Bike and Barge Tours: The Best of Both Worlds

Bike and Barge Tours

As more travelers seek out experience-based vacations and stray further away from traditional “tourist traps”, bike and barge tours have emerged as a booming trend—particularly among people over the age of 50.  With adventure travel and river cruising also rising in popularity, bike and barge tours offer the best of both worlds: the excitement of an active, culturally immersive, off-the-beaten-path experience, combined with the all-inclusive comforts and amenities of a river cruise!

So, with nice weather just around the corner and Witte’s Bike & Barge Tour from Amsterdam to Bruges coming up this September, I’ve answered some FAQ’s about bike and barge tours. Continue reading “Bike and Barge Tours: The Best of Both Worlds”

2012 Netherlands Waterway Cruise – Itinerary

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.

Alkmaar and Amsterdam

The last of the tulip fields drifted by our boat around 7:30 this morning, so in this case it was true that  “You have to get up pretty early in the morning” to see the flowers!  Now we’re on our way to Alkmaar, well known for the cheese auction that takes place every Friday in the main market square by the Weigh House. Our guided tour took us to the various parts of the city, which included many old buildings that have retained their original facades. Having the guide explain the meaning behind the various signs and carvings certainly added a lot of humor and understanding!

Alkmaar is a great place for shopping, and many of us took advantage of our time to put a serious dent in our financial situation. Back on the boat, it was a relaxing afternoon as we sailed into Amsterdam harbor. It was very clear that we had left the countryside behind. After yet another sumptuous dinner, some of us took an evening canal boat ride through part of the city. Evening rides are fun—the canal bridges are lined with lights and many of the larger churches and buildings are spotlighted. We enjoyed the cruise down the canals where many of the older buildings exist and have been made into apartments. So we did a lot of “window peeking” to see that some residents had left the original large chandeliers and ornamental patterns on the ceilings, while others had gone wild with huge splashes of color.

Amsterdam – Seeing the Sites

I decided to head to Amsterdam two days before the start of the Netherlands Waterways Cruise, as I’ve never been to Amsterdam and wanted time to see sites I knew I couldn’t fit into the time we’d be there at the end of the cruise.  I purchased a guide book to get information on costs, opening/closing times, addresses, and how to “getting around” on your own.

Sites visited:

  • DAM Square – easily walkable from Centraal Station.
  • Nieuwe Kerk – Outside view only.  It was closed during my visit.
  • Palais Royal – €7.50 – opens at noon and well worth the time and cost.  It is a breathtaking palace (city hall really) that is opulent beyond belief.  Definitely for those who enjoy history, architecture, art, or those who enjoy seeing richly designed buildings.
  • Beginhof – free – amazing, enclosed courtyard in the midst of a busy city.   It is a beautiful and tranquil area.
  • Canal Boat Cruise – €13 – after hearing how others handled taking a cruise on their first morning in Amsterdam, I was leary to try it the day I arrived; however, it was a very nice and relaxing experience.  I am so glad I went before the Netherlands Waterway Cruise.  It was a great way to see the beauty of Amsterdam from the canals.
  • Rijksmuseum – €13 – be prepared to wait in line.  They only let in a minimum amount of people at one time since most of the museum is closed for renovations.  The wait was worth it to see the masterpieces.
  • I AMSTERDAM sign – free – located near the Rijksmuseum.  This is a fun photo-op.
  • Van Gogh Museum – €14…double the line that the Rijksmuseum had, though it was a mere 20-30 minute wait.  If you purchase a ticket the day before, you can skip the general admission line and use the fast lane to gain entrance.  Be prepared for lots of people inside the building if you wait until the afternoon.  I originally did not include this museum when planning my Amsterdam trip, but added it “on the fly” while out walking around.  I must say that I am so glad I did.  For me, it was one of the main highlights of my trip and a museum I would definitely visit again.
  • Anne Frank Huis – €8.50…quite moving.  I am so glad I took the time to visit.  I highly recommend reading the Diary of Anne Frank before visiting, even if you read it when you were younger or saw the screen adaptation.  It brings the story of her life out and gives such rich detail, which will only enhance what you’ll see here.  To me, this was a not-to-miss site and worth the wait in line.  I took my guidebooks advice and arrived after 4:30 p.m. and had to wait about a half-hour.  One warning, the steps inside get quite steep (think climbing a ladder) so those that have mobility issues would have problems with the stairs.


