Saturday, September 13, 2014

We Bike Amsterdam Bike Tours- Our marvelous Tour of the city!

The girls and I with our wonderful guide - Jasper
A look Back - Our Day (afternoon) in Amsterdam
The Rentree and impending move has been taking up a lot of my time lately.  I really hate moving and doing this on top of the chaos of setting activity schedules, back to school meetings, and working part-time has been a bit nuts. But such is life, we get through it in the end....I just can't wait to be on the other side of moving!!  Really, feeling settled definitely makes for a less stressed household!

I actually have a few minutes this morning and wanted to share about our bike tour in the city of Amsterdam that we did this summer with We Bike Amsterdam - Bike Tours.  This was our first time visiting the city and since I knew that EVERYONE rides bikes in Amsterdam, I thought it would be a great way for the girls and I to see the city.  I have always wanted to do a bike tour.  Reading about them always seemed so cool.
Arriving at the Central Rail Station and looking out toward the city
Church of Saint Nicholas
Our time in Amsterdam was very limited - we were lucky to have a long layover on the way to the States.  Our flight arrived around 12:30 pm and we had the whole afternoon and evening to enjoy the city.  Our flight out of Amsterdam to the States was early the next morning.  Knowing we really only had the afternoon, I looked into bike touring companies that would work for us.  One of my biggest questions was how would they handle a 6.5 year old who could ride a bike, but not necessarily in a city and not necessarily for 2+ hours.  She's too large for a back seat and too small for those distances.

I was really pleased with We Bike Amsterdam Bike Tours.  They got back to me quickly and arranged a convenient time for us to take a tour with them.  They explained that my youngest would probably ride in a Caddie bike which the guide would ride. That's the cool thing about bikes in Amsterdam (and Europe) they have all kind of options for kids and parents. (This didn't exactly make my 6 year old happy - but it was the safest solution.)
Getting our bikes ready and settling in..
We arranged to meet at 2:30 pm at the bike shop/office where they rent bikes for the tours.  Unfortunately, due to a delay with our luggage, waiting for our hotel shuttle and then missing the first train to the city center.  All of this made us a bit late for our tour.  I was able to send a quick email via Wifi from the hotel indicating that we were still arriving but were going to be late. this unfortunately is reality when traveling with kids.  I felt horrible, not a great impression to make but our guide Jasper was extremely accommodating and accepting of our late arrival.  (Thanks Jasper!)

He helped the girls and I pick out the right size bicycles and explained to my youngest about the Caddie bike. Now I'd love to say that all went smoothly, don't let the photos fool you - True to her spirited personality, she was not thrilled about not being able to ride a bike.  We didn't get a full blown fit, but close and after much coaxing by her sisters about how fun the Caddie bike would be and myself bribing her with my phone, so she could take photos and videos - she got in and accepted her position. (What we do as mother's to divert a full blown tantrum!)
Our guide Jasper & my middle daughter
From the beginning, I was impressed - Jasper, was an excellent guide!!  He started us off on some smaller roads, giving us all a chance to get comfortable with the bikes and then we headed off to see highlights of the city.
Heading into the Jordaan neighborhood
Numerous stops along the canals to learn more about the city
The Pulley systems on the houses to bring items in & out of the buildings
We would stop from time to time for Jasper to explain the history of the city, the buildings, unique features & architecture.  It was fun to be taken through time & history, as we looked at the different areas of the city.  We got to appreciate the Dutch culture, understand more of it's history and even learned more about the Dutch colonizing the States and why so many cities around New York have Dutch names!  My girls found that fact alone very fascinating!
Jasper pointing out different buildings - Note my youngest taking a video
The canals were really cool
The narrow streets, the canals, all the's definitely a unique city!
My youngest finally having fun & enjoying the city!
One of the fascinating places that we learned about was the Widows' House.  As so many men worked in the shipping industry, and the Dutch were known to take many risks at sea, many women were left widowed.  This left the country with a dilemma of  how to take care of these women, so the Netherlands was one of the first countries to create welfare/socialized financial support.  In return for their State allowance, these women did laundry and pressing for others and all lived in a large government supported housing complex.
Learning about the Widow's Complex and why it was built
Loved this cat - just basking in the sun at the Widow's Complex
After touring several parts of the city, we head to the largest park in the City - Vondelpark - a place where the people of Amsterdam can enjoy the outdoors.  A little oasis in the city!
Our ride lasted about 2 hours with many stops to hear about the city, it's history and it's culture.  We left the tour with much knowledge and a greater sense of the city.

Traveling solo with 3 kids was not always perfect as the photos can sometimes portray.  The girls were excited to travel and to see Amsterdam, but this extra nervous energy led to some normal sibling teasing from time to time. But overall, they were great and we all had a wonderful time!  

As I said, my youngest was bribed to to sit in the caddie bike by being able to use my phone to take photos and videos.  To be honest, she didn't do too badly. Below is a video montage of some of what she took.  Keep in mind, she was 6.5 years old.  The feature of Awesome photos through Google automatically compiled the video together.  A fun souvenir! It's only about a minute long - i hope you enjoy it!
If you are headed to Amsterdam, and are looking to take a bike tour - either joining a group or a private tour.  I highly recommend We Bike Amsterdam Bike Tours.  Jasper and Thijs were professional from start to finish! Great communication, answered all my questions! They are personable, friendly and very knowledgeable.  I was also extremely impressed with Jasper and how he related to kids!! He really engaged them with questions and some cool information!

