Visiting the Keukenhof

Visiting the Keukenhof

One thing on my European bucket list when we moved to Germany was to visit the Keukenhof tulip gardens in the Netherlands. We were able to do so on our final spring living there and we loved it so much that we made a return trip last spring. Here’s a recap of our experiences there and plenty of pictures to go with it!

Keukenhof1abroadwife-3

On our first visit to the Keukenhof, it was Easter Sunday. We weren’t sure what that would mean for the crowds, but general rule of thumb is try to go on a weekday if you can. We made a point to skip the fancy Easter brunch and get to the Keukenhof before the gates opened.  This was the best thing we could’ve done.  I think the garden opened at 8:00 or 8:30, and by 10:30 the place was packed.  We were able to get in a little time where it was very calm, easy to take photos, and easy to walk around.  After the tour buses started pulling in, we could barely maneuver through the paths because they were so congested with people.  So that’s my best advice to anyone planning a visit…go early!

Keukenhof1abroadwife-22

This was true for our second visit as well. We arrived before the gates officially opened and because we already had our tickets printed out, we were allowed to enter a few minutes early. The early bird gets the worm!! This is the only way to get pictures without other tourists in them. The crowds are also probably low in the late afternoon close to closing time. I didn’t want to feel rushed though, so that’s why getting there early worked for us.

Keukenhof1abroadwife-5

Getting there early means no lines or pressure for cute photo ops like these!

 I know you’re there for the tulips, but don’t miss the orchid display.  It is overflowing with orchids and gorgeous!  There was a small exhibit demonstrating the life of an orchid.  I had no idea it took about 5 years for an orchid plant to mature and flower.

 

Keukenhof1abroadwife-19

Something we did on the second visit that the kids really loved was visiting the petting zoo. If you have kids this will definitely make them happy if they are getting bored being told to smile next to flowers.

Keukenhof1abroadwife-6

Also, definitely get stroopwafels!

The garden is immaculate.  The colors are vibrant and lush, it’s like being in a candy shop.  There are every different variety of tulip you could think of and never knew existed.  I’m so impressed with the work the gardeners have done here.  I can barely keep a houseplant alive (actually I think I’ve killed every plant we’ve every had).  To plant and maintain a garden like this requires an enormous amount of effort and a lot of love!

Keukenhof1abroadwife-13

Keukenhof1abroadwife-44

On our first visit we left the gardens around lunch time.  Though we would’ve loved to spend the whole day there, the amount of people was just getting unbearable and we still wanted to visit the tulip fields around the garden.  We loaded up our bikes, put the little lady in her trailer and hit the road.  The biking was intimidating because you have to bike on the road with the cars, and the roads are very narrow 2 lane roads.  There are cars and even big tour buses driving on them, so for someone not used to it-it can be a little scary.

Keukenhof1abroadwife-34

However, the views are breathtaking.

Keukenhof1abroadwife-40

Keukenhof1abroadwife-39

 This is definitely one of the most beautiful things to see in Europe and I’m so glad we got to bring our little girl there to celebrate her 1st Easter and then return again 3 years later with our little boy!

Keukenhof1abroadwife-9

Keukenhof tips:

  • Buy tickets online in advance, this will get you in the gardens the fastest to maximize the time before the tour buses show up.
  • Get there when the gardens open for the day, no ifs, ands, or buts, about it!
  • Dress warmly, and in layers. Both visits were VERY cold in the morning.
  • Plan to visit surrounding tulip fields either by car or bike, they are not to be missed.  
  • Please be respectful of the tulip fields and the farmers who grow them, do not trample the tulips.
  • Remember to book your hotel far in advance as this is a very popular tourist time. I was glad we stayed near the gardens vs. commuting from Amsterdam. It allowed us to get there early without too much trouble.
  • The Keukenhof and surrounding fields deserve a full day of your time, it would be hard to see it all in just a half-day.

Have more Keukenhof tips to add?  Questions about this trip?

