By day six of our River Cruise we had reached the Middle Rhine – more specifically we were on the Rhine River in what is called the middle section and this section is known for its many Castles.
It might be a better description to call these castle fortresses as they were always built for security but they are beautiful all the same. In many cases the castle, built of stone, is above a colorful little village along the river.
Most of these castles were built during the Middle Ages and in most cases they collected tolls for anyone going along the River.
Needless to say, life in the Middle Ages was not pleasant – mostly nasty, brutish and short. It’s little wonder then that these Castles on the Rhine were thick-walled fortifications built with winding staircases, slit windows and uneven cobblestone floors. Castles were built throughout the 12th and 14th centuries to serve as customs control over trade on the river.
By the middle of the 14th century, firearms and canons rendered many castles useless and they were abandoned or they began a slow decline. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) caused more destruction of the fortresses and then King Louis’ armies finished off the rest during the War of Palatine Succession (1688-1697).
There are only three castles that remain relatively intact along the River – Marks burg, Burg Rheinfels and Burg Eltz Castles. Marksburg is the last original castle and the interiors are viewable via a guided tour; Burg Rheinfels Castle is an expansive but gutted shell and Burg Eltz Castle on the Mosel River and is quite popular.
While we were unable to visit any of these castles and the towns along the river, the view was spectacular.
After cruising along for a while, we docked at Oberwesel Germany and went into the village of Bacharach for both a village stroll and tasting of Riesling wines. Bacharach is small, less than 2,000 people, but an enjoyable place to stroll around.
Toni Jost Wines are a small family owned place that has been making Riesling wines for the better part of 180 years! All of there wines come from vineyards they own and maintain. A delightful tasting.
During our walk through the Village,
it was clear it’s not a busy place as there was only one shop open on a Saturday morning.
Since it is not tourist season, nothing was open, we really didn’t need to buy anything.
There is no question that we have been to a lot of different museums over the years. It’s hard to characterize any particular one that stands out or a particular focus that was the most pleasing. Sure, we have been to the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, we have toured various Chateaus in the Loire Valley in France, we have been to the Railroad Museum in Sacramento California and to a number of the museums in Washington DC. However, the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands stands out for both the quality of the art being presented and the way it is presented.
The Kröller-Müller Museum is a national art museum and sculpture garden founded by art collector Helene Kröller-Müller and opened in 1938. Helene was one of the first European women to put together a major art collection. Her father was a prosperous supplier of raw materials to the mining and steel industries and married a Dutch shipping and mining tycoon, Anton Kröller in 1888. Her husband eventually took over her father’s business and expanded it into a huge enterprise. After taking an art class in 1907, she started buying both contemporary artists work but also recognized the genius of Vincent van Gogh and acquired a large collection of his works.
In the mid 1930’s she had acquired so much art that it filled 3 of their various (large) homes and was determined to turn it all into a museum.
Eventually she was able to broker a deal with the state to purchase a large tract of land with the intention of creating a museum for her collection. Needless to say, things didn’t happen as quickly as she would have liked but eventually a building was designed and built and she became the first Curator of the Museum.
The Museum is about 80km from Amsterdam but our boat was docked in Arnhem so the bus ride to the Museum took about 40 minutes. Along the way our guide provided background information about the Museum and its collection plus the sights along the way.
Situated in a National Park (there was over 55 square km in size) and surrounded by fields and trees, the Museum itself is not an imposing building – but a collection of three or four single story brick buildings with a sculpture garden around the backside.
OK, clearly the highlights of the collection are varied, but Vincent van Gogh clearly is a major focus. The Museum has the second-largest collection of his paintings including some of the most well know works – Café Terrace at Night, Sorrowing Old Man, The Potato Eaters and many others. However, Helene also collected works by Piet Mondrian, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso
and many others. Upon entering the Museum, we were met by our guide, Iris,
who did a FANTASTIC job of showing us around the place to present the highlights of the collection.
At each stop she was able to give us a wealth of information about the artist and how it became part of the collection.
In some cases she was able to give us a point of reference to better understand the painting and how it became part of the collection.
Throughout our tour the amount of information and the way the art was displayed was fantastic.
I can safely say this was one of the most enjoyable art museums we have visited.
It may be the Netherlands’ second city, but the giant port of Rotterdam is a world capital when it comes to architecture. Unfortunately, during WWII virtually the entire old section of the city was destroyed leaving only 3 or 4 historical structures intact. As a result, the City has been rebuilt with surprising results. Some are ultra modern while others more traditional.
