I was so excited about this trip overall, but one of the really big things for me was spending time in Amsterdam with Mimi, and finally having her meet Stephen. I knew she’d like him – I mean, what’s not to like, right? We were to arrive in Amsterdam Thursday morning, and would have Thurs, Fri and part of Sat with Mimi. We would check into our ship Sat afternoon, but then the ship would remain in Amsterdam overnight, and there would be sightseeing in Amsterdam on Sunday courtesy of Avalon.
We flew overnight to Schipol Airport, caught a train to the city center, and snagged a taxi to take us to our beautiful hotel, Die Port Van Cleve. We had booked rooms for both Mimi and us, but Mimi had been sick the few days leading up to the trip, so we were all worried she wouldn’t be able to make it. However, she valiantly fought off her cold and fever and arrived at the hotel about 3:30. So excited to see her! Stephen liked her right off – but then, I knew he would. We left the hotel to explore and meander our way in search of dinner, as we planned an early night. Our hotel was right off Dam Square, directly behind the Royal Palace so we headed in that direction first. Stephen and I both loved the architecture. I’m going to jump ahead and share some stuff we learned during our canal tour on Sunday. We noticed that many of the houses seemed to be leaning forward, and we learned that this was actually done on purpose. The houses were tall, usually four to five stories, and at the top of each house was a hook extending out from the hip of the roof. Many of the houses along the canals were owned by merchants who would store their goods in the upper floors of their homes. This hook was to facilitate transporting those goods by allowing them to be hauled up outside the house instead of carrying them up multiple staircases. And the houses leaned forward slightly so the bales or cartons of whatever wouldn’t bang off the house on their way up! Now, many of the houses also lean to one side or the other as well, but that’s simply age and settling. No fascinating story there.
After some time of meandering, admiring, and enjoying, we found a lovely little Italian restaurant for dinner. There was an upper level that was more like a balcony, and we sat against the railing looking down over the main entrance. Although I knew a lot of English is spoken and understood in the Netherlands, I don’t think either of us was fully prepared for just how much it is spoken and used in Amsterdam. Almost all of the “Help wanted” signs were in English! In fact, when our waitress came to take our order, Stephen and I ordered in English, because the menu was in both English and Dutch, but when Mimi ordered in Dutch the waitress looked at her blankly and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Dutch.” Whoops. The food was delicious. I think it was probably the best lasagne I’ve ever had. After dinner we meandered our way back to the hotel and crashed for the night. After agreeing to meet at 8 in the lobby for breakfast the next morning.
So…about that breakfast. Yeah, we kind of didn’t make it. We slept in. As in, I woke up at 8:09. Mimi was quite good natured about it, and just laughed at us when we finally did get down for breakfast. That day our plan was to tour the Rijksmuseum. Somehow in the planning for this trip, I seemed to have missed that it was exclusively an art museum. I was kind of expecting – oh, I don’t know – history maybe? So yeah. Art. I tried so hard to be a good wife and be patient and wait while Stephen had a wonderful time. Luckily there were lots of couches where Mimi and I could sit and look like we were engrossed in some particular piece while we waited for him to catch up to us. I’m just not an art person. I like stuff on my walls, and I know what I like, and most people would not describe what I like as “art” but that’s ok. There was a huge crowd around a painting by Rembrandt – The Night Watch, I believe it was called. It’s supposed to be famous. It’s supposed to be wonderful. I stood there and wondered what all the fuss was about. It’s a picture. Move on folks.
