Shore Excursions to Volendam, Edam and Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Posted on November 5th, 2013
The day began early with breakfast in the Panorama Restaurant on board ‘Amadeus Silver.’ Freshly made waffles served with real maple syrup, bacon and scrambled eggs, bagels and pastries, along with a cup of rich Austrian coffee, fortified me and my fellow A&K guests for the day ahead. We had a full slate of sightseeing in the Netherlands planned, with shore excursions scheduled for Volendam, a city about 20 miles north of Amsterdam where we had moored during the night, as well as Edam and Amsterdam.
Gathering on shore in our small — and now familiar — A&K group of 24, we walked to the scenic waterfront row of shops, led past bronze statues of fishermen and stands selling local seafood delicacies such as raw herring served with onions and pickles.
Further into the city, we saw many traditional Dutch houses, their windows adorned with the white lace curtains for which Holland is renowned. Later, on the narrow cobblestone streets of this seaside village’s historic residential district, we strolled along quiet canals filled with ducks, water lilies and an occasional placid heron. Looking carefully at the brick houses and shops lining the streets, we noted that some were sagging, having sunk slightly into the soft underlying ground since their construction, which for some took place more than 200 years before. It was a phenomenon we would see repeated many times in Amsterdam as well.
Crossing the canals on small iron drawbridges, we eventually returned to the motor coach, and drove out into the surrounding polder landscape. A polder is a low-lying area formerly underwater that was pumped dry to reclaim land from the sea. First one or more dikes, long dams made of stones and clay-rich earth mounded into a long ridge, are built across a body of water. Then, a pumping system is set up to pump out water from the area closed off from the sea by the dikes.
Nearly 30 percent of the land in the Netherlands lies below sea level, so the dikes are vital for the protection from flooding. For centuries, Holland’s famed windmills served as the engines for this process, tapping the power of the wind to lift and move the water from one side of the dike to the other. Today, electric motors handle the job, and the windmills have, for the most part, been retired. Less than 1,200 windmills remain, scattered throughout the country, and many of them no longer function on a regular basis. Those that do usually don’t work year round. However, our guide explained that on National Mill Day, held in May, all of the country’s functional windmills have their four arms fitted with sails and once again turn majestically in the wind.
Near the end of our short drive though the polders, past grazing herds of wooly sheep and occasional pairs of large white swans, we stopped to get an up-close look at a windmill. I made a point of taking a selfie with my camera, as a memento of our visit to this iconic structure. Walking slowly back to the coach, I looked out across the green surrounding farmlands, breathing the moist cool air of fall in Holland, and got a feel for the pastoral life that at least some natives still live here.
Our next stop was Edam, a small city next to Volendam, where the cheese of the same name originated, to visit the dairy of a small, local cheese maker. We were greeted upon entry by a young woman wearing a traditional “Dutch Girl” apron and curving lace bonnet. She stood beside a large stainless steel vat like the ones used to make cheese and described the process by which the milk of cows, goats and sheep becomes one of the many possible versions of flavorful Edam cheese. We then proceeded to a tasting of the cheeses made on premise and enjoyed the opportunity to purchase as many rounds as we could stuff into our luggage.
We drove off and rolled into Amsterdam about 20 minutes later, coming to a stop in the heart of the city, not far from the floating flower market that runs alongside one of the dozens of canals that crisscross this European capital.
Anneke, our guide, always concerned for our safety, directed us across the bicycle lane to the sidewalk, because in Amsterdam, the bike is a ubiquitous form of personal transportation. In fact, on the waterfront, next to Amsterdam Central Station, there is a three-story bike-parking garage called the fietsflatt that is longer than an American football field and must be seen to be fully appreciated. Several guests wondered out loud how anyone using the facility could manage to relocate their bicycle from among the thousands parked there each day.
Our walk of downtown Amsterdam took us past the Floating Flower Market, where hundreds of vendors offer a huge variety of plant seeds, including bulbs for that most iconic of Dutch flowers, the tulip. Every variety imaginable can be found, but for travellers hoping to take their purchase home with them to the United States, care must be taken to find the bulbs that have been cleared for transport through customs. Even in Amsterdam, it pays to read labels.
Downtown Amsterdam, for a variety of reasons, attracts the young and the young at heart, and people watching here is a real pleasure. There’s a distinctly European flair to their fashions and their demeanor. Blended with the energy that’s part of a bustling seaport, it creates a vibrancy I’ve seldom experienced anywhere else.
When we returned to the ship, having walked for more than an hour in the brisk sea air, we were primed for lunch, and once again the kitchen staff aboard ‘Amadeus Silver’ came through. The buffet they presented us included a variety of smoked fish, a ham and melon medley, assorted marinated salads and mixed garden greens, and a choice of bread, rolls and Austrian pretzels.
After a brief chance to rest after eating, we once again disembarked to begin another exploration of Amsterdam, this time by canal. A far more restful look at the city, travelling by canal boat gave us an idea of just how intimately life here is tied to water. There is almost no neighborhood that can’t be reached by boat and the river traffic, though not as chaotic as that on the street, was very active. As we glided down one of these picturesque waterways, Anneke drew our attention to what is arguably Amsterdam’s most popular destination, the Anne Frank House. As unassuming as the young Jewish girl who wrote her poignant and inspiring diary there so many years ago, it is tucked into a row of narrow homes similar to those found throughout Amsterdam. Little did we know at the time, the house earlier that week received its one-millionth visitor.
By the time our canal ride drew to a close and we returned by coach to the ship, I felt a mix of satisfaction of having experienced the city up close and in person and longing for more time to linger at a number of sights we’d seen. Everything I’d seen and learned has prepared me for a return visit some day.
This evening, the onboard chef and his staff pulled out all the stops with a dazzling five-course dinner that included crêpes stuffed with marinated salmon and wasabi cream; oxtail consommé with puff pastry and a splash of sherry; fillet of butterfish refined with curry in coconut milk, served with braised Asian vegetables; and quiche lorraine
with leek, onions and Bechamel sauce, served with Vichy carrots and snow peas. For dessert, the chef led his staff on a parade that wound through the dining room, proudly displaying rectangular loaves of baked Alaska adorned with lit sparklers that appropriately brought to mind fireworks. The meal, which was served with matching wines, was certainly worthy of the celebration.
It was good to have the opportunity to have a nightcap with my fellow A&K guests and some farewell drinks were shared in the Panorama Bar to the accompaniment of talented blues and jazz pianist providing the evening’s entertainment.
The next morning, we bid farewell to ‘Amadeus Silver,’ as our three-night cruise had been completed. Our adventure had one more chapter, though. As with the majority of A&K’s Connections European River Cruise Journey, our itinerary included a post-cruise night at a local, downtown hotel. Some of us stayed at The Grand Amsterdam Sofitel Legend, while others in our party lodged at the NH Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky, the latter of which is a featured accommodation on a number of A&K’s Connections European River Cruise Journeys.
Having the post-cruise day was a real treat, because it afforded the opportunity to explore Dam Square and other downtown neighborhoods, some of which we passed during our guided tour, once again, in greater detail. After enjoying an afternoon taking the sights and sounds of Amsterdam, my travelling companions and I convened that evening for a fine dinner at a local restaurant on A&K’s recommended list, the d’Vijff Vlieghen (the Five Flies). The name aside, the food and wines were excellent and it made for a pleasing finish to what had been an exceptionally exciting and engaging journey through Germany and The Netherlands.