Our walking tour left the dockside area and headed into the main section of the Town. Our first stop was to view the White House (Witte Huis),
which was constructed in 1897 to 1898 in an attempt to follow innovations being done in the US. This building survived WWII and is 45 meters high and is considered to be the Netherlands’ first ‘skyscraper’ and for many years was the tallest office building in Europe.
Moving along we visited the Cube Houses.
Built between 1982 and 1984 the Cube Houses offered an innovative living experience. The Cube Houses consist of 40 small homes shaped like tilted cubes each perched on a concrete pillar giving the impression of architectural ‘trees’ clustered together to make a forest.
Each cube is about 1,000 square feet but certainly a different style.
Our walking tour included the Market Hall.
Having been in a number of City Markets, the Market Hall wasn’t anything similar to what we have seen in the other areas of Europe.
This large inverted U shaped building has a very large central area with an art covered ceiling and is filled with various shops ranging from food, gifts and other items available. Our first stop was a shop to taste Stroopwafel – a waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel syrup filling in the middle.
Very tasty for sure. Next stop Dutch cheese. Henri Willig Cheese – a family operated cheese shop started in 1974 and available throughout the Netherlands.
We say this cheese throughout Amsterdam but never stopped in. This place produces a number of Gouda products and we ended up buying a couple of Sheep Cheese Gouda’s extra Old and Baby Sheep. Hopefully these will stay sealed and we can get them back home without a problem.
One of the other buildings that mostly survived the war and the city’s only example of Gothic architecture is the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk.
Built between 1449 and 1525 it of course started out as a Roman Catholic Church and after the reformation became Protestant.
For centuries Rotterdam has been a major port. To commemorate this, the Maritime Museum was developed and has a collection of vintage ships and exhibits tracing much of this history.
All in all a lovely collection of shipping history.
On Monday we boarded our new home, The River Empress,
for the next 11-days cruising along various rivers from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland ,stopping along the way at eight different spots on the rivers. Prior to leaving Amsterdam, however, we were treated to a private visit to the Hermitage Museum. This is an Amsterdam based extension of Russia’s famed Hermitage Museum housed in the former Amstelhof, a classical style building from 1681.
Tsar Peter (1682 – 1725) had a special relationship with Amsterdam, having lived in the city for several years. He founded the very first public museum in Russia, and some of the exhibits at the original Hermitage were items he acquired in the Netherlands. Therefore it only seemed natural to create an extension of the famous Hermitage in St Petersburg in Amsterdam. The Museum was opened about 10 years ago with a rotating exhibit staying for 6-months then being replaced with an entirely new exhibit of items.
One of the first galleries we entered was filled with Old Dutch master paintings.
Many of these painted were completed in the late 1600’s and depicted various Guilds of the time. It seems groups of men would band together for a common cause and then want to have their portrait painted to commemorate the group. The person who paid the most was the more important in the painting while those with lesser means were depicted more in the background. The room holding these paintings is huge – as is required to be able to exhibit these paintings some of which are quite large.
Spotlighted exhibits had a couple of paintings, one by Rembrandt depicting dissections.
Any criminal or a stillborn child could be used for anatomy dissection, as it was believed they would not be going to heaven.
Around another corner was Donna Nuda – oil on canvas, transferred from panel by Leonardo da Vinci. It seems Catherine the Great bought this painting in 1779 from Sir Robert Walpole as a work by Leonardo.
The Musée Condé in Chantilly, France, has a drawing that bears many similarities to this work and that Leonardo specialists largely attribute to the master himself in 2017. Over ten versions of the Donna Nuda exist in various collections. The Hermitage version is the best of them all.
Next was an exhibit of the Green Room Malachite pieces which helped make up the Malachite room in the royal Russian palace.
The stone was considered to be therapeutic for stress relief. It was where all royal princesses were prepared for marriage.
We had the place basically to ourselves for a few hours and it was lovely for sure. The central exhibit contrasted ancient works with modern aspirations of the same theme.
After our visit to the Hermitage we walked over to the Portuguese Synagogue – a late 17th-century Sephardic synagogue completed in 1675.
This was one of the largest and richest Jewish communities in Europe during the Dutch Golden age and their very large synagogue reflected this. The wood for the arc was jacaranda from Peru. The synagogue remains an active place of worship. The building is still without electricity and all services are held under candlelight.
After our tour, we returned to the boat to settle in for dinner and the evening’s entertainment.
There are over 50 different museums in Amsterdam. Top amongst them is the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum. However, there are a lot of others including Rembrandt House, NEMO Science Museum, the National Maritime Museum, MOCO Museum, the Cheese Museum, the Houseboat Museum and a bunch of others. As it was impossible to get tickets for Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum was sold out we were pleased to get tickets to the Rijksmuseum.
