Cruising Amidst Tulips & Windmills, A Live Blog

Written aboard the Longship Skadi on her voyage through Holland and Belgium with stops in Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Bruges, Veere, Hoorn, and Arnhem. Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.

Map of the Tulips and Windmill cruise with Viking River Cruises

Spring has sprung and we're ready to embrace it fully!

And what better way to celebrate the new season than to head to the flower capital of the world - Holland!

But that's not all kids - we'll be sailing into Belgium too!

Join us LIVE as we spend 10 days in the Low Countries...

Day One: Arriving in Amsterdam and Meeting Skadi

Morning: Beam me up Skadi

This is our second time aboard the Longship Skadi - the first time was on our fabulous Christmas Cruise along the Danube. We're a couple of staterooms away from this one...

...but it's every bit as wonderful!

Viking River Cruises provided us with Quiet Vox for walking tours

The top deck of the Viking River Cruises Longship Skadi - love the kitchen garden
Skadi's top deck - love the kitchen garden!

We're headed out for a walking tour of Amsterdam - geared up with our QuietVox that charges in our stateroom between tours.

With these little radio boxes attached to headphones, we have the freedom to roam a bit and take photos without missing a word our guide has to say.

Afternoon: Water and wonkiness

Amsterdam, Holland with Viking River Cruises

Amsterdam has a distinct architectural style; space along the waterways is limited so builders chose to make narrow, deep houses two or three times as long as they are wide, standing three or four stories high.

In Amsterdam, the propensity for the older buildings to slant every which way. The land is very soft, so in order to build wooden pilings had to be set deep into the soil to reach more solid ground. But these have settled over time and left some crazy crooked structures!

We can't help but notice the propensity for these old buildings to slant every which way.

Amsterdam, Holland with Viking River Cruises

The land is very soft, so wooden pilings had to be set deep enough to reach more solid ground in order to build. But these have settled over time and left some crazy-crooked structures.

In Amsterdam, the propensity for the older buildings to slant every which way. The land is very soft, so in order to build wooden pilings had to be set deep into the soil to reach more solid ground. But these have settled over time and left some crazy crooked structures!

Evening: Presenting... Dinner


 

Tonight we celebrate our first night aboard with the Chef's Dinner!

Quail leg with goat cheese and ramp panna cota...

Herb crusted roast pork tenderloin...

Prawn and razor clam crepinette with green pea ravioli...

and crab and radish roulade - divine.

 

Putting our full bellies, smiling faces, and jet-lagged bodies to bed!

Day Two: Amsterdam - Canals, Floating Flowers and How Not to Miss the Anne Frank House

Morning: A Happy Surprise, John and Yoko, and the Canals of Amsterdam

A fun welcome aboard from Viking River Cruises

Rested and ready to rock, we wake up to something we should have seen last night - but were too jet lagged to notice.

Most evenings after dinner, we are greeted with a turn-down service treat; and we did notice the boxes of hand-crafted Belguim chocolates waiting for us on our pillows.

But we are wowed by the Viking bookmark nestled in a copy of our brand new book, Going Gypsy, complete with a congratulatory bottle of champagne. Thanks Viking!

The Amsterdam Hilton, famous for John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-In for Peace

Opting out of drinking our bubbly this early so we can storm Amsterdam with a clear head, so we leave it on ice and jump on a bus that will take us to our boat tour of the canals.

We whiz by the Amsterdam Hilton, famous for John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-In for Peace in 1969. And, yes, we checked - there's a John and Yoko suite, the very one that the bed- in was held.

Amsterdam is a very water centric city

Amsterdam's main canals are laid out in an arc around the city center, and we figure there's no better way to observe this than from the water.

In the early 1600s three waterways, now known as the Canal Ring, were built to develop the city outward just as Holland was entering its Golden Age.

Dutch ships and merchants spanned the globe over the next century and Amsterdam grew into one of the world's great cities.

Seven bridges at once on our canal tour of Amsterdam
At one point we saw seven bridges at once!

Amsterdam's Sea Palace - a floating Chinese Restaurant
The Sea Palace Chinese Restaurant is modeled after this floating eatery in Hong Kong

For more ideas on what to do in Amsterdam, click here (includes more photos and video of the canal cruise)

Afternoon: Talkin' Tulips and the Anne Frank House

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum

From the boat tour of the canals, we decide to investigate the more flowery history of Amsterdam (this is a tulips cruise, after all!) and head over to the Tulip Museum for the backstory.

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is right across the Prinsengracht, or Prince's canal, the outermost of the famous Canal Ring.

