Winter Break

It is the last Weekend Tips before break, and didn't I just write the first one? The weeks really fly by and it seems that there is always more to do and not enough time. The upcoming weekend the roads and airports will be busy, no matter where you'll be going, do remember to take your time and expect some delays. In countries around the world people are getting ready for the Holidays which, in our family, consists of at least one "pajama" day. This time in Bernie's Corner a few reminders already mentioned in the last Tips. But keep on reading, more new events are being mentioned and we'll talk about New Year's Eve in the Netherlands!

The absolute best Christmas Circus takes place in the Carre Theater (original circus theater), in Amsterdam from mid December to the start of January. During the middle of December, the city of Gouda welcomes you for "Gouda by Candlelight". All of the electrical lights are switched off that night, candles are lit in house windows and the lights in the Christmas Tree illuminate the City Hall. It is magnificent to walk through this picturesque town, all lit up by candlelight. If you decide to visit Gouda, please take public transport as the train or bus will take you directly to the center of Gouda. Literally thousands of people will be there.

Another good idea for a weekend activity is to take a trip to Dordrecht Christmas Market. Dordrecht is a beautiful, medieval city just 30 minutes away from Wassenaar. The largest Christmas Market in The Netherlands is held there, so if you have time for a short trip, it is worth a visit.

The famous Dickens Festival, is also worth visiting in Deventer, which takes place only once a year during the month of December. During this festival, over 900 characters that feature in the famous books by the 19th-century British writer Charles Dickens come to life. Come and meet Scrooge, Oliver Twist, Mr. Pickwick, Christmas carolers, orphans, drunks, office clerks and the upper class. Enjoy the aromas of English punch and roasted chestnuts, thousands of fairy lights and tall Christmas trees. The Dickens Festival fills the whole center of Deventer with the heartwarming ambience of Christmas. Every year, there’s a market on the main square with 200 stands. The Christmas ambience continues in the churches in the city center with a cultural program. Different choirs, orchestra and vocal ensembles perform Christmas music. Not only in the street, but also behind the windows, in the houses and in the little shops and galleries the romantic time of Dickens will revive. During the Dickens Festival in December, the shops are open on Saturday and Sunday. Well over 160,000 people come to this festival annually. Admission is free, so be prepared for queues at the entrance, and public transportation (train) is the way to go.

If you enjoy the Efteling Fairy Tale Park during the summertime, be sure to take the opportunity to visit this park in the winter. The "Winter Efteling" (until the beginning of February) is open daily between 11:00 - 20:00. This park is wonderful for younger children as well as for the older ones.

Until mid-January, you and your family can enjoy the Cool Event in Scheveningen. A skating rink can be found in front of the Kurhaus, skates can be rented at the place itself. In Amsterdam you can skate on the Museumplein with the Rijksmuseum as your background! And if you do not skate but enjoy watching ice sculptures, Zwolle is the place to be. Annually, the ice sculpture event takes place in the IJsselhallen, a great visit for the entire family. This event is always open to the public until the start of March.

A few final notes: Leiden has a floating Christmas Market just behind the City Hall, which opens during the middle of December. The ice rink on the canal is also open, a perfect excuse for an afternoon excursion to Leiden. If you are looking for more local winter time activities, check out what is listed with The Hague Uitburo and the Amsterdam Uit Buro. Click on "December" to see upcoming activities.

Christmas in The Netherlands is celebrated over two days. Christmas Day Wednesday, December 25, (Eerste Kerstdag) is traditionally a family day. Families get together for a meal, and they exchange gifts with each other. The day after Christmas (Tweede Kerstdag or Boxing Day) is the day the Dutch go out, whether it’d be a concert, performance or for dinner at a restaurant. Stores are open, however they keep to a Sunday schedule, except for some "specialty stores" such as furniture shops and some department stores in the bigger cities. Do not ask me why, but the Dutch love to shop for furniture on Second Christmas Day, Second Easter Day and Whit Monday. On Christmas Eve, the stores close between 17:00 - 18:00, but do check the times on the door of the stores. For any emergency shopping (you forgot the crème fraiche) the "Albert Heijn To Go" at Leiden and The Hague Central Station are both open on Christmas Day. At Schiphol, all stores are open during their normal opening hours. If you plan on driving through Germany, Belgium, France or any other southern European country around Christmas, please be aware that Christmas Eve is celebrated in most of these countries, meaning that all stores and restaurants are closed from early on.

Visiting the huge variety of museums in The Netherlands is always fun, especially during the holidays. There are so  many children and family friendly museums to choose from, its hard to recommend where to start! In Leiden you can choose from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, an amazing museum in both architecture and exhibitions combined. The Museum Boerhaave always has workshops for kids during holiday break periods, and the Corpus museum can take your family through a walking journey through the human body. Further afield children's stories come to life at Children's Book museum, and you can explore all the Dutch highlights in miniature form at Madurodam in The Hague. Finally, you can take a step back in time at Archeon, an open air medieval museum, which also features a wonderful winter program with ice skating and special activities.

I have often advised you to take the train but have you ever visited the Railway Museum in Utrecht? It's a great day out for the entire family and during the Christmas break the museum is decorated in a winter theme. The Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam is both educational and fascinating. The Amsterdam Maritime Museum makes for an absolutely fantastic day out for the whole family - especially when combined with a visit to Nemo our largest science center and hands-on museum. Don't forget to visit the Amsterdam Look-Out for an unforgettable view over Amsterdam! A new event in Amsterdam is the This is Holland experience. Flying over the Netherlands, soaring over the Dutch mustā€see locations.

For any of you celebrating your first New Year's Eve in The Netherlands, be warned that it is truly an event in this country. The Dutch eat "oliebollen" and "appelbeignets", many of you may have already tasted them in Wassenaar or at stands in other city centers. These are your standard "we are not counting calories" goodies. Your supermarkets will have ready to bake packages on display after Christmas. Although fireworks (or visit the The Hague International Centre website) are only allowed to be lit on December 31, between 18:00 and 02:00 the following day, you'll still hear and see "accidental fireworks" on the days prior to December 31st. Buying fireworks is only possible at designated stores (never buy from a private address) on December 29th, 30th, 31st. Throughout the month of December you'll receive flyers from garden centers and stores where you can pre-order fireworks and pick it up one of the three days mentioned above. I cannot stress enough to keep your pets (cats, dogs and rabbits) inside and walk the dogs (and cats) only on a leash during these days. Please obey the fireworks rules and regulations. No fireworks are permitted to youngsters under the age of 16. For more information, please check the website above carefully.

For a real big firework show, think about heading down to Rotterdam on December 31. There will be a wonderful firework show at midnight over the Erasmus Bridge. Be aware that during the Holidays, trains and buses will follow the Sunday modified schedule. Also Amsterdam offers its share of fireworks, absolutely wonderful to see from a higher altitude in one of the bars/restaurants that offer a panoramic view. And when the time comes that the new year has arrived, the Dutch start traditionally with their New Year's Dive, the main one takes place in Scheveningen. Check all locations, an orange hat means "Yes, the dive is on", a cross through the hat, no dive!

Remember that at American School of The Hague we have an extra week of vacation compared to Dutch schools and companies. This week is maybe a good time to enjoy a museum or another event that normally is too busy to visit during the weekends and vacations.

Finally, my family and I would like to wish all of you, whether you celebrate Santa Lucia, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or any other Festival of Lights, a well deserved and restful Holiday. It is a time to be with family and friends and a time to relax. Most of all, I would like to wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful year ahead.

Bernie