A river cruise that begins and ends in Amsterdam, includes viewing more varieties of voluptuous tulips than you ever dreamed existed, visiting Holland’s famous windmills, quaffing Belgian beer, sampling world famous Holland Edam cheese, Belgian waffles and chocolates, can’t be half bad, right?
In fact, it was a totally excellent adventure! Lest I sound like an advertisement for AmaWaterways river cruises, I’ll add that there were only minor glitches involving nature’s lingering chill and a few April showers – not an an issue for the English and Canadians on board, but for spoiled Southern Californian’s it can put us out of our tiny comfort zone (insert eye roll).
Amsterdam is a charming city with a long and eventful history and, today, is well known for its tolerant character. From its humble beginnings as a 13th-century fishing village on a river bed to its current role as a major hub for business, tourism and culture, Amsterdam played a central role in the history of the Netherlands. Amsterdam continues its strong tradition as a centre of culture and commerce but, for tourists especially, is more famous for its other diversions that can be shocking to some, and liberating for others. We enjoyed one evening in this crazy canal city prior to boarding the AmaSerena and an afternoon on the day we disembarked – too short for a first visit, but I lucked out a few years ago when a group of us happened to be in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day (now King’s Day) to board a Bike-Barge Tour.
Our one luxurious night was spent at the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam – a storied building in the understated and elegant Dutch Classicist tradition in the heart of Amsterdam’s historic city center. Before boarding the AmaSerena on Easter Sunday, we enjoyed an elegant, leisurely brunch in the hotel’s Michelin star Restaurant Bridges and explored the tulip market and traipsed around the Red Light district once more. I’m saving those pics for an R-rated post.
We boarded the ship with a blooming bunch of purple tulips to brighten our room for the next week.
Our itinerary for the Tulip Time Cruise included a tour of Volendam and Edam on Easter Monday. Interesting that Easter is considered a national holiday in Europe and observed with a three-day weekend.
Our walking tour started in Edam – known for its famous cheese covered in red or yellow wax – it is an adorable village where store keepers proudly display their town’s most famous product. We learned that Edam cheese is not made in Edam, rather the town was given the name because it is where the farmers bring their cheese by boat or horse to be weighed and traded. Wednesday mornings are market day and you can watch the Edamers dressed in traditional garb trading as they have for centuries.
Although Edam is known for its cheese, it was once an industrious shipyard and port. That’s why, in the 17th century, the town’s specialty became one of the most popular cheeses in the world. Sailors took wheels of Edam on their voyages — the cheese doesn’t spoil easily and could be traded for spices and other riches of the East.
Edam and Volendam, along with Maarken, are the three picturesque villages known as Waterland. Visiting this bucolic and charming area is a perfect day trip from Amsterdam to see the quaint Dutch countryside and lovely waterways. Volendam is a fishing village well known for its characteristic, authentic houses and commitment to maintaining authentic Dutch character and traditional clothing as seen in the stoic bronze figures along the waterfront.
Walk along the cobblestone street in front of Volendam’s splendid, historic harbor, De Dijk. Then duck into one of the many small restaurants and cafes looking out to sea for an ale and fish snack.
Each day, there were walking tours, bike tours, and lengthier coach tours to choose from based on your interest or desired level of activity. We usually went on the afternoon walking tour because we prefer to relax and not rush from here to there when we’re on vacation.
All the tour guides we experienced were personable and well informed and spoke excellent English. Some we liked better than others, of course, and our guide in Arnhem, was a little heavy on the history and had our minds short circuiting with facts and dates, but to her credit, she did clarify the difference between Holland and The Netherlands. Holland is not an alternate name for the Netherlands, but rather the name of two provinces within the country: North Holland and South Holland. In April 2013, after 33 years on the throne, Queen Beatrix officially handed over the reins to her eldest son, the Prince of Orange, Prince Willem-Alexander. Willem-Alexander is now known as the King of the Netherlands. That’s why there is now a King’s Day to celebrate the King’s birthday on April 27th. This has led to some confusion and disappointment at being “late to the party” for those who travel to Amsterdam to party on Queen’s Day, formerly April 30th.
