The plan: Holland, children, bicycles. We figured the rest would evolve on its own.
``Flat,'' my husband said. ``The whole country is flat. Bike paths all over the place.''
A landscape materialized at once in my head. You can imagine the particulars: windmill, tulips, cow, canal, pedaling 12- and 16-year-old. Sunshine. Waving farmer. Cheese.
``Legal weed,'' the 16-year-old chipped in.
``Not for you,'' I said.
We bought a Holland guidebook, with many photographs of Rembrandt paintings and elaborately gabled canal-front brick houses, but the Bicycles section was only two pages long and commenced with a photograph of a bike helmet. Ha! (We'll get to that in a moment.) We found what seemed to be a suitable Holland Tourist Board Web site, animated on-screen by a little mustached man who pedaled along as you plotted out various rural cycling routes, but every time I tried to download the maps my computer snarled at me and dumped the site.
So we gave up on the advance details, arranged for an Amsterdam apartment that came equipped with the owners' bicycles and landed on a breezy July morning at Schiphol Airport, which is grand and clean and extremely efficient; by lunch time, our bags piled up at the top of the apartment's staircase landing, we were bicycling. Before sundown the next day, we had grasped the essentials.
The essentials were... startling.
By that second day, I had began composing my own introductory bicycling brochure, to be handed at the border to uninitiated Americans with tulips in their heads.