Mix a handful of Americans, a couple of Brits, and a pinch of an Australian. Put them aboard a canal cruise boat flowing down the canals of Holland for several days. Add some interesting field-day trips along the way, feed them glorious food; morning, noon, and night. And what do you have? A fabulous cultural vacation in a European country with laughter and good food.
My travel writer husband and I experienced such a trip during the spring of 2016. With six smiling crew members to take care of 11 guests, we felt quite pampered and well taken care of on the barge “Le Panache” courtesy of European Waterways.
Visitors from other countries desire to see authentic windmills that will reassure them that they are truly in the Netherlands. We visited Alkmaar where several of these beauties were majestically standing and spinning. Some were converted into souvenir shops where Dutch chocolates, cheeses, and trinkets are sold.
My favorite shop was the one selling wooden Dutch shoes. The walls displayed hundreds of these wooden clogs from floor to ceiling. I stopped for a moment peering over the crowds of people watching a young man demonstrate carving a clog, using primitive tools and vintage machinery. Along with the traditional style I spotted a couple of clogs with a bit of a fashionista touch.
The main reason we for chose this particular itinerary was the fact that it is the tulip season in this country for several weeks. At the Keukenhof Gardens, over 30 acres of varieties of tulips were gloriously on display. Everyone had their smart-phones out clicking way. It was nearly impossible to take a bad photo of these colorful flowers. Tulip cultivation has been on-going for nearly 400 years in Holland. Along with the new varieties, some bulbs date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
If you are fortunate enough to be in Holland on the annual national holiday known as King’s Day (April 27th), you can share in the celebration of King Willem-Alexander from the House of Orange. The Panache hostesses got us into a celebration mood by decorating the interior of our barge with orange balloons, crepe paper streamers, and party hats. Orange t-shirts were provided for us to “fit” in with the crowds of the orange-dressed town’s people.
Our adorable chef, Franke Schaart, served us typical picnic-style Dutch finger foods. We took a stroll through the town of Haarlem where music bands, food vendors, and a giant Ferris wheel added to the festivities. It was a happy, orangey day.
My personal highlight of the week was a visit to the Aalsmeer Holland Flower Auction Market. It is located in the 4th largest building in the world. This gigantic warehouse is where more than 20 million flowers are shipped out to all points in the world–daily! A long walkway for visitors is set up high with an overall view below. It looks like a busy beehive with people driving towed carts of crated flowers from one spot to another. Even painted dotted lanes and intersections are used to direct an orderly traffic. A lovely fragrance from the gazillion flowers permeated throughout. An amazing sight: nothing like it in the U.S.A.
Along with the attentive Panache crew and a mixture of nationalities, we all temporarily forgot about the outside world, laughed a lot about silly things, and ate delicious food, wine and cheese. In my travel journal I wrote: I will miss them; we made a good “traveling team”. This was a sponsored trip; however, all opinions are the authors.