|Welcome to Amsterdam!|
For the first time ever, the Engebretsens went on a Christmas vacation. While we have never spent an actual Christmas day in Indiana as we always travel to Wisconsin to spend the holiday with family, I don’t consider that a vacation. I love spending the holidays with the family and if I wasn’t living in Europe I would have it no other way, but that is just what it is – spending the holidays with family. A vacation, to me anyways, is traveling and experiencing a new place or returning to a favorite place for purely fun, selfish reasons. Basically, doing whatever the heck you and you family want, be it exploring a new city, lounging poolside sipping margaritas, or climbing Mount Everest. Since we couldn’t be home for Christmas this year with our loved ones, we decided to make the most of the time off from school and work and headed to Austria.
While we experienced nowhere near the challenges that met the Griswold family during their infamous Christmas vacation, we did have some curve balls thrown our way (and incidentally, while on the trip, we got to watch Christmas Vacation in German and it was just as funny). The original plan was to fly to Munich, Germany, where we would spend two nights and have one entire day to explore the city and their famous Christmas Market, which is really several different markets around town, each with their own flavor. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be as I will share with you in a moment. Then, we would move on to Salzburg, Austria for five nights and this is where we would spend Christmas. The last day, Saturday, we would take a train back to Munich, jump on a plane and be back in England by evening. Well, things didn’t exactly go according to plan, but oddly enough, everything turned out just fine. Despite the challenges we faced, this ended up being one of my all time favorite trips. You see, I have always been fascinated with Austria. Before moving to Europe, Eric and I discussed the places we both most wanted to see while we were here and Austria was at the top of my list. I’m not even entirely sure why, but this country has always called to me. Maybe because I am a HUGE fan of The Sound of Music. I think I’ve seen it every year since I was born and can probably recite the entire movie by heart. In doing research on the best place to spent Christmas in Europe, Salzburg kept showing up at the top of the list. Despite being a smaller European city (only 150,000 residents), it is full of history, culture, amazing architecture, and it sits at the edge of the Austrian Alps. The Christmas Market in Salzburg was repeated mentioned as one of the best in Europe, and over and over again, the word “magical” showed up in the many reviews we read on Salzburg at Christmas time. It really didn't take much discussion for us to decide on Salzburg as our Christmas destination. And boy, I am so glad we did.
Being a small city, finding flights directly into Salzburg was difficult and expensive. That is why we chose to fly into Munich, Germany. It’s a relatively short train ride from Munich to Salzburg, affording some great views of the Alps as you travel, and we could spend a day in Munich, which is also a beautiful city on our list of places to visit. And that is where our story begins – traveling to Munich.
We didn’t even make it onto the plane in England when our troubles began. We were booked on a flight leaving late in the afternoon, flying to Amsterdam where we had a short 45 minutes to catch our connecting flight to Munich. Our plane was delayed. Then delayed some more. And then some more. After the first delay, there was little doubt in our minds we would not make our connecting flight to Munich. After the second delay, all doubt was erased – we would definitely not be making our connecting flight. When the plane was finally ready for take off, we decided to board and head to Amsterdam anyway and see what happens.
We arrived in Amsterdam and we, along with probably two-thirds of the rest of the passengers on our flight, were sent to a KLM agent to rebook our flight for the next day and get our hotel voucher for the night. Oh yes, and we had to pick up four courtesy overnight packs as we were not getting our luggage back that evening. For the girls, these little plastic bags were like an early Christmas present. I never knew anyone could get so excited over toothpaste, some wipe on deodorant, and a paper thin white t-shirt for sleeping. The girls thought their gigantic nightshirts were hilarious.
As it turns out, missing our flight to Munich wasn’t so bad after all. When given the options for our rebooked flight, we could (a) have spent the day at the Amsterdam airport (which is one of the nicest airports I’ve ever seen, by the way) hoping there were four standby seats available on the flights earlier in the day, or (b) we could bag our plan to see Munich, spend most of the day in Amsterdam instead, and take a flight later in the day that we could definitely get seats on. We chose option b. Why not see Amsterdam instead? We’ve never been here either. When life sends you lemons, make some lemonade, right? So that’s just what we did.
