Gessell and Lee

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Family Weekend Getaway to Edinburgh

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.

Flying from Amsterdam to Edinburgh

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.

Family Weekend in Edinburgh: Highlights

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

Hiking Holyrood Park with a Baby

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.

Zwarte Piet: Modern Day Racism or Harmless Fun?

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.

The History of Zwarte Piet

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.

The moral dilemma

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.

Worldwide Backlash to Dutch Tradition

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.”

How I feel about Zwarte Piet

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.

The Future of Zwarte Piet

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.

3 Travel Safety Tips for Traveling Solo

Tips for Traveling Solo

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?

Does Your Clothing Conform to Local Customs?

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

How to Deal with Inappropriate Propositions

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.

Plan Your Route Back to the Hotel

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.

Helpful Travel Safety Websites

Health Issues: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Road Safety: Association for Safe International Road Travel

Travel Warnings: U.S. State Department

Things to do with Kids in Amsterdam: TunFun

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.

Things to do with Kids in Amsterdam: Baby and Toddlers

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.

How to get to TunFun

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.

TunFun Review: Mom Thoughts

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)

Zandvoort: Family Day Trip to the Beach

Is your family looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam for a little rest and relaxation? Zandvoort just may be the place for you. Only 30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal Station by train, Zandvoort makes a fantastic family day trip.

Zandvoort is one of the major beach resorts in the Netherlands. Here you can find long sandy beach, bordered by coastal dunes. Families looking to spend some time playing on the beach or in the sand should check this place out. We took our baby along and made it into a short family day trip from Amsterdam. However, Zandvoort also has a few hotels and rooms for rent if you’re looking to make it more of a longer family vacation.

Bringing your dog to Zandvoort? October 1- 15 dogs are permitted during the entire day on the beach!

Family Restaurants in Zandvoort

We traveled by train from Amsterdam to Zandvoort and then walked from the train station to the beach. By the time we arrived it was lunchtime. So we stopped in to Thalassa for a bite to eat. This restaurant was right on the beach and offered a nice selection of food for lunch. Lee had a ham and cheese sandwich while I opted for Gamba.

With so many restaurants on the beach to choose from, you’re sure to find something to suit every appetite. Plus, the few that we went to all had high chairs available and baby changing areas in the restrooms. Zandvoort is very popular with families so don’t hesitate to bring the children along with you on your day out to the beach. It’s a very safe environment for children to play in the sand, play in the water, or even fly a kite!

Besides being able to enjoy playing on the beach or eating with the family seaside, there is also a museum in Zandvoort!

The “Jutters Mu-Zee-um” is a small museum filled with many curiosities of things that have washed up on shore from the sea, among other things. Here you can find: perfume, lighters, a mammoth tooth, whole and half dolls, shoes, toys, glasses, bottles station, remains of ships or aircraft, a piece of metal from a NASA rocket; If you can imagine it, they probably have it. The museum is a great stop to have an educational moment for the children and someplace that the adults can enjoy as well!

Jutters Museum (Website in Dutch)

No family day trip to the beach would be complete without seafood! For our final meal in Zandvoort, we stopped into another beachfront restaurant and had a light meal of oysters and sangria before heading home to Amsterdam.

Looking for more information about family travel in Amsterdam? Check out my travel guide below: