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Posted by: nauticalchronicles | April 18, 2013

YVONNE

NAUTICAL CHRONICLES:

Yvonne

We are back…from one of the few vacations where we have allowed someone else to drive the boat.

In fact, our “boat”, Viking Freya is a ship; at 426 feet in length, she motors (electrically) the canals and waterways of the Netherlands (lowlands) and Belgium. She is part of the Viking Longships Fleet which provides superb, high-end vacation cruising throughout Europe, Russia, China and Southeast Asia (Viking River Cruises is also a proud sponsor of the TV series, Downton Abbey; if you’ve seen the show, you’ve seen Viking Spirit which is similar to our Viking Freya).

And what, or who is Yvonne you might ask; I will, of course, eventually get to that…

During the past boating summer season, we had convinced our friends, Jenn and Steve (or they had convinced us) to go on this “Tulips and Windmills” cruise, certain to be a voyage of epic proportions. The itinerary included a couple of days in Amsterdam which is what helped convince Steve and me that this voyage should be taken, and truly, what goes on in Amsterdam MUST STAY in Amsterdam.

Leaving Logan

We departed Logan Airport, Boston on a cold, windy day, late in March and after a very pleasant seven-hour flight we arrived in Amsterdam at 7:00 AM where it continued to be cold and windy…but sunny (256 days of the year out of 365 are usually rainy). Our transfer, by bus to our ship was without a glitch and since we were the first cruise of the season, we were able to check into our rooms immediately and study our future course of action.

Our program director, Nico, had planned numerous events, walking tours and excursions throughout the Netherlands towns and cities of Amsterdam (of course), Hoorn (quaint seaside village), Arnhem (a bridge too far), Kinderdijk (windmills), Middleburg (the Delta Works) and Rotterdam; in Belgium, we planned to visit Antwerp (cathedrals), Ghent and Brugge (of movie fame and home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood).

                         COURSE LAID OUT    VIKING LONGSHIP

Our trip provided too many highlights, high-points, short quips and stories, adventures, impressions, excursions, friendships and acquaintances to do them justice in a short story. The voyage of the Longship Viking Freya during our short, 10-day cruise would require an in-depth travelogue to help define it. Better yet, why not sign up for a similar voyage yourself; we certainly recommend it. Here are just a few of our highlights (in no particular order):

  • There appears to be no “th” in the Dutch language; when translated “Then there is that”, comes out as “den dere’s dat”; dere appears to be no exceptions to dis quirkiness
  • March 25th through April 3rd this year were the coldest days in recorded Netherlands history; Easter was the coldest in fifty years; the wind kept the windmills turning at record speeds requiring braking to slow them down; it was, however, sunny most days
  • Do not bring contraband back to the US; Steve brought a single orange from our ship; upon entry through US Customs, the cutest little beagle, without a single bark, jumped all over him until the contraband orange was removed from his back-pack
  • The people in the Netherlands and Belgium are genuinely nice. We met many folks while on this holiday and all, without exception, were pleasant, polite and interested in us, maybe because we were tourists, but more, I believe because that is how they are with all people. Most everyone speaks English as well as other languages; they were quick to discover we were English-speaking, and were pleased to be able to speak with us in our language

                            STREET VENDORS  AFTERNOON SNACK      

  • The ship is fabulous. The crew (total of 50) is English-speaking and multi-lingual from all over Europe; we can’t say enough about the hotel management, housekeeping, program management both aboard ship and on excursions, the food preparation, presentation  and diversity (gourmet and delicious; meticulously prepared and presented), the captains (2) and their staff (the wheelhouse is on hydraulics and raises and lowers as needed for bridges and locks), the accommodations were superb; we had a single room on the 3rd of 3 decks; Jenn and Steve had a suite (separate bedroom from living room), bathrooms on board were great (ashore if you can find a restroom, they cost 50 cents per visit; drink beer and restrooms are free), and THE BAR; high end liquors, liqueurs and wines (we recommend the Silver Spirits Beverage Package; unlimited service of everything on board; we made it worth our while) and the service was impeccable; there was a server at your side just as the last drop was finished, and polite…everyone was so polite it actually reminded Louise of Downton Abby ; and don’t forget George our piano player, there each night putting up with some foolish, possibly intoxicated guest requesting that he play “The Piano Man”

