Rembrandt, Tulips and a Warm Welcome Aboard
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
It was an early wake-up call for many aboard Tauck’s new ms Inspire this morning, with an impromptu excursion to the Tulip Auction here in the port of Amsterdam.
A last-minute addition to the itinerary, guests were notified last night that they could take part in this unique experience to see tulips (and flowers of all kinds) bought and sold at auction here in the city. Departing at 6:15am, it was too early for yours truly to partake in owing to the late time (2:30a.m.) of yesterday’s post.
The reason I mention it, though, is because it was not on any brochure or itinerary published by Tauck. This was an event that the Tauck Directors recognized was happening when our schedule allowed for it, and they in turn offered it up – complimentary – to guests.
From what I hear, it was time well spent. Nearly 70 percent of the ship got up at 5:00a.m., ate breakfast, and indulged in this unique experience. From what I understand, the thing was the equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange trading floor in terms of frenzy and fury – but for flowers, with bushels coming and going by the truck-full.
Before I talk about the day, I should mention a few things about the staterooms here aboard ms Inspire. I discovered two things last night about my own Loft Stateroom: one, the bed is fantastic, and precisely what you’d expect from a fine luxury hotel on land – yielding, but not without support. Two: the bathroom floor is heated. Both of those features make for a very nice wakeup call.
My touring began at 8:00a.m. sharp, as we set off for a cruise along Amsterdam’s legendary canals, followed by a remarkable visit to the legendary Rijksmuseum (rikes-museum).
This was the second canal cruise I’ve been on in Amsterdam, and I have to admit: it’s honestly not my favorite way to get around. Amsterdam’s such a lovely city to walk through that I feel a bit guilty for not getting out and strolling its historic streets. But several sudden downpours throughout the morning would have made that an unpleasant option – not to mention the fact that fresh apple pie and hot coffee were served onboard.
The real winner this morning, though, was the Rijksmuseum, or National Museum. Designed by Pierre Cuypers, the Rijksmuseum first opened its doors on July 13, 1885, though apparently King Willem III never got the memo: he was notably absent from the opening ceremonies, and was famously negative about what he referred to as an ‘archbishop’s palace.’
The Dutch apparently didn’t share their King’s opinion of the new museum, which was an instant hit with locals and foreigners alike. But by the turn of this century, it had become apparent that the museum was long overdue for a facelift.
So, for the past decade, the Rijksmuseum has been closed to the public. It opened around this time last year, and the joke – in traditional Dutch humour – was that it now sits about a foot higher than it used to thanks to all the excess stone and masonry that architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz discarded during the renovation process.
Numerous works of art are present in the Rijksmuseum, and you could spend days – if not weeks – combing through its extensive collections ranging from 1100 up until present day. But, arguably, it is Rembrandt’s massive 1642 Night Watch that everyone is here to see.
Located on the 2nd Floor in its own room (Nachtwacht, bordering the Gallery of Honour, or Eregalery), Night Watch is a group portrait of Amsterdam’s Arquebusiers Guild that serves as a sort of ‘call-to-arms’ frozen in time. In fact, it’s hard to look at the painting for more than a few seconds without being completely mesmerised by it; the experience of looking at the figures in the painting is almost akin to looking that individual straight in the eyes in real life.
There’s also Frans Hall’s suggestively playful (or is it erotic?) 1622 Portrait of a Couple that broke traditional norms of the time by having the woman in the painting sit close to her husband and place her hand on his while displaying a coy smile. I can only assume this was the seventeenth century equivalent of ‘twerking’, as this interpretation of affection no doubt caused a stir at the time.
Actually, sex – or thinly-veiled eroticism – is one of the recurring subjects in many paintings by the Dutch masters of the 1600’s. That, and extraordinarily intoxicated, Merry Subjects – there’s Ary de Vois’ The Merry Fiddler; Frans Hall’s The Merry Drinker; and my personal favorite – Jan Steen’s The Merry Family, where the older man with the chalice on the left hand of the table looks like he’s about to keel over. Ah, to live in the age where the only safe beverage choices were beer and wine…
Don’t I sound smart, rattling off all these names, dates and places? There’s a trick to that – for €10, I purchased a fantastic 291-page guide to the museum from the Rijksmuseum gift shop. The size of a small pocket book, it’s an unusually fascinating read, detailing nearly every work of art in the museum.
Following our tour of the Rijksmuseum, we returned to the ms Inspire for a quick buffet lunch in The Restaurant before boarding the coaches for Keukenhof Gardens. Even with our quick one-hour turnaround between tours, service was friendly and personable. Food was better than I would have expected for a ship making its first run, with plenty of fish, meat, and vegetarian options available both from the buffet and as items ordered from your waiter. The soups are also quickly winning guests over, with a fabulous one made primarily of goat cheese being served up today.