A Guide to Tours and Events at the White House

the

Since moving to DC about 9 months ago, we have been very fortunate to visit the White House a number of times and partake in different events. We have been able to do so much because we happen to know a couple people who work at the White House who have been so gracious with helping us get set up with tours and tickets. Some of the things in this post are things that are open to the public, and others can only be done if you have a connection on the inside. I would recommend no matter when you visit to carefully look at the rules and restrictions for your event. They are different depending on what you do. Here’s an overview of our experiences, hope it’s interesting and helpful for you!

White House Garden Tour

There are garden tours offered twice a year, one weekend in the fall and one in the spring. We attended in the fall. This event is open to the public, the Nation Park Service distributes same day tickets from a tent on Constitution and 15th. You need one ticket per person in your group, everyone must be present to receive a ticket. It will be a timed entry and we were able to walk in at our time without waiting in any long lines.

The “tour” is not so  much a tour as an open house. There is no one guiding you around, but you are given a program that tells you about different areas in the South Lawn. It is all outside, you will be able to walk very close to the White House but will not be able to go in it. There is also some live music, the Marine Corps band was playing while we were there. You may bump into some recognizable people from the administration so keep your eyes out!

I think we spent about an hour meandering around, taking some pictures and enjoying the scenery. The website for the Spring Tour can be found here if you are interested in attending.

IMG_0021IMG_0100-2

Trick or Treating

This year the trick or treating happened the night before Halloween. The event actually was moved a day due to weather (thankfully because I would not have wanted to be out there in the rain). I’ll be honest in that, I actually have no idea how people go about getting tickets for this. I never heard of a lottery. I’ve heard military people are often given tickets but have no idea how true that is or how many tickets they get access to, etc.

We had a timed entry for the event. I had asked for the 5:00 time slot thinking it would give us plenty of time with the light to get some great pictures, and early enough that our kids would not be melting down before bedtime. I made the mistake of thinking because it was timed, we would not need to be there early, that we would be able to just walk right in at our time. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We arrived to the White House about 4:40 and were greeted with a long line down the street. We asked volunteers who were working if we were in the right spot and were told we were. So we waited, waited, and waited. By looking at the timestamp on my photos, we didn’t actually start reaching the fun until about 6:25. We were very unprepared for this. We didn’t bring snacks or a stroller. Our little one was wanting or needing to be held the entire time to keep him happy and off the grass (the people in charge kept telling kids to get off the grass).

This event is also outdoors and on the South Lawn. There were tables and displays set up by different government agencies along the path. Each one was handing out either candy, stickers, bookmarks, coloring books, postcards, or other little treats. There was fun Halloween music playing and the White House was decorated and all lit up. The President and First Lady typically make an appearance and hand out treats to the trick or treaters who happen to be there at the same time. We did not see them, but there were staffers dressed up handing out the treats, and they are generous with them! Each kid got at least three giant decorated cookies, and plenty of candy including special presidential M&M’s.

Overall, we were happy we went but would’ve done things differently had we known what we were getting into. If you ever get the chance to go, my recommendation would be go to the earliest time slot, and arrive at least an hour early to wait in line. Parents of little ones, bring a stroller or comfortable carrier, and snacks!

East Wing Tour

Currently the White House offers tours of the East Wing which has various historical and ceremonial rooms. Tours have to be requested through members of the House of Representatives or Senate, the link with the information is here.

We have done this tour twice, once at Christmas time and once this spring. Each was enjoyable, but if you have the chance Christmas is particularly fun because of all the Christmas decorations. You can take photos on this tour, but the restriction was no cameras with detachable lenses. Always check the restrictions for these tours and events because they could easily change and are different depending on the event you’re attending.

The tour is self-guided. You are given a program with information about the different rooms you’re seeing. There is also a small gift stand set up toward the beginning of the tour where you can buy White House souvenirs. You may also be able to get some of the same things in gift shops outside the White House, but it is fun to buy from inside. There will only be this one shop, so if you want something go ahead and buy it then because you won’t have another opportunity on the tour. Keep an eye out for all the different portraits of presidents and first ladies, check out the view from the Blue Room upstairs, and take your picture under the Presidential Seal at the end of the tour. Families with children are welcome to take this tour.