After the museum we had a late lunch. Once again Stephen and I were able to order in English, and once again when Mimi placed her order in Dutch she was met with “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Dutch. I’m trying to learn though!” We just laughed and she switched to English. I think after lunch we napped for a bit, then met up to go out in search of dinner. Stephen and I were in the mood for a steak, but with Mimi being vegetarian we had to choose our restaurant carefully, so once again there was a lot of fun meandering around the streets of Amsterdam as we searched for dinner. We had stopped outside an Argentinian steak house to review the posted menu when one of the waitresses popped out to greet us and invite us in. That happens a lot in Amsterdam. Mimi explained – in Dutch – that we were checking the menu to see if they had vegetarian options, and when the waitress said apologetically, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Dutch,” we knew we had to eat there. And they did indeed have a vegetarian option for Mimi, and it looked delicious! I ordered a filet mignon, and I have to say, it was the best steak I have ever had. Anywhere. I thought the steak we had in Orlando with Sean was the best, but this one topped even that! So good!
The next morning we packed our bags and left them with the concierge to pick up later, and headed out to try a restaurant other than the hotel for breakfast. No problem that, and we were quickly seated at a table in a very old building. Then again, this was Amsterdam; all the buildings are very old. Along came our waitress and we held our collective breath as Mimi bravely tried ordering in Dutch. And behold! We had finally found the only waitress in Amsterdam who spoke Dutch! It was so exciting we almost forgot what we wanted to eat!
That day’s adventure was the Maritime Museum, or Het Scheepvaartmuseum, as it is in Dutch. We took a tram, as we had done the day before. If you go to Amsterdam, their tram system is fabulous! Inexpensive, easy to navigate, ready access to the whole city. Mimi has a train pass, as she rides the train to work every day, and her train pass is valid on the Amsterdam tram and bus system. We were most impressed.
The Maritime Museum was really cool. Very interactive – if you wanted to know about something, you pushed a button, or opened a door and a voice told you about whatever you were viewing. We really enjoyed it, but unfortunately ran out of time before we could tour the replica trading ship from the East India Trading Company. Guess we’ll just have to go back…
We said our farewells to Mimi at the main train station, and headed back to pick up our luggage and snag a taxi to the hotel where we were to meet for our cruise. The meeting point was quite well organized – a lovely big room with a view of the waterfront, with seating and drinks and some snacks. We signed in at the desk, they took our luggage, which was then whisked off to the ship, and we waited until everyone who was supposed to be there was there, at which point they loaded us into buses and took us to the ship. Our bags were in our room already, so we unpacked and organized everything into the tiny space. I was delighted with the flowers Stephen had preordered for our anniversary! They were vibrant and beautiful, and lasted the entire week we were aboard! I regretted having to leave them behind at the end!
I’ve already discussed our impressions of the ship, so I’ll move along to the next morning and our first experience with Avalon excursions.We were to report to the main lobby by 8:30 where we picked up our receivers. We each had a small earpiece that fit over our ear and was remarkably comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The quality of the sound was excellent as well. The earpiece plugged into a receiver which picked up the transmissions from our guide’s microphone. Each receiver had a different coloured band – red, blue, yellow or green. Whatever colour you had determined which bus you went on. If you had a blue band, you rode on the bus with a blue window sign, and your guide carried a blue flag. And so on.
This morning’s excursion was a canal boat ride, which was delightful! The boat was low and flat – all the better to fit under those low bridges! – and the seating was comfortable enough. It was quite fascinating seeing Amsterdam from the water. A totally different perspective. Our guide gave us a great deal of information about the buildings we were seeing, and the construction of the canals in general. Overall, a great morning.
In the afternoon we went on an additional excursion to Muiderslot Castle. With a river cruise, unlike an ocean cruise, the majority of your excursions and sightseeing is included in your fare. There are a few exceptions of additional excursions for which you pay extra. If you choose not to do this, you can simply remain on board and enjoy the (limited) amenities of the ship. We chose to do the castle tour. It is quite a distance from Amsterdam, but we learned a lot from the guide en route about the expansion of the city as Amsterdam is reclaiming more land and building more housing and businesses. With the distance, it was a short visit to the castle itself, but as we were a guided group we were allowed into parts that most visitors apparently can’t enter. At the end of the tour we had some free time, then were bused back to the ship which cast off at 5 heading for Cologne, and we felt as if our river cruise honeymoon had truly begun.