The Battle of Arnhem and an evening in Nijmegen with Tauck
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
This morning, those of us aboard Tauck’s new ms Inspire were able to kick back and enjoy an unexpected second cup of coffee. Owing to heavy congestion at the locks in our path, our arrival into the Dutch city of Arnhem was delayed from 9:00a.m. to 9:45a.m..
However, this had no impact on our touring schedule, other than putting it slightly behind. But Tauck Cruise Director Steve kept everyone constantly appraised of the situation, particularly as it became apparent that, after 20 minutes of waiting, we’d be stopped at the lock for a long time.
Once we cleared it, however, Arnhem was an easy five minutes away. We came alongside, the coaches reversed down the pier (an impressive move I first saw Tauck perform in Regensburg a few years ago) and pulled up next to the ship. Another fifteen minutes, and we were on our way.
To understand Arnhem and the Battle of Arnhem – which was the basis for the movie A Bridge Too Far – here’s the situation, summarized: in 1944, the Allies were searching for a route that would allow them to continue their aggressive expansion east and into the heart of Germany. The solution was Operation Market Garden, which was put into effect on 17 September 1944.
The battle was not a success. British and Canadian forces were overwhelmed by the unusually-strong German response, and the majority of divisions were never able to fight their way out of the Arnhem city limits. Inadequate intelligence had led the British to believe the operation would be a cakewalk, when in fact the Dutch Resistance had been warning of a strong German presence in and around Arnhem.
By Monday, 25 September 1944, a rescue mission was underway.
Despite its historical importance, Arnhem today has the appearance of a town ravaged by the economic downturn. Vacant businesses with “For Lease” and “For Sale” signs litter the downtown district, and graffiti is everywhere. Some of the graffiti is very politically motivated, questioning everything from the recession to the rampant increase in immigration that has proven problematic for many European countries.
Our first stop of the day was the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery, or more simply, the Airborne Cemetery. Here, 1759 graves from those who died in the Battle of Arnhem are buried, including 1392 servicemen from the United Kingdom; 73 from Poland; 32 from Canada; six from the Netherlands; and four from both Australia and New Zealand.
There is also a single American buried at the Airborne Cemetery; in fact, the remains of Allied and German forces who perished in the battle are still being found to this day.
The saddest thing ever was a note, its ink partially erased by the rain, left on the grave of a 27-year old from England. It began with the word ‘Dad:” and included the sentence “I’ve brought your great-grandchildren to see you.” Below the note was an English-style Poppy, typically worn on clothing during the run-up to Remembrance Day on November 11.
Seventy years have passed since these men died, yet their legacies are still being remembered and honoured to this day.
From the Airborne Cemetery, a quick ten-minute drive brought us to the Airborne Museum located in the nearby town of Oosterbeek.
Located in the former Hotel Hartenstein which served as a command headquarters during the Battle of Arnhem, a visit to the Airborne Museum is a real education. The two upper floors of the museum showcase the hotel’s original splendour, interspersed with artifacts that range from medals to letters to weapons and every kind of equipment imaginable.
In one display case, a crisp, white doctor’s overcoat is still smeared with blood. In another, a Military Cross recipient includes his medal along with a note explaining why he is returning it, and alluding to the guilt he continues to feel over the death of his men.
But it is what is in the basement that makes the Airborne Museum so impactful. Deep beneath the surface of the museum, a series of interactive exhibits recreate what the Battle of Arnhem was like. Through the use of movie clips, lights, directional sounds, and rebuilt “sets”, the Airborne Experience puts you in the heart of a bomber flying over the Dutch countryside, or walking through the remains of a bombed-out village.
In one exhibit, a car sits amidst the rubble.The passenger door has been flung open, its occupant having long since fled. It took me a few moments, but in the rare flashes of strobe light that illuminated the room, tufts of long blonde hair can be seen emerging from the shattered rear window. The silhouette of a girl inside the car, dead, brings home the horrors of war. And in that instant, it became real for me.