Here’s some side by sides of the rooms at Christmas and in the spring:

 

Here’s a couple more pictures from our Christmas time tour:

 

Here’s a couple from the spring tour:

West Wing Tour

These can only be arranged if you know someone who can set it up for you and take you on the tour. They are conducted after business hours, so don’t expect to see the President sitting in the Oval Office. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the West Wing, but we could take pictures at the entrance to the West Wing, inside the Press Briefing Room, and in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building which was part of the tour. We were allowed to see the doors to the Situation Room (not inside it though), Oval Office, Cabinet Room, Roosevelt Room, the Press Briefing Room, and we were taken over to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where a large majority of staffers work. I saw other tour groups with children, I would just advise to know whether your children can be quiet and respectful on a tour like this.

 

Bowling at the White House

There is a bowling alley at the White House! The Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley is a two lane bowling alley that actually resides underneath the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Again this is something that has to be set up by someone who works there. We were able to take our family there while they were visiting us. We had a couple hours to bowl and have fun. We all really enjoyed it! We were even able to put up bumpers for the kids and they had a little ramp they could roll the ball down to help them.

Easter Egg Roll

The Easter Egg Roll is a long standing tradition at the White House. This year was the 140th year! It is open to the public. In the spring the White House will announce when the lottery for tickets is open and anyone can apply for a chance to get tickets. Results were announced about a month before the event. So even if you live out of town, you could apply and have time to make arrangements for a trip to DC if you won. The President and First Lady also usually make an appearance at one of the time slots, this year they came out around 10:30 A.M.

This was also a timed entry event, and after Halloween and reading other people’s experiences we knew to be there early. We arrived an hour early and I felt that was a good time. Each time window was two hours, you have to leave when your time is up no matter what time you arrive. We were not at the front of the line by any means, but we entered the South Lawn about 10 minutes after our start time, which still gave us plenty of time to do all the activities we wanted.

The event included the namesake Easter Egg Roll, an Easter Egg Hunt, egg decorating, cookie decorating, lawn bowling, story times, coloring cards for troops, lots of characters walking around the lawn for pictures, hard boiled eggs on sticks, live music by military bands, and more.  We found this event much more enjoyable than Halloween. There was so much to do, and not being held to a line once we got in the grounds was nice. There were some lines to do different activities, but we found that they moved quickly and we were able to do everything we wanted to do. Just a note on characters, if you see one you want a picture with, get in line right away. They rotate out and the line for them may close as the characters need to take breaks. We missed out on pictures with the characters from Zootopia for this reason.

The weather this year was chilly and it had been raining the night before so we opted for rain boots as we knew we’d be walking around the grass the whole time. My recommendation would be to dress nicely-you’re going to take pictures and you want to like how you look, but also be sensible! Especially about your shoes. It’s a lot of standing in line and walking in grass. You don’t want to ruin your heels for the sake of this 🙂

I was happy we had a stroller, mainly for the waiting in line before the event, and after when we had to walk to lunch and the metro. It also gave us a place to stash coats and treat bags. Also you do not need to bring your child’s Easter basket. The only thing they would use it for is the egg hunt and they had baskets for the kids to use and then return after they were done.

When you leave the event each child under 13 will be given a goody bag. Each goody bag had candy and an official White House Easter Egg. I read a tip to exit through different lines so that you get different colored eggs. We did and ended up with a green egg and a pink egg, so it worked for us! Not to fear though, there was also a stand set up near the exit where you could purchase more eggs if you wanted. They were $8.50 each.

We really enjoyed the Easter Egg Roll and would love to do it again!

 

IMG_2249

I think that pretty much sums it all up! If you have any other tips or experiences to share, I would love if you left them in the comments below! Also if there are any questions I can answer for you please feel free to reach out, I’m happy to try and help!

