“This day is my best”- A Visit to the Spoorwegmuseum

Well, seeing as the summer holidays are halfway over (!) I thought it a good idea to share a new “Things to do with kids” suggestion. If you ask my five year old, he will in fact say that this suggestion is “my best”– and if you also have a train-obsessed kiddo, I think they will agree. If you’re into trains and/or history yourself… or just interested in anything that will keep your child happy and not complaining for 5+ hours… I highly recommend Utrecht’s Spoorwegmuseum (translation: Railway Museum).

A boy in his best place

As I’ve mentioned before, if you live in the Netherlands (with or without kids), I cannot recommend enough that you get yourself a Museumkaart. The Spoorwegmuseum is one of more than 400 museums that you can get into with it. Other examples range from the obscure (Pipe Museum, Museum of Bags and Purses), to the very well known (Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House). Also, I think it’s pretty adorable that you can find a “Museum Match” on the website… it’s basically personals for people looking to find museum friends. (If you have a moment you should read a few, I like the “elegant woman”, and the person planning a museum heist.)

So now that I’ve convinced you to get a museumkaart, let’s talk trains! The Spoorwegmuseum is located in Utrecht, which I’ve heard is a pretty happening town. I’m not a very cool person at this point in my life, so I can’t say if this is true or not… I just know there were lots of young people in hip clothes, and some fairly diverse (for the Netherlands) restaurants. So yeah, it’s probably a cool town. If you’re going with your kids ignore all this, and head right to the museum. It’s a pretty quick tram ride and scenic walk from Utrecht Centraal, so maybe take a quick peek at the cool stuff as you pass, and plan a non-kid visit for another day!

You’ll see as you arrive at the museum that it is partly in an old train station. On first arrival, I thought the train station was the museum in its entirety. This portion is entirely free to enter, and includes many old/restored trains that will make you sad you missed the good old days of glamourous travel (seriously, where is my crystal ashtray and mid-century modern sofa NS?!)

I could get a lot of fancy work done here. Or take a fancy nap.

Also of note, the bathrooms in this part of the museum are stunning. That’s right, I’d say the bathrooms alone are worth a visit. In an effort to not look like a complete weirdo, I did not take a photo while in the bathroom… but let me tell you– the beautiful tile work and polished wood bench/toilet things are #bathroominspo.

After you’ve admired the bathrooms you can head across the crossing gate to enter the modern (and deceptively large) portion of the museum. This is the part where you’ll have to pay or whip out that handy museumkaart! In addition to the many old trains you’d expect to find inside, Joe and I were most surprised at the high quality rides and interactive exhibits also there. Joe’s favorite was this kind of roller coaster/nightmare train thing. We rode it probably five or six times, and I still can’t entirely explain what was happening other than at times it seemed you were going to be hit by a runaway train, and it ended with a birthday/anniversary party for some mannequins? Ok, I’m probably not really selling this to you very well… I guess you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you it was a fun ride.

Other highlights included a weird elevator ride back in time to visit the first train that connected Amsterdam to Haarlem. I thought we were entering a tiny closet until it started moving and suddenly we were let out in a Hollywood-quality old timey movie set. Joe was legit convinced we went back in time and he enjoyed the idea until I told him kids back in that time had to get jobs shoveling coal.

Haarlem/Amsterdam connection probably took awhile in the 19th century

Once you’ve seen enough trains and can’t handle one more second on the nightmare ride, head on over to the cafe. There’s some decent options including sandwiches, salads, good coffee, and perhaps a much needed mini bottle of wine. After you’ve picked up your food head outside for the very best part: the playground/train ride/outdoor dining area. Sit back and relax with your mini bottle while your kid runs free at the playground, or rides the kids-only (yay!) train.

I got up to take this photo, but mainly I sat while this went on for a long time

Ok, so some cliff-notes on the place if that’s how you prefer your info:

  • What/Where: Spoorwegmuseum Utrecht, Maliebaanstation 16, 3581 XW Utrecht
  • How much will it cost? FREE with the Museumkaart, or € 17.50 for everyone over the age of 3 if you don’t have one.
  • Is there food? Will my kid(s) eat it? Of course! There is an above-average museum cafe with the things you expect… but the outside dining/play area makes it special.
  • What can kids do? Have the best day of their life?
  • What can parents do? Enjoy a museum that’s actually interesting to the entire family. Admire fancy bathrooms. Savor a delicious latte while your kid rides the little train over and over again.

