February is the month for love and romance. This is especially true for Lee and I as it’s the month of our wedding anniversary. Having a young baby at home makes it difficult for me to shop in person. So, I do a lot of my shopping online. And while…
February is the month for love and romance. This is especially true for Lee and I as it’s the month of our wedding anniversary. Having a young baby at home makes it difficult for me to shop in person. So, I do a lot of my shopping online. And while…
One of the best things about traveling is being able to share those memories with the people that you care about. Most people just upload and share their photos without doing anything special to them. This can result in some pretty crap quality pictures. But what if I told you that I found a website that helps turn those boring snapshots into something personalized and really cool?
Recently I came across the website My Postcard . On this website you can design your own photo postcards to share online or by snail mail. With other 10,000 templates to choose from you can rest assured that your end result is going to be something unique. Say goodbye to boring photos and hello to your next viral picture.
Personally I’m a fan of doing things the old fashioned way. There is something personal and special about doing things by hand. Lee and I send our parents postcards from our travel destinations around the world. Now I’ve come across an even cooler way to do that with My Postcard. Here instead of buying some generic postcard from a corner store, I can upload a picture of myself with the baby and my husband and send this to our parents. They love being able to see us on our foreign travels rather than the standard touristy postcards that they would otherwise receive.
If you’re like me, then you probably leave your laptop in the hotel room. But I bet you always have your smart phone handy, right? My Postcard is available in the App Store and Google Play as a free app. It’s even already had an amazing one million downloads!
Besides being able to personalize and send postcards, My Postcard does other types of cards as well. They have a whole array of occasional cards as well.
You can choose from:
Some websites are not very user friendly and can make trying to use them for the first time super complicated. I did not find this to be the case with My Postcard. They make it very intuitive and simple. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Step 1. Select a Product. This can be a postcard, greeting card, or photo prints.
Step 2. Choose your style and customize. During this step you can add your pictures, frames, and personal notes.
Step 3. Order and pay. You can choose Paypal, Mastercard, Visa, or American Express as your payment methods. Then you just send your finished masterpiece anywhere you would like worldwide.
It’s not often that I get so excited about a new product or service but I just love My Postcard. They have allowed me to create extraordinary postcards to send to our friends and family of special moments in our lives. Has anyone else used them? I’d love to hear about your experience!
So after the snowboarding disaster that was our trip to ŠPINDLERŮV MLÝN when we got invited by friends to go snowboarding in Winterberg, we jumped at the chance. It ended up being a fantastic family weekend getaway. Winterberg is a fantastic destination for anyone looking for somewhere to snowboard or ski with the family that isn’t far from Amsterdam.
Winterberg is only about a 4 hour drive from Amsterdam. While there are also options to take the train or a bus, we chose to rent a car and drive. This way we didn’t have to haul all of our luggage and a baby. Plus, the little one travels better in a car seat then she does on a bus or train. Plus this meant that we could arrive and leave when we wanted and we were able to arrive directly at our hotel rather than having to get there from a bus stop or train station. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, now that we are traveling with a child I tend to prioritize convenience over cost and I don’t regret that decision at all.
While there are no babysitting agencies in Winterberg, there are babysitters available. In order to get the list of babysitters, you’ll need to email the Winterberg Tourism Office at email@example.com and they will send you a list of people that are available to babysit. You will have to individually call the sitters to find one that can speak your language if you don’t speak German (not all of the sitters speak English) and that is available during your trip. We found a lovely sitter for our little one so we were able to snowboard worry free.
The hotel we stayed at was a ski-in/ shi-out hotel. This was perfect since we could then just walk to the slopes rather than having to drive our rental car and find parking. What I found even better was how interconnected the slopes were. There were plenty of beginner and intermediate slopes and we could take them all around the city. Instead of being stuck in one area or having to drive to get to other slopes, we had a ton of options to explore by just using the ski lifts.
Lee and I had a fantastic weekend snowboarding in Winterberg, Germany. It is close enough to Amsterdam that you can do it as a day trip or a weekend getaway. Plus, once you’re in Winterberg, there is plenty of trail for beginners to explore. Winterberg is something I highly recommend for families looking for somewhere easy to get to from Amsterdam for a family winter vacation getaway.