  • Amsterdam’s Centraal Station – I stayed close to Schiphol Airport during my two-night Amsterdam pre-cruise stay.  To get to the station I purchased a roundtrip 2nd class ticket at Schiphol Airport (€7.80).  If you don’t have change for the train kiosk tickets and only paper money (be sure the kiosk accepts coins as a few don’t), get in line at the train windows.  While the kiosk accepts credit cards and debit cards, the system didn’t recognize either of my cards.  A very nice British man behind me on holiday, mentioned that he’d never been able to use the kiosk with his cc’s for the very same reason.  The reason is that these kiosks rely on embedded microprocessor chips in the cards vs. the magnetic-strip technology that our cards use in the US.  I didn’t have any other problems using my credit cards during the trip.
  • Getting around while in Amsterdam – the first day I walked…and walked…and walked.  It was quite nice after being cooped up on the plane.  I used the sign posts and my guidebook to find my way around with little problems.  The second day I decided to try the TRAM system and it worked out splendidly.  If I would have known how easy it was to use the trams, I would have used it the first day as well.  Since the cost for a one hour ticket is €2.60 and there isn’t any way to use the ticket for more than one destination, purchase a 24-hour pass for €7 if you are visiting two or more destinations.  If you purchase a 48-hour pass, you will save more as the cost is €11.50.  There is a GVP kiosk outside Centraal Station, but if you can’t find it don’t worry as the trams sell tickets (including day passes) as well.

My time in Amsterdam Slideshow

Viking River Cruise

River cruising is one of the best ways to travel through many of the world’s most fascinating places.  Once you board the vessel, you can unpack (just once) in a very spacious river-view stateroom, then relax in comfort for the duration of the cruise.  Each day enjoy the beautiful scenery from almost everywhere on the ship.  The Bar, restaurant, and lounge all have panoramic views.  The staterooms have a balcony or large picture window that opens.  My favorite place to take in all the beauty is the shaded Sun Deck, where you can enjoy the fresh air and a 360-degree view!  The vessel keeps moving, so throughout the day everyday you see new scenery and explore new destinations full of culture and history.  The docks are located in the middle of the town or city so you can walk right off the ship and check out the area on your own if you like.   Enjoy guided walks, tours and excursions planned for you everyday, with leisure time to sightsee on your own.  Because the ships are smaller with the average of 150-300 passengers, you get a more intimate experience with the crew and fellow passengers.  And the flat-bottomed ship ensures a safe and smooth ride without the worry of motion sickness!

My husband and I went on a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River.  The ship we were on was the Viking Helvetia.  This ship is one of 19 Viking Ships and holds 198 guests.  All Staterooms are outside with river view.  Deluxe staterooms have hotel-style beds with European linens and duvets.  Staterooms on upper deck have a French balcony with sliding glass doors.  There is plenty of closet and drawer space and a place to stow your bags after you have unpacked. All rooms have a private bath with shower, your own climate control system, telephone, safe, TV that offers CNN and other English-language programming.  The ship has a shaded sun deck, restaurant, library, observation lounge & bar, onboard boutique, and free wireless Internet.

Viking River Cruises offer all-inclusive packages that include your meals, enrichment lectures, excursions, hotel accommodations for “cruise tour” itineraries, and airport transfers when air is purchased thru Viking.  The dining on board is excellent with regional specialties as well as Western-style favorites.  Complimentary wine is offered every evening with dinner.  Each day, you will have an excursion that will introduce you to the local culture.  All tour guides are English speaking and personal headsets are provided so you can hear every word they are saying.  Culture Curriculum lectures focused on the history of the region of the day are offered on the ship.  Viking uses deluxe, first class or superior first class hotels for overnight stays for passengers taking a “cruise tour” package.  If you want more than the included excursions, Viking does offer a selection of optional tours on each itinerary that can be purchased on board.  If you do not want to participate in the tours that are offered, you may choose to stay on the ship or tour on your own.

The tour my husband and I chose was called the Rhine Getaway.  The cruise was on the Rhine River beginning in Amsterdam and ending in Basel.  It consisted of 8 days, 6-guided tours, and 4 countries.

