Wednesday, 9/4/19 –
Today is gray and raining, but the only thing scheduled is Kinderdijk, and we’ve already seen that in 2016, so no big loss. We reviewed the process for leaving the boat tomorrow, discussed gratuities, and got a tour of the bridge from the Captain. After lunch we had a quiet afternoon in the lounge. Kevin went around taking photos of the ship so that we have it documented. Cheryl found a small spot of sun in the midst of the rain and went for a short walk. Following dinner there was dancing in the Lounge, and I was surprised that people had energy. But we did manage a few dances, and said goodbye to the people who were going home after this. But a good number did stay on for the Amsterdam extension.
We had time for breakfast on the boat before they took us to the hotel. Our rooms were not ready yet, so we stowed our bags with the hotel and went on a very nice walking tour of Amsterdam with a Viking guide. We saw many older houses with some distinctive features. First, the stepped gables were frequently observed. Second, older houses were frequently very narrow because taxes were assessed based on how wide your house was. So if you saw a wide house, it meant someone was flaunting their wealth. Third, and because of the narrow houses, the stairs were very steep and narrow, and not well-suited to bring up furniture and other bulky items. For that reason, you would see most houses had a pulley on the top level so that bulky items could be hoisted up . And to make the pulley work better, the front facade of most buildings had a noticeable lean so that the things you hoisted would not crash into the walls or windows. Another interesting fact is that the street frontage is absolutely solid houses, but behind these street frontages there is often an open courtyard, and we went into one of those. Our guide did make a point of showing us the way to the Red Light district and the Sex Museum, but neither Cheryl nor I were particularly interested in that. We had very different museums in mind.
Then we went to the Iamsterdam Visitor Center to pick up our Iamsterdam cards (which I bought before we left home). The cards get us lots of things for free. #1 on our agenda was to get a time slot for the Van Gogh museum. Admission was free with the card, but we had to get a slot to enter. And our cards also covered transportation on the Tram free of charge. We spent about 3 hours in the Van Gogh museum. It was very crowded, but if you can deal with that it is worth it. But the viewing was not what it could have been, the lighting was done terribly and you had to find just the right spot to stand. We only got a few photos before the guard put a stop to that. Again, no additional charge because we had the cards. Following this, we took the Tram back to the hotel.
We were pretty tired after being on our feet most of the day, so we took a canal cruise that lasted about an hour. Again, no additional charge if you have the card. Then we had dinner at a restaurant inside the Central Station called 1st Klas. It used to be the waiting room for First Class customers of the trains. Back at the hotel we met many others from our Viking group, and told them about the restaurant, and everyone seemed to enjoy it.
After breakfast at the hotel, we went out and it was pretty cold. Cheryl needed something to help her stay warmer, so we wandered in the direction of the Mall, but it would not open until 10:00 am. So we walked to the Rembrandt House, and when we got there it too did not open until 10:00. It looks like very little opens before 10:00 am here. We found vendors setting up for a street market (the Flea Market) right around the corner and killed about 15 minutes there before going to the Rembrandt House. It is the actual house, but with a modern building all around it containing the house. Many of the furnishings are like what Rembrandt had, but not the originals, because Rembrandt was not good with money and had to sell all of his belongings. But we got a demonstration of the techniques he used for etching and making prints, saw how paints were made by artists, and got to look at some of his work. After that we returned to the outdoor market and Cheryl bought a headband which seemed to do the trick, and we walked back to the hotel, purchasing a few souvenirs along the way, and had lunch at the hotel.
After lunch, we hopped back on the Tram to the Museum Quarter to visit the Rijksmuseum. There we focused on 17th century works, in particular by Rembrandt and Vermeer. One of Rembrandt’s most famous works, The Night Watch, is undergoing restoration work which is very complex. At various times disturbed individuals slashed it with a knife or threw acid on it, and previous repairs were not done using appropriate materials and techniques. So now they are doing meticulous scans involving x-rays to identify anachronistic paints and materials. After about three hours we left and came back to the hotel for dinner. We took a photo of our hotel when we got off the tram in the plaza outside the Central Station. We ate in the restaurant of the hotel and had a wonderful meal of Dutch dishes: Codfish from the North Sea, Fennel with mustard seeds in a butter/orange sauce, Cauliflower with Goat Quark and Sunflower Seeds. Great stuff! Then back to our room. We are tired, and ready to go home.
Wrapping up our trip:
On Saturday, September 7, we had breakfast at the hotel, then gathered our bags. Viking arranged cabs to take us to Schiphol Airport, and we flew home. Because of the opposite directions of the time zones, we hit Detroit only a few hours after we left (it was still an 8-hour flight, though). We had a great time, but it was time to go home and we were ready for it. We were both pretty worn out at this point, and Cheryl is still trying to get rid of the cold she picked up. Still, a fabulous trip. We have a few final observations:
1. Viking cruises are more expensive than we usually do for our vacation, but they take very good care of you. Having someone else take care of everything from the trip to the airport to having good local guides at each stop makes a trip much easier.
2. Getting the extensions on either end (2 days in Lucerne, 2 days in Amsterdam) should be mandatory. By the time you have paid for everything else, the additional charge is so minor that you would not even notice it. Back in 2016 we did a boat-and-bike tour where we ended up passing through Amsterdam without really seeing anything, and always regretted it. We felt like this time we made up for that. And passing through Switzerland without even spending a couple days is senseless.
3. Don’t bother with a balcony on a cruise ship, it is an unnecessary expense. We were in the Lounge or on the deck when we were on the boat, and as much as possible we were off the boat touring whichever city we were visiting.
4. Would we do this again? No question. We think we will probably do another Viking River cruise in a few years, but to a different route. Maybe the Danube, or perhaps the Douro in Portugal.