Well fed, we piled back into three separate Tauck-branded motorcoaches for the 45-minute journey to Keukenhof. Our three Tauck Directors – one for each coach – passed out maps of the park, explained its history, and spent one-on-one time with guests answering any questions they might have had as we made our way out of the city, past Schiphol Airport, and on to Keukenhof.
Once there, we were turned loose on our own in the gardens to explore at our own individual pace. No QuietVox audio systems, no staying with the group – just do as you please and as much as you want for two straight hours. Fantastic.
Let me just say this: even if you’re not a flower buff (I’m personally not), you’ll love Keukenhof. The place is amazingly photogenic, and this is a very special time for them, as the tulips are typically only in bloom until the start of May.
Interspersed throughout the park are small huts selling things like hot chocolate, smoked ham on a bun, and even beer – which you can indulge in while strolling the park, if you so choose. The Dutch are very practical when it comes to things like that.
Some images from my afternoon at Keukenhof:
Tonight, we had our Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception and Dinner aboard the ms Inspire as she set sail for the pretty town of Hoorn, where we arrived just after 9:30p.m. I spent the first part of sail-away not on the top deck, as usual, but sitting in the loft portion of my stateroom. I opened the blinds and then the window, letting the crisp, fresh air swirl around the room. An unexpected hail storm meant I shut the window rather quickly, but I’m becoming more and more convinced the best views on the ship are offered in these staterooms.
Dinner was a spectacular affair, with foie gras, Alaskan king crab rolls, soup (for which they kindly prepared a special one sans peanuts to accommodate my allergies), and a choice of main courses.
This was also one of the only dinners onboard that occurs during a fixed time. Tauck offers the ability to dine in the dining room any time between 6p.m. and 8p.m. Having that flexibility is a real bonus, particularly if you’d like to take in the fresh air out on deck or enjoy one more pre-dinner drink in The Lounge.
Tauck’s mantra, which they use to great effect in their marketing, is this: How You See the World Matters. In an age of gimmicky and often goofy slogans intended to make consumers more brand-aware, Tauck’s slogan is one of the honest truisms about travel. How you see the world does matter.
Most importantly, I believe that you see the world matters. We only get one shot at this thing we call life, and few things teach us more about the world – and ourselves – than travel. There are those who would disagree – naturally. But they’re not here. Onboard the ms Inspire are over 100 guests who do believe in the power of travel, and I watch with honest admiration as guests who are older than I am push harder than I do to explore and see all that Tauck has to offer.
That is part of what makes a Tauck river cruise so special – the passion for travel that guests share with each other and with the crew who, in turn, share back. I’ve watched as guests have helped other guests, and our Tauck Directors have gone above and beyond for those who have had even the smallest question. And it’s only Day Two.
That’s traveling in good company.
Tauck's MS Inspire - Belgium & Holland
|April 7, 2014||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Arrive Amsterdam; Embark Tauck's new ms Inspire|
|April 8||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Private river cruise through Amsterdam's Canals; visit the Rijksmuseum; tour Keukenhof Gardens|
|April 9||Hoorn, Netherlands / Enkhuizen, Netherlands||Walking tour of Hoorn or visit to Alkmaar. Walking tour of Enkhuizen & open-air Zuiderzee Museum.|
|April 10||Arnhem, Netherlands||Choice of tours - De Hoge Veluwe National Park exploration with Vincent Van Gogh at the Kroller-Muller Museum, or tour sites associated with the WWII airborne assault on Arnhem.|
|April 11||Rotterdam, Netherlands||Tour of Rotterdam & its museums, or optional excursion to the historic city of Delft.|
|April 12||Veere, Netherlands / Middleburg, Netherlands.||Exploration of Veere or excursion to Neeltje Jans Delta Works to learn about the country's storm surge barriers. In Middleburg, enjoy time exploring on own.|
|April 13||Antwerp, Belgium / Ypres||Orientation walking tour through Antwerp's historic city center & visit the Red Star Line museum. After lunch, Tauck Exclusive tour to Flanders to observe the centennial of World War I with dinner and a private visit to the In Flanders Fields museum.|
|April 14||Antwerp, Belgium / Hasselt, Belgium / Maastricht, Netherlands||Drive to Margraten to see the Netherlands American Cemetery. Tauck Exclusive Lunch at Chateau Neercanne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guided visit to Maastricht & free time in the Old Town.|
|April 15||Brussels, Belgium||Disembark ms Inspire & travel to Brussels for a full day of sightseeing. Overnight at the Hotel Amigo.|
|April 16||Brussels, Belgium||Onward journey home.|