So when a hotel offers 24/7 babysitting service, one could reasonably assume that at least one day during our week long stay that we could in fact get a babysitter. Maybe my first clue should have been when we called Hotel Olympie to verify that they would have a sitter for us and they gave us a number to try to arrange it ourselves. Despite the advertisement of English speaking babysitters, the lady on the phone did not speak English. Fail number 1. But since the year before Hotel Olympie had done a wonderful job of finding us a babysitter over the Christmas break, I figured that once we were there in person, we could get this all sorted out. Boy was I wrong.
The plan for the trip was to do a couple of days of snowboarding and a couple of days of things with the baby. This way my husband and I could spend some quality time alone and as a family. So when we arrived at the hotel we inquired in person about the babysitting. The staff at the hotel pointed to this sign with the same number that I had called before. Apparently their 24/7 babysitting did not in fact exist at all during our weeklong stay. The sign was a lie. There was no one to watch our daughter. And this being a ski and snowboarding town meant that our options for things to do with an infant were limited.
Maybe it sounds dramatic, but when you are looking forward to a family vacation for months in advance, travel very far to get there, and put good money down for it to happen when something this royal gets screwed up it can leave even the best of us bitter.
It was a beautiful scene of a mountain covered in snow. Ideal for Christmas, right? Perfect conditions to snowboard. In fact, from our window overlooking one of Spindleruv Mlyn’s ski trails we were in fact able to watch people do just that. Without a babysitter though, we had to find other things to do during our family holiday.
Outside of our hotel was a small road that I was able to take the baby sledding on. This was one of the few things to do directly in the vicinity of the hotel with a baby. Fun for about half an hour at a time and of course, only during the daylight hours.
A majority of our time was spent in the children’s corner of the hotel. Thank goodness they had this area set up with kids toys for the little one to play with. Without a car and with the hotel not being located in the downtown area of the city, traveling in Spindleruv Mlyn is not the most convenient during the winter. It is possible to walk down the mountain and into town from the hotel. But, there are no sidewalks to do this so you are left to take your chance on the icy, snow covered roadways in traffic.
We did take one afternoon as a family to go to the water park. Here they had a salt cave as well as water slides to enjoy. If you’re looking for things to do with the family in Spindleruv Mlyn that doesn’t involve skiing or snowboarding, then this is something that I can recommend.
Maybe it was a bit of the sunken cost fallacy, or the fact that the year before we had such a good trip that lead me to believe that the hotel would come through for us. But unfortunately our snowboarding trip turned into a family vacation spent mostly at our hotel since there are very few things to do with a baby in Spindleruv Mlyn. While it was not the ideal way to spend our Christmas vacation, it did solidify one thing in my mind. Next year, we will be going somewhere entirely different for our annual family winter vacation.
No matter how well you research family travel destinations, there is something that can always come as a surprise. Since Lee and I have been to Prague numerous times, including last winter when we traveled to Prague with the baby, this year I wanted to go someplace new. In my research I came across Karlštejn Castle as a great family vacation spot that is close to Prague. However, once we got there I quickly realized that there were a few things that my research didn’t prepare me for.
Karlštejn Castle is an easy day trip from Prague and one of the Czech Republic’s most visited castles. All of the reviews listed the town as a peaceful mountain village good for family hikes and picturesque castle views. Sounds idyllic, right? Well, what my research failed to turn up is that the tourist season for this town is during the summer. IE in December, when we traveled to Karlštejn, the place was a ghost town.
To put it into perspective, food was done being served in the restaurants in Karlštejn by 16:00 and the rest of the night you’d be lucky to find anything open. None of the restaurants, bars, or shops at Karlštejn list hours of operation because there really don’t seem to be set hours. Karlštejn Castle during December is open for tours from 10:00 – 15:00 and since that is the main attraction in the city, it’s also the hours that the few places that were open tend to have their businesses open as well.
When traveling with a child, always bring extra food and water.
The extremely limited hours of the businesses in town meant that I had to be open to exploring whatever was actually open. While throwing your plans out the window can seem daunting, sometimes it works out just fine. How else would you go see things that you may never have done otherwise, right? At least, that’s what I told myself when visiting places such as the wax and nativity museums.