 

Christmas Markets

In Germany, right after Thanksgiving begins the anticipated Christmas Market season.  Cities all over Germany have festivals to celebrate the season.  Last year we visited Cologne and Dusseldorf for their Christmas Markets.  This year we stuck with some smaller more local villages.  The first was Bernkastel-Keus.  We had visited earlier in the year for a wine festival and liked it so much, we decided to go back!

To keep you warm while you wander the town through the cold, it is practically mandatory that you get a glass of gluhwein (hot mulled wine).  They come in special glasses that would actually make great gifts or souvenirs.  Honestly it’s not my favorite drink, but it does warm you up!

Giant Christmas Pyramid, these are very typical decorations here.  Most of the time they have places for candles, and the heat from the flame makes the fan on top spin.

The other market we went to was in Sankt Wendel.  First stop was the medieval market area, where they kept the camels!  Part of this market was Middle Eastern themed, and you could see the three kings in costume tending to their camels.

Some Middle Eastern snacks near the tea tent.  They even had mint tea like we had in Morocco!
Blacksmith hard at work.

This market also featured a small toboggan run, with snow from the Alps!  The kids seemed to be having a great time.

In Germany Santa wears Addidas sneakers.
Santa’s reindeer.

 Every afternoon there is a parade through town.  The three kings ride the camels, there are jugglers, people playing instruments, etc.  It’s pretty exciting to see the camel parade come by!

Both markets were a lot of fun.  I would happily return to both!  I hear Sankt Wendel has a great Easter Market as well, but we will be gone during it.  Christmas Markets in Germany are a wonderful way to really get into the Christmas spirit.  It’s so nice to spend time in a decorated village, hanging out with your friends and family over some gluhwein than it is to rush around a crowded mall buying presents.  I think America should adopt Christmas Markets, the Europeans are really onto something here!

A Moroccan Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving in 2012 was not traditional but it was amazing.  We flew to Fes, Morocco on Thanksgiving Day for an exotic weekend in North Africa.  Unfortunately we were short one person because B’s husband M was unable to make it back in time for our trip due to some work complications.  But B was bound and determined to visit Morocco so she soldiered on and still made the trip with us. And we are so happy she did because she was the one who set everything up, and without her the trip wouldn’t have been the same!

Arriving in Fes.

We were picked up at the airport and driven into the Medina (old city).  The cars can only drive a little ways into the Medina, so we were met by a worker from our Riad, who guided us through the crowded,  winding, and small streets up to where we were staying.  Already by this point I was on overload.  Everything was so different than any place I’ve been, and my eyes were wide just trying to take in everything around me.

Our Riad (hotel) was gorgeous.  The owners Yasmine and Alex were so welcoming and friendly.  We were greeted with hot towels and were led up to our rooms for a few minutes before sitting down to our Thanksgiving dinner.  This meal was truly a feast, and it wasn’t a special meal for Thanksgiving, it is just a typical meal that is served at the Riad nightly.  In total I believe it was 4-5 courses of delicious Moroccan food.  I had never eaten Moroccan food before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely didn’t miss the turkey and stuffing.

Our second course, a puff pastry filled with chicken, carrots and cabbage-amazing!
R and Hubby enjoying the main course.
Best dessert ever!  Filo dough with ice cream, cinnamon, nuts, etc.  it was kind of like sopapillas

As after any good Thanksgiving meal, we were stuffed.  So it was off to bed to get some sleep before our first big day in the Medina.

Little Fes left on our bed.

 Hubby and I were up early the next morning.  I woke up around 5 AM to the prayer calls going out over the city.  Even though it woke me up, it was kind of exciting to listen to because I had never heard them before.  It’s like one of those things you see on TV or movies, and then when you experience it in real life it’s pretty fascinating.

Our rooftop terrace overlooking Fes.
The tower and the green pyramid are mosques, I didn’t know this but green is the holy color of Islam, so if you see a green building or roof it’s probably a mosque.
Time for breakfast!

