Tulip Time Cruise

A Travelogue by Allie Zlotucha, Compass Travel Agent

Last spring, Allie Zlotucha went on a mission: to experience the fabled Amsterdam, a modest fishing village that grew to become a world-renowned trade port. Like the diamonds that draw merchants to its shores from across the globe, this country sparkles with sensuous delight. Compass Travel sent Allie to scout the many wonders of a canal cruise and report back to her clients. Here, she guides you on this tour along the waterways of the country known as the Venice of the North…

Day 1 – April 5, 2009

Buckets of yellow and red tulips, brightly painted wooden shoes, and miniature windmills greet our party upon arrival at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Our magical vacation has begun. The tour travels from the airport by bus to our riverboat; my husband, Tom, and I choose to walk to the dock since it is so close. Beware of bicycle riders! They have the right of way over pedestrians, and even autos!

It is a beautiful day – masses of people sit along the canals to watch boats cruise by. Strolling along, we pass many cozy houseboats overflowing with flowerboxes—so European. Soon enough we come upon our destination, The Tranquility, the long and sleek vessel that will be our home for the next week. The crew welcomes us aboard. Our water adventure has begun!

Ludeca (our cabin steward) smiles as he shows us to our cabin.  Not to miss a moment of fun, we quickly unpack, a breeze in our spacious and comfortable stateroom. Once settled, we move on to explore the layout of our new home. Small and intimate, we feel right at home.  Our Captain and Cruise Director greet us with champagne and hors d’oeuvres in the lounge. It’s easy to make friends in this genial atmosphere.

Everyone knows cruises are all about the food. After cocktails, we all move into the dining room and prepare to feast.  Table of 6 – open dining, complimentary wine, four-course meal with a choice of entrees – no one is complaining, and why should they – the food is outstanding! Fun fact: French Fries were born in Belgium.

Day 2 – April 6, 2009

After a sumptuous breakfast, we arrive in Arnhem and disembark to tour this historic city. Albert, our most knowledgeable guide, points out the Arnhem Bridge where a bloody battle, forever immortalized in the movie “A Bridge Too Far,” took place during World War II.  Much of that part of the city was destroyed, then rebuilt. The contrast from the original 13th century buildings to modern day architecture is a somber reminder of that dark period.

The afternoon finds us gliding our way to Dordrecht. Enjoying the warmth of the sun, we nap on the sky deck, a countryside scattered with farms and grazing horses slowly passes by us.

We dock at the quaint village of Kinderdijk, famous for its 19 windmills (all built in the 1740s to help reclaim this low lying tract of land from the river waters). What a site to see! This is the Amsterdam of our imaginations—a place built below sea level and requiring much ingenuity to keep the hungry waters at bay. One can almost see the little boy in folktale lore holding his finger in the dike.

Day 3 – April 7, 2009

Today we visit Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world. For those of us who love a little bling, it does not disappoint. At Diamond Land, the largest diamond showroom in the city, we watch gemologists cut and set the glittering stones. (One young man in the group secretly purchases an engagement ring here with the intention of popping the question later that evening to his girlfriend. Now, that’s what I call romantic.)

After another delicious buffet lunch aboard our floating home, Tom and I explore Antwerp on our own to discover a city of extremes.  On one end, the infamous “Red Light District,” a cultural phenomenon (need I elaborate); on the other, the Cathedral of Our Lady, a masterpiece of lace work in stone. Built in the 1300s, the Cathedral is one of the finest gothic buildings in Europe. We watch the work in progress as dozens of artists, yielding their brushes on scaffolds high above us, painstakingly restore the original art.

Day 4 – April 8, 2009

The rain today adds to the ambience as we tour the medieval city of Ghent. Despite the clouds, Tom climbs the 30-foot high belfry tower for a panoramic view. I choose instead to shop! I browse the beautiful Belgium lace, but I can not resist the infamous chocolates (tell me, who could?).

That afternoon, we float into the fairytale village of Bruge with its picturesque canals, daffodil-filled courtyards, and charming cottages that line the cobblestone streets. Aboard a small tour boat, we wind our way through the town, sweet cherry blossoms scenting the air – I never want to get off the sightseeing boat!

Day 5 – April 9, 2009

We arrive in Middleburg, Holland; vendors harking their wares in the town’s open-air market beckon us with a cornucopia of flowers, vegetables, fruits, fresh fish, cheeses and meats – one stall after another – it is truly intoxicating.  I want to eat everything in sight!

Our next stop: one of the seven man-made wonders of the world. Holland is a land reclaimed from the sea; nearly 50% of the country lies below sea level. In 1953, a tidal wave broke the dikes, flooding the island; 1835 people died, 500,000 became homeless. The tragedy prompted the construction of the modern marvel known as Delta Works, a storm flood barrier almost six miles long that took 30 years to complete. It’s truly a wonder to behold!

Day 6 – April 10, 2009

Brilliant sunshine awakens us today, perfect weather for a visit to Keukenhof Gardens. This is one place not to be missed! Acres of ruby red tulips, deep purple hyacinths and bright yellow daffodils stretch before us. The scent alone just knocks our socks off!  It is a sight we will never forget.

Day 7 – April 11, 2009

The glorious, alluring town of Edam entices us today. Here, we learn how they make their famous cheese and whimsical wooden shoes. Ah, the cheese – so delectable – I could live on cheese alone!  And, yes, they really do wear those wooden shoes!

That afternoon we begin our cruise back to Amsterdam, enjoying the serene countryside as we bask in the memories of this magical week.

On our last evening, we dine with our new friends and pledge a toast to keep in touch. Before we turn in, we stroll around “our” boat, savoring the last moments on board. I can hardly wait to share this tour with friends, family, and clients back home.

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For more information on Holland Cruises, contact Allie at Compass Travel – allie@compasstravel.net