A buffet breakfast was served at our hotel every morning, thank goodness. For lunch, we did a late lunch at different restaurants around town. Most of the restaurants in Karlštejn had high chairs and were kid friendly. Dinner wasn’t an option since nothing was open past 16:00 so we stopped by the local bakery and grocery store to pick up things for the hotel room.
Traveling during the off season to a tourist destination may leave you with nothing to do
Something I wouldn’t normally visit but it turned out to be a fun way to spend 30 minutes. Karlštejn wax museum starts with this super cheesy kaleidoscope movie featuring the castle and the surrounding area. Then you walk through different scenes including a dungeon, a pub, the castle, and other famous figures. I found it a bit pricey for the experience but it’s something warm to do during a foggy, freezing December day.
Museum Betlemu is a nativity museum in Karlštejn. Never having been to a nativity museum before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The entrance to this place is a bit confusing. When you first walk in, you’ll need to go to the door to the right, not the wooden door in front of you to begin the tour. Interesting array of different nativity scenes with an animated nativity show upstairs (in Czech). Outside of the museum if you go to the barn looking building and put 10czk in the museum, you’ll see an animated look inside an alchemist’s lab, complete with flying dragon.
Be prepared for a hike to get up to the castle. Once at the castle, there are a few stairs to take but nothing strenuous. During the winter time, hours for castle tours are very limited. Karlštejn Castle has tours in English and Czech. In the high season, there are three tours to choose from but in the winter most of the castle is off limits leaving you with only one option for the tour.
All ages appropriate, this tour is guided and takes you through various rooms of the castle. Dress warmly because the temperature during the tour isn’t much warmer than outside. Also, if traveling with a stroller to the castle, you’ll have to leave it behind once you start the tour.
As far as family travel destinations go, Karlštejn Castle falls short on my list. This is probably due to going in December. I loved how safe the town was for kids. We were able to leave the stroller parked outside of restaurants while we ate and didn’t have to worry about it getting stolen. People didn’t mind children playing during mealtime. Plus, the town center is off limits to cars making it a very walkable city. However, with everything closing by 16:00 it made the timing of meals less than ideal. My advice if you really want to visit, either do the castle as a day trip or go in the summer.
There are plenty of fun things to do with kids in Amsterdam. However, sometimes it’s best to leave the kids behind and have some adult time. I’ve run into that myself. As an expat living in a country with no family, this means that whenever I need time without my child, I have to hire a babysitter. For anyone else in the same situation, I figured that I would offer up my experiences with a couple of the babysitting agencies in Amsterdam. These are services that I as a mom have personally used.
If you’re looking for full-time childcare, then your best bet in Amsterdam is to go with a local “kinderdagverblijf”. These daycares are government regulated and there are many around Amsterdam. However if you’re looking for part time care, or someone to watch the kids during the occasional date night, then you’ll need to find a babysitter. Here are three babysitting services that I have used and my experience with each of them.
Initially when I needed a babysitter I went with Care.com. It’s a well known website in the US for finding caregivers for your loved ones. There are certainly pros and cons for going the non-agency route and doing it yourself. I used Care.com in the beginning to find a babysitter because I was familiar with the website, knew they had a good reputation, and didn’t mind vetting the potential babysitters myself.
I did find a few good caregivers through Care.com. However, most babysitters in Amsterdam seem to be students. This means that when their school schedule changes, or they want to go on holiday, or any number of things that can occur does occur, you’re back at square one having to find and interview new babysitters. Vetting a caregiver is time consuming. In the end, I chose to go the agency route so that I did not have to interview new sitters regularly.
The first agency that I signed up with was The Babysitters Club. I was recommended to them by a friend. I like that they have a selection of babysitters that are already pre-screened. That was a time saver. What I came over time to find inadequate was the lack of sitters available, especially if you needed someone next day. This was actually the reason that I had to seek out a new agency. Well, that and I also found their customer service to be lacking.