 We had a really fun tour lined up for our first day.  We were met by our guide Fatima at the Riad.  She took us into the Medina for some shopping in the market.  We were able to choose some Moroccan dishes to make, shop for the ingredients, cook it all, and then eat the feast we had made!

The Blue Gate, entrance to the market.

Shopping in the market.

This was an entrance to the University, really beautiful!
This shop was interesting, we were taking in all the things hanging from the ceiling.
Fatima explaining that these little dishes are used for holding spices and/or jellies for the table.
Beautiful pottery.

Picking out some things to take home.

By this point, our shopping was complete and we were ready to head back to Fatima’s riad for some cooking.  Shopping in the market was fun, but very different than what we’re used to.  We ended up picking out a chicken dish to make.  Well, instead of having the meat already butchered and ready to take home, they have just a bunch of live chickens.  You pick which chicken you want and he butchers it for you on the spot.  This was a little too much for the ladies to watch, so we all had to walk away and plug our ears.  But for the people who shop this market everyday, it’s normal and doesn’t bother them.  At another point when we were just walking through, a lady give me a little smack on my arm as she was passing me.  It wasn’t an accidental bump, it was an intentional little hit.  When I looked back at her she was kind of smiling so I wasn’t sure what to think of it.  I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my hair color, or overall coloring.  We all stuck out I think, but I did even more so than the others. She didn’t hurt me or anything but she definitely got my attention!

At the Riad where we did our cooking.
We’re ready to cook!
Moroccan teapots, the tea they serve here is delightful!
Intricate carvings.
Sitting down for Moroccan tea before we get to work.
All of our produce laid out and ready.

 We cooked all kinds of things, and learned some new techniques.  We learned not to boil cous cous, it should be steamed instead.  This meal took us a few hours to prepare, but it was well worth it!  And we all got a small recipe book to take home that has all these recipes and more in it.

The final products.
Ready to eat!

 After we stuffed ourselves (again) Fatima led us back to our Riad.  We stayed there the rest of the night, relaxing on the rooftop terrace drinking Moroccan tea.

Cheers!
It was a bit chilly.

We had another full day lined up, so it was early to bed to get ready for our guided tour of Fes.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival

The month of October was full of pumpkin festivities for us in Germany.  We started out the month by a rainy trip to the local pumpkin patch to pick out our pumpkins.  I actually went to this pumpkin patch last year with my Pre-K class.  It’s the only pumpkin patch in our local area.  They also have a farm and last year the kids got to tour it and see all the animals including the baby cows!  You can also buy pumpkins at the commissary, but it’s more fun to go out and cut them off the vine yourself!  Unfortunately the day we went, it was pretty rainy and muddy.  But we didn’t let that stop us!

The girls were troopers out in the rain.

A pumpkin for each of us!
 Then of course we had to do a photo shoot with the pumpkins 🙂

A couple weekends before Halloween, we drove out to Ludwigsburg for their pumpkin festival.  The festival takes place on the grounds of the Ludwigsburg Palace.  It was the home of dukes and kings of Wuttermberg and was never destroyed in World War II.  We didn’t go into the palace itself but the grounds are expansive and have so many different features.  We kept stumbling upon new things around every corner!  The festival also claims to be the largest pumpkin exhibition in the world.  We had a great time, hopefully we can go back again next year.

 

We brought along little lady’s costume so we could get a good Halloween shot too.  I think the locals thought we were strange dressing our baby up like this.
This year’s theme was sports-check out the giant pumpkin boxers!
Pumpkin carving artist at work.

 There were displays of any different variety of pumpkin you could think of from places all over the world.  Including this “apple” pumpkin from the good ol’ U.S. of A!

Every year there is a contest for Europe’s largest pumpkin.  And here is this year’s winner!

The beautiful weather that day really brought out the crowds.

Of course we sampled some of the different pumpkin dishes that were being served up for the festival. We started of with pumpkin flamkuchen.  It got devoured before we thought about taking a picture though.  A flamkuchen is a cross between a pizza and a crepe.  It’s a very delicious treat normally served up with sour cream, ham, and onion.  Later, we grabbed pumpkin soup, a rice dish with pumpkin (reminded me of paella), and pumpkin sekt (German sparkling wine).

