This holiday season, as usual, came quick and flew by even quicker. The week before Christmas Jessica had off from teaching and we spent the week getting ready for the holiday season. Buying gifts, wrapping gifts and gallivanting around London. The by the time the 23rd of December rolled around we were heading to Kent with Jessica’s cousin Helen, her husband Andy and her 12 year old son Ben. They live north of London in Sheffield and drove down and picked us up. For Christmas 2011 we were going to spend it with The Bakers, Andy’s side of the family, in Kent. A quick little 1 hour drive south from the bustle of London and you are in the quaint county of Kent. It is called the garden of England, so you can imagine how nice it is.
It starts to get dark in England around 4:30pm, so sadly when we were driving to Kent we didn’t get to take in any of the beautiful country side. Once we arrived at Andy’s parents, they quickly sat us at the table and fed us fish pie. As far as traditional British food this has been our favorite so far. Chicken tikka masala is the national dish of the British and probably our favorite, but we don’t think it really counts as real British food. As much as we got sick of eating out on our travels leading up to London, I think we turned a corner and became sick of cooking every night. It was great to be served great meals for the 4 or 5 days we stayed.
The days leading up to Christmas we explored Rye (Paul McCartney lives here), Hastings and Bodiam Castle with our tour guides Helen, Andy and Ben. Both Rye and Hastings are small cute little towns. We walked around Rye first popping into a few shops here and there. Then we headed to Hastings where we looked in a maritime museum, walked along the ocean, had some really good fish & chips and then headed back. Really massive difference in the way of life in England outside of London.
On Christmas day, it was just the usually suspects at the Baker house for gift opening and dinner. It was a great spread for dinner, getting hungry thinking about it again, and the only real difference from Canadian Christmas dinner was their Christmas pudding for dessert. Which is pretty much just a fruit cake they drench in brandy, light on fire, blow out and then serve with brandy butter or custard.
Everyone at the table kept on asking us if there were many difference between British and Canadian Christmas, but we couldn’t see any besides dessert. However we couldn’t for the life of us land on the traditional Canadian dessert. Jessica thinks it is pumpkin pie while Aaron thinks it is fruit cake.
Helen and Ben skipped town on boxing day and went to Malta for a vacation. While the rest of us held down the Baker’s house for the influx of guests. Andy’s brother and sister came over for the day with their families and it was a lively day. Kids running around, Christmas gift opening, play with the new toys (this air cannon was the star), Jessica snoring in the corner and board game playing. It was an exhausting day to say the least! After a well deserved sleep we packed up, said our thanks to Andy’s parents and hit the road for London. Our flight was leaving early the next day for Amsterdam and Andy was going to crash at our place and drive us the next day. Once we got back to London, Andy headed out to explore while we…well Aaron packed for the trip. When Andy came back we all headed to the pub for supper and a few pints. The following day Andy graciously drove us to the airport and off we went to Amsterdam, which was less time then flying from Edmonton to Calgary.
Once in Amsterdam, we had a bit of time to kill before we could check into the hotel. Around town we went searching to exchange our Sterling pounds to Euros and eventually found out banks in The Netherlands don’t handle physical cash or exchange money. Only those dodgy looking Western Union kiosks do, oh well. We shopped around for a bit for the best rate and then hoped for the best. It was almost nearing check-in time so we headed to the hotel and got all checked-in. The apartment-hotel was beautiful, could not have asked for more! Modern decor, big gas stove, lots of room and comfy beds.
During our time in Amsterdam we checked out a lot of museums. On day 1, in the morning we went to the Van Gogh museum where they have a large collection of Van Gogh’s work, paintings that inspired him, paintings he inspired and some of the paintings he and his brother Theo collected. We easily lost track of time in the musuems three floors of beautiful paintings and interesting letters between Van Gogh and Theo. You get a real sense of Van Gogh from the museum. Next we jetted across the street to the Bols Experience, where they have a little museum on the Bols alcohol brand. Which is the oldest distillery company in the world. The real highlight of the Bols Experience is the free tasters and 1 cocktail of your choice. A stiff drink was the perfect ending to a museum day, Jess went with the Original Collins and Aaron the Holland House. We both had known the Bols brand back in Canada, but just thought they produced that blue liqueur in the weird shaped bottle. However my friends, they produce mainly Dutch Gin, almost 40 kinds of liqueurs and that weird shaped bottle is highly engineered for bartenders. All in all it was a cool place.
Day 2 involved going to the Rijkmuseum and taking in some beautiful Dutch Golden Age paintings as well as fairly large Asian collection. The Dutch was a super rich country back in the day. Continuing with our drink after museums tradition, we went to the Heineken Experience after. Touring the original factory, taste testing, interactive ride and finally enjoying a few pints. Again it’s just what the doctor ordered!
All of a sudden it was New Years Eve and we had not made a plan on what to do! After much researching and looking around we found a place that hadn’t sold out. For the stroke of midnight we went to this nightclub call Rain. Which was packed, but did have a disco dance floor. New years day we were all hurting and just wound up watching Wallace and Gromit. However the next day we went with Rachael to the Anne Frank museum which was really neat and we were glad we went early. The queue here was huge by the time we came out. I don’t know what it is with Amsterdam, but buy your tickets online and beat the lines. They are ridiculous.
The last ‘big’ thing we did in Amsterdam was go to a place called Nemo’s which is a big science center. We were expecting it not to be so kid oriented, but it was still a good time. They had soap bubble stations, this chain reaction-domino show every couple hours, science lab, ball factory and a bunch of other pretty neat stuff. The novelty didn’t last too long and we probably spent more time on the roof looking at the panoramic view of Amsterdam.
As soon as you knew it, we were packing our bags and checking out! With some time to kill before our flight we wandered around Amsterdam, having a sit for dinner, taking some photos and did a canal tour. All in all Amsterdam was a success. It’s a really world class city with lots of sights and things to do!