We sailed on the AmaWaterways Prima for a spring trip in the Netherlands and Belgium during tulip season. It was a delightful trip and I would recommend the itinerary for couples as well as groups of friends. It was a seven-day river cruise that departed and returned from Amsterdam.
In addition to Amsterdam, our itinerary included Hoorn, Middelburg, Kinderkijk, Rotterdam, and Gouda in the Netherlands along with Ghent, Antwerp, and Bruges in Belgium. You can click each one of those locations to read about my experiences in each port.
The 162-passenger ship was well-appointed and modern. I traveled with a couple of girlfriends and we each booked a separate cabin with a French balcony. AMA does have some single supplement cabins, but we basically paid double for cabins on the Cello deck with a better location and the French balconies, figuring it would enhance our experience (which it did). For a couple, I would suggest one of the larger cabins or suites, riverboat accommodations are traditionally small. The Beds, bedding, and pillows were super-comfy. Two of the three of us had to have our in-room hairdryer changed for one that was hotter.
I know I’ve had it during trivia games: “What is the largest port in Europe?”
During my recent river cruise during tulip season, we docked on the Meuse River in Rotterdam, a thoroughly modern city, rebuilt after devastating bombing during World War II. There were so many things I wanted to see in the area, I skipped over most of Rotterdam, only seeing enough to appreciate a tiny bit of the ultra-modern and innovative architecture the city has become known for.
Of note are the Cube House residences by architect Piet Blom pictured here. They literally hang over the street and once you are inside containing no walls at 90-degree angles, making it quite a challenge to place furniture. I only know this because I looked up a story about the interior. Apparently, residents of the 1985 complex were so harassed for a peek inside, one owner opened a museum and another offers hotel-type leasing options. I think a quick look inside would suffice.
Much smaller than I expected, Antwerp was pretty much destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. After walking into the city from the River Scheldt, you can see what remains of the castle/fort now being restored to become part of the cruise port entry hall along with remnants of the original medieval city walls. Long an important port city, Antwerp was occupied by Germany during the war, briefly liberated, and then virtually destroyed as the Nazis tried to keep the valuable port away from Allied armies. For six months, more than 2,000 V-bombs fell on the city and the surrounding area, until the American anti-aircraft gunners were finally victorious.
My daughter and son-in-law convinced me to watch the 2008 Colin Farrell movie In Bruges before coming here. I can’t say I would ever recommend anyone watch that dark crime/dramedy, but I did find myself looking around for landmarks. Of course, the majestic town belfry tower does play a significant role in the movie. I was planning to climb to the top of the tower – but when I found out it was 366 steps, well, eating mussels and frites sounded like a much better plan.
Bruges is lovely. One of the prettiest European cities I’ve visited. With scenic canals draped with weeping willows, this beautifully restored medieval town has a thriving Grote Markt (main square) and many smaller squares lined with cafés, waffle shops and every type of store imaginable, including one of my favorites, Desigual. There were lots of trees and colorful flowers. Belgium is famous for handmade lace and Bruges is considered the place to buy it. Handmade lace is literally a dying art and it was interesting to see detail about how lace is tatted. Only women between 50 and 90 are left making the famous (Bobbin) lace; they must have amazing eyesight for this level of detail work.
It was a bleak morning when we walked into central Ghent, overcast, cloudy, and cool. Restoration has come a bit late to this city and as a result, a lot of newer construction is mixed in among the old. The castle/fort Castle Gravensteen was imposing as were the churches such as St. Bavo Cathedral and the Town Hall. This is a big city with 250,000 residents, once a very significant trading town built on the confluence of the Scheldt and Leie rivers. Today it is still an industrial town, but now the focus is on things like Volvos and steel production.
Soon after we arrived, we came across a street vendor selling a locally favorite candy called Ghent Noses. I had to try one. This multi-flavored, cone-shaped candy is pretty much all sugar. One was plenty. I will stick with chocolate; chocolate shops and lace shops were around every corner.
Who doesn’t smile when they think of a windmill? On this excursion during our trip on AMAWaterways, we had plenty to smile about.
The rain held off for our visit to Kinderdijk a UNESCO World Heritage site with 19 windmills, some dating from the mid-1700s. In a country 40% below sea level, the windmills have played a significant role in pumping excess water into rivers to prevent flooding. Even Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport is below sea level, by almost 15 feet.
After a morning cruising through locks and idyllic scenery, we have arrived in Zeeland in the southern part of the Netherlands. Today we are visiting Middleburg the capital of the province, in (as you can guess) the middle. From our riverboat, the AMAPrima, we took a two-hour walking tour into this charming city with origins dating back to the 1100s.