Hattie had her five year well-child check today. She got two shots and was very brave. Brad said her eyes welled up and her lip quivered, but she mostly held it together until they got to the car. Then she let it loose and cried. She got a bagel at Panera with dad, and after lunch, her ice cream (her appointment was too early in the day to get ice cream for lunch, our tradition after a shot). She finished pre-school last week, woke up the next day and asked if it was the day kindergarten started. When we said no, she stomped her foot, scowled, and marched back to bed. She still has that bit of diva to her. She’ll do well in k-garten – she already knows most of the teachers in the school and a bunch of kids, including Lola, who’s name she now spells instead of says. “I’m going to do the talent show with L-O-L-A this year! We’re going to do EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!!” She has crazy hair, dresses herself in ridiculous combinations that somehow work, and will talk any stranger’s ear off. Everyone smiles and shakes their head when they say her name. She’s a great singer and we’ll oftentimes find her playing by herself, singing. In tune. It’s beautiful.

Geert is finishing first grade tomorrow. He’s gotten so much taller (taller than Leva at his age!), is just as skinny and still has his roaming laser focus. Today, he’s all-in to baseball and the Queen Mary 2. Recently, skateboarding, which he’s seriously amazingly good at. Sometimes legos, now melty beads. Minecraft or the Titanic. He’ll get a theme in his head and will explore it in all facets (building with legos or beads, drawings, dress up, videos on youtube, pretend play), then see something new and move on. He can’t sing worth anything – when he wears headphones and sings he sounds so bad Brad and I can’t stop laughing. But he can sit at the piano and play gentle melodies that he makes up and has figured out some chords on his own. He has two best friends, Jasper and Adry. Jasper is very quiet and kind of follows along, but is always there. He’s fun because his dad, Oliver, is german, and Jasper is bilingual. Adry is a little more wild and he and Geert will spar a bit, but then continue playing. At field day on monday during lunch, we found the three of them eating together on the lawn. He still has trouble saying his R’s and turns seven a week from today. We had some serious issues with him wasting time at school this year. He’d be given over an hour to complete a page of work, and maaaybe fill in the first item. So he started bringing stuff home that didn’t get done. Then he had a ton of homework. His teacher, Mrs. Garrison, chalked it up to his lack of focus and talkativity (which he were psyched about – Geert’s talking to kids? hooray!!). She tried dumb stuff like putting him in different groups or giving him a timer or putting a folder wall around his desk space. But walked away and never made sure he tried to get anything done – so he didn’t. We frankly let it slide. Hopefully, that was the right thing to do. I’m sure one day that laser focus will hone in to something productive that excites him, and he’ll be unstoppable. Until then, we’ve just got to make sure he can read and do his math and not get in trouble, right? And keep him from breaking any body parts skateboarding (unlike Brad, who broke his wrist a few months ago – skateboarding back to the MINIVAN).

Leva finishes second grade tomorrow. She’s super tall and loves it, and is now, all of a sudden, into soccer. It’s something that we gently nudged her towards at the end of last year, because all of her friends were doing it and we thought she’d have fun. She tolerated it. But somehow, in the last 3 weeks or so, the kid gets it. She talks about Abby Womback and wanting her hair short like hers and being aggressive. She gets on the field and PLAYS SOCCER. This is nothing short of amazing. Leva will look up, play the field and maneuver. She made two goals in her last game and they were real, intentional, good goals. And her friends love her, so when she scores, she gets smothered with hugs. It’s so fun to watch. She still enjoys tennis and she and G will swim for the Grandview Gators for the first time this summer. She draws rather abstractly, and she loves to fill volumes with her writing. Her main writing goal is to write as much as possible, as many pages as possible. Her spelling is horrific and she couldn’t care less. Her art teacher remarked on her last grade card that Leva has an exceptional eye for color and composition. This is true. She also dresses herself and does her own hair with a flare that i’m sure i’ve never had. She’s friends with everyone, boys and girls, but is starting to tell the difference. She’s started tinkering with the piano and loves to play phrases over and over and over at a deafening volume until my ears bleed. She’d much rather play by ear, and is very resistant to reading music, much like she was resistant to learning to read. Every once in a while she’ll ask for a piano lesson and we’ll go over it, but I honestly don’t think it’ll stick. She can sing well and carry a tune, but isn’t sophisticated enough yet to sing a harmony. She’s the best dancer I’ve ever seen.

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