The Finale, Grand European River Cruise – Netherlands

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


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!

The insanity near Central Station
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 😦

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!



  1. Thanks for the fabulous tour MonaLiza. A River Cruise is something we have contemplated for many years. You and Steve have convinced us that it is something to seriously be considered. Happy holidays to you both!

  2. Loved your detailed and fun posts about your trip. We are on board for a future Viking River Cruise as well. Just gotta start our European vacation fund!

  3. What a nice place to end your cruise. Sorry it was dreary for your visit. It still looks like a place I might enjoy. I love the super tall, skinny houses. Super shot through all the bridges! Thanks for sharing your journey with Viking Cruise!

  4. What a diverse, rich experience you had on your river cruise! According to a friend of ours from the Netherlands, it’s always gray there. It looks beautiful and interesting, but I’m happy I don’t have to live there. I need sunshine! Very cool that bikes are a primary form of transportation, even in that soggy climate. Wow, they really do have all kinds of museums, don’t they? Haha!!

  5. We were supposed to tour the Netherlands extensively last year, but those plans went down the drain the day after we arrived in the country and got a call from Mui’s sister that his mother was ill. We have not been able to put those plans back into our schedule, but hope to at least add a few days at the tail end of the cruise like you did to explore Amsterdam.

    Thanks for the detailed review of your river cruise. We’re looking forward to doing this itinerary next October.

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