Sunday, April 12, 2009

Waterways of Holland and Belgium River Cruise

And we're off! This is Harry's and my first time traveling together abroad. We were looking forward to it but were also not sure what to expect, as this was the first river cruise for either of us. We chose to do this cruise because Harry had a credit from the world cruise with Vantage Deluxe World Travel, which he wanted to use, and the itinerary was of interest to me. The complete name of the cruise was "Waterways of Holland and Belgium: Tulips, Windmills and Canals". So everyone was expecting to see endless fields of blooming tulips; however, it seemed that most people understood that after a colder than expected winter, the tulip display in the fields would be disappointing. The cruise included daily excursions to different destinations, plus there were several optional trips we could take, for an extra charge. Those trips were to Gouda (famous for silver, not cheese), an Amsterdam Canal Cruise, a visit to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, and a trip to Lier, a medieval Flemish town in Belgium. Vantage has their own fleet of ships and they provide "program managers" who not only serve as guides, but are also available for problem solving.

After boarding a plane at 5:30 AM El Paso time, and a long overnight flight, We were met at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport (did you know that the area was once under water, and it was a place where there were shipwrecks? The literal translation of the name is "ship hole") when we disembarked the plane at 5:30 AM Amsterdam time, by one of the program managers, who gathered all who were arriving at similar times, got us onto our waiting bus
, and explained to us how our first day would go. We were taken to the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, where we were ushered up a staircase with a gorgeous carved railing, to a large reception room, where they had a light breakfast waiting for us (we had landed at 5:30 AM local time). We would not be boarding the ship until after lunch, so we had a lot of free time to explore Amsterdam if we wanted to. After the long hours of sitting on a plane, Harry & I were ready to go for a walk. We walked along some of the canals, and over to the floating flower market, which was just opening when we got there. The floral displays were beautiful. It was also nice to become re-acquainted with the unique Dutch architectural style. The walk was delightful, even though the temperature was a bit chilly and the wind was blowing. Some of the sights at the flower market were intriguing, like the types of plants for sale, most especially the marijuana starter kit - I couldn't resist taking (or including) that photo.

Following lunch, we were all put on four buses and taken over to the ship. The drive
was scenic, as was to be expected. The River Explorer was docked very close to the central train station, so after unpacking, we walked over there. What a magnificent old building! Even though it is undergoing renovation it is still fully functional.

Dinner, as with all meals in the dining room, was open seating. Because of the small size of the ship (we had 161 passengers on board), we were able to get to know the staff, despite the open seating, and the staff was a lot of fun and worked hard to serve us well. This was a very different experience the one I had on a large ocean cruise ship with open seating, where the quality of service was distinctly lower than I was used to. The food was excellent, and throught the cruise we had generally very pleasant and interesting dining companions.

In the ship photographs, the gentleman behind the reception desk is Joseph, assistant hotel manager, who was a great ham and always pleasant to work with.

Sometime after midnight we departed from
Amsterdam, headed to the small town of Schoonhoven.
The name is pronounced with a very gutteral 'ch' sound, kind of like cats spitting, and the double 'o' is pronounced as a long 'o'.

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