Well, I hope I’ve convinced you to make the trip out to Utrecht and check this place out. To say we’ve already been twice when there are literally hundreds of new places on our bucket list says a lot. I’ve enjoyed both visits, and it’s left such a lasting impression on Joe that he often recreates it with his legos.

You won’t need a map if you just study this lego model

I’m excited to say that I’m returning to working life in a few weeks. Because of this, I’m planning a little self-reflection on my year at home for my next post. As you can probably guess, staying at home (even in a new European home) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Take me out to the… honkbal game?

Last week, I wrote the first of a series of posts on childhood here in the Netherlands. I mentioned a few of my favorite kid-friendly places to go, and I am always on the lookout for more. My hope is to add one or two posts a month on this topic.

The Netherlands is a small country, but there is never a shortage of really interesting things to see and do (with or without kids!) We have the Museumkaart, which I highly recommend for anyone- especially for those trying to keep their families busy during the many school holidays. €65 for adults, and €33 for kids gets you a full year of access to over 400 museums all over the country. With this, there is really no reason to ever claim you’re bored while living here. Not to mention of course, the plethora of free natural beauty that surrounds you… but I digress.

Despite all of these amazing things, we were a little bit sad to say goodbye to some of our favorite American pastimes when we moved. To be fair, we moved from Chicago, which I think many would argue is one of the top sports cities in the world. Cubs, Bulls, Bears, White Sox, Blackhawks… you know, a bunch of world famous winners and losers (but very lovable losers, of course).

We have a family history as Cubs fans ❤️

I think Joey was also a little sad thinking that Joe might grow up without the opportunity to play on a little league team as well. It was a big part of his own childhood, and maybe one of the biggest reasons he was excited to have a boy?! But seriously, girls are allowed on most little league teams now, right? If not, add it to the list of reasons we left America.

Well, being the researcher that I am, I googled “baseball in the Netherlands” before we moved. I was surprised when something called “Honkbal” popped up as a result. I thought it might be some kind of goose competition? With a little more clicking around, I found that honkbal literally translates to baseball- and hooray!- it’s somewhat popular. Not like, Ajax Football popular, but still, it exist! We were even more pleased to find that our new home city, Haarlem, has a pretty active honkbal scene. It even hosts an international Honkbal Week, every other year at a stadium just blocks from our home. Pim Mulier Stadium isn’t quite Wrigley Field, but it’s comforting to still see stadium lights from our living room windows during baseball season.

It took some time to get around to it, but the Joe’s finally went to their first honkbal game last weekend. They were accompanied by our very kind neighbor, who also happens to be an enthusiastic honkbal fan and coach. If you’re wondering, I stayed home enjoying some wine while cleaning out the shed (cause that qualifies as “fun” in your 30s).

Probably can’t pronounce their names correctly… but they’re heroes to this kid!

Believe it or not, there are actually a few different honkbal leagues and teams to choose from, even right here in Haarlem. I really have no clue as to the differences, and I won’t pretend I do. In this case, the Joe’s saw the Kinheim team play. They actually managed to stay the entire game, and even though Haarlem lost (Cubs fans aren’t known to bring good luck), fun was had by all.

If you’re interested in going to a game yourself, particularly if you’re an American looking to fill the baseball void, check it out! Important things to know:

  • What/Where: Kinheim Honkbal, Pim Mulier Stadium Jaap Edenlaan 6, 2024 BW Haarlem
  • How much will it cost? Free entrance! Really, it’s €0 to see a game.
  • Is there food? Will my kid(s) eat it? Yes! There is an inexpensive cafe with snacks, ice cream, and beer. Also, unlike MLB parks, you can BYO everything. So really, it can be a €0 day out with the family.
  • What can kids do? Maybe your kid will watch the game? Joe watched a few innings. Then he ate ice cream, explored the entire stadium, played FREE foosball in the cafe, and even got to go out on the field and in the dugout after the game.
  • What can parents do? Watch the game! Drink beer! Enjoy spending €0!
There’s a good chance your kid will get a ball!

So there you have it! The first of my “Things to do with your kid” recommendations. It seemed only right that my first post would be something as American as honkbal… I mean baseball. If you do decide to go, let me know what you think! Actually, let me know before you go and I’ll go with you. It’s probably better than staying at home to clean out my shed.