Category Archives: Travel

Bruges

We are docked in Antwerp. Thus far we have managed to avoid the norovirus, and could go today to see the beautiful medieval city of Bruges, which is the primary reason we took the cruise. We were bussed there. Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the Middle Ages Bruges was among the wealthiest cities of Europe. When the city lost access to the sea, it also lost its shipping industry and money. This was a blessing for those of us today. Completely ignored over the centuries, the city was not modernized and maintained its original medieval structures. We walked with a guide through parts of the city, then took a canal cruise in an open boat. This was a great way to appreciate the architecture. It reminded me of Venice, but in a cleaner way.
We were on our own in the afternoon. Our immediate goal was beer and mussels, which we found within 5 minutes. I had mine with white wine, Wayne with garlic. The garlic version was better. The beer is higher in alcohol and also much tastier. As far as frites go, we can’t notice any difference from those at a good clam shack. The city is just beautiful. If you are curious, rent the movie In Bruges. Ignore the plot and acting. But marvel at the setting of Bruges.

Mussels from Brussels

Advertisements

Kinderdijk and Rotterdam

There is an intestinal bug onboard. It’s not too widespread, but we will have no more buffets or open afternoon snacks. We have our fingers crossed to remain healthy because Bruges is in 2 days. The main purpose of this cruise is to see Bruges.
We are in Kinderdijk, home to more windmills than any other spot. It is a foggy morning which lends to the beauty; it is picturesque indeed! Last evening a local woman came onboard and explained the windmill, canal and land reclamation system. Today there are powered pumps to keep the reclaimed land (polders) dry. But it is mandated by law that the windmills remain in working order as backup emergency systems. People live in the windmills and the only charge is that they turn the windmill 60,000 times a year. We were able to tour an open mill. It’s tight living with 2 tiny rooms per floor. And steep ladders connect the 3 floors.
After Kenderdijk we sailed for Rotterdam. Here we had the choice to see Rotterdam on our own or take a tour to Delft and a Delft pottery shop. We chose to stick around Rotterdam. It’s very modern here. Rotterdam was mostly leveled in WWII. We wanted to see the Bruegels here. As it turns out, the museum was under renovation, but the 2 Bruegels and a Bosch were available for viewing.
Tonight we were entertained by traditional Dutch dancers. It was pretty boring. We left for the room after one dance.

Windmills Kinderdijk

Nijmegen

I awoke about 7 this morning to some rumbling from the engine room. We were slowing to enter a lock. I threw on some clothes and went up on deck to watch. There was only the crew and me. It was very foggy, quiet and serene. The ship makes very little noise. It glides smoothly. It’s very tight in some locks. I think I could jump from ship to land. I thought of you Martha. Little rabbits, konijn in Dutch, were hopping around. After Breakfast we came to a second lock. This one was much wider and we shared our space with an equally sized barge. The barge was being operated by a woman. There were a man and toddler in the wheel house, a play pen and car on deck. Once again, one could easily leap onto the barge or the land. Impressive skill these captains possess.
We were cruising this morning to Nijmegen and then busing to Groesbeek where The Market Garden operation from WWII began. You will be familiar with this operation if you have seen the movie A Bridge Too Far. There is a Liberty Museum built on the spot where some of the parachutists landed. As museums go, it wasn’t very interesting. However, the volunteers were. They had first or second hand experience with WWII. That was very interesting. They are committed to keeping the public informed. We also visited the Canadian cemetery with soldiers from WWII. The land has been given to Canada.
Nijmegen is the oldest city in The Netherlands. They just celebrated their 2000 year anniversary.

Sailing through a lock

Hoorn and Enkhuizen

We cruised overnight and awoke to the quaint town of Hoorn. In the 1600s this town was a leading seaport. Today they are known for their cheese. Hoorn was the home base for the Dutch East India Company. One of the explorers from here, Willem Schouten, named Cape Horn after his home town. We had a terrific guide who was not only knowledgeable but funny. Always a good combination in my book. She walked us through the town pointing out 17th century gabled houses, the canal system and the harbor.
We returned to the ship and sailed for the 650 year old town of Enkhuizen. Here we toured the Zuider Zee Open Air Museum. It is composed of homes brought in from abandoned fishing villages. They are 19th century brick homes, dismantled brick by brick and reassembled on site. Tiny little 2 and 3 room homes set along brick streets, the museum attempts to replicate that life and preserve the structures.