Last, at least for now, in my list of babysitting agencies in Amsterdam is Charly Cares. When I needed a sitter next day and couldn’t find anyone through my other agency, I frantically messaged other Amsterdam moms that I knew to see if anyone had a solution. I was recommended by a friend to try out Charly Cares. Somehow when searching for a babysitter in Amsterdam they had never shown up in my searches.
So far I have had mostly positive experiences with this agency. They have a very easy to use website along with an app. There is an abundance of caregivers available and it is clearly labeled who is available short notice, in addition to who is first aid qualified (EHBO) and who has experience with babies. Plus, payments are through your card and deducted electronically. The one time that none of the sitters I chose were available, I received a call within minutes from someone at the agency personally contacting other caregivers to try to find someone for me.
While there are many other babysitting agencies in Amsterdam, these are the ones that I have personal experience with. Have you used one of these agencies or a different one? Care to share your experience? I’d love to hear what other Amsterdam moms have experienced.
Scotland is one of my favorite countries in the entire world. I love everything about it. The rich culture and history, the beauty of the Highlands, the fantastic food. And it will also always hold an extra special place in my heart since that is where Lee proposed to me many moons ago. So when Lee and I realized that we hadn’t been back to Edinburgh in 4 years, we knew it was time to hop on a plane and take the baby for a family weekend getaway.
Normally when we fly we choose to go with either KLM or EasyJet. Factors that I look at are price, flight time including any possible layovers, and time of day with the flight. Usually I try to fly when the baby will be going to sleep or taking a nap. Once the plane is in the air, baby L tends to doze right off.
This time we chose to fly with Easyjet on one of their last flights of the night. Unfortunately for us, the plane was 40 minutes late departing due to a sick passenger. Nothing that could be helped, I’m sure. But it meant that we were getting in much later than expected. Luckily since we expected to be arriving late we had already hired a taxi. Having the taxi waiting to pick us up was worth it for such a late night arrival and something I highly recommend for other parents.
A tip when flying Easyjet in Amsterdam
– There will be stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. To get down to check-in, to board the plane, everywhere you can imagine there seem to be stairs. For this reason you may want some help if you’re taking a stroller on your family weekend away. We opted to forgo the stroller for the Ergo 360 baby carrier but that choice is strictly personal.
We opted to Airbnb it in the Grassmarket area. Best decision ever. While lively, it wasn’t loud enough to wake us or the baby up at night from the noise. Great view overlooking Edinburgh Castle and easy to walk, take public transport, or taxi to anywhere that we wanted to go. Lee and I mostly stuck around the Old Town and decided to take a peek at places that we had been to when we got engaged.
I’m a sucker for a good scone. This trip we made it a point to go back to the Southern Cross Cafe in the heart of Old Town Edinburgh. Fantastic scones, cute decor, and very family friendly.
Since it is Christmas time, we figured it would be perfect to visit the Christmas markets and other holiday festivities during our family weekend. At the European Christmas market in Edinburgh they had adjacent to it a Santa Village area for the little ones. We got to take the baby on the Santa Train, her first roller coaster, a carousel, the Big Wheel, and then at night time we walked over to the Street of Light for the free show.
Events are going on until January 7th. Check out their website to learn more http://www.edinburghschristmas.com/
Besides taking in the Christmas festivities, we also wanted to hike up Holyrood Park and see if we could recreate our engagement photo. Luckily for us the weather was perfect for hiking. A lot of the time you’ll get windy conditions that can make hiking, especially when carrying a baby, unsafe. We were very fortunate that this was not the case. So we strapped the baby on my back, made sure we were bundled up, had plenty of water and snacks, and off we went. Beautiful park that I can’t recommend enough if you’re visiting Edinburgh.
Many of you may have never heard of Zwarte Piet. When I moved to Amsterdam from America three years ago, I had never heard of him either. But since moving to Holland, I’ve had the chance to witness it for myself and I have to say that as a person of mixed race it makes me very uncomfortable.
Zwarte Piet, or in English “Black Pete”, is the servent/slave of Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is a mythical figure based off of Saint Nicholas and is the inspiration for Santa Claus. In a yearly festival Sinterklaas leaves his residence in Spain and arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat accompanied by his white horse Amerigo and his helper Zwarte Piet.