              PIANO MAN MAITRE D' HYDRAULIC WHEELHOUSE OUR PERMANENT SEATS

  • On-board presentations from The Shanty Choir, The Barkley Bunch Duo, the Wooden Shoemaker, history of Belgium and the Netherlands, politics of the nations, royalty of the nations, windmills, tulips, dikes and water management (Delta Works and the flood of 1953), dancing, the European Union, nautical talks and navigating Europe’s rivers, Dutch cheeses, beers and Jenever, diamonds and jewelry

                           WOODEN SHOE MAKER   WOODEN SHOES     

  • Excursions to: Kroller-Muller Museum (Van Gogh Museum was closed), glass-topped canal boat cruise, Anne Frank House, cheese warehouse, breweries, outdoor markets, windmills, tulip farm, Keukenhof Gardens, Delft factory, the Delta Works water control and management system which closes Belgium and the Netherlands off from the North Sea, all of the towns, cities and villages on our cruise path, battlefield tours, and of course our own walking tours…we must have walked two hundred miles while on this “vacation”; the folks on the walkers didn’t fare so well.

                     WINDMILLS AT DAWN MUSEUM ARTWORK DELTA WORKS

  • The buses (which they call “coaches”); hundreds of buses; very new and comfortable; after twenty miles of walking, the bus was a welcome sight; the excursion tour guides were all very knowledgeable about their area of the country and their topics of expertise; some, however, were overly chatty

                  COACHES  MORE COACHES               

In summary, our trip was truly enjoyable and we would certainly recommend it to everyone. We did almost everything on the daily agendas; we attended almost all of the on-board activities; we walked hundreds of miles and saw all the sights (except the advertised “fields of tulips”; too cold; weather has stunted their growth); we stayed up too late drinking the “free” liquor and got up too early to leave the vessel. We burnt both ends of the candle against the middle and had a grand time doing it. We did, however, agree that we were on cultural information overload by the last day. The final tour the mates and Steve took was to the Keukenhof Gardens to see TULIPS, very few of which had we seen to date. I opted out of that excursion; I needed a vacation from the vacation. However, it is abundantly clear that had we wanted to, we certainly could have chosen NOT to do all those things and simply stay on the boat, read, sleep, eat and drink…and rest.

For next year, we’re thinking of going, maybe somewhere warm again, like Florida!

And finally, you ask: “What about Yvonne”? Well…

The last full day of our cruise was spent at the docks in Amsterdam. The 1st mates (Jenn and Louise), had scheduled the excursion to the Delft factory, a visit they had been looking forward to. We, the captains (Steve and Bob), had plans of our own. We planned on visiting the Red Light District and several of the Coffee Shops; Steve was also particularly interested in the outdoor market places since he had missed the large one in Arnhem (that day, he and Jenn had taken the palace tour; Louise and I had opted for going to the huge outdoor marketplace).

As we headed out, bundled against the cold and wind for the ninth straight day, our anticipation grew. We had seen this area of Amsterdam from our second-day bus tour, but had not been able to visit or explore. With Steve in the lead (his approach is usually “direct” and he usually is in the lead) we headed out on the last “walking tour” of our vacation, thank goodness. When we arrived in “that part of the city”, we saw menu’s posted in many windows with pricing for various strengths and brands of products, both in loose form or, for a little extra, in rolled form. It was interesting to talk with the shop owners and managers about their business management; they are accepted by many, they are regulated by state and local governments and they are frowned on by many. They were much like any cigarette vendor here in the States but we didn’t see any “health warnings” on any of the signage or packaging. Besides the Coffee Shops, there are many shops selling associated products such as seeds, books, CD’s, bongs and other paraphernalia. We were told by one of the shop owners that we should visit the “Marijuana College” across the street where most of the local product is grown, and where graduates go forth with a complete knowledge of this product. As we found during our Netherlands visit, a huge variety and a vast knowledge of both tulips and marijuana are readily available in Amsterdam.

The other interesting aspects of Amsterdam’s “Red Light District” are the “girls in the windows”. We were there during the daylight hours, limiting our discoveries, however…Steve was extremely flattered when one of the girls winked at him from her window. After we walked by, I did mention to him that winking at him was her job; he shouldn’t be too flattered. All in all, our tour of this area of Amsterdam was interesting and enlightening…we had worked up quite a thirst, so we went in search of one of the many pubs. We stopped at a Bavaria pub where I ordered a Heineken; after receiving a most wretched look from the bartender, I then understood that THEY ONLY SOLD BAVARIA BEER in this pub; what a stupe…lending support to the foreign belief regarding Americans.