Outside the museum, the following quote is etched into a beautiful monument that was unveiled in 1994:
“To the People of Gelderland: 50 years ago, British and Polish Airborne soldiers fought here against overwhelming odds to open the way into Germany and bring the war to an early end. Instead, we brought death and destruction for which you have never blamed us. This stone marks our admiration for your great courage remembering especially the women who tended our wounded. In the long winter that followed your families risked death by hiding Allied soldiers and Airmen while members of the resistance led many to safety.”
On our return drive to the ship, Tauck Director Zsophia gave us a briefing on what will be happening tomorrow in Rotterdam. Guests will have the choice to explore Rotterdam on their own, participate in a comprehensive city tour, or enjoy an outing to Delft. We were also told about our late-afternoon journey to Ypres, Belgium on Sunday for an exclusive dinner at the In Flander’s Fields Museum. She was very forthright in explaining that the museum is a two-hour drive away, but stressed that it would be worth the effort on this, the centenary of the start of World War I.
In order to make this a reality, all guests had to do was list their preferences for Rotterdam to her, and whether or not they would attend the dinner in Ypres, and she made a note of it on a very official-looking spreadsheet. Couldn’t be easier!
In the afternoon, we had our first real taste of scenic cruising along the Rhine as we traveled from Arnhem to Nijmegen (nye-meghan). With no wind to speak of and pleasant temperatures, scenic cruising was enjoyed by many on the ms Inspire’s upper Sun Deck. There’s substantially more seating options here than there are aboard Tauck’s other vessels – a trend I hope continues aboard the new ms Savor when she launches in June.
Of course, after standing up on deck for about ten minutes, I strolled back down to my Loft Stateroom, opened the blinds and electronically slid the window up, and enjoyed an espresso made with the in-room Nespresso podded coffee maker along with the freshness of the Rhine from the comfort of my own stateroom.
Just after four p.m. we came alongside in Nijmegen, where the city is still reconstructing the pier apron area. It’s in a bit of a shambles at the moment, but once again, Tauck was prepared, rigging the gangway to the ship’s Sun Deck to compensate for the height difference.
To familiarize guests with Nijmegen – where we would be docked until Midnight – our Tauck Directors held two separate tours. The first one would visit the city’s unique Bicycle Museum, while the other would be an orientation walking tour of the small Old Town section of Nijmegen that wasn’t destroyed by bombers during World War II.
Or, like I chose to do, guests could set off on their own for some self-guided exploration of Nijmegen. Don’t know where you’re doing? Not a problem – Tauck prints beautiful street maps up for every port of call we stop at, all of which are available on Tauck Cruise Director Steve’s desk in the Reception Area.
In many ways, this is what I love most about Tauck and river cruising in general: if you want to participate in the guided tours – no matter what your interest level – you’re welcomed with open arms. If your idea of a great time is doing your own thing (or if, like some guests, you’ve been to a particular port before), then self-guided exploration is always a possibility.
Nijmegen proved to be a very pretty, interesting port of call. There’s some stunning medieval architecture that has survived the worst of World War II, and the city’s main shopping and bar district is steps away from the river cruise pier, which is at the moment undergoing a significant refit.
On a hot summer’s day, the squares would be bustling with people enjoying a goblet of their favorite beer. Even as dusk fell on the city, people young and old were sitting outside, enjoying a bier. Nijmegen is a very ‘young’ city – the vast majority of people here seemed to be in their twenties or thirties.
Back onboard the ms Inspire, guests could dine anytime between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., with whomever they want. I absolutely love the flexible dinner times. Some evenings, I’ve ambled down to the dining room closer to six, while tonight I was pushing half-past-seven before I finally strolled down. I wasn’t alone; guests kept slowly trickling down until almost the last moment. The Lounge, it would appear, is an increasingly-popular spot for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Tonight, I’m excited about what lies ahead tomorrow in Rotterdam, and for our stunning dinner in Ypres at the In Flanders Fields museum on Sunday. This is the sort of event where Tauck really shines, and it was moments like this that made such an impact on me when I sailed the line’s Danube itinerary two years ago.
I’d sit on the coach for double the length of time if it meant I got to participate in something so unique!
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.|