Gothic style buildings in the Market Square topped with golden statues representing different guilds.
She delivered an extensive lesson on the history of the Netherlands and Dutch colonialism through WWII. Arnhem is most remembered for the Battle of Arnhem and Operation Market Garden during World War II. The Battle of Arnhem took place in September of 1944 and was a disaster for the Allied troops. It remains a sad part of modern Dutch history and inspired the well known movie, “A Bridge Too Far”.
We walked to the Market Square where magnificent Gothic architecture structures surround you on all sides.St. Eusebius church also known as the Eusebiuskerk or the Grote Kerk, at 93 metres is the largest church, and the largest building in Arnhem. Construction on the cathedral began in 1450 and eventually took over a century. During the battle of Arnhem, the church was destroyed; work began on the rebuild in 1947 and was finished in 1964.
The March 22nd bombings at Brussels Airport had happened just days before and all around this neo-classical building on Market Square were flowers and signs paying respects to the victims of the attack.
That evening, we cruised to Belgium and docked in the city of Antwerp. Our tour in Antwerp was all about beer, waffles, and chocolate. NO history or somber war stories involved – just pure deliciousness. My kind of tour! This was one of the limited tours which AmaWaterways offers on their cruises, so be sure and check these out and sign up when you do the online check-in prior to departure.
Even though Don was feeling a little under the weather, he mustered the strength to accompany me for some Belgian beer and superior chocolates. Drinking is a ritual that has become an art form in Antwerp and Brouwerij De Koninck brews the well known amber colored Bolleke. The glass in which De Koninck’s flagship beer is served is called a bolleke, although this term is used to refer to a glass filled with the beer itself and is the way the beer is ordered in bars. It is darker than expected for a Belgian style pale ale. Head was full, off white, and lasted through most of the glass. Rich nose with yeast and caramel malt notes, but no hops detected. A very nice full flavor, some residual sweetness, caramel malts, dried fruits, and a bit of spice. Overall, it was richer and more flavorful than I expected and I would happily drink it again.
On to the chocolates. Even in today’s world of automation and mass production, most Belgian chocolate is still made by hand in small shops using original equipment. Chocolate shops are a major draw for tourists for immediate consumption and gifts to bring home. You can find Godiva chocolate around the main square, but why not try something different, and in my mind, more authentic – and famous – like Neuhaus Chocolate or the haute couturier of chocolate, world renowned Pierre Marcolini (shown in the collage). You can read more about how fabulous Pierre Marcolini is here.
Our guide took us to the cute chocolate shop and coffee bar, Sofie Sucrée, located in the Hotel O Antwerp off to the side of the central Cathedral square. Sofie Sucrée specializes in pralines – Belgian pralines differ from French and American pralines, they consist of a chocolate shell with a softer, sometimes liquid, filling, traditionally made of different combinations of hazelnut, almonds, sugar, syrup and often milk-based pastes. We were able to taste a variety of their luscious pralines and then try to decide which ones to buy!
Of course, when in Belgium, one must have a Chocolate Bar! Dinner on the ship that evening included an incredible buffet of Belgian chocolate desserts made by the two amazing pastry chefs on board. I must say, that the desserts at every meal were outstanding, and difficult to resist, even for someone who doesn’t normally indulge in sweet treats.
Always with culinary intent, I prearranged an interview with one of the chefs on board and was excited when the cruise director had me talk with Chef Gino Guadagni, who is the Executive Chef of AmaWaterways newest ship, the AmaFiorina. Chef Guadagni is from Italy and his worldwide experience includes 10 years with Silver Seas and restaurant positions in Hong Kong and Singapore. To be continued…
Thank you for visiting my home here on the web and come back for more of my interview with Chef Gino Guadagni and the AmaWaterways Tulip Time river cruise.
Happy Spring and have a fabulous week!