The Rijksmuseum is a large national museum is dedicated to the arts and history of Amsterdam. Sunday, after our friends Gloria and Jerry arrived, we gathered everyone and walked to the Museum for a visit. Located in Museum Square and close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum and the Concertgebouw it is an impressive building filled with lovely art.
Originally founded in The Hague in 1800 it was moved to Amsterdam in 1808 and was originally located in the Royal Palace. The current building was first opened in 1885 and reopened in 2013 after a ten-year renovation.
It is the most visited museum in the Netherlands with over 2.2 million visitors annually.
Displaying over 8,000 objects of art and history from the total collection of 1 million objects from the years 1200 to 2000. Among the collection are pieces by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer and Vincent Van Gogh.
WE spent the better part of the afternoon walking around the Museum trying to follow the Highlights Tour.
This tour was supposed to bring us to all the most significant pieces in the collection and thus to get us through the place without having to camp overnight.
Did you know that more than 25% of the country of Netherlands is below sea level and more than 50% of the country lies less than three feet below sea level? Well I didn’t, but it is something that is very apparent when you see all the dikes and waterways around the country.
Amsterdam, the capital city, is built entirely on poles driven almost 11 meters into the soil made up of clay and fen (fen is a type of wetland dominated by peat). Furthermore, today’s Amsterdam rests atop 10 layers of ruins (or at least one source I read states).
Our first river cruise of this trip started here but we didn’t do much touring in city as the first off-boat excursion was to the Keukenhof gardens (see 4-8-19 Holland at Tulip Time for more info). This time, we are here a full week prior to our second river cruise so we are booked into the Hilton Hotel and just doing whatever we want.
Our first day, after getting all settled into our room, we walked to the Hop on Hop off Bus/Boat tour of Amsterdam.
There are two different boat tours of the canals, each lasting over an hour. It seems this ‘Venice’ of the north has over 165 canals and more than 1,200 bridges.
The canals are lined with trees and very typical canal houses or old warehouses from the Golden Age (17th century). Along the way the commentary points out various historic or iconic buildings and generally it was a sunny, relaxing time on the water.
With all the canals, there are approximately 2,500 houseboats. Residents occupy most of them but some are available for rent by visitors.
Plus there is one houseboat just for cats, another that is a Museum about Houseboats. These houseboats are not cheap.
A recent sale of one in good condition one was over a million euros!
Bicycles – there are LOTS of bicycles in Amsterdam and beware the riders.
Current estimates indicated there are something like 880,000 of them in the city – and in a city with about 800,00 people. Some estimates say around 60,000 bicycles are stolen each year and literally thousands of them end up in the canals each year.
You really have to watch where you are walking or you will end up in a bike roadway and in deep trouble .
Within the City there are a number of museums, but we haven’t ventured into any of them yet – several are part of our upcoming River Cruise agenda and at least one, Rikjs Museum, we are doing when our friends Gloria and Jerry arrive on Sunday and on Monday we are going to the Hermitage. Of course one of the most well known museums is the hidden room of Anne Frank – yes, Diary of Anne Frank fame. This place is by reservation only and it books 2 months in advance – so no chance of that for a visit (although, I admit it wasn’t on my to do list anyway). The Van Gough museum was also sold out for the week.
Over the centuries, many religious buildings have been built in Amsterdam, including a number of important and stunning churches that are still standing today.
Several of these incredible churches rank among the oldest surviving buildings in the city, whereas others were completed in response to the Reformation in the 17th century.
Once we finished the water tour we stopped at the Central station to buy a metro pass.
This pass is good for all buses, trams and even ferry boats, and can be used for outlying areas as well, if you pay extra. We have tried out the 2 5, 7, 12 and 24 tramlines, so far.
We also got a recommendation from the front desk for Janeen to schedule a pedicure and manicure to last through mid-May. While in the nail salon neighborhood, David discovered the “hidden” post offices of Amsterdam, and found postal workers to be informative, happy to help, and the source for most stationery store products.
In our strolls out for breakfast coffee, we see green space everywhere, required by the city since the 16th century. The 21st century city plants a tulip bulb for every single citizen of Amsterdam! Add to that, pots of tulips in front of every hotel, parkways planted with daffodils and narcissus, blooming rhododendron, hyacinth, camellia as well as tulips at every flower shop with residential flower boxes spruced up for spring, and Easter will be filled with flowers. All in all a very pretty city.
So, it’s been a while since we have updated our blog and we have traveled along several different rivers stopping along the way at Maastricht (where we didn’t get off to join the walking tour of the town);
Antwerp and finally Brussels. Along the way we watched the world go by on our riverboat and enjoyed beautiful weather the entire time.
