Cruise: Tulips & Windmills
Ship: River Duchess
When people think of a European Adventure, Belgium and the Netherlands might not be the first two places that come to mind. However, the Tulips and Windmills tour could just change all that. It has everything you could want: architecture, artwork, and awe-inspiring beauty. My wife and I couldn’t have picked a better destination for our first trip across the pond, and here’s why:
First and foremost, the crew and the ship, River Duchess, were wonderful. As soon as we walked on the ship, all our needs were met. The crew was hard working, helpful, ...
and extremely personable. The local guides provided us with so much information. The accommodations on the ship and on the buses were outstanding. The food was absolutely delicious. It brought new meaning to the term “fat and happy”. And, our fellow travelers became our floating family. Speaking of sites here’s a little bit about each stop on our journey.
Antwerp was the perfect starting point: All the charm of an old European city, and just the right size to experience it all. If we have a chance to go back, we are staying there for a week.
Next stop: Bruges. Absolutely gorgeous. With all the canals, we thought we were in Venice.
After stuffing ourselves with frites, chocolate, and beer (the Belgian trifecta), we headed to our first stop in the Netherlands: Veere. With its quaint fishing village atmosphere, it’s easy to see why it has become a hot spot for a quick getaway. Hey, if it’s good enough for Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, it’s good enough for us.
Next, we headed to Kinderdijk where we got to see the windmills (and the wooden shoes) for which Holland is known. We actually went into a windmill from the late 1700’s. They were absolutely fascinating. Two things I didn’t know about the windmill (and I apologize for my ignorance): you can actually move the giant blades, and they weren’t for wind power.
In addition to seeing old school Dutch ingenuity, we got a chance to see their modern engineering prowess at work: The Delta Works; a massive dam project that protects the Dutch people from the fury of the North Sea. For a country that is under sea level, it’s definitely needed. While it may not be a 15th century church, it’s a beautiful thing in its own right.
After sailing through Rotterdam, we got a chance to visit Delft, walk through the square in the center of town (we actually got to stand on the compass famously depicted in the Girl with the Pearl Earring), and take a tour of the Delft Blue Factory to see how the world famous pottery is made. My wife and I cheated: We went to a shop just down the street from the main square and bought our pottery there. But, hey, it was handmade pottery made in Delft, so it’s the same thing, right?
Once we got back from Delft, we had the opportunity to experience Dutch hospitality at its finest. We were docked in Dordrecht, and we were looking for a place to go for a drink before heading off again. In that area, Mondays are like our Sundays (everything is closed), so we were about to call off our search. Just then, we came upon a small establishment we almost overlooked. As soon as we entered, we felt like we were walking into someone’s living room. After being greeted by a German Sheppard named Danger (the most incorrect name for a dog ever), we sat down to the bar and proceeded to hang out with the sweetest tavern owners you will ever have the pleasure of meeting, Lettie. After several refills of the best beer I have ever had (Yes, I had a Belgian beer called Kasteel in the Netherlands) and great conversation, we felt like Lettie was an old friend that we hadn’t seen in awhile. If you are ever in Dordrecht, be sure to stop at the Cafe ‘t Havenhoejke. Just make sure that you have plenty of time to kill. We almost missed our 3:45 AM departure.
After shaking off the cobwebs the next morning, we visited the Kroller-Muller museum. And, to think, this museum, located on the grounds of what was once a hunting lodge had one of the most extensive Van Gogh collections in the world. Once again, it just exemplified the beauty of this trip: all the must, but none of the fuss.
Then, it was on to Hoorn and Enkhuizen. Absolutely magical: Some of the rainiest and dreariest weather on the trip, but the way people decorated their homes, it felt like we were immersed in sunshine.
Finally, we arrived in Amsterdam. Yep, it had the things you would expect: bikes (more dangerous than cars), red lights, and the other unmentionables we don’t bring up in the States. But, it had so much more. The Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank house, and the Begijnhof (an oasis in the heart of the city that couldn’t even be disturbed by a bunch of Scottish football fans.
Oh!! We can’t write a Tulips and Windmills review without mentioning the flowers. The Keukenhof Gardens, while not in its full grandeur when we went in March, was still absolutely breathtaking. We walked through greenhouses full of the most colorful flowers and greenery we’ve ever seen. Even though the gardens weren’t in full bloom, the 70-acre grounds were still a sight to behold. The good thing about going in March: there were so few people that we felt like they created it just for us.
We’re taking a trip with Uniworld in 2010, and it definitely has some big shoes to fill. But, we’re certain it won’t disappoint.
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