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum

Inside we quickly discover that there is quite a flowery history to the tulip and its relationship with Holland.

Brought from Turkey by biologist Carolus Clusius over four hundred years ago, tulips caused such a craze that the first ever speculative commodity bubble was inflated as people began trading the bulbs with reckless abandon.

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum

Before long, a single bulb was worth well over the annual salary of a reasonably wealthy merchant.

At the peak, ounce for ounce, tulips were selling for about one-hundred times the price of gold.

David grabs the bull by the horns in front of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange
But the inevitable crash came and economists learned about market bubbles – but apparently not how to prevent them from reoccurring.

<--To ward off another crash, we run to the Amsterdam Stock Exchange and take the bull by the horns.

 

 

Visiting Anne Frank

The statue of Anne Frank outside of her hiding place, now The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Holland
Across the nearest bridge, but light years removed in significance, we cross over to the Anne Frank House.

This is the actual building where the Frank family, along with their friends the Van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer, stayed hidden from the Nazis for two years.

The house consists of several upstairs rooms that were sealed off from the work space and offices of the business that Otto Frank owned.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Holland

Anne called it the Secret Annex in her famous diary.

We discover that there is a line wrapping around the entire block and find that the wait for entry is about four hours.

We had visited the Anne Frank House on a prior trip to Amsterdam and are concerned that our fellow Viking passengers would not be have time to take this must-do, emotional tour.

So after some on-the-spot Googling, we found a way to get tickets in advance. Please note that at this moment, there is a two-month waiting list, so plan ahead! The link for tickets is here.

Read more about the Anne Frank House and how it made Veronica feel to visit

Evening: Floating Flowers

The Bloemenmarkt, the Floating Flower Market, in Amsterdam, Holland - GypsyNester.com

The Bloemenmarkt, the Floating Flower Market, in Amsterdam, Holland - GypsyNester.com

Walking along the Singel Canal, which is the oldest of Amsterdam's semicircular ring of canals, we find the Bloemenmarkt.

Built in the Middle Ages as a moat to protect the city, now this is very much the center of town.

The biggest bulbs Veronica has ever seen! The Bloemenmarkt, the Floating Flower Market, in Amsterdam, Holland - GypsyNester.com

Since 1862, vendors have set up shop along the canal creating the world's only floating flower market.

<-- The biggest bulbs Veronica has ever seen!

We wander among the barges that offer every type of blooming bulb we could possibly think of, with tulips being the star of the show this time of year.

Cannabis starter kit at The Bloemenmarkt, the Floating Flower Market, in Amsterdam, Holland - GypsyNester.com

Since this is Amsterdam, a few of the shops have Cannabis Starter Kits on display, containing a handful of seeds and a little plastic pot (no pun intended) to plant them in.

As with all of the city's more hedonistic pastimes, we remain strictly observers.

We certainly don't want to try explaining one of these kits at customs!

Day Three: Windmills, Waffles and What to do With All of this Water

Morning: Tilting at Windmills

Windmills in Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands - GypsyNester.com

Today we are introduced to the windmill portion of our journey at the little town of Kinderdijk.

The name means children dike, and there is a nice legend to go along with it. 

The story says that during the flood of 1421 a cradle floating along the waters was kept upright by a cat jumping from side to side, balancing it against the waves.

Newly hatched goslings in the canals of Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands

When the cradle was rescued, a baby was found fast asleep and perfectly dry inside.

The real origin of the name is likely a lot less inspiring, since child labor is said to have been used in the construction of the dikes.

<-- Newly hatched goslings in the Kinderdijk canals!

Willow trees are planted along the dikes in Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands

Whatever the truth behind the name, the fact is that the system holding back the water is an engineering marvel.

<-- Willow trees are planted atop the dikes

Over half of the Netherlands is below sea level, so pumping water is a never ending enterprise, and the Dutch have been experts at it for centuries.

Veronica tries on wooden shoes in Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands - GypsyNester.com

That's where the windmills come in, they are used to move water from low lying land up into the rivers, and finally out to the sea.

Yes, UP to the river! It is a strange sensation to be cruising along the river and look out at houses below the water level.

It is up to the dikes to keep the water at bay, and the windmills to pump it out.

Our guide, Kees, shows us how the windmills work in Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands

We begin by learning about the mechanics of a mill.

The design is fairly straightforward, but nonetheless ingenious.

