Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tell the world we are coming home

Like all things, our amazing trip had to come to an end. 

This is how they felt about it.

We left Amsterdam ready and excited to get back to the US and our family. As we made our way back to the Ferry, we passed through Belgium. I ensured that we stopped at a gas station and loaded up on chocolate. Belgian chocolate was one of the only requests we got from family so I out did myself. Even the lady at the checkout pointed out that I must really like chocolate.
Ellie spent her gas station time dancing in the grass. I just can't stop loving everything that she is. She is always positive and upbeat. She can bring a smile to the face of the grumpiest of the grumpy (which sometimes is me). I love her to the moon. 

When we realized that we were making great time, I begged Leon to stop somewhere for some waffles. We stopped in this beautiful beachy Belgian town. We were shocked when we realized that the beach was actual sand. I mean tons of sand. We hadn't seen a beach like this since we left California in May. 
We couldn't stop fast enough. We ran to the sand and just melted into it. Ellie was so excited to play and Jet was so excited to eat it. The water was so warm and the sun was shining. It was a perfect day. The kids played and played and we forgot all about the waffles. Ok, we didn't, but we didn't have time for them once we realized how long we had been basking in the sun and breathing the salty air. It was heaven. My heaven.

Then we left and got to the Port like five min too late. Some gypsy stopped Leon on the road and tried to sell us some sob story, which was really uncomfortable, so Leon gave him 3 euro to end it and thanks to him we had to wait another hour and a half to get back to England. Dang gypsies.

But we made it on the boat and were a little nervous because we were cutting it short with the rental car company. Jet and I rested while Ellie and Leon played.

We made it back to London safe and sound. Driving into the city made me miss it. It is funny how even ten weeks can really make a place home. I felt like those streets were my streets and those bridges were made for my feet. I think I could get around that place blindfolded. I love London. In the end, we decided it wasn't the place for our family and our future, but I love London.

We stayed at my friend Robyn's house that night and took a cab to the airport early the next morning. It was so exciting to finally be going home to family. I sure missed them this summer. It was hard to be alone in a big city with two littles all by myself. I was exhausted everyday and I longed for the luxuries and comforts that I was used to in the states. But I wouldn't have changed it for the world. Especially now that I can look back and I have so many memories that I just cherish.

Cheerio Londontown

Back on US soil

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Amsterdam, Netherlands

How had I never been to Amsterdam? I feel like everyone has spent some time in this charming city, yet I never had the opportunity until this summer. I wasn't sure what to expect and all I really knew of Amsterdam was that they had a tulip festival in the spring and a red light district at night. I was excited to learn more.

I had mentioned to Leon while we were in Germany that I would have loved to gone to a concentration camp. I've already mentioned the special place in my heart for holocaust victims, and I think concentration camps are the most real place to be reminded of what happened to our brothers and sisters half a century ago. So, Leon suggested after we checked into our hotel to hop on the bus and check out Anne Frank's Annex.

In front of the Anne Frank House

Our Amsterdam family shot

There was a serious line to get in, but Leon insisted I had to see it, so we took turns waiting in the line while the other would walk around the neighborhood and take in the city. Ok, he stood in line while I walked around the neighborhood and got my taste of beautiful Amsterdam. He had his Snickers and a sleeping child, so it wasn't too rough on him. Leon had been to Amsterdam before and was excited for me to get my first gulp of the beautiful canals and flowers and buildings. 

bikes lined every canal way

The architecture was exquisite
This is Amsterdam

Pictures weren't allowed in the actual house. But boy was I glad I had this amazing opportunity. I read the Diary of Anne Frank years ago, but never really understood it until these moments. The moments I spent standing on the floors she stood, climbing the insanely steep steps she climbed, and imagining the dark quiet days she spent behind the bookshelf in her father's old jam factory. I read an excerpt from the diary about Jew's bicycles being taken. I'm sure that could sound silly to someone who hasn't seen the bike lined streets of Amsterdam. But after strolling through the neighborhood my heart broke for them because I really understood the culture behind the bicycle in Holland. The story of this family touched my soul to it's most sensitive parts. I couldn't help but silently cry thinking of the childhood that was lost and the fate that awaited her. 

Anne's father was the only one out of the four Franks to survive the concentration camps.  He was given her diary by one of his employees who was helping them hide and decided he would have it published. This was a special place and her father was a special man. I'm so grateful I had the opportunity to remember her and visit such a place.

She always wants her picture taken by obscure statues. This was hanging out outside the restaurant we had lunch at. Don't mind the headband we were in Amsterdam. It's all part of the experience.

By the time we finished making our way through the Anne Frank House, we were famished. We stopped at a little restaurant and had some delicious food pretty similar to the stuff we ate in Germany. Unfortunately, it was cash only and Leon had to find an ATM pronto. It took him at least a half hour, so I got to know the workers at the place pretty well and Ellie got to sample some pretty disgusting dutch candy.

Then in true Johnson form we decided it was time to get some ice cream and stop at a playground.

My best bud

I couldn't stop taking pictures of the canals.

She is in her element

We played hard. It was a really dirty playground and I felt bad for Jet because there were cigarette buds everywhere, so he couldn't really play. But Ellie played enough for the both of them. We have to throw in some stuff for the kids so that they will enjoy traveling as much as we do.

Oh and Gelatto is the Johnson downfall
After we tired the kids out, we headed for the city center. There were a few street performers, but for the most part Amsterdam seemed pretty mild. Nothing like some of the other city centers we had visited that week. It was quiet and kind of sparse. The empty streets made it seem lifeless. It was beautiful, but lifeless.

city center
Then we realized it was like 9pm. No wonder the city was so quiet they were all hanging out in "other" areas. Our kids were asleep and I just had to see "it". My Papa told me about his trip to Amsterdam and said he had visited "it", so I figured if a 75 year old was comfortable "it" couldn't be that bad. I had to go to the red light district. It was crazy. I definitely found the Amsterdam nightlife. The streets were full and it was loud. There were inappropriate things everywhere. I was blushing at every corner. We couldn't bring ourselves to actually go in any shops, but the window displays were enough. 
Then we walked by a church and literally across the street were windows with red velvet curtains hung and a red light across the top. There were signs everywhere saying, "no pictures, please?". All of a sudden the curtains were raised and there were the saddest looking women in the world. They were sitting on their stool, in their plexiglass, glow in the dark stall, wearing their skimpy bikinis and refusing to make eye contact with anyone. They were lifeless and my whole heart broke for them. It was so sad.

That is the world we live in though. Those type of things right across the street from our churches. What an analogy for life these days.

We left the crimson lit area pretty soon after we entered it and set off on a romantic stroll. Romantic it was. Both kids were fast asleep and the sun was setting on the beautiful city of sin. The canals were sparkling in the moon light. And my beautiful husband was pushing a stroller containing our first born. I couldn't have loved the man anymore. He gave me a dream vacation, an amazing summer, and a really, really happy life.

Sometimes we switch places so we can have a picture in the same spot.

We found a perfect little restaurant and used our last night together in Europe to enjoy some yummy danish desserts. We had a beautiful view of a canal and were drenched in the moonlight. It was perfect. Then it started to rain and we ran to the bus as fast as we could. Elles was getting drenched and we couldn't help but laugh because she sleeps like a log and didn't mind the water one bit. 

Our view.
The night was over and we were headed for the coast in the morning. I was missing our British Isle and I was dying for my sweet California sunshine. It was the perfect vacation that has left me with memories I will cherish for my whole life.