The Finale, Grand European River Cruise – Netherlands

This is the last installment of our Grand European River Cruise, here is a link to my 5 previous posts.

Windmills at Kinderdijk

It was a windy, chilly and rainy morning when Viking Bragi docked at Kinderdijk, our first stop in the Netherlands.  The included tour was a rain or shine affair, so everyone grabbed provided umbrellas as our guide led us to the only place in the world with so many windmills so close together.  Our guide was formerly a teacher, which was apparent as he informed and entertained the group while talking about life in the lowlands and the modern day hydro-engineering techniques of the Dutch.

Kinderdick windmill

Original Kinderdijk windmills

We learned that the Netherlands is flat and nearly a third of the country lies below sea level, with nearly half of its terrain existing as reclaimed land.  As part of a large water management system designed to prevent flooding, windmills were built in the mid-1700’s to pump water from low areas into the river at higher elevation.  It was quite captivating to hear how ingenious the Dutch were and are.  Today the working windmills symbolize Dutch water management, and in 1997 they were inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage.

An iconic Dutch scene – the windmills.  They continue to help manage the Netherlands’ ongoing fight to stay above water

Amsterdam

Although the cruise was fabulous, we were excited to set foot at our debarkation point in the capital city of the Netherlands.  We added a couple of days to explore the city, even if the weather was intermittently gloomy.  Because it was mostly wet outside I used my point and shoot Lumix camera and phone to capture sights and experiences so these photos may appear to be a bit moody 😉

Tram and people crammed the street

At the outset I have to say I really liked Amsterdam, it’s an exciting and diverse city that maintains its laid-back feel.  We were drawn to its miles of canals, brick bridges, old churches and 17th-century architecture.  With only a couple days to spare we didn’t let the rain dampen our spirit as we experienced everything, we could fit in.

The Netherlands (or Holland) has big shoes to fill!

Right away we noticed the city had several unique characteristics that separated it from all the others we had visited.

Bicycles Galore!

Our ship’s program director had warned us about the insane bikers in Amsterdam, and he wasn’t kidding.  The 834,000 inhabitants own more than 881,000 bicycles, and 58% of them cycle daily!  They are everywhere, traveling at high speed with no intention of stopping for naive tourists!

Amsterdam

The insanity near Central Station

Amsterdam

Tourists fascinated by a custom cargo bicycle

A chic way to go to work, helmets not required

Better remember where you parked it!

Canals and Bridges

Amsterdam is a city of canals and bridges, with unique sights from land and water:

Swans are a common sight here, and they’re actually considered to be pests

We were told a visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without taking a canal cruise, a unique and memorable way to experience the city and its waters.  We took one but found the crowded enclosed ride was not very informative.  There are several operators to choose from, and we had to pick one that fit into our time frame.  Perhaps we could have done better with more time and research.

One of many canal cruise tours

Amsterdam has 165 canals snaking their way through the city, with a combined length of 60 miles

Charming decorated houseboats lined the waterway, a partial solution to a housing shortage

Not sure where this was but there are seven arched brick bridges that could be seen in close proximity

The 17th century canal ring is a symbol of the city and is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites for its cultural and historical value.

Gables and facades

Wandering through the city, we couldn’t help but notice another distinctive feature of Amsterdam, the gables and facades of houses lining the canal.  These homes are ornately crowned with soaring gables of various styles and long sleek windows that provide awesome visual appeal.

Some gables are elaborately decorated indicating wealth

All canal homes have lift points in their gable, used with pulleys and ropes to haul large objects to the windows above.  We were told the stairways in these homes are extremely narrow and there is no other way to get bulky items inside

Dating back to the Dutch Golden Age, a building tax was calculated on the width of a property’s façade.  OK, now I get it!

Canal homes are tall-and-skinny, a signature of the city

Coffeeshop, Coffeehouse or Cafe?

If you just want to buy coffee beans or get a caffeine fix, go to a cafe or a coffeehouse.  But if you want to kickstart your day in an herbal way you should head directly to a coffeeshop where you’ll be given a menu loaded with “greens”.  There are hundreds of them in the city, and even stores had displays full of different forms of the goods.  We were in too much of a hurry to be slowed down by that stuff!

To be sure you are in the right place look for green and white sticker in the window, a license which designates the establishment is a coffee shop

 

Over-the-top dark chocolate.  Hon, can I take this home?

Museums, Museums, Museums

The legacy of the Dutch Golden Age lives on in the lush paintings of Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Frans Haals, to name a few of the Dutch Masters whose collections are housed in various museums.  Unfortunately for us it was too many museums and too little time 😦

Rijksmuseum

If you have time to admire 6000 collection of art and paintings by the Old Masters, the Rijksmuseum is the place to be

We thought we did a lot in those two days, but there was one place I missed — the flower market.  I suppose I’ll just have to go back in the spring for the Tulip Festival!

Fields of flowers seen from way above

If you’re thinking about taking a trip like this (whether on a cruise or not), don’t let the possibility of language or currency issues stop you.  All countries we visited accepted Euros, with the only currency hitch being that Budapest gave change in their currency (the Forint).  This is a great place to use credit cards; the small conversion fee is totally worth it.  And the only language issues we had was at airports, in which case we just looked around until we found someone who could help us.  The residents in all of the cities we visited were friendly, and we had no security concerns during our trip.

That concludes our wonderful cultural experience in Central Europe.

And with that, we wish everyone a Merry Christmas and may your season be full of joy, love, peace, and optimism for the year ahead!