Zwarte Piet is portrayed as being a rascal and a prankster who throws sweets in the air. He throws candy to good children and if they’ve been naughty, he might also put them in a sack and take them back to Spain. He is also not the brightest crayon in the box. More childlike in manor than adult, he is also clumsy and speaks in a rather uneducated manor.
Zwarte Piet has historically been a white man or woman in blackface. Not only in blackface, but also with big, rouged lips, an afro wig and large hooped gold earrings. So why is Pete Black and not White? Wikipedia states that:
Zwarte Piet is a Spaniard, or an Italian chimney sweep, whose blackness is due to a permanent layer of soot on his body, acquired during his many trips through the chimneys.
Sometimes it’s also said that Zwarte Piet is supposed to be a Moor, a member of a Northern African Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent.
To many Dutch people, this is a familiar and beloved tradition that is all in good fun. However, there are quite a few people in the Netherlands and around the world who feel that the way Zwarte Piet is portrayed is purely racist. In the past few years, more and more people world wide are calling for the blackface to end.
A Washington Post article recently stated that:
Protests and demonstrations from minority groups have rocked Sinterklaas celebrations in recent years in Dutch cities. In August 2015, a United Nations-convened committee on racial discrimination in Geneva called on the Dutch government to “promote the elimination of those features of the character of Black Pete which reflect negative stereotypes and are experienced by many people of African descent as a vestige of slavery.”
When I first saw a person in blackface in the Netherlands I was in shock. My heart started pounding. It was a moment that stood still. I hadn’t been living here for very long and so did not know who Zwarte Piet was or what this clearly white person in blackface was doing. For me as an American, blackface has always been racist. And having grown up biracial in America I am not a stranger to racism from either side unfortunately.
Let me give you a bit of history about what blackface means to me as an American. Blackface minstrelsy first became popular across America around the late 1820s when white male performers portrayed African-American characters using burnt cork to blacken their skin. These white actors would wear tattered worn down clothes and mock blacks behaviors during their performances, playing racial stereotypes for laughs.
From “A Brief History of Blackface”
Minstrel shows became hugely popular in the 1840s exposing white audiences in the North with their first exposure to any depiction of black life. They would often feature a broad cast of characters; from Zip Coon, the educated free black man who pronounced everything incorrectly, to Mammy, a fat, black faithful slave who was really just obviously played by a man in a dress. Black children were depicted as unkempt and ill raised pickaninnies. The running joke about pickaninnies was that they were disposable; they were easily killed because of their stupidity and the lack of parental supervision.
This is what blackface means to me when I see it. It means that someone is mocking me. That someone thinks that my worth is less than theirs because my skin is darker. And if you are one of those people who look at me and believe that my skin is “too white” to have been bothered with racism directed at me, you are not only wrong but also part of the problem.
So as a biracial American I see blackface and cringe. I feel uncomfortable. I have a problem with seeing the darkened skin and the ignorant behavior. As an American living in the Netherlands I am torn. I’ve gotten a chance to know the Dutch and I don’t believe that they mean to be racist. At least the modern day Dutch, I have no idea what the people who started this tradition were thinking and I’m not going to try.
For many people here it is a family holiday tradition with very fond childhood memories. Sinterklaas festivities are bigger than Christmas. I get that. I also get how hard it is when someone rips apart your beliefs and calls you wrong and racist. It takes a very strong mindset to be able to look at yourself and your beliefs and try to be impartial about what you see. When everyone is telling you that you have to change and you just don’t see why. So, what will the Dutch decide to do?
Here’s a clip of blackface in action.
While most Dutch do not see Zwarte Piet as racist, there are changes being made. This year, for example, during the parade of the arrival of Sinterklaas rather than seeing blackface all of the Zwarte Pieten that I saw were in soot face. Zwarte Piet is evolving whether people like it or not. Just how much, remains to be seen.
Lone travel for women has become increasingly popular and is something to not be afraid of. Traveling solo as a woman can be a great experience if some basic safety precautions are taken. So, what are some safety precautions you can take when you are out and about each day in a foreign country?