Viking does offer pre and post extensions if you want more time in those cities before or after the cruise.  We only did the cruise.


We arrived in Amsterdam mid morning on Saturday and were transferred to the ship upon arrival.  The staterooms are not available until mid afternoon so we familiarized ourselves with the ship, enjoyed a light lunch in the lounge, and then took a walk into town.

Some things to see as you stroll the city:

  • The many canals and connecting bridges that crisscross the city
  • “Amsterdam’s Rodeo Drive” which is the popular upscale shopping street
  • Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her famous diary of her experiences while hiding from the Nazis
  • In the evening, visit one of the many popular pubs, know as brown cafés
  • The famous Red Light District

After settling in our stateroom, resting a while, and freshening up we went to the lounge where the staff introduced themselves and the program director gave us a briefing of the next day’s itinerary.  Then everyone went down to the dining room for dinner.   Later that evening the ship’s Program Director took anyone who wished to see the Red Light District, on a walking tour.  We chose to retire for the evening since we had been up over 24 hours.


Our ship left Amsterdam at midnight and arrived in Kinderkijk at 9:00 a.m.  Viking offers an “early bird” breakfast from 6:00 – 7:00 a.m. consisting of coffee, juice, and pastries just outside the lounge area.  They also offer a full size breakfast buffet in the restaurant from 7:00-9:00 a.m.  We went for the buffet.  At 9:00 the Helvetia arrived in Kinderdijk.  Our shore excursion was to visit the picturesque Dutch Countryside of the historic Kinderdijk area.  There we could visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, where there is a collection of 19 windmills that give you a glimpse of Holland’s past.  The windmills were used to pump water from the pastureland into the Lek River, which lies above the level of the fields.  Today huge diesel electric pumps perform this function.  We were able to tour one of the working windmills.  Some families still live in them today and must keep them in working order even though they are no longer used.  By noon we were back on the ship and cruising down the Rhine toward Cologne.

Monday-Cologne, Germany

The Helvetia docked in Cologne at 8:30 a.m. and our 2 hour guided walk tour started at 9:00.  We did a short walk around the Old City of Cologne and visited the magnificent Gothic Cathedral.  The cathedral is the largest in Northern Europe and it took 632 years until the construction of it was completed.  This was the cities most famous landmark for centuries.  It is known for its two soaring spires and its most beautiful stained glass windows.  There are still fragments of Roman ruins that can be seen in parts of the city.  There is a Roman Tower near the Cathedral, which was once part of the medieval town walls.  Cologne also has many popular Museums such as the Museum Ludwig, devoted to modern art where a collection of Picasso’s work is displayed, the Fragrance Museum Farina House, the birthplace of Eau de Cologne and the Schokoladenmuseum, dedicated to chocolate making.  Unfortunately we were not able to visit any museums because they were closed on Mondays.

The rest of the day we were free to visit the city on our own or enjoy time on the ship.  On the Viking, they offered a lecture on “Germany Today” and a German dinner was served.  After dinner an optional excursion was offered at an additional price of 29 Euro to join a local guide on a walking tour to visit different pubs, taste the Cologne beer, and learn about the Brahaus Culture.

Tuesday-Koblenz, Middle Rhine & Rudesheim

Our ship docked in Koblenz early Tuesday morning.  This city, located on both sides of the Rhine is the third largest city in the Rhineland-Palatinate with a population of 106,000.  The headquarters of the German Army Forces Command is located here.  After breakfast we began our tour for the morning, taking buses to the Marksburg Castle.  This fortress is located on a hill above the town of Braubach.  It is the only medieval castle of the Middle Rhine that has never been destroyed.  This castle was used for protection rather than as a residence for royal families.  The tour lasted about two and half hours and then we were back on the ship and sailing down the middle of the Rhine for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a beautiful sunny mid 60’s fall afternoon to enjoy the upper-deck of the Helvetia in our lounge chairs and enjoy all the beauty that surrounded us!  Our program director Stephanie, gave a commentary of all the points of interests as we cruised through the most beautiful stretches of the Rhine.  There were so many “Kodak moments” throughout the afternoon, between the variety of colors lining the hillsides from vineyards and the gorgeous fall colors of the trees, to many little towns, churches, castles, and ruins.  We also passed the famous Lorelei, a legendary rock formation rising 440 feet above the river.

