April 25, 2004

A Dutch Journey

I'm following the itinerary of our cruise ship but my memories are not so fresh anymore so I'll just have to do the best I can. We usually stopped at 2 towns a day with tours each time. The brochure warned about plenty of walking and being in good physical condition. I worried for a while about if I would be able to keep up and have the stamina to make all of the tours. Then Kevin saw some of our fellow passengers and said "I don't think you're going to have a problem." Of the 120 passengers aboard, we were the youngest by easily 30 years. In fact, my parents were among the next youngest group. There were two people in wheelchairs even though the brochure clearly stated that no wheelchair access was available and that the tours took places over cobblestone roads. So I didn't have any problem making it through the trip.

This entry is rather long so I've put it in the extended entry below.

Our first stop was the fishing village and former seaport of Enkhuizen. The village was very quaint and we had a nice walking tour. We ended with a veritable jog through the Zuiderzee Museum, an open air museum where traditional houses had been relocated and people lived in them wearing traditional outfits. Unfortunately we ran through the museum in order to spend time waiting on the boat. I really would have liked more time there.

It the afternoon we docked at Hoorn, one of my favorite villages on our trip. According to the itinerary, Hoorn is the birthplace of the man who was the first to round Cape Horn, naming it after his home village. We stayed at Hoorn for the night and my family decided to eat dinner off the ship in a local restaurant. Our guide had recommended a restaurant, but when we found it there were two restaurants there, so we kind of randomly picked one of them. It turned out to be one of the best meals I've ever had. Each dish from the kitchen was exquisite. For anyone visiting Holland, I recommend an overnight stay at Hoorn.

The next morning found us in the tiny village of Marken, which was isolated on an island until a generation ago. The houses were quite quaint and picturesque and there was even an old woman in traditional dress offering pictures and a look inside a typical house. The house had a very tiny bed in the wall, and we later learned that the Dutch basically sleep sitting up. Marken also is the home of wooden shoes and while we found wooden shoes all over Holland, the prices there turned out the be the best. Kevin and I got a small, child's size pair for decoration. I really liked Marken, but my dad felt he could have skipped it. Thinking back, I probably would have given it up to spend more time in...

Home of the round cheese, Edam was a very cute little village. Unfortunately our walking tour through its streets was so truncated we didn't even have time to drop into a shop to look at a set of dishes my mom liked. I don't remember much about Edam except that it was cute and I wished we had more time there.

The afternoon brought us to Volendam, another quaint, cute fishing village. No guided tour here, which was too bad. Then Kevin, my mom and I made the unfortunate decision to take an optional tour to another open air museum and a cheese farm. The museum was rather cheesy but we did get our first look at the inside of a windmill and we saw a demonstration on how wooden shoes are made, which was interesting. The cheese farm was a quick 5 minute explanation before we were shuffled into the little shop to taste and buy cheese. It was good but very touristy. In fact, as we were walking out of the shop we noticed that there was an identical shop next to ours where they shunted the next group of visitors so that each group had a shop to themselves. Hmmm. Kevin and I made the most of the visit by seeing the very cute sheep and goats. In the meantime, my dad toured Volendam on his own and said that once he got past the main tourist drag he really enjoyed the village. In retrospect, we could have skipped the optional tour.

Arnhem and Paleis Het Loo
Arnhem, home of the disasterous allied attempt to secure major bridges in Holland to defeat Nazi Germany (as chronicled in the movie "A Bridge Too Far") was so interesting it made no impression on me at all, except for the part where they pointed out the bridge too far. From Arnhem we headed by bus to the Paleis Het Loo, or royal palace. The Paleis was pretty much your basic palace--series of rooms with impressive tapestries and really expensive furniture. It did have a great library. More impressive were the gardens outside. I'm not much of a garden person but Kevin really enjoyed his time there.

Another little village that failed to make much of an impression on me. We had free time here and climbed a hill to a street that looked like our very own Monckebergstrasse. That is, a pedestrian only avenue with stores of all sizes lining the edges. We met up with my folks at a cafe and decided to have another dinner in town rather than on the boat (the boat food left a lot to be desired). Unfortunately, the restaurant we chose was nothing like the one in Hoorn, but it was still nice.

Here we finally got to see windmills. Despite the insistence of our annoying Cruise Director, it wasn't until the end of the trip that I finally saw that I expected Holland to look like--that is, windmills and tulips. Kinderdijk is a collection of 16 windmills and is a closed community--people actually live there (some for 10 generations) and the windmills are in working condition should they ever be needed to drain the water from the canals. One mill was open to the public and we got to take another tour, seeing the cramped living spaces and windmill workings.

Rotterdam? We visited Rotterdam? The itinerary says we did but I have absolutely no recollection of it. Okay, as Kevin is reminding me now, we did drive through this modern city and it had some ugly architecture. Other than that--eh, not so much.

Delft, home of the famous Delftware ceramics, was (once again) quite cute. First we visited the Delft factory where, obviously, Delftware is made. Delftware is that intricate blue painting on white ceramic dishes and stuff. I find it unattractive, but it was interested to see the painters at work. Strangely enough, there was an enormous reproduction of Rembrandt's Night Watch done in blue on Delft tiles, and there was an artist working on another large display. Kind of strange, but whatever. In the city of Delft itself we skipped out on the guided tour and took our own tour. There we visited the Old Church, where Vermeer is buried (or where he has a stone in the floor at any rate) and the New Church where the royal family is buried, including the Queen Mum Juliana who had died only 2 weeks prior to our arrival. I like Delft a lot and could have spent more time there.

The Hague
The next day we headed to The Hague. We had a brief guided tour that included stepping into a courtyard of some big impressive buildings and being told that there were over 100 cameras and sharpshooters watching us. We also walked past the building housing Vermeer's Girl With a Pearl Earring, which is not on display. We then got back on the bus and drove through The Hague with the guide pointing out things like "That's where Milosevic is being tried" and "That's where Milosevic is being held." Ehhh, okay.

Keukenhof Gardens
Finally on the very last stop of our trip, we get to see tulips. There were a few tulip fields visible from the bus, but the bulk of our flowers were at the Keukenhof Gardens. This place was amazing. The guide said that it was like Holland's Disneyland and he wasn't kidding. There had to be over 2,000 people there, in this very large park (70 acres) devoted to varieties of tulips and other amazing flowers (7,000,000 of them). It's difficult to describe so I'll just have to wait until Kevin finishes the picture pages.

And that was the whirlwind tour. I liked the cruise a lot and found it to be a very convenient way to see Holland. The advantage was that we only had to unpack once and our hotel followed us around everywhere we went. Although the boat did not cover very much physical distance, it was definitely worthwhile to take the cruise. Overall my main complaint would be that I wished we had spent less time in some places and had more free time in others. I'm glad that we saw so much though, and had a wonderful time at it.

Posted by Shelby at April 25, 2004 08:30 PM