Our guide, Kees, shows us how the wind turns the sail blades, which turn a set of large wooden gears that transfer the motion down a huge oak pillar, which finally turns another wheel to scoop the water up and over the dike into a canal. Through a series of these canals the water is finally lifted up the level of the river.

Windmill museum in Kinderdijk, Holland, The Netherlands - GypsyNester.com

Armed with our rudimentary knowledge, we head inside one of the nineteen working windmills in the area for a close up look at the inner workings.

We are lucky to have just enough of a breeze to fill the sails and turn the gears.

 

The living quarters in the windmills of Holland at Kinderdijk Windmill Museum

The family that lived in a windmill in Kinderdijk, Holland

The mills also served as a home for the millers, the caretakers and operators that maintain the vital function of these flood preventing workhorses.

The one we enter once was home to a family with thirteen kids.

Maybe that's why this is called Kinderdijk.

See more about lovely Kinderdijk!

Hot cocoa and rum called a Tote Tante, or Dead Aunt

Afternoon: A Warm Welcome (with a weird name)!

We are met back on board by the ship's maître d', Daniel, with a hot cup of cocoa and rum called a Tote Tante, or Dead Aunt.

The drink is a tradition in the northern part of the Netherlands known as Friesland.

Hot cocoa and rum called a Tote Tante, or Dead Aunt

Stories behind the name seem to be connected to a deceased aunt being shipped home for burial from far away in a cocoa crate due to a shortage of funds.

Somehow that led to drinking chocolate and rum at the funeral. 

<-- Marcus, Skadi's Hotel Manager

Windmills through the porthole of Viking River Cruises' Skadi

Cruising along the canal on our way to Belgium we pass dozens of the modern version of the windmill.

These aren't pumping water or grinding grain, they generate electricity.

They seem to line the canals for miles and miles, even along the locks that we pass through as we go upstream.

Riding a river cruise ship through the locks of Holland

Unlike our previous Viking trips, the elevation doesn't change very much, but we still rise a couple of feet in each of the three or four locks that we encounter today. 

While we are making our way to Antwerp, we have an introduction to Belgian cuisine with the famous waffles. The Skadi's resident pastry chef demonstrates the proper technique for preparation…

Belgium waffle demonstration aboard the Viking River Cruises' Skadi

…and we demonstrate the proper technique for consumption. We also learned a little saying about food in Belgium, it is said to be cooked with French finesse, and served in German portions.

Sounds like we might just like it here.

Day Four: Antwerp - Giants, Severed Hands, Guilds and Beer

Morning: There may actually be giants!

The medieval city wall and gate of Antwerp - the Steen

Our day begins by entering Antwerp through the Steen, a medieval gate of the city wall.

Here we meet the first of the two legendary giants that are said to have terrorized the city through the ages, the Lange Wapper.

While tales of this shapeshifting nuisance go back as far as anyone can remember, the statue depicting him annoying two townsfolk, who look to have had a bit too much Belgian beer, was placed relatively recently in 1963.

Lange Wapper, the legendary giant of Antwerp, Belgium

The Roman fertility keystone of the Steen in Antwerp, Belgium

The keystone of the gate is said to be the oldest artifact in Antwerp, a Roman fertility figure whose manhood has seriously suffered over the centuries.

In the middle ages the city placed the already ancient carving over the entrance as a show of their masculinity, but soon women were snatching bits of his endowment and feeding it to their husbands in hopes of improving their love lives.

The Steen, which means stone, is a part of the original thirteenth century fortifications of Antwerp, Belgium

Later the Jesuits completely castrated the poor little idol as a statement against the pagan nature of the entire ordeal. Ouch!

The Steen, which means stone, is a part of the original thirteenth century fortifications.

The name refers to the foundations, but the defenses were upgraded often up until the eighteen hundreds.

The meat house, Vleeshuis, in Antwerp, Belgium

Once inside the wall we hang a right and head directly into the historic center of the city.

The first building to catch our eyes is the Vleeshuis, the Meat House, which was built in 1504 as the meeting hall for the butcher's guild.

The claim is that the masonry was made to resemble stacks of bacon by using layers of white stones and red bricks.

We're thinking that this is perhaps a happy coincidence and are taking that information with a grain of salt pork.

See more about our adventure in Antwerp!

Afternoon: Guilds, Severed Hands and 'Twerps

As we move into the city center, we find that guild houses played a big part in Antwerp's development. These groups of merchants and tradesmen met in ornate buildings surrounding the main square, and were instrumental in the politics of the city for hundreds of years.

