I learned a number of things on my recent spring break extravaganza:
- Dutch people really like old French cars. Reall, really like them. More than the French, who scrapped them all and bought Fiat 500s.
- Someone is doing an amazing job of selling Dodge Ram trucks in Amsterdam
- The Van Gogh Museum was actually all the better for being narrowly focused, especially in their section about the technical components of his painting. That might have been the museum we enjoyed the most.
- Anyone who opened a Surinamese family style restaurant near a college campus would make a bundle
- The people who run the Acela service between DC, NYC, and Boston should take a ride on the Thalys service and then hang their heads in shame - and not because of the speed differential, that's not their fault. The shitty food and beat up cabins, though, that’s totally their fault, as is the crap internet service
- Parisians really like small tablets for their digital entertainment on the metro and round about town
- Parisians have completely missed the point of mopeds by purchasing enormous cruiser class ones, including this behemoth
- Everyone in Amsterdam really does speak English - and the look of enthusiasm on the face of the young immigrant woman in a headscarf working the cash register at the nearby supermarket when she told us to "have a nice day" was genuinely charming
- My efforts to talk to the locals in French both built good will with them and hugely entertained my wife and children; I also scored some free pastries at the bakery down the street from the apartment so it was all worth it
- The Louvre is no place to be if you're under 5' tall and an introvert (step forward, my younger daughter)
- We probably could have spent all 3 days in the Louvre, otherwise
- But on the other hand my 11 year old developed an objection to paintings of the Crucifixion
- Despite my previous efforts, the children are remarkably ignorant about basic Christian and specifically Catholic theology and culture
- This also applies to TinTin and Asterix the Gaul
- Brussels is basically DC with more older buildings that they haven't knocked down yet. I suppose the beer is better as well.
- Despite the best efforts of the Brussels Circus School performing outside our hotel, I still find unicycles to be rage-inducing
- Bicycles, on the other hand, are an awesome way to get around a small flat city with plenty of bike lanes, and my older daughter was a total trooper about getting led onto busy streets on the way to returning the bikes - not bad for someone who hasn’t ridden further than the ¼ mile to middle school and didn’t discover that she couldn’t make the brakes work until we were well on our way. Those hump-backed bridges over the canals were a bear on a tandem though.
I suppose the TL;DR version is that while the point of the visit was to take in cultural patrimony and teach the girls something about history, we really got the most out of the random things and interactions with people along the way. Further, when we were in Amsterdam, it was a delight for me to see the girls get into a place that I so enjoyed living as a kid.
I don’t know why I was so averse to trying new things and making an arse of myself talking to strangers when I was young enough to bail to Europe with a backpack for 6 months, but on the other hand our apartments were really nice. No need to be sociable on a shoe-string.