Thursday, May 12, 2016

Amsterdam, Cheese and Windmills

We arrived in Amsterdam on Friday morning and were delighted to learn that our room was ready when we checked into Hotel Sofitel Legend the Grand.  What a way to exceed expectations, right from the start!  We had a lovely two-level room.  We headed out to get a few provisions and our Amsterdam neighborhood was JUMPING!  After taking a quick nap, we headed out for dinner to the Amsterdam branch of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen. The restaurant is situated on the river, and we actually spotted our ship, the Tauck MS Swiss Jewel, docked nearby.

Bridges just steps from our hotel

Beautiful tea service at the Sofitel Legend the Grand

Little bud vases with tulips were everywhere in the lobby

This striking arrangement was in a hallway

Saturday morning we had a lovely buffet breakfast in the hotel, and started to meet our fellow travelers.  We headed out on our own to the Van Gogh museum.  Visitors start on the top floor and work their way around and down in galleries which hug the perimeter of the museum.  The paintings are arranged chronologically and follow the course of Van Gogh's life.  They are interspersed with artifacts from the homes of Van Gogh and his brother Theo, as well as artwork from other artists involved either with influencing the career of Van Gogh, or working alongside him.  The museum is well worth a visit.  We felt smart having booked ahead online and being able to "skip the line."  On a side note we used Uber all over Amsterdam - it was an easy and economical mode of transportation.

Later that afternoon we met our Tauck Tour Directors, Paul and Joeri, and had a short walk from the hotel to our coaches which took us to the ship.  I learned that ship is the correct term (vs. boat) - because a boat moves if you lean on it, while a ship does not.  We were warmly greeted on board by the Cruise Director, Tea, and staff members with whom we would be very familiar by the end of the week.  Passengers assembled in the Panorama Lounge for a welcome glass of bubbly and passed hors d'oeuvres.  We had our photos taken for our key cards and were shown to our cabin.  The space was tiny but very smartly designed; nevertheless I was grateful for the genius tip provided by a very seasoned river cruiser - namely, to bring along an over-door shoe rack in which we stored all of the items which would have been loose and creating clutter in our cabin.

View down the cabin lined hallway

The Tauck MS Swiss Jewel, our home for a week

Sunday morning we headed out bright and early for the Keukenhof Gardens, truly a highlight of the voyage. The gardens are open for only 8 weeks, during the height of Tulip season.  We learned that 7 million tulip bulbs are planted, at three different depths, in order to maximize the blooming season.  The gardens are spectacularly delightful - a real bucket list item for flower lovers.

Sea of Tulips just inside entrance to Keukenhof Gardens

Windmill on the grounds of Keukenhof Gardens.  Visitors climb two flights of stairs to look over flower fields. 

Detail of one of hundreds of varieties of Tulips in bloom

At the conclusion of our visit to the gardens, we returned to the ship for a quick lunch.  It's worth mentioning that the weather during our visit was wild - we experienced some of the coldest temperatures in 30 years - and the chef responded with having wonderful warming soups on the menu every time we came in from the cold.  After lunch, we took a short walk to a dock near our ship and boarded a glassed-in Amsterdam canal boat to travel from our ship to the Rijksmuseum.

View from the boat of one of Amsterdam's canals

The Milkmaid - Jan Vermeer 
Detail of Rembrandt's Night Watch

Detail of Rembrandt's Night Watch

The Threatened Swan, Jan Asselijn

The Syndics, Rembrandt

Panorama, Entrance Hall, Rijksmuseum

The Jewish Bride, Rembrandt

We had a fabulous guide who narrated the history of the homes and canals as we passed, and then transformed into an Art History lecturer inside the gallery.  We spend a lot of time with the Dutch Masters.  Would love to return to this museum on my own time!

We returned to the ship for our Gala Dinner, during which the ship started sailing for the first time - a very exciting moment.

The Bar area in the Panorama Lounge

Clever napkin fold for the Gala dinner

Monday morning we were up and at 'em early again.  I had heard that River Cruising is not the most leisurely, relaxing type of trip - and this was proving to be true as we had very full days with nicely curated activities.  We started this morning heading to the Geisslander Dairy Farm - a family operation with about 300 cows.  During the drive we learned about the Polderlands - the swampy below sea level land that the Dutch have reclaimed from the seas and canals by using Windmills to pump water out.  Our visit to the farm started with a walk thru the dairy barns where the "girls" were enthusiastically chomping on cut grass.  The cows are milked twice daily, and technology is key - their milk output is measured and charted as any variabilities could indicate illness or other issues.  We learned that mama cows are separated from their babies as soon as the babies are born, but they are milked of their colostrum which is then hand-fed to the calves.  Female calves are kept - boy calves may not have such a happy future...

From the cow station we headed to a cheese aging room, and learned about the various types of Gouda (pronounced Hoodah) produced here.  We had the opportunity to sample and purchase cheese.

Cheese aging room.  The cheeses have a waxy coating hand applied by a sponge before being set on a rack to age.

Yours truly with a 25-pound wheel of Gouda!

From the farm we headed out across the polderlands again, setting out for Kinderdijk, a UNESCO world heritage site populated with working windmills.  If conditions are right, one can see 19 windmills at one time.  

Five of the windmills at Kinderdijk

A "blocker" windmill - the entire house rotates on top of the mill

Eel traps in the canals alongside the windmills

It was truly fascinating to learn about how the windmills operate, to continually drain water from the land.  The function once assigned to windmills has now been transferred to the most part to electric pumping stations which pull the water out and deposit it elsewhere, to keep some of the land available for farming. 

We returned to the ship for dinner - and an optional excursion to go for a walk on old ramparts in a town to which we had sailed.  Honestly most of the guests were too tuckered out to do anything - and that evening we were entertained by a wonderful jazz trio who came onboard to perform in the Panorama lounge.  After a lovely concert, we set sail for Belgium.


  1. Thanks for the mini-tour! Great photos!

    1. Thank you - I'm glad you found and enjoyed this post. Next up: Bruges and Ghent

  2. Just lovely, Joan! thanks so much for sharing with us!

  3. Thanks for the positive feedback = so glad you enjoyed this. More to come from this wonderful trip