Late in the afternoon we docked in Rudesheim.  An optional excursion of a mini train ride, dinner and entertainment along the Rudesheim’s lively Drosselgasse was offered for 59.00 Euro per person.  This main commercial street is lined with wine bars and small shops and is very popular with the locals and visitors.  For passengers that chose not to take the excursion they were free to dine on the ship and then take a stroll in town on their own.

Wednesday-Heidelberg & Speyer

Midmorning our ship docked in Mannheim where we disembarked for a coach excursion to Heidelberg, Germany.  Our first stop was at the Majestic Heidelberg Castle.  This Castle was originally built during the 13th Century and was the residence of the Palatinate monarchy from the 13th through 18th centuries.  It is located on the Northern slope of Konigsstuhl Mountain.  The view from the castle overlooking the town of Heidelberg and the Neckar River is breathtaking.  After touring the grounds of the Palace our tour continued on a drive around the 600-year-old Heidelberg University, the oldest in Germany.  Then we took a walking tour through the old town and had some free time to stroll down Main Street lined with shops and cafes that stretch about a mile.  Later we returned to our ship, which had continued cruising to the town of Speyer.  It was late afternoon and we had a couple hours before we would set sail again so many of us took a stroll into this town.  Speyer was once an important center of Jewish culture.  Some ruins of the 11th century synagogues still remain.  We were not able to go in but we walked around Germany’s largest Romanesque building, the Imperial Cathedral.

That evening after dinner our ship began cruising down the Rhine towards Strasbourg, France.

Thursday-Strasbourg, France

Thursday morning the Helvetia docked in the German town of Kehl, directly across the Rhine River from Strasbourg.  After breakfast we disembarked for a tour of Strasbourg.  Our tour consisted of a drive past the Palais de L” Europe where the Parliament meets and the city’s remarkable Renaissance architecture.  Then we proceeded to the city center where we began our walking tour.  We visited the picturesque Petite France area and then walked to Old Town and then on to Cathedral Square where we toured the Strasbourg Cathedral.  This was one of the finest of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals.  Inside we saw the beautiful stain glass windows, and the remarkable astronomic clock on the back wall of the cathedral.  After the tour was over we had a little free time to do some shopping in Old Town before getting back on the motorcoach to return to our ship for lunch.  Our ship would not be departing until late in the evening so we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore on our own or take an optional excursion to Baden-Baden.  This included motorcoach transportation and a guide for 39 euros.  My husband and I chose to enjoy the beautiful afternoon by walking into the town of Kehl and do a little shopping.

Friday-Breisach & Black Forest, Germany

The ship docked about 8:00 a.m. and at 8:30 we disembarked for a motorcoach excursion through Germany’s beautiful Black Forest.  This densely forested, mountainous region is famous for its traditional cuckoo clocks and cherry schnapps.  Our first stop was at a shop in Hofgut Sternen where they sold their amazing cuckoo clocks and a demonstration was given on how they are made.  We also had the chance to try their famous Black Forest Cake.  It was delicious!!  The second stop on our excursion was in the town of Sankt Peter.  We took a short walking tour through this small town and went into the St. Peter Cathedral.  This Cathedral had beautiful paintings all over the ceiling, a lot of gold décor throughout, and a huge pipe organ in the balcony.  We had a little time to browse the shops and then back on the coaches for a return to our ship.

In the afternoon, two more optional excursions were offered.  One was a motorcoach ride and guide to the town of Colmar for 34 euros and the second was a World War II tour for 39 euros.  Those who did not choose those excursions were free to visit the town of Breisach.

In the evening we gathered in the lounge for a farewell toast with the Captain and then enjoyed the Captain’s Farewell Dinner with our newfound friends.  During dinner the ship departed for our final destination, Basel, Switzerland.

Saturday-Basel, Switzerland

Bright and early we disembarked to the airport for our return home.  For those who had purchased the Post-Cruise Extension, a motorcoach would take them to Lucerne where they would check into the hotel and then have a tour of Lucerne the next day and depart for home on the third day.

It was a wonderful trip and a relaxing, stress-free way to see Europe!  I recommend it highly!!