We were on the April 15-22 sailing of the Avalon Affinity, scheduled to be from Amsterdam to Basel. We flew in the day before the cruise to Amsterdam.
We caught the train to Central Station from the airport. Our hotel is the Movenpick. I got it on Priceline for $85. It is right on the water, and I had emailed them asking for a high room overlooking the water. They delivered. We are on the 18th floor overlooking all of the river cruise boats that will be leaving tomorrow. A big cruise ship left just before we arrived. We can sit in the window and watch the canal boats, the pleasure craft, the freighters….it is a really nice view. Our room is great. Big king size bed, a nice sofa under the windows (the windows open!!), nice desk, fridge, modern bathroom. Quite a deal for $85….free wifi too.
We took off walking and walked for 3 and a half hours, stopping for a little dinner. It is about 9:15, so we’re going to head to bed early so we’re ready to explore tomorrow.
Well, the best laid plans don’t always happen. We made our usual mistake of not setting the alarm, and didn’t wake up until 11:30 Monday morning. We called the front desk for a late checkout, which they kindly obliged. We dropped off our luggage at the Avalon hospitality room conveniently located at the Movenpick, and took off for another afternoon of wandering with a map in our hands and still getting lost. Amsterdam’s streets and canals are set up like spokes of a wheel all diverging from Central Station. This makes navigating a bit difficult as nothing really seems to go straight (that’s my excuse anyway). We found out that last night what we thought was NieuwMarkt was actually Dam Square, and I’ll admit that by Tuesday afternoon we were saying “there’s that DAMN Square again” as we got lost over and over and over. On Monday we saw all of the main squares, lots of canals, and did a walk by of the Anne Frank House. Amsterdam is a fascinating city. There are bicycles everywhere, and you need to be sure to stay out of the red bike lanes as they just whiz by from both directions. They have the right of way (or think they do), so we were extra cautious while walking. Nobody wears a helmet (even the babies in the bike seats), and they all just move along, chatting on their cell phones and ringing their little bells if someone is in the way. Motor scooters share the bike lanes as well (if they feel like it, sometimes they are in the street with the cars). There are bicycles parked everywhere, thousands and thousands of bicycles. There is a bicycle parking garage outside of Central Station (the train station), which is free as the government wants to encourage bicycling. We saw bicycles without brakes! Supposedly that is because Amsterdam is so flat they don’t need them. Now me, on a bike, I need brakes. There are lots of outdoor cafes everywhere, and the local dish seems to be French Fries with mayonnaise. When we ate out I asked for a baked potato or something other than French Fries. No go. Everyone has been very friendly here, and quite often when we were on a street corner with our map obviously looking totally confused someone would stop and ask “May I help you?”. Very kind. Of course if they gave us directions more than a block or 2 we’d head the wrong way. It was very interesting looking at all of the houseboats parked along the canals. Some of them have “gardens” (lots of pots of plants on the roof). Many people were sitting outside on their “patios”…the front porch of their building. They have been waiting a long time for some decent weather and the past 2 days have been nice. We still didn’t see any greenery or tulips. Maybe by next weekend in Paris there will be more blooms.
We found our way back to where our ship, the Avalon Affinity, was docked. Luckily it was by Central Station and close to the Movenpick which is a high rise. We really couldn’t get lost finding it as we’ve been looking out our window at it for 2 days and there are many signs in Amsterdam pointing to Central Station. We boarded around 5 PM, just walked up the gangway and showed our passports. Our luggage was already in our stateroom. Our stateroom is very nice, we have a large king size bed, plenty of closet space, desk and counter space, a refrigerator, a flat screen TV, free wifi, nice bedside lamps and floor to ceiling windows that slide open. They call it a French Balcony as there is a railing so we don’t fall into the river. The bathroom is really nice, nice wood vanity with a lot of storage, a big tiled shower, and L’Occitane amenities…shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion. I’ve never heard of a L’Occitane (sounds like high octane gas or something), but boy does it smell good. Everyone on this boat will be smelling like verbena.