The guild buildings in Antwerp, Belgium

Each building is decorated with golden statues signifying the business that the guild represented. They chose to build near the city hall because they petitioned the council for favorable rulings for their businesses.

It strikes us that these may have been early lobbyists.

Antwerp, Belgium's city hall with Brabo the giant slayer - and hand cutter

<-- It's not every day we see a statue chucking a severed hand!

The square is also where we meet the second of Antwerp's legendary giants, Antigoon.

It seems that he had the habit of extracting a toll from anyone wishing to cross the river, or cutting off the hand of those who refused and tossing it into the water.

Finally a young Roman soldier named Brabo stepped up, slayed the giant - and, in a turnabout chopped off and threw Antigoon's hand into the river.

David and some kids posing on the severed hand of Antwerp, Belgium - GypsyNester.com

According to the tale, that is responsible for the city's name from the Dutch words for hand and to throw.

Hand-Wearpan... Antwerp.

The square in front of the city hall is dominated by an enormous statue depicting Brabo standing on top of Antigoon and holding the severed hand over his head, ready to fling it into the river.

Veronica poses on the severed hand of Antwerp, Belgium - GypsyNester.com

Chocolate severed hand in Antwerp, Belgium

No word on whether the Roman hero called the giant a 'Twerp while removing his appendage.

The impressive Renaissance style city hall was built as a symbol of Antwerp's power in city's golden age, but by the time it was completed in 1565 time was running short for this prosperity.

Ten years later Spain took over and the heyday was over.

Lucky for us, the remarkable structure survived.

Late Afternoon: An Impressive Lady

The Church of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium

One square over, we find the Cathedral of Our Lady.

Actually, at over four hundred feet tall, we couldn't help but see the church tower all day.

It is the tallest structure in the city, and shall remain so by law.

Beginning in 1352, construction was ended in 1521, but the church has never been officially completed.

Beautiful rendition of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belguim

Walking inside, we find an unusual conglomeration of styles because the church has served as both Catholic and Protestant over the years - often suffering serious damage in the process of converting.

<-- We adored this wonderfully playful version of the usually stoic Madonna

Restorations are continuing, and we are very pleased to find that the altarpieces, The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross by Belgium's best-known artist, Peter Paul Rubens, have been returned to their rightful place in the cathedral.

Really bizarre statue of a lion at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, Belgium
Loved this guy too - our guide told us that the artist didn't know what a lion looked like. So he just jammed.

See more about our adventure in Antwerp!

Evening: Our Introduction to Belgium Beer. Hello Belgium Beer!

The train station in Antwerp, Belgium

After lunch we wade deeper into the city, strolling along Meir, a broad shopping boulevard that runs from the old center to the Centraal Station.

The fantastic domed depot was constructed at the turn of the twentieth century and pays tribute to Belgium’s pioneering history of rail travel.

The train station in Antwerp, Belgium

The country proudly claims to have had the first railroads on the European continent.

The area is also famous for diamond merchants, with about half of all of the diamonds in the world passing through at one time or another.

Meir, a broad shopping boulevard that runs from the old center to the Centraal Station in Antwerp, Belgium

Needless to say, these transactions are not public, but there are certainly plenty of jewelry stores along the promenade.

After our long walk we were more interested in another of a girl’s best friends, Belgian beer.

We grab a seat on the sidewalk at The Duke of Antwerp and order a bit of one of the city’s famous brews, Martin’s pale ale.

Martins beer in Antwerp, Belgium

It doesn’t take long to notice that beer is an integral part of life in Belgium.

Nearly two hundred breweries are brewing their brains out in this country that is only about the size of Maryland.

Stopping off again at the main square for a sample of two more of those brands, our waiter recommends DeKoninck as the perfect example of a local libation, and Tongerlo, which has been awarded as the best beer in the world.

Tongerlo and DeKoninck beer in Antwerp, Belgium

We also observe that each brand of beer must be served in a glass unique to its style and name, Belgians deem this to be of prime importance, going so far as to refuse a beer if an establishment has the audacity to serve it in the wrong glassware.

We could see that the DeKoninck was properly representing Antwerp because the logo on the glass featured a detached hand. Cheers!

As far as the Tongerlo’s claim, it was very good, but we will need to do much more research on fermented beverages from around the world before we are anywhere near ready to declare a best on the planet! 

See more about our adventure in Antwerp!

Day Five: Bruges - Quaint Doesn't Even Begin to Describe Her

Morning: Roaming the town

Bruges, Belgium

Swans fill the canals in Bruges, Belgium

Our next port of call, Bruges, Belgium, is no longer accessible by larger boats, so we take a short bus ride from Ghent.

