Mix a handful of Americans, a couple of Brits, and a pinch of an Australian. Put them aboard a canal cruise flowing around Holland for several days, add some interesting excursions along the way, and feed them glorious food all day and night. What do you have? A fabulous cultural vacation in a European country with lots of sights, laughter, and good food.
My 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 Dutch wooden shoes, where the walls displayed hundreds of these 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 tulip season in Holland for several weeks. At the Keukenhof Gardens, over 30 acres of a variety of tulips were gloriously on display, and everyone had their smartphones out, clicking away. It was nearly impossible to take a bad photo of these colorful flowers. Along with the new varieties, some bulbs date back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
If you are fortunate enough to be in Holland on the annual national holiday known as King's Day (Apr. 27), 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, paper streamers, and party hats. Orange t-shirts were provided for us to fit in with the crowds of the orange-dressed townspeople.
Our adorable chef, Franke Schaart, served us typical picnic-style Dutch finger foods. We then took a stroll through the town of Haarlem where 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, which is located in the fourth-largest building in the world. This gigantic warehouse is where more than 20 million flowers are shipped out to all points in the world — on a daily basis! 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. Overall, it was an amazing sight; nothing like it in the USA.
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.
This was a sponsored trip; however, all opinions are the author’s.