A Dutch River Cruise

(Click on any of the pictures to get a larger version of that image.)

(Amsterdam | The MS Viking Neptune | Enkhuizen & Hoorn | Marken/Edam/Volendam | Zaanse Schans & Cheese Farm | Palais Het Loo | Kinderdijk Windmills | Delft | The Hague | Keukenhof Gardens )

The MS Viking Neptune

Our ship, the MS Viking Neptune. I'd never been on a cruise before, so it certainly met my expectations. Overall, I had a great time, but if I had to list three things that disappointed me, or that I'd want to do differently if I ran the world, I'd choose:
  • The age of our fellow cruisers — after us, Shelby's parents were among the youngest people on the cruise. Some of our group were downright walkers-and-wheelchairs geriatric. Since we didn't have much interest in chatting about tax-sheltered investment schemes for our grandchildrens' college fund (although Shelby could've beaten a few women on the drastic-surgery-stories front, if she'd chosen to compete), we didn't form the lifelong friendships that Viking River Cruises seemed to expect that every participant would form. A lot of our shipmates looked at us like they weren't sure how we got on board, or like they wanted to pat us on the head (but after the first few days, most of them got over it).
  • The balance of time spent on particular things — when we were out on our daily excursions, there was always a big emphasis on getting us back on the bus and back to our boat on time for lunch or cocktail hour or whatever. Our local guides were dressed down repeatedly by the cruise manager for not getting back on time. Lunch was never that great, and I went to cocktail hour just once; I would have gladly sacrificed a formal sit-down lunch for more time spent on excursions.
  • More time on the water — since the Netherlands is so small, we usually spent very little time actually cruising before we reached our next destination (and whenever the boat had to make major moves, they usually happened at night, or while we were away on excursions). If I were to take another river cruise, I'd choose a longer one, where we could spend more time on the water — and travel later in the year, when the weather would be consistently good enough to sit outside and watch things go by.
Our cabin was very nice — definitely more spacious than we'd been expecting (larger, I think, than the hotel room we'd stayed in during our trip to Vienna the week before).

Enkhuizen & Hoorn

Our first stop outside of Amsterdam was the city of Enkhuizen.
A short walk outside of Enkhuizen is the Zuiderzee Museum, a collection of buildings made around 1932, when a vast reclamation project turned the Zuiderzee, formerly a salt-water inlet, into a freshwater lake. Traditional ways of life in villages throughout the area were disrupted, and a project was begun to collect together threatened buildings from around the region in a single open-air museum where people could come learn about life before the big dikes.
Our ship docked for the night in Hoorn, a pleasant city where we had the best dinner of our trip (and for quite a while beyond that — it was memorably excellent and totally unexpected). Unfortunately, we seem to have lost the restaurant's business card, so I can't give it a recommendation here!

To the left is Hoorn's former city hall, now a museum.

Twice we traversed a particularly interesting lock; our boat crossed above a highway, rather than having the highway cross us with a bridge!


We then visited three cities in quick succession. First came Marken, which is known for its wooden houses built in the traditional style (all new construction has to be built to match the core of the town).
Next came Edam, home to scenic buildings and waterways — and, of course, famous cheese. Edam was where we most strongly felt the limitations of the bus tour let's-get-back-for-lunch format; it was the kind of place where you could spend the whole day just wandering around.
Last came Volendam, where the Viking Neptune was docked. Voldendam was billed to us as the souvenir-shop capital of The Netherlands, so I came in expecting the Dutch version of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, but all of the chintziness was pretty much confined to a single street of stores.
This was next to our ship; I have nothing to say here, other than it just looked surreal enough for a photo.

Zaanse Schans Open-Air Museum (and a Henri Willig Cheese Farm)

Rather than follow the default plan of spending the afternoon shopping in Volendam, we decided to purchase the optional guided excursion to the Zaanse Schans open-air museum. To be honest, it was something of a tourist trap — but we did get the novelty of seeing someone make wooden shoes (in a building that had interesting displays about the history and function of clogs), and we did get our first close-up look at a windmill.
This is the windmill "De Kat"; it's used to grind raw material into pigments for artists (this is how pigment was made for all of those Dutch Old Master paintings hanging in the Rijksmuseum; the windmill itself, though, is a more recent creation, being an amalgam of several windmills partially destroyed or moved because of "progress".
After the museum, we went to a Henri Willig cheese farm; they gave us a brief presentation on how cheese is made, we had a chance to sample (and purchase, of course) various Henri Willig cheeses, and afterwards you could go outside to visit some of their goats and sheep.
"There's only room for one goat in this feed trough, mister!!"

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More Pictures — Next: Palais Het Loo
(Amsterdam | The MS Viking Neptune | Enkhuizen & Hoorn | Marken/Edam/Volendam | Zaanse Schans & Cheese Farm | Palais Het Loo | Kinderdijk Windmills | Delft | The Hague | Keukenhof Gardens )

This page last modified on Saturday, May 01, 2004
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