Hoorn Canal

Amsterdam Koukenhof Gardens

We are still moored in Amsterdam. This morning we took a bus to the Keukenhof Gardens where more than 7 million bulbs are planted. Remember the Florida gang I wanted to avoid ay all costs? Yep, you guessed it. They got on our bus, and loud mouth sat right in front of me. After listening to him use the phrase “pain in the a__” about 50 times and “full of s__t” about 100 times, we get to the park. Here one of his friends couldn’t get his head set to work. It turns out he had the earpiece on backwards. So Bozzo announces to our group that his friend can’t get his headset to work because he was too busy “playing with his ba__s”.
Back to the Garden. The park area is open only 8 weeks a year. Because of the late winter here we didn’t see the anticipated fields of tulips along the road to the park. There were, however, acres of daffodils, crocus and hyacinths. More than 90% of the world’s flower supply comes here. The park area was beautifully attended and designed. And tulips were in bloom here. Three bulbs are planted in one hole so that as one bloom dies another is blooming. The keeps the designs for 2 months. The plantings take care with color combinations that sing. The park is honoring Germany this year. The profile of the Brandenburg Gate is designed in tulips and there are wooden sculptures of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and homages to the great German writers. They have many green houses filled with orchids and bulb plants arranged in striking settings. We returned to the boat for lunch and sailed to Volendam. We (or anyone else we spoke to) were not enchanted by this village. The guide described it as an idyllic fishing village. We pictured Chatham but what we got was Nantaskett. Along the water front were tacky souvenir shops and beer joints filled with young guys and spilling into the streets. It was sort of a fraternity row. We did eventually find a street with the most beautifully painted doors on each house. We later found out these doors were made by local craftsmen from the teak and mahogany crates used to ship goods in from the East Indies.

Amsterdam Touring

Today, as we headed for a second visit to the Rijksmuseum, we became a part of the mass tour groups we’ve been making light of for weeks. We move like a school of fish. We make way for no one and nothing. I certainly didn’t mind another look at Rembrandt and thought I might get more information from a guide. This wasn’t the case. Our guide skipped some pertinent works because it was crowded and actually let a guard intimidate him into leaving the Vermeer’s because our group was blocking the view.
From the Rijks we took a canal boat tour where I got the opportunity to be a teacher again. A little background. The night before during the orientation there was a group of seniors who talked through the lecture. I told Wayne to take a good look because we were going to avoid that group at all costs. Well, don’t you know the 2 loudest sat in our canal boat booth. The first thing they did was have us move over so the wife could sit on our side of the table. She didn’t want to ride backwards. That had 3 of us squeezed onto one bench while the fat husband sat on the other side and stuck his legs into my space. Next, the husband started picking up his voice mail which rang with each retrieval. Then of course he had to relay each message to his wife who was diagonally across the table. Oh, and I forgot to mention that when they sat down and introductions were made, he turned his head away. All this time the lecture is going on about the canals. The final straw that resurrected the teacher in me was when the husband said to the wife “Doris, did you hear what he said about the foot print of the houses? I said …” EXCUSE ME. If you tell her that then I can’t hear what’s being said now.”┬áHe said sorry and shut up. But the booth was thick with pouting thereafter.

The afternoon we had to ourselves. The boat is docked near old town so we walked to The Rembrandt House Museum. This is the house Rembrandt lived in for approximately 20 years until bankruptcy forced him out. Records of the bankruptcy are so thorough that they have been able to completely restore the house and include replicated furniture. In some rooms are copies of drawings Rembrandt did of the room. From these drawings fireplaces, moldings, furniture could be replicated. It was fun to be in the space where he lived and worked.
Tonight was the Captain’s dinner. We had lovely table partners from Arlington, VA. He had lived in MA and said he admired the state and Gov Patrick. The conversation centered around wine, travel, books. Quite pleasant.

Wayne at Rembrandt's House

Amsterdam The River Queen

From today on other people will take care of us, when & what we eat, see, do, who our friends can be. Yes, the cruise begins. Well, not actually cruise for 2 days, but begin life aboard the ship. We checked in early at 10 am and were surprised to get our cabin. It’s as spacious as a few of the hotels have been. And so far the food is terrific. There is very limited Internet access so I can’t upload pictures until Brussels.
Since nothing began onboard until 5pm, we went back onto Amsterdam and had lunch. We also needed more euros and some wine. We went back to the ship early to do laundry before the majority of passengers boarded. Dinner was nice. We sat with 2 other couples, one from South Carolina and one from Pennsylvania. They were all nice except the man from PA. Everytime he opened his mouth it was to denigrate someone or something. Within 2 hours he managed to insult Asians, hippies, Communists, Elizabeth Taylor, Nancy Pelosi (3 times) & Californians. He did all this by telling what he thought were jokes.

The River Queen Dining Room