There were many impressive displays of sports themed pumpkin sculptures including skiers, basketball players, and a huge swimmer.  I didn’t do a very good job at capturing it all, but here are some more of the cute pumpkin displays from around the festival.

Rapunzel’s castle in the background, you can even see her hair being lowered down.

 As I said before, there were so many different aspects to the gardens that were fun to explore.  We found an underground tunnel with lights and a little creek running through it.

An aviary with many different birds including flamingos…

There were gardens growing grapes,

A petting zoo, and a small sheep pen.

As seen before there was a small castle tower in the garden and when the kids at the bottom yell for Rapunzel to let down her hair, a braid lowers.

There was a carousel, and even a small amusement park also attached to the gardens.  There were so many things there to entertain you that we weren’t expecting when we first arrived.

Happy group leaving the festival, see you next year!

It was a fun filled month!  Fall is coming to a close in Germany and we’re moving right into winter and Christmas Market season!  Can’t wait!

Easter on the Peninsula

Easter was a lot of fun for us this year.  Hard to top last year’s Easter at the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands, but we had a fun-filled weekend.

Here’s a nice side by side of our daughter’s 1st Easter in the Keukenhof and this Easter.

Easter 2014 in the Netherlands & Easter 2015 in California

Easter 2014 in the Netherlands & Easter 2015 in California

Hidden Hills Ranch in Prunedale hosted an Easter party on Good Friday.  Our daughter was very excited to see the Easter Bunny, she went right up to him and started giving him hugs and high fives.  She was also thrilled to see a smaller bunny in a pen that she could pet.

Petting the Easter bunny's friend.

Petting the Easter bunny’s friend.

The Easter Party included a tour of the ranch where we were able to see all the different animals they have including horses, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, an emu, and a donkey.  This where our sweet girl learned what sound a donkey makes and now will happily give a quiet “hee-haw” when asked what a donkey says.  There was also a story time with various bunny books.  I suppose we got a little wrapped up in story time because we somehow missed the start of the egg hunt!  Even though we were late, we were able to stumble upon some discarded eggs that another child had raided the contents of and then left the shells by a tree.  Empty or not, didn’t matter to our little girl!

Trying to hold as many eggs as possible.

Trying to hold as many eggs as possible.

Mom fail…I forgot to bring her Easter basket to the Easter party!  Luckily the staff had a few extra baskets lying around.  A berry basket was just the right size to hold her 5 eggs.

Make-shift Easter basket.

Make-shift Easter basket.

The highlight of the day was quite possibly the pony ride.  Although I thought we would never make it through the long line where my little girl kept running off.  I wasn’t sure how the pony ride would go, especially since she would have to wear a helmet and she throws a fit when asked to wear a smock for painting.  To my surprise she took no issue with the helmet and was very happy in the saddle!  For several days after this she would request, “ride horse.”

1st pony ride!

1st pony ride!

On Easter morning, we of course had to see what the Easter Bunny had delivered.  Her favorite items were the Anna and Elsa jelly beans.

Checking out the Easter basket.

Checking out the Easter basket.

We then headed over to the local golf course for an egg hunt.  I remembered the basket this time!

Egg Hunt #2 at the golf course.

Egg Hunt #2 at the golf course.

We had hoped to get a last minute reservation at the restaurant on the course for brunch, but had no such luck.  So it was back home for cinnamon rolls and Dad’s egg frittata.  After a nap, we tried one more egg hunt at home.

Egg Hunt #3 in the backyard.

Egg Hunt #3 in the backyard.

My husband had the idea to substitute berries inside the eggs instead of candy.  Little girl didn’t seem to mind at all!

Is that a jelly bean inside the egg?  Nope, a blueberry!

Is that a jelly bean inside the egg? Nope, a blueberry!

We were joined by friends for dinner and dessert at our house.  All in all a great Easter weekend!  Hope you enjoyed yours as well!