Because we only had part of Sunday to spend in Amsterdam, we needed a clear plan on how we would spend our time. Usually, we just wander around new cities and discover them that way, but when you have a short amount of time, you need a better plan than that. Amsterdam is huge, and there is so much to see. It’s full of world-class museums (both Rembrandt and Van Gogh are from the Netherlands, not to mention Anne Frank), canals, parks, amazing architecture, beautiful neighborhoods, shops, restaurants and the infamous Red Light District. We decided to spend the few short hours we had at the Rijksmuseum (don’t ask me how to pronounce that because I have no idea), a national museum dedicated to the art and history of the Netherlands. I love both Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Eric and I are not afraid to expose the girls to some good art and history, so off to the museum we went.
|Double-decker bike rack|
To get there, we had to take a bus to the airport to catch a train to take us to the tram that would eventually drop us at the Museumplein (did you get all of that?), a big, beautiful grass covered square that is home to three of the top museums in Amsterdam, including our destination, Rijksmuseum. It may have been faster to take a bike and we would have had plenty to choose from because I have never seen so many bikers in my life, much less in the cold of winter. They even had double-decker bike racks sitting around town to park them at.
|The panini, I mean chicken truck.|
By the time we arrived in the square, we were hungry even though it was a bit early for lunch. You should never, ever, ever take a hungry 7 and 9 year old into a gigantic museum filled with art and history – bad idea! Well, as luck would have it, there just happened to be an outdoor market in the square, complete with a section full of food trucks and outdoor food stalls. These food vendors weren’t selling your usual corn dogs and cotton candy. The food sold at outdoor markets in Europe is very different from that of the US, generally speaking of course. It is simple and good, tasting like your mom cooked it in her kitchen kind of food. There was a truck selling curry – only two kinds, with meat or without. There was a panini truck, again, only two choices. The girls chose tomato, cheese and pesto - oh and chicken. We somehow missed that the main point of this particular food truck was its chicken. The girls enjoyed the sandwich anyway.
|The gyro stand.|
It took Eric and me about three seconds to zero in on the gyro stand – one of our very favorite foods to have whenever we are out and about and happen upon someone selling them. They looked fantastic and smelled even better. There was only one choice – gyro meat (which was being prepared right there over a steel drum stove type thing) slapped onto a chewy pita with some grilled peppers and onions, wrapped up with a big dollop of sour cream and a handful of dried Greek herbs thrown on top for good measure. It was messy but delicious!
Our bellies full, we headed into the Rijksmuseum and wandered from room to room enjoying the collections of art and history. We saw Rembrandt’s famous painting called The Night Watch, which is huge, and we saw Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting The Milkmaid, which is tiny. We saw many other paintings, sculptures, furniture, collections of old guns and other weapons, and a magnificent collection of wooden ship models from the 1800’s complete with masts and ropes and every other detail you would find on a life size ship from that time period.
|The market in the square with the Rijksmuseum in the background.|
After a few hours visiting the museum, we needed to start thinking about heading back to the airport. We walked back outside and strolled back through the market, stopped to get a warm hot chocolate from one of the food trucks for Ellie and Leah, complete with a huge dollop of whipped cream and a couple of gingerbread wafers.
|Vendor selling sausage and cheese at the market. The man in the back is making crepes. Not sure how the two are related, but crepes are a big thing in Europe. We see street vendors selling them everywhere.|
Back on the tram we went, and then the train, which dropped us off right at the airport. Our flight to Munich was on time. We wouldn’t be arriving until late in the night, so straight to our hotel we went where we all got a good night sleep. We had an early rise the next morning to catch our train to Salzburg.
|Sweet dreams little ones.|
To be continued...