Monday, July 21, 2014

Viking Ingvi

Viking Ingvi docked in Amsterdam

Sitting area outside library on the second level
Complimentary wine tasting the first night under painting of Ingvi
John and I are great fans of Masterpiece on PBS which airs such fabulous programs such as Downton Abbey.  Viking River Cruises is "a proud sponsor of Masterpiece". So we'd sit there on a Sunday evening and see the Viking spots on Masterpiece and I'd say to John, "Don't those cruises look nice?  Wouldn't that be fun?" And lo and behold, in December last year (2013) we get a special offer from Viking River Cruises and decide we'll go!  After much deliberation over which cruise to go on, we decided on the Rhine River cruise from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland, signed up, made our plane reservations and got excited. (Well, I got excited. John got anxious.)  We sailed on June 10 from Amsterdam.  Our room was lovely with queen bed and bath, big screen TV which we only watched once. We saw "The Quartet" movie which was great.  We didn't spend much time in the room since there was always something going on plus there were shore tours to go on, which I'll describe later in other posts.  Every Viking ship is named for a Norse god, hence the Ingvi.

The crew was fabulous. Always very accommodating.  There were about 200 passengers from a retired female PhD traveling alone to an extended family of 14 who were traveling together.  Lots of white hairs -- retired people from the states. A few Canadians.  Dining was open seating so you could always sit with someone new and make new friends.  On the first level was the dining room, the second level had a lounge with bar and another restaurant.  There were three levels of rooms.  We had the first level which didn't have a balcony but was commodious nonetheless.  (Book early, like a year in advance to get upper level rooms.)  There was a small library, internet corner, and top deck was open with chairs for unobstructed viewing.  There were fifty crew members. The program director gave daily updates on what we would be seeing and where we would be stopping.  They were extremely well organized. I was impressed with how well thought out were the logistics.  The food was fabulous.  Buffet breakfast and lunch but you were able to order off the menu in addition.  Dining was in courses with several entree selections.  Figure two hours for dinner with unlimited wine and beer.  Then there was entertainment in the lounge at night, that is if you could still walk after dinner. Or you could go up on the top deck and watch the world roll by. We sailed at 11:30 PM from Amsterdam and the next morning docked at Kinderdijk which is the next post.

Lounge where you could while away the hours talking and drinking
One evening two ladies entrained in the lounge on violin and piano.
Our program director, Boris who lived in Vienna, sometimes gave on shore tours.
Going through one of the many locks on the Rhine
Top deck for best viewing with castle in background, pilot house in center

The Rhine River is very regulated and heavy with barge traffic. Because of all the bridges the pilot house moves up and down on an elevator.  The most scenic part of the Rhine is the middle Rhine. That's were all the castle are and the river is narrower there.   All ship crews on the Rhine speak German, so if you want to crew on the Rhine, you learn German.  Our crew was heavy on Eastern Europe.
Viking even has its own fleet of very modern buses for the shore tours. 
The happy couple at the Captain's dinner the first night. John said I was happy the whole time.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


View from our room at the Hotel Brouwer on the Singel Canal
On June 10th John and I embarked on our long awaited vacation to Europe. It only took 24 hours to get there. Of course, there's an 8 hour time change to factor in.  I was beside myself with excitement, John with anxiety as he later admitted to me.  The weather for the trip was sunny and in the seventies most of the time. In Amsterdam where is rains a lot, we had nothing but sun which
Terrific food and presentation at the Greenwoods, a block from our hotel
The Amsterdam Flower Market and no, you cannot buys bulbs and take them back to the USA.
never set till after 10 PM.  Of course, it seemed like all of Amsterdam spent their lives on the  streets which our guide pointed out to us is quite common. Since they have small apartments and houses to live in, everyone meets in pubs and cafes to socialize. And the bicycles.  They said that the Netherlands have 17 million people and 34 million bikes.  And they drive them like maniacs. We were told that the bikes have the right-of-way and they really don't stop.  Women in skirts, men in business suits, old ladies, people with babies, they are all on bikes.  The Dutch impressed me as very clever and pragmatic people and their ability with water management is amazing. That's what all the canals, dikes and windmills are for. About a third of the country lies below sea level.
Hotel Brouwer built around 1650, oldest place I ever slept in
Houseboats abound on the canals
Cafes and Bikes abound.
Daily life living on a canal and more bikes
John rests with impromptu used bookseller, Stephen. He wanted to give me a book and I selected a French to Dutch dictionary.  Very useful, not. At the time I thought I should learn Dutch be he didn't have a Dutch/English dictionary.

On the trip we saw lots of cathedrals and churches. Spain once ruled the Dutch and after they threw the Spaniards out, the Dutch  striped the catholic churches and converted them to the Dutch Reformed Church. Today the Dutch aren't big church goers. 

The inside of the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) is now a museum. The wood carving is beautiful. The arches lofty, the stained glass windows impressive.  Art shows are now the norm as well as a gift shop. There a fee to enter this museum which is normal in the countries we visited.

Our tour Dutch tour guide on a brief tour of the city had a very practical perspective. He discussed not only history, art and culture,  but social issues, such as the Dutch tolerance of prostitution and marijuana.  We spent two full days in Amsterdam, walked around a lot just looking at everything and absorbing the city.  We weren't into museums as much as we just wanted to experience the city. Besides, the weather was perfect and the Dutch were enjoying their city as much as we were.  Would I go back? You bet.