While most passengers toured Maastricht ,we chose to pass and stayed on the boat for a day of leisure (well, we did do a load of laundry) and relaxation. Once everyone was back on board we motored on to Antwerp.
Antwerp is a major port city in Belgium on the River Scheldt with history dating back to the Middle Ages.
Best know for the centuries old Diamond District where thousands of traders, cutters and polishers work on virtually ALL the worlds’ diamonds. Unfortunately they don’t give out free samples. In addition to Diamonds, the City is a major shipping center and was the home of the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens.
Our walking tour included the sights, sounds, and smells and yes, even the tastes of Belgium.
On our walking tour we sampled some grey shrimp, a unique Flemish sea product described as the ‘queen of seafood’ .They are less than an inch long when peeled, have a greyish-pink color and a more pronounced taste than the traditional pink shrimps.
We followed this with an Elixir d’Anvers herbal liquor that has been produced since 1863 – this was known for its good digestive and beneficial properties and was used on horses to prevent colic!
After this, on to waffles, whipped cream and coffee – yum is all I can say here.
Of course, along the way we saw lovely sights including several Rubens paintings in the
Cathedral of Our Lady – actually four different paintings are on display in the church.
The Central Square is lined with Guild Buildings (recreated after all the bombing from WWII) very lovely with their ornamentation and gilding.
After Antwerp it was on to Brussels (again) where there was another tour (we skipped) and the final day on the ship. Our goal, when back in Brussels was to take the shuttle bus into town to get CHOCOLATE (and a special box for K.B.) at the Neuhaus store.
After the final cruise dinner, the next morning we took a taxi to the train station and boarded the 9:52 train to Amsterdam.
As one of the options for the day, UniWorld had arranged for a local baker to take us in hand and show us his shop, teach us to make a sausage rolls and give us an introduction into the local baking world of Heusden.
Heusden was first mentioned in the 11th century and has had a rich history with a number of castles dotting the area (we didn’t get to any sadly). Our day was focused on meeting the local baker, walking from the boat to his shop and learning a bit about what it means to be a baker, businessman and parent in this little spot along the river.
Baking, not in a tent like the British Baking Show, but at the shop of Lucas Vermulen in the village of Heusden was on tap for todays adventure.
Lucas Vermeulen, our guide and baker, is at least a fourth generation baker and purchased his current location 8 or 9 years ago. Originally it was a small shop but over time he has expanded his capabilities and purchased adjacent properties to expand the physical footprint to accommodate his expanding business.
We started off with a cup of coffee and general introduction by Lucas. However, we were only give a few minutes before the instructions began.
First up was to see how he makes a sausage roll.
Admittedly the hard part was already done for us – the dough had been made, allowed to rest and was ready for us to flatten out to accommodate the sausage. So, after about a 5 minute introduction, we were all given 5 dough balls and 5 pieces of sausage with instructions to flatten out the dough, get the sausage inside and roll them – using both hands – so the sausage was fully enclosed and the dough sealed.
After getting these done, they were all collected and taken to the proofing area to allow the dough to rise again and the baking to be completed.
While this was underway off we went for a tour of his facilities. As he has expanded, and purchased adjacent properties, there were slopes, steps, small rooms and hidden corners to go around. To make things more exciting the shop experienced a power outage so the lighting became an issue!
After seeing the stacks of flour; large mixing areas; stacks of completed breads;
walking by the large ovens, we got back to where we started and were given a bag with our finished sausage rolls.
Needless to say, while they were tastier, the presentation wasn’t as good as a professional might have completed. However, all in all a delightful experience.
About a month ago, we were in Saint Remy France where we walked in “Vincent’s Footsteps” to places where he set up his easel and painted various pictures. Saint Remy came after he left the village of Nuenen so it was interesting to see a part of his earlier history. This time we followed our guide to various spots in the village where he did the same thing – over two years producing around 500 paintings, drawings, sketches and watercolors.
Unfortunately none of his works are on view in the village as most are in the museum in Amsterdam. However, the Van Gogh Heritage Centre did a great job of highlighting his time in this village.
Vincent came to Nuenen to stay with his parents, a pastor in the local church. During his time in the Village he produced one of his first major works – the Potato Eaters
and there was information about its creation as part of the museum.
This is a three-story building that illustrates Vincent’s life until the time he left
Nuenen in 1885 and includes a short film illustrating how his first masterpiece, the Potato Eaters came to be made.
Although there are NO actual Van Gogh paintings in the village, statues, viewpoints of paintings and village views are of interest.