Check out their website here - WeBike Amsterdam
or their facebook Page - /We-Bike-Amsterdam &
Twitter - @WeBikeAmsterdam
Bikes, Bikes and more bikes - I don't think I have ever seen so many bikes!
After our wonderful ride, we walked around a bit - bought some souvenirs and headed to dinner. Jasper was nice enough to recommend a wonderful restaurant.  
As we were walking - found these great window art/fashion displays
Loved the Windmill - Classic scene on this one.
We  really enjoyed our short time there and we all look forward to going back.  I think one of our observations that made this city truly unique was the sheer number of bicycles!  Everyone rides, every kind of bike imaginable.  Even by the train station, there was a parking garage FULL of bikes!  

We enjoyed the Chef's Sampler plate - Delicious!
Of course, Dessert was incredible too!
So we left the city with happily-satisfied stomachs and our heads full of some great knowledge and history of Amsterdam.  We also left wanting more... more royal treatment by our wonderful guide & more time there to explore.  This city is a definite must for a return trip!!  My girls are even asking when we are going back!

Thank you We Bike Amsterdam - Bike Tours, especially Jasper for giving us such a wonderful taste of your city and leaving us wanting more!!  We look forward to returning soon!!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

La Rentree 2014 & Family life in France

Back to School 

The three smiling faces ready for school!

The new school year has begun!!  On Wednesday the girls went back to school for the 2014-15 school year.  Hard to believe that I have a daughter in 4eme/8th grade, CM2/5th grade & my youngest is in CE1/2nd grade.  Time flies and they are definitely growing up quickly.  This year marks are the beginning of our 4th year in France and our 3rd official start.  (Our first year, the girls began in November)
4eme/8th grade - Really already ?
For my oldest daughter, her first week is a bit light - officially starting yesterday for a half day and doing her official first day of classes on Friday. She's got a busy schedule this year as she was accepted into the European Section of English - which means extra advanced English instruction time and her history class also taught in English.  There were 95 students who took the test to get into this section for only 25  places. I'm just happy that he English writing will improve!! (Yes, the American Mom in me!).  In addition to her regular classes, she also takes Spanish and will begin Italian. 

CM2/5th grade - Looking ready for another year!

My middle daughter is in her last year in Elementary school.  Like many schools in the US, Middle Schools or Colleges as they are called in France start in 6eme or 6th grade.  She is excited to be the oldest class in her school.  She has made some very nice friends the last few years so was super excited to see them again.  It was very cute to watch the first day of school as theses friends all brought each other some little gifts (small necklaces, lip gloss) which were purchased on travels over the summer.  I looked around an watched several girls exchange gifts with their good friends.  We don't find out teachers until the first day of school and she was happy to be with many of her friends

All ready -with her own style

 My youngest daughter began CE1/2nd grade this year.  She's my little spitfire of the family.  Can't you tell by that devilish grin?  She also has an October birthday so is one of the younger students in her class.  (In France-Class grades go by birth year -So all the students born in 2007 are together.)  Being on the younger side has meant that settling into school for her last year took some time.  Her curiosity of school is strong but her attention to task has taken some work.  She is also a child with lots of energy.  French schools are very tradition in the manner of having to sit at a desk and do seat work.  We were lucky last year that she had a super understanding teacher, but the reality was it took time for her to settle into routine and rhythm.  She's bright and although was not reading at the beginning of last year, but the end she was zooming through!

This year to my surprise she was placed in a combination CE1/CE2 class.  This is not unusual in our school as it's fairly small and they have about a class and a half of each year.  My middle daughter was actually in CM1/CM2 last year and it worked really well.  Reading and Math are taught separately, but Social Studies and Science are combined.  The social studies and science curriculum in France now runs on a 2 year rotation of topics which works great for combined classes, allowing a teacher to teach with more ease.

Took a while but she found a bag that fit her personality!
 The fun was had last week picking up all the school supplies!!  In France the supply lists are very specific and often long.  My youngest needed a newer school bag as last year we recycled one of her sister's (so it was new to her, but still in great condition).  She went very French this year as you can see in the photo above!  By the way, in addition to being my spitfire, she is an individual with her own tastes!  It took 4 stores before she found a bag she liked!  I have to say "Thank you" to a French friend of mine who recommended a great little store in the next town over...we walked in and she liked several!

In addition to school starting - All the kids activities are beginning too.  This year only my oldest will continue dance - a class of  Ballet and a class of modern jazz.  In addition, she will also continue Synchronized Swimming - moving up to the next level.  The nice part is she will essentially be with the same girls as last year - nice team spirit!!

My middle daughter has decided to try horseback riding.  She is my animal lover and has asked for the past couple years to start riding.  We were thrilled to figure out how to make it work this year.  So yesterday she started.  She had a great time.  She's only really ridden a couple times and this was her first time really controlling the horse herself.

First day riding lessons

Taking the horses back to the stable

This seems like a great small stable and the girls are learning not just how to ride, but how to take care of the horses too.  She went early to help feed the horses and after she clean up the stalls and groomed the horse she rode. Even though she looks serious in the photo, she couldn't stop talking about it all evening!

Peaceful place

Road at the stables - A great metaphor for our next month...a road to travel on.

Finally, my youngest will be continuing tennis and swimming.  Three girls, three interests and three personalities!!

The Rentree for us as a family also means returning to work and on top of everything - a move across town later this month.  So September will be busy.  

So here's wishing everyone a wonderful Back to School or Back to Work!!  

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