When I informed our daughter that we were visiting Holland, I asked her what she would like to do in Amsterdam.
Her instant response: "I want to visit Aunt Iris and Uncle Mario in Schagen to ride their tractor and jump on the trampoline."
For an eight-year-old, the many charms of a lovely old city could not compete with a day on the farm with our friends an hour's train ride to the north.
My followup offer: "What if you can spend the afternoon at a place where you can cook your own food? Including cupcakes?"
A bit of sweet bribery can go a long way.
Amsterdam does not immediately jump to mind as a location for family-friendly vacations, not with the red light district and cannabis caf©s. But it is a city that is transforming itself, closing many brothels and caf©s and brightening its image. With a bit of research and some careful navigation there are several attractions that can be fun for the kids without giving them unwanted exposure to the ways of the world.
We started with a classic for any visitor: a cruise through the canals -- an easy means of introducing yourself to the grand old city without wearing out your feet.
The tourism board provided us with I Amsterdam cards, which you can buy for 24, 48 or 72 hours and will get you on a cruise, give you free use of public transit and free or discounted admission to many museums and attractions.
Given we arrived on an unseasonably chilly spring day, the hour on the canal boat had the added benefit of keeping us warm while we learned a bit about a city that was built on trade and where the stately mansions are narrow, tall and jammed together, given that space is at a premium. Afterward, we hopped onto one of Amsterdam's immaculate trams for a short ride to the museum district. The city's famous Rijksmuseum had not yet reopened after its extensive renovations -- all part of a massive remaking of some of the city's main cultural attractions.
But we were headed for the Stedelijk next door -- my wife wanting to see their Matisse. Its restoration was already complete, with a complex that elegantly blends a traditional old building with an airy and light-filled addition. The Stedelijk does have children's programs, but our daughter managed to keep occupied trying to puzzle out the meaning of the modern art installations.
Then we were off to the bustling Centraal train station, to buy a ticket to Schagen.
Our friends -- Iris from the Netherlands and her husband Mario from Montreal -- were the main reasons for our trip. In our daughter's view, the only reason, given the presence of a tractor, a trampoline and an aged but affectionate dog named Jetta.
But the lure of cupcakes allowed us to get her back into the capital for another day, so that Mom and Dad could sneak in some culture and shopping. Our destination was the Kinderkookcafe, on the edge of the vast Vondelpark. Although the website is in Dutch, English is spoken -- as it is throughout Holland. As the name implies, the purpose of the place is to have children make food in a fun way.
We arrived on a quiet day, and our daughter was able to select what she wanted to make without battling through any crowds. I tried to steer her away from pizza and toward something Dutch, or healthy. To my surprise she agreed to use a cookie cutter to create a kind of jigsaw puzzle out of cucumbers and carrots.
"And a cupcake, Daddy."
Ah yes, the cupcake promise. They were pre-made, meaning all she had to do was decorate one for each of us, which she did with roughly a litre of icing and a kilogram of sundry sugary sprinkles.
"Kids would like to come here," was her assessment.
Then back on the tram in search of some culture. The Van Gogh Museum was some days away from its reopening, but the collection was temporarily housed in the Hermitage Museum. Our cards got us admission so that I could introduce her to a stunning array of the troubled artist's work.
Having successfully sold her on the capital, our Dutch host offered to show us what she called a little Amsterdam: the charming and ancient city of Alkmaar, just to the north.
We went on a Saturday, to catch the market and a cornucopia of treats. Iris brought us to the locally famous french fries cart, with toppings that included not only the traditional ketchup and mayo, but also the surprisingly compatible peanut butter. Farther down the narrow, medieval street we bought thin waffles stuffed with syrup.
Carbs and sugar are effective tools for occupying your child while exploring Holland. Do not forget the vegetables come supper time.
-- Postmedia News