Centuries ago the river was deep enough for ships and reached out to the sea, but sand deposits filled it in.

In order to keep the buses out of the historic center, we walk along ancient canals from the old city wall toward the two towers that dominate the skyline.

Spring in Bruges, Belgium

It is easy to see why the old town, with its outstanding preservation of medieval architecture, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

All of the buildings, even businesses and private homes, can only be renovated according to strict rules that maintain the authenticity of the city.

Bruges, Belgium

Afternoon: Bless-ed Blood, and Blind Burros

The Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium

Wandering through narrow streets and small plazas, we reach the first of the towers, a brick spire over four hundred feet high, making it one of the world's tallest made of brick.

The spire sits atop the city's main church which, as in Antwerp, is named Church of Our Lady.

In addition to one of the world's highest brick towers, the church is home to Michelangelo's sculpture of the Madonna and Child.

The work wasn't originally intended for this church, but the Italian master sold it to a couple of Belgian merchants who brought it to Bruges in 1514.

Michelangelo's sculpture of the Madonna and Child at the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium

Blinde Ezel Straat, which we have to love because it means Blind Donkey Street in Bruge, Belgium

Leaving the church we turn on Blinde Ezel Straat, which we have to love because it means Blind Donkey Street, and then pass under an ornate arcade into a large square. 

The archway connects the justice hall with the city hall, both of which are decorated with some serious statuary.

As is often the case, Justice holding her scales stands on the peak of the courthouse.

Next to the city hall there is a small chapel, but it looms large in the life of Bruges.

The tiny Basilica of the Holy Blood is home to the relic of the Holy Blood, reputed to be a sample of the blood of Christ. Thierry of Alsace brought the vial back from the Second Crusade.

The city hall of Bruges Belgium

Sample of the blood of Christ at the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium

We went in with high hopes of seeing the amazing artifact, but the relic is kept inside a silver tabernacle.

But wait, is it just wishful thinking or can we catch a peek at the vial through a sliver between the silver doors?

We're going to say yes, we saw it. 

To be certain of a view we would have to be back in town for the annual procession through the streets celebrated on Ascension Day, which is forty days after Easter, and is always one of the city's biggest events.

Afternoon: Don't Call Them French Fries!

The bell tower of Bruges, Belgium

The second of the two famous towers of Bruges, the Belfort, looms over us and we walk over to the next plaza where Markt, or Market, Square opens up below the belfry.

Opposite the tower a row of restaurants awaits, so we make our way over for a midday meal.

Lunch offers a good opportunity for us to delve deeper into our beer research.

Bruges, is every bit as soaked in beer heritage as Antwerp, and to fortify ourselves for a climb up the three hundred and sixty-six steps to the top of the town’s famous bell tower we will need some tradition Belgian food and of course, beer.

Zot beer in Belgium

The history of brewing in Belgium goes back nearly a thousand years. Originally monks made beer, and some still do, but the art has become an integral part of Belgian life.

Being ignorant in the ways of the country’s brews, we once again rely on our waiter to recommend the ultimate local beverages. 

A Zot blond is pretty much a must in Bruges, and we passed the brewery walking into town, so that was one, the other, a Kwak, came with the server’s endorsement as "a special beer."

Judging by how it arrived, the Kwak is indeed special.

 

See more about our adventure in Bruges!

Kwak beer in Belgium is served in a weird glass! GypsyNester.com GypsyNester.com

The giant bulb glass with a wooden stand makes the entire presentation quite a show.

Nearby tables were snapping pictures, and we must say, the taste lives up to the hype.

To pair with the beers we go for two of Belgium’s most typical dishes, mussels with French fries, and a creamy chicken stew known as waterzooi, which is often made with fish.

Oops, we must correct ourselves, never call fried potatoes “French” in Belgium.

Waterzooi and mussels in Bruges, Belgium

Fries are everywhere in Belgium

Fries are without a doubt the national food, and they claim to have invented them.

The French tag was supposedly due to mistaken identity by US GIs during World War I. Little shops that serve paper cones filled with fries are everywhere, and proper consumption requires choosing a sauce.

Mayonnaise is generally the default option, but any good fry shop will have about a dozen more flavors to pick from.

Late Afternoon: A Steep Climb and a Giant Music Box... We're not done yet! Continue along with us...

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Written aboard the Longship Skadi on her voyage through Holland and Belgium with stops in Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Bruges, Veere, Hoorn, and Arnhem. Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.




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