Dutch river cruise

What do you think of when you think of Holland? Besides funny costumes with wooden shoes, that is. Tulips, of course! The Netherlands (Holland is only the western part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands) is both famous and infamous for tulips. 

Mary, her mom (Helen) and Helen's friend (and next door neighbor) Pat, and I took a Uniworld riverboat tour of the Netherlands to see the tulips. Along the way, we experienced many more Dutch pleasures: Beer, art, and weird science, to name a few.

The photo to the right is of the four of us (Bob, Mary, Pat, and Helen) standing in front of the limo that will take us from Doll and Wayne's house to LAX. After about 11 hours of flying, we arrived at Amsterdam's Skiphol airport where a Uniworld-chartered bus drove us to the ship docked at Amsterdam.

Our first afternoon in Amsterdam was on our own - the cruise didn't really start until dinner that evening. The four of us decided to see the Van Gough (pronounced Van Gok by the Dutch) museum. Getting to the museum involved navigating the Amsterdam tram system. The tram system is wonderful, but the process needed to buy and use individual tickets is not obvious. Of course, the locals all have monthly passes. It's just the tourists that need to buy and use the paper punch tickets. In the end, we enlisted the aid of a pair of delightful elderly Amsterdam women who showed us how to "validate" our tickets using the on-board stamping machine. 

At the Van Gough museum, we saw a special exhibit of the work of Van Gough and Gaugin from the summer they spent together in Arles, France. The museum had audio guided tours in several languages (including English). This was my first experience with the device, and I loved it. As I walked through the museum at my own pace and stopped at the paintings that interested me, I could punch in the number of the painting and hear an interesting monologue on the notable aspects of the work. 

We started the next day with a bus tour of Amsterdam. After seeing the sights that are best seen from dry land, we took a sight-seeing boat around the canals. Between these two excursions we had a few minutes to wander around a famous flower market. The tour guides advised us not to buy the bulbs at the flower market (they are last year's bulbs and will rarely sprout) but the fresh flowers were fun to look at. As I walked down the street, I found the little stand shown in the picture to the right. Yup, that's pot, all right. Looking at the packages closely, it seems that you only get a few seeds for your 3.50 euro (about $3). I hope they're not "last year's seeds"...
The tour busses returned us to the River Queen (our boat, er, ship) in time to depart Amsterdam for Volendam. We arrived in Volendam in the late afternoon, so most of the passengers went ashore to see the town. Volendam has a little touristy section on the waterfront, but most of the town is a sleepy little village with houses and small yards and not much else.

Returning to the waterfront, Bob decided to try the local beer. The barkeep suggested a Pelig (translates to eel) beer. I wrote a few postcards as I sipped the Pelig. The Belgian influence is obvious in the lovely fruit tones. I particularly liked the hearty mouth feel of this unfiltered brew. Bob gives it 4 belches.

At 6:30 the next morning, Mary and went running through the fogged-in village of Volendam. It was peaceful and pretty. We almost got lost, but made it back to the boat in time for breakfast.

Later in the week, the tour bus took us onto an enormous former estate, now known as the Kroller-Muller museum and sculpture garden. Mary and I spent a while looking at the paintings and took a few photos around the sculpture garden. Below is Mary standing in front of a pond with an installation that floats. Also, the upper thingy rotates relative to the lower thingy.

The photo below shows Mary walking around a giant DeBuffet sculpture. The piece is about 50M by 80M across and 3M high. You walk in a little door and up a spiral staircase to get to the part that Mary and I are walking on. The lines outline the very wavy surface.
One day, the bus took us to see the windmills. It was cold and a little too windy for the windmills. They have sails on the vanes that allow the mill keeper to adjust the torque that the wind applies and keep a more or less constant speed. Still, this day, most of the windmills were locked down to keep them from being damaged. The few that were turning had minimal sails open on only 2 vanes.

The reason for the windmills is to drive (paddle-wheel) pumps that move water from the collection canals (like the one I'm standing by below) to the outflow canals. The windmills only lift the water about a meter or two, but 3 or 4 hundred years ago, that was enough. Using the windmill lift and the tides, the Dutch could keep draining the land. Everywhere we went, there were canals. More than once, a tourist asked about the "irrigation canals". The guides always explained that the Dutch never have to irrigate. The land is below sea level. The canals are for *removing* the water.

The windmills are just for show, now. The Dutch maintain a huge system of dikes and around 10,000 electrically driven pumps to keep the water out. They keep about 50 windmills in this little area as working museum pieces. Our tour was allowed up inside tone of the windmills. I took pictures, but they don't really make much sense to someone who hasn't been there. Basically, you see a lot of wooden gears and shafts. It was way cool.

While driving back to the boat from the windmills, we drove past a pole sitting contest in front of a church. There are four poles - the two left-most have people sitting on them (one in a red jacket and one in a blue jacket). We waved. They waved back.

We spent a morning in The Hague. Then, we were bussed to a very nice hotel on the beach for lunch. These chairs were in the lobby of the hotel.
The Kuekenhoff bulb garden was amazing. We spent hours wandering among the tulip displays put out by growers from all over the Netherlands. After getting an idea of which ones we liked the most, we stopped at a sales kiosk and ordered some for delivery next fall.

Driving away from Kuekenhoff bulb gardens, the bus driver stopped next to a field so that the passengers could take pictures surrounded by tulips. That's Helen and Mary and millions of tulips.

The photos below and to the right were taken at Floriade. Floriade is a once-every-ten-year exhibition put on by the Dutch. Flower growers from all over the world display their work. Some countries construct elaborate villages with exhibits detailing the various products they have to trade with the rest of the world. There is a great deal of sculpture set about the several square mile park. After Floriade closes, the Dutch re-open the park as a permanent public park. Kind of a slick idea, eh?

As you can see, the weather was less than ideal. After pushing our way through the wind and rain for a couple of hours, we finally gave up and took the early bus back to the boat.

Below are some of the very nice people we met on the cruise. The photo to the right is the cruise boat crew taking applause on the last night of the trip.

Ok, I'm tired now. See our visit to Paris, next...