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Going Dutch

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What is it? A driving holiday from north London to two cities in the Netherlands, Eindhoven and Amsterdam.

Where? We decided to forsake the comforts of air travel and drove two hours to Harwich, where we caught a Stena Line ferry to the Hook of Holland – and drove an hour and a half more to Eindhoven. We stayed there two nights then spent 48 hours in Amsterdam before driving home.

Description: [JOSIE_WITH_WOODEN_SHOE.JPG]Teach your kids to appreciate time and distance with a driving holiday abroad. Wendy Sloane took her three young daughters to Holland, and although the constant refrains of ‘When are we there?’ mingled with endless repetitions of children’s casettes on the car radio nearly drove her to commit triple infanticide, it was worth it in the end (I think).

Eindhoven is an unusual town, and we have good friends there. Amsterdam is a fantastic place for children, it’s very child-friendly with lots for them to do. Everyone speaks English, the food is excellent – and we have good friends there as well.

It was raining in Eindhoven, so we armed ourselves with umbrellas and walked to the town centre, where we had a fantastic lunch. There is a brilliant art museum, nice swimming baths and other child-friendly acitivities, but we contented ourselves with being lazy pedestrian tourists. Amsterdam has everything, from canal trips to cafes, from museums to parks, to raves and red-light districts. There is also great (read: cheap) shopping.

One evening in Amsterdam we roped in a babysitter and visited some Dutch friends for dinner at a small restaurant on the Jordaan called Tante Agaat. Delicious. But if you’re looking for something more exciting, Amsterdam has everything any large European city has to offer – the only difference is that most of it here is legal.

By far the best childcare provider was the boat’s magician, who happily entertained all three of our children for an hour on both crossings. All the other children looked similarly entertained, while all the parents appeared blissfully carefree. Wonder why?

Again, Amsterdam has everything London has – at cheaper prices. Next time I want a facial, manicure, pedicure and great haircut, it might be worth the dough to cross the Channel and do it over here.

Local activities: Apart from eating, drinking, shopping and strolling, we took in two major activities: the Science Museum NEMO and the Anne Frank House. We also took advantage of the many playgrounds dotted throughout both cities, which had lots of activities the children enjoyed. Hey, why spend money when you don’t have to?

Wish we had known: That our baby daughter, Clementine, was about to be violently seasick on the ferry. I had dosed the girls with Fenergan (miracle drug that does as well for allergies as it does for motion sickness – highly recommended) before we went and they took every toss and turn in stride. But as Clementine is not yet two – and has never been even mildly carsick – I thought medicine would do her more harm than good. Unfortunately, I had left spare changes of clothes locked on the car deck, so apres le deluge she had to go topless for the remainder of the crossing. Her jeans remained impressively unsullied.

Our top tip: If you plan to wander along the canals enjoying the outdoor clothing and flower markets while stopping for an occasional coffee, think again. Dutch weather is as fickle as British weather, so make alternative plans just in ase it starts to pour down. There are loads of things to do inside, but you may have to do a bit of research!

Kids say: ‘The magician on the boat was really fun, he gave me a balloon filled with sweeties,’ says Josie, six. ‘I wish we could have spent more time with Elektra,’ says Tilly, four. ‘Better get a bucket,’ thought Clementine, almost two.

Getting There: There are three daily crossings on the Harwich to the Hoek van Holland route with crossings taking 3hrs 40 minutes on the HSS Discovery nd 6hrs 30 minutes on the day and overnight Superferries, with prices starting from L59* per person. For more information, visit www.stenaline.co.uk or call 08705 70 70 70. * Full terms and conditions are online.

About our stay: I spent a month working for a magazine in Amsterdam when I was in my mid-twenties. I can’t say I had the wildest time of my life, but strolling through the red light district, visiting the various legal ‘Maryjane cafes’ and drinking pint after pint of Hoegaarden wheat beer in various bars all played a significant part contributing to my enjoyment factor. What a difference two decades makes! Returning to the Netherlands with three kids in tow is little like visiting an old flame after 20 years. Everything kind of looks the same (minus the wrinkles, receding hairline and paunch, of course), but the way you feel is decidedly different. We started our trip with two-hour drive to catch a Stena Line ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. Once we had listened to our children’s cassettes four times each and played I-Spy 1,146 times, the novelty factor of a long drive had worn off. Luckily, we reached the port just before the kids (and us) were about to implode. The ferry crossing is less than four hours long and went by quickly, thanks to a crusty magician called Adrian who entertained them with sleight-of-the-hand tricks, a Punch and Judy show and balloon-twisting. When they got hungry, despite the rocking of the boat, we ordered chicken and chips, which was surprisingly edible (although the spongy vegetable accompaniment was not). [CLEMENTINE_ON_BOAT.JPG] An hour and half drive followed to Eindhoven, during which time the kids were mesmerised by all the greenhouses, windmills, canals and cows. ‘Why do those cows look different from our cows?’ Josie kept asking. Not being a cattle expert – or livestock aficionado – I was loathe to answer. ‘Because they do,’ I said for the tenth time. It rained in Eindhoven, and rained and rained, and we spent most of the time with our lovely friends, Steve and Lynn, and walking through an indoor mall with a fantastic cafeteria-type cafe. So it was the next two days with our old friends Mary Lee, Kiwi, Hugh and Avery in Amsterdam, my former love, which really caught the children’s attention. Their favourite activity by far (apart from spending time with Avery) was an afternoon in the NEMO science museum, a surprisingly large structure that resembles a decaying green ship from the outside. The minute we entered the children were entranced, even Clementine, now yet two. From the child-sized bubbles they could make themselves to the 12-foot tall robot called Elektra with her funky hairdo, they loved every minute of it – as well as walking along the canals and river to get there. [ON_THE_CANAL.JPG] We left NEMO in a daze ( luckily we managed to stay steady enough not to push the buggy into a canal) and the next day visited the Anne Frank house. Duncan wasn’t sure the children were old enough to visit, and while Tilly barely grasped the house’s significance, it certainly made an impression on Josie. ‘I don’t want to be Jewish anymore” she kept repeating loudly, much to my embarrassment. Well Jos, you don’t have a choice. We drove home the next day looking forward to the seeing the ship’s magician for the second time, and apart from one big puke (see above) our crossing back to Blighty was fairly uneventful. Next time I’ll definitely remember the seasickness medicine… (Wendy Sloane is the Travel Editor of entertainthekids.com. She divides her time between writing and taking care of her three daughters, Josie, Tilly and Clementine.)

Created: 2006-09-22 18:05:51.950

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