The house where Vincent’s parents lived is just across the road from the Vincentre and still houses the minister of the local (protestant) Dutch Reformed Church. In the garden at the rear of the house is where Vincent had a studio and painted most of the works completed in the village.
Other stops along our walk included the park where a three dimensional representation of the Potato Eaters has been created along with a statue of Vincent.
It is clear that this village doesn’t have a lot going for it beyond the history of Vincent’s 2 years living in the place, but it does have the name of Jason’s friend Aardaaple for a street.
Tilting at windmills not allowed today – Don Quixote would be busy here fighting off all the Giants (windmills) at Kinderdijk.
Kinderdijk is a group of 19 monumental windmills (they once numbered close to 150) in South Holland. Our bus from the boat took about an hour to arrive but the ride was enjoyable with our guide pointing out significant items along the way – thatched roof homes, locations of the original dikes and historic buildings.
The various windmills were built in the early 1700’s (1738 or so) and were designed to drain this flood-prone patch of polder (reclaimed land once under water) keeping water out of the area.
This is the largest concentration of old windmills and one of the best-known tourist sites. When we arrived it was windy and a bit chilly but beautiful. Yes, there were some other folks but generally not as crowded as I might have expected. The location of these windmills are at the confluence of the Lek and Noord rivers. As early as in the 14th century the first reclaimed land had been settled. With the use of windmills to pump the water “up” and over dikes the area of the Netherlands has just about doubled by reclaiming land from the sea. While flooding is very much an issue, the windmills are not the primary pumping sources anymore what with modern pumping stations taking the load.
Over the years, windmills have decreased in importance but still provide assistance should the need arise to pump water “out”. Windmills actually come in two configurations – pumping of water and grinding of grains. All 19 of the windmills that are part of this World Heritage site are still operational, which equates to a necessary 60,000 revolutions of the sails every year; many have been handed down from one generation to the next and are privately owned.
Our visit included a tour of a water-pumping mill, Museummolen, while in operation.
Of course, in the day, it was no simple task operating by hand those windmills. It was usually a family affair, with upwards of a dozen children (a handful were often lost during infancy, hence the high birth rate) providing the labor needed to run the mill and farm the reclaimed land.
According to the information provided, the children slept in every nook and cranny not devoted to the operation of the windmill.
The babies usually slept with or near the parents. An alcove in the living room/kitchen served as the master bed.
We caught a glimpse of the Dutch fortitude in the picture of the Hoek family, residents of the Museummolen in the early 1900s.
Miller Cees Hoek (1873-1957) was left a widower with 13 children in 1916 when his wife, Alie, was hit by one of the sails of the windmill while trying to save one of the children.
Water management in the area is now handled by the Overwaard pumping station courtesy of three giant diesel-driven Archimedes screws that are capable of moving 1.35 million liters per minute.
All in all a very interesting day spent learning about windmills and their operation.
we boarded the UniWorld River Boat, River Queen for our adventure Holland and Belgium at Tulip Time.
The River Queen is not a new boat but has all the essentials – clean rooms, nice beds, nice lounge with full bar and of course a dining room with way too much food at all meals. This particular river cruise is only offered 3 or 4 times during the year – always hoping it will be at the height of the tulip bloom and spring in abundance everywhere. Well, we scored a home run. Not only is the weather just about perfect but also spring is underway.
The first off-ship adventure (Monday) was a bus ride to Keukenhof Gardens. Keukenhof means Kitchen Garden in Dutch but is also known as the Garden of Europe. This is one of the world’s largest flower gardens situated in South Holland about 45 minutes from Amsterdam.
The Gardens, which has become a destination and park, is privately owned and covers an area of 32 hectares (that’s about 80 acres for my US readers) and plants approximately 7 million flower bulbs annually. The place is open mid-March to mid-May and we toured the grounds at a beautiful time for sure.
The Keukenhof features a variety of different garden styles – English landscape, historical garden, water garden, Japanese country garden and a variety of other areas.
Each year a theme is chosen and various displays are created on that theme. This year it was Flower Power – bright colors, hippies, peace signs and music were all part of a display. Beatrix pavilion dripped with every kind and color of orchids.
In the center of the garden was a large green house – filled with color beyond imagination.
Just walking through that space was a thrill of color. Other bulb flowers, such as daffodils, hyacinth, narcissus and crocus spring up through the “lasagna” planting (placing bulbs at different depths so the blooms are staggered) in the gardens keeping each change of season colorful.
It is clear this Garden changes day by day and it would be interesting to come back in a week to see what has bloomed.
After walking around for a few hours it was time to head back to the Boat. Once we returned, it was time to have some lunch and relax for the rest of the day.