Once everyone was collected at the “Meeting Point by the Burger King Restaurant,” by John and Ellen Pruiksma Zijp, we were walked to the motorcoaches and on our way. Our first visit was to a small cheese and wooden shoe making shop. The owner demonstrated how he made wooden shoes from a block of wood, and his wife showed us how Gouda cheese was made. Then we visited their shop where everyone sampled and purchased the cheeses and interesting mementoes. On to the town of Gouda to visit the St. Jan’s Kirk’s amazing huge stained-glass windows. It was hard to imagine how these gigantic windows had been created and then installed in this church. We also visited the large open-air market. For lunch, Mike and I sampled poffertjes with another couple in the group. Not exactly proper lunch food, but they sure were good! Back on the bus, we visited Kinderdijk and then stopped at the Military cemetery in Oosterbeek before boarding the ship at 5:00 p.m. and enjoying our first dinner on board.
Sunday most of the group attended church at St. Walburgskerk. Although the service was in Dutch, we sang several songs in our own languages and the minister welcomed us and gave us a bit of translation of his sermon. We enjoyed coffee and cookies with the parishioners following the service. After lunch back on board, most passengers went on the afternoon Het Loo Excursion while others relaxed on board as the ship sailed to Kampen. After dinner we enjoyed a walk into Kampen to see the immense Boven Kerk.
We joined the Het Loo Excursion. The Palace is in a beautiful setting. Ellen bought our tickets and we were on our own to visit the palace, gardens, and the Royal stables. After working our way through the rooms of the house and viewing a bit of the gardens, we headed outside to see several cars that were displayed outside for the day. Then we also walked through the stables to see the cars, sleighs, etc. displayed there. The drive back was along the rural roads as Ellen always chose country roads so we could see the “real” country.
Monday the ship sailed along the shores of the North East polder and through the Lemmer Locks arriving in Sneek around 2:00 pm. Those who had stayed on board could explore the town. Following dinner, there was a walking tour to the Water Gate. A full-day excursion to Drenthe and Groningen was offered.
The all-day Excursion to Drenthe and Groningen was very interesting. At the Staphorst Farm Museum we were shown the traditional clothing of the area. Then on to Drenthe to see a hunebed. This one was back in the woods and it was interesting to imagine how the people had been able to arrange the huge rocks. Lunch was in a lovely restaurant in Ter Apel near a 15th-century monastery. Our next visit was to Ellen’s renovated Saxon farm house in Sellingen where we saw her prize wolfhound and its puppy and many of her paintings. Before returning to the ship, we stopped at the Martinikerk in Groningen for a private demonstration of the church’s organ by Sietze de Vries. We enjoyed his descriptions and examples of the sounds of the various pipes and were overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the music.
Tuesday the ship cruised through the Princes Margriet Canal and the Van Harinxma Canal to Franeker. Those who had stayed on board were able to walk into town for a bit of shopping and sightseeing. After dinner a Frisian folklore group entertained us with dances.
We joined the Friesland Excursion today. This was a very nice day. Sloten was very picturesque little town—plus we found a small grocery store where everyone stocked up on goodies and wine. Hindelopen’s Museum Hidde Nijland had a very nice collection of costumes and furniture that we enjoyed. And Ellen had us on more small back roads. Following one of our more interesting drives across a small narrow bridge, we had lunch in Hindeloopen. Outside a man was smoking eel and everyone had to check this out. One of our group purchased one and demonstrated how to eat it. There were no additional takers for this treat!
Wednesday the morning was at leisure in Franeker. We visited the Eise Eisenga Planetarium which was very interesting and we browsed through town and looked at the City Hall and former Weigh House. In the afternoon the ship cruised through more locks out into the Wadden Sea and then via the North Holland Canal. Along this route there were several fields of colorful tulips and other flowers, plus some that were not yet in bloom due to the cool, wet weather in Holland this spring. At night we tied up near the flower fields. There was no town nearby or opportunity to disembark. After dinner we were entertained by a group of “shanty” singers.
Thursday the ship continued cruising through the tulip fields. Late morning we docked in Alkmaar and took a walking tour of the city with views of the Cheese Museum and Sint Laurenskerk. We were divided into fast, medium and slow walkers. We were in a medium group and, unfortunately, unless you stayed right next to our guide, you could not hear him at all. In the afternoon the Salvinia continued to Amsterdam and we celebrated with a Captain’s Dinner and wine.
Friday we all boarded buses to visit the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. It was very interesting to walk above all the activity and see the boxes and boxes of various flowers lined up and then being hooked together and pulled from place to place. We also saw the rooms of buyers at computers placing their orders. Amazingly efficient. Next we were bused to the Keukenhof National Flower Exhibition. This “show” only lasts for two months and is fabulous. There is every possible type of tulip plus many, many, many other flowers. There are all kinds of gardens and pavilions–even areas for children and animals. We each had a picnic lunch packed by the ship kitchen, but it began to rain in earnest and we hurried back to the bus to eat lunch in a dry, warm place. The buses made stops to drop off those who wished at locations in Amsterdam so we could sightsee and shop on our own or return to the ship. A return pickup was also provided. After wandering around in the city, Mike and I thought it would be easier to simply find our way back to the ship than to find our way back to the pick-up point. It turned out to be a very long cold walk. Earlier, John asked if anyone was interested in a canal cruise this evening so about 50 of us opted to do this. The canals are beautiful in the evening with the lights on the bridges and the interesting buildings along the way. It was very informative and relaxing after a busy day of walking and a great way to top off our week in the Netherlands.
Saturday we were up very early to transfer back to Schiphol Airport. It had been a fun and very interesting week! I would recommend this for any first timers wanting to experience a bit of Europe as well as those who have traveled a lot and are looking for a more in-depth experience in a single country.