Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A cruise for Dutchmen ... and us

The MS Allegro, docked in the harbor in Zaandam
       We wanted to include a river cruise into our two-week trip to The Netherlands, and we did. It was just right for us.
       First couple of times we searched the Internet for cruises in Holland, what we found was either too long (8 to 10 days) or too expensive ... or both.
       But the woman who took great care of us during our time in Holland, my Dad's cousin Kitty, found a five-day, four-night cruise for us on the MS Allegro through the Dutch travel company -- Kras.nl.
        It was the right time frame and the right price -- and it included the exact element we needed -- a tour of the Keukenhof Gardens, the centerpiece of the abundant flower-growing area in Holland. And mid-April is the optimal time to view the beautiful flower fields. 
        What's more, the cruise fell almost right in the middle of our stay; we had five days before we took the boat, and four days after the end of the cruise. And it gave us a great feel for Holland -- outside of Amsterdam.
       We'd seen cruise boats come in and out of the harbor in Zaandam (six kilometers from Amsterdam) -- right below the ninth-floor apartment where Kitty lives -- and, on the eve of our trip, we saw the Allegro docked there. I walked over to take a close look and met one of the crewmen, a young man from Slovakia. 
        With his halting English and my halting Dutch, we had a nice conversation. I told him we'd see him the next afternoon at the harbor in Amsterdam. When we arrived at Steiger 18 (peer 18), he was there to take in our luggage.
         Most of the cruise boats we saw were nearly identical; some, I'm sure, were fancier than others. But we found the Allegro comfortable and roomy enough. Our cabin was half the size of our living/dining room, with a tiny bathroom/shower, but it was OK.
          The crew, perhaps 20 people, was a Dutch/Slovakian mix. Many of these type crew jobs in western Europe are held by eastern European natives, who have the chance to make money they can't make at home.
           What we found was that the crew -- captain, first mate, cruise director, chef and his staff, bartenders/waiters, maintenance -- were totally cooperative and pleasant.
             We also found that our traveling companions, a group of 75 or so, were almost all Dutch, mostly older than us -- at least age 70 and up -- and a dozen or so were infirm enough to require walkers or canes or some assistance.
              No matter, they were all there to enjoy ... and they seemed to. They all took part in the activities/tours at the various stops and the entertainment -- games, cards, quizzes, a sing-along dance, drinking -- in the cozy lounge/bar area. And they all seemed to like to eat.
            Because it was a Dutch crowd -- there was at least one German couple and three people from Canada (a woman who, like me, had been born in Holland then immigrated, and her son and daughter-in-law) -- the directions/instructions/talks were in Dutch.
              This could have been a hardship, but we didn't let it be. I understand just enough Dutch to get the gist of what was being said, and Bea was fine because she gets life.
            I could interpret some, some of the crew spoke enough English ... and then there was Wim Smits.
The cruise director, Wim Smits; that's Bea on the left.
           The affable cruise director, whom I have mentioned in a previous blog, made many of the talks to the group, and came to us early and often to give us the English version. He's a veteran traveler -- he told me he and his family had visited the U.S. the year before for a long journey through Washington state, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas -- and he's been the director for many a Kras.nl cruise.
              He had all sorts of trivia/pop culture/history quizzes for the group, and witty little stories, and he repeatedly connected with us ... and everyone else. Whatever Kras.nl is paying Wim Smits, he's worth it. He made this cruise so much more enjoyable for everyone.
              Bea had been on a couple of cruises -- one out of Miami to the Bahamas long ago in a previous life and one recently with neighbors, out of Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico to the Mexican peninsula. She knew what to expect, and -- while this was a smaller version/boat without gambling -- she was happy with it. She had plenty of time to relax and read and play her beloved Bejeweled Blitz on her I-Pad, in addition to touring the towns.
           I'd never been on a cruise like this. My experience on a boat was the 10-day trip in December 1955/January 1956 from Holland to the U.S., a rocky adventure on the Atlantic Ocean that was ... well, sickening. So I was quite leery of extended days on a boat.
             Cruise boats for an hour or two in New Orleans, Shreveport, New York City, Knoxville and Honolulu were OK. Anything more than that ...
              But while the weather while we were in Holland was cool (no shirt sleeves), it was comfortable enough except for some chilly/rainy mornings and evenings by the water. During this cruise, mostly on the IJsselmeer (a shallow freshwater lake), there were only two times when the wind came up and it rained a little ... and the boat was rocking. Once, at midday, it was precarious carrying the lunch plate back to the dining table. 
              So, not too bad. Take another cruise? Let me think about it.
              Next: A garden, a castle, and other sights

1 comment:

  1. From Tommy Canterbury: Enjoyed this, Nico. On one Europe trip Tommy Vardeman and I took with a team, we played couple of games in The Netherlands (during a week in June). Rain, cool temps, interesting, pretty country, interesting cities (liked the countryside best).