Bikinis and shorts might be tolerated at beaches abroad, but these styles of dress are often frowned upon in some countries, particularly deeply conservative countries. Take your cue on what is appropriate from the locals. How do the local women dress? It is always a good idea to research the dress and local standards before you arrive so that you do not draw undue attention to yourself while you are out and about. For example: Thailand is currently in a one year mourning period and the rules for how tourists may act and dress is affected by these events.
Do a quick internet search of appropriate attire before you travel
Unfortunately it is not uncommon for many women traveling alone to be sexually propositioned while they are abroad. Women traveling alone are seen as an easy target without the protection of a friend or family member. So if this happens to you, how can you deal with inappropriate propositions? My first rule of advice would be to try to ignore rude, inappropriate remarks. Walk on by confidently.
But what if ignoring the person doesn’t work? If you feel threatened, don’t hesitate to draw attention to yourself by shouting and making a fuss.
Planning and knowing your surroundings are great ways to prepare for the unexpected. One way to have a plan that helps keep you safe is by planning your route back to the hotel (or wherever you are staying) in case you run into problems or difficulties.
Take full advantage of cards handed out by hotels that list their address and contact details by carrying one with you at all times when you travel alone. If you plan to return late at night, ask the hotel to recommend a reputable taxi firm and then book your return trip. Do not walk back to the hotel, hitchhike or accept a lift from a stranger.
Lone women travelers are still a rare sight in much of the world, which is why they often excite so much attention. Stay safe when traveling solo by wearing clothing that is modest and conforms to local standards, ignoring propositions when at all possible, and planning your route back to the hotel.
Health Issues: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov
Road Safety: Association for Safe International Road Travel http://www.asirt.org
Travel Warnings: U.S. State Department http://travel.state.gov
Amsterdam’s weather can be a bit unpredictable at times. Somehow, there always seems to be a bit of rain in the forecast just when I’ve planned a day at the sandbox. I guess Amsterdam’s proximity to the North Sea has something to do with this. But no matter the reason, it stands that with my little one now mobile when I want to get out of the house with her and the weather won’t cooperate, that means that we need to find something indoors to do.
While I would be happy to sit at a nice cafe on a rainy day just people watching, my daughter does not share this desire. (High chairs are only good for so long.) She would rather move around and explore the world. Understandably so when you’re a one year old. However, this conundrum led me to search for indoor things to do with kids in Amsterdam. I’m glad that I Googled it because I came across TunFun.
Tucked under Mr. Visserplein in a former traffic pass near the Portuguese Synagogue lies TunFun, one of my favorite things to do with kids in Amsterdam. From the outside it looks deceptively closed. However, once you spot the green arches just go down the stairs (or the ramp as this whole place is stroller accessible) and you’ll be greeted by the ticket counter. Then you just wind your way around and down to the enormous kids play area.
Prices for the day are pretty reasonable for Amsterdam and for what you get.
Children from 1 – 12 years old : € 8,50* Children <1 and adults (18 and over): free entrance
Amenities include: changing tables, diaper sacs, a lounge corner, high chairs and free wifi for the adults. If you need a bite to eat or caffeine to keep up with the energy of the kids, there is also a cafe on site.
There are two play areas at TunFun labeled “mini” which are meant for children ages 0-4. (And if you’re baby isn’t very mobile yet, there is also a separate area just for babies as well.) If you have a velcro baby like mine currently is, no worries. Just take off your shoes and hop on in. You can bounce and roll around with your toddler in this fun indoor play area.
TunFun lies beneath Mr Visserplein and right next to Waterlooplein. It’s easily accessible by public transportation or by car. TunFun offers a 10% discount for customers when parking at garage ParkKing Waterlooplein.
The baby and I spent about 2 hours at TunFun. She was thoroughly worn out from playing and I was happy that she enjoyed herself. While we were there, I met other parents and there was also a school group of children. I will certainly be back. Having the indoor play area gives me a place to go in Amsterdam when it’s raining with baby.
It’s nice that the whole area is meant for kids. This means that I don’t have to worry every 5 minutes about the baby hurting herself while playing. I can browse articles on my phone and she can play in the ball pit or on the slide. Since discovering this place, I’ve already recommended it to the other moms in my group and as a great place for us to get the babies together in Amsterdam.
Learn more about TunFun at their website (English) http://tunfun.nl/index.php/