We had a safety drill, which is new on this river cruise. The rivers are very shallow (sometimes less than 2 feet), so drowning is next to impossible. They are also pretty narrow. So basically if you get up to the Sky Deck you’ll be fine. The ship is 4 decks high and very long and narrow. They took the safety drill seriously, we all had to go to the Sky Deck, put on our life jackets, and get checked off their list. The captain made all of the announcements.
We had a welcome aboard champagne reception where we met the crew, the cruise director, and the captain. The captain is very young, Dutch, and speaks excellent English. He invited everyone to visit the wheelhouse at any time when the boat is moving, he said he would be happy to show us around and explain the navigation. We plan to take him up on that. Our cruise director, Gusta, is very pleasant and has a good sense of humor. She explained that even though the captain is young, he is experienced, makes good decisions, and is NOT Italian (Costa Concordia anyone?). We then had our welcome dinner, which was very good. The dinners come with complimentary beer and wine. I asked the waiter if I could take a copy of the menu for my scrapbook, and he said no as there were not enough to go around (everyone does not get their own menu, there are 3 on the table in binders). He said that the front desk would be collecting them and putting them into a binder for those that wanted them at the end of the cruise.
Tuesday morning we had a canal cruise that was included with our cruise. There were about 25 of us on the canal boat, and it was big, so we were very comfortable. Our guide was very informative and pleasant. She was pretty funny, as we went by the houseboats she said that the windows with no curtains were an invitation to look in. She’d say, oh the kitchen in this one is in the front, and look, a new flat screen TV! Another time she’d say, oh, he bought roses for his wife, see them on the table? The houseboats started out I forget how long ago, but they were people who were poor who basically snagged a piece of the canal and stuck a boat there. Eventually they were able to hook up to electricity and water, but they did not have sewage hookups until about 20 years ago I believe she said, so the canals were pretty stinky. Those boats are grandfathered in now, they do pay rent (she said the system is very complicated), and no new “lots” so to speak can have boats put on them. The people who have the space now can put a new boat on, but the space has to be sold with the space and the boat. She pointed out many buildings, some are only 2 windows wide. There is one that is one window wide. We got lucky today and got to see how they deliver furniture and household goods. Each house has a big hook at the very top built into the façade. When you buy a new couch, they hook up a rope and pulley system and hoist it up in the air and put it through the window. Since the buildings are so narrow, this is how all household goods are delivered. The staircases inside are not spiral, they are very steep and narrow. There are some buildings that are “tipping”, they look like a bunch of drunk people holding onto each other. They were built on wooden posts that settled into the sand and now they are leaning.
After the canal boat tour we made the ill fated decision to walk to the Rijksmuseum, which reopened on Sunday after a multi year renovation. Suffice it to say that we saw the DAMN Square again, the swap meet that we wandered by yesterday (our canal guide called it a flea market because if you buy something there it could possibly have fleas), we walked for half an hour in the wrong direction before being pointed in the right way by a guard at Madame Toussard’s Museum. As we were standing outside a shoe store studying the map again, one of the clerks came outside and pointed us the right way. I forgot to bring my credit card today and I was kicking myself because I need a new pair of shoes. I’m not kidding, these walking loafers I brought are killing my feet. I need a pair of tennis shoes and I am throwing these away. The cruise director is checking for me on where in Cologne tomorrow I can buy some, that is how dire my problem is. But that was off the subject. Finally at the Rijksmuseum we stood in line over half an hour and then wandered about. Saw some Van Goghs, Rembrandts, old Dutch artists, and lots more that I had no clue what I was looking at, but it was impressive, as is the building. I think my feet hurt so bad that my brain turned off. As we exited the building a light rain was falling. We walked across the street and asked some folks how to take the tram to Central Station (the best thing we did all day!!). Arrived back at Central Station in much less time than it takes to walk our circles, found our way back to the boat, and we are now relaxing, resting my feet, and then we will have dinner and sail for Cologne Germany tonight.