As we headed out the door after having quenched our thirst, Steve wanted to find “the marketplace”. We somehow had gotten ourselves turned around and weren’t certain of where we were. As we came to an intersection of streets lined with very expensive homes, a nicely dressed woman exited from her residence to place trash at the curbside. It seems everyone in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Belgium speaks English so Steve did not hesitate to approach the woman to ask directions to the market. His direct approach had startled her and though she was slightly hesitant, she agreed to look at our map and send us in the proper direction. As we studied the map, it became clear that: A) the market was too far away to walk to, and B) since it was a Monday, the market would not be open.

Steve was disappointed, but realized that our next stop would be the boat. During our conversation, the woman had, somehow, determined that we were Americans (how is certainly a mystery to us). She asked where we were from; I gave my standard answer when abroad that we were from “the Boston area”. Her eyes grew wider and she said, “How wonderful; my husband and I have a place in Maine; we go there often”. If you don’t remember, I once taught sixth grade in Maine, so I asked, “No kidding; where in Maine is your place?”  She said, “It’s near Augusta on a rather large lake called Cobbosseecontee Lake”. Now it’s getting weird; I said, “I know that lake; but as Cobbosseecontee Pond rather than Lake; we call it Cobbossee for short; I used to teach school in Manchester, just outside of Augusta. What a coincidence; how long have you been on the lake?” She said, “Since 1982 or 1983 I guess; why?”

When I taught 6th grade in Maine, it was only for one year. I had taught in Ohio for the previous two years at a very small, rural school. It was just after graduating from college when I taught in Alexandria, Ohio. As luck would have it, the year I began teaching was also the first year of teaching for the other 6th grade teacher. Ruth and I became close friends and shared many classroom experiences for the two years I taught there; Ruth continued one more year of teaching in Ohio before moving with her husband and family permanently to their “camp” in Maine.

Ruth and her husband invited me to visit them at their vacation home in Maine during the summer after my second year of teaching. While there, on vacation, I found a job teaching in Manchester, Maine and I found a wonderful apartment on the top floor of a farmhouse. After two weeks, I returned to Ohio, packed a trailer and hooked it to my Jeep…and moved to Maine. I have been in New England since then; since the summer of 1971. My move was due solely to my friendship with Ruth and her husband Bob, their hospitality and my new-found love of New England.

So naturally, I asked the women, “Since you’ve been in the Augusta area for so long, maybe you know some people I know or rather knew; Robert and Ruth…they’ve lived on Cobbossee since the ‘70’s; Robert died in 1996 I think, and I’m not certain about Ruth; I’ve not talked with her in many years”. Incredulous now, the woman said, “Ruth is one of my dear friends; we lived there when Robert passed away, and their daughter is our neighbor; how uncanny to have met you here, in Amsterdam, of all places! Ruth is fine and, as far as I know, still lives in her home on the lake.”

So, the woman Steve stopped to ask directions from in Amsterdam, the woman taking her small bag of trash out to the curbside and the woman who, only seconds later, had turned to go back through the door she had left open…is Yvonne. Coincidentally, as if this weren’t enough, her husband’s name is also Robert. I expect we will see them again, only on this side of “the pond”.

YVONNE

And that, truly in a tulip bulb, was our visit to Holland.

Captain Robert Brown

First Mate Louise

the little man

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Responses

  1. Now that was truly a great story. Well done Captain Bob!

  2. Thanks Cap!
    It was a great trip, I’m glad we got to experience together!
    And it’s all TRUE 😄

  3. Thanks for letting us live your adventure vicariously through your stories. You all look great in the photos (the one of Steve’s nose is particularly fabulous!). Only the two of you could get lost and find that long-lost connection… amazing. (Next time you want to vacation somewhere warm, come West!)

  4. Sounds like a great trip. Sorry there were no tulips. It was cold in Florida this March also. Hope you are planning a trip to see Yvonne this summer! What a small world! Hope to see you soon on the river.\

  5. Wonderful travel log; I have partaken of the Geneva, wrong but, who can tell after bottles of diet coke laced with the clear liquid. Its about the only liquor, one can afford in the Netherlands. My daughter Leslie lived in The Hague for eight years. I would go over each July for the North Sea Jazz Festival. Three day’s of intense music and Geneva.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Brian

    _____

  6. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????? You met someone who knows people YOU know???? BIZARRE!!! I heard a rumor that you were headed to Maine today? Subject of next story, I trust!! Yet another informative and entertaining of your travels…..I apologize for my tardiness in reading it…but you know how BUSY I am with Words With Friends!!! Great job….keep em coming!!!
    Martha


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