Vacation 2013: Cruising the Rhine, senior style

Barriere senior, Jim Hodgetts, now 83, shares his 2013 Rhine River cruise vacation with our readers

The Amsterdam Maritime Museum is aboard ship.

The Amsterdam Maritime Museum is aboard ship.

The romantic Rhine River originates in Switzerland and winds it’s way through France, Germany and the Netherlands before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Along its banks are mighty fortresses, romantic palaces and ancient homes.  Barriere senior, Jim Hodgetts, now 83, shares his 2013 Rhine River cruise vacation with our readers.

By Jim Hodgetts

River boat cruising has really become popular, and there are so many rivers to explore from the comfort of a smaller cruise ship.

I have wanted to experience the Rhine for many years, but first I had to find a travelling companion.  I though that having someone else to share in the costs, and having someone who knew your family in case of an emergency (when you are older you think about that) would be a good thing.  Fortunately, I did find a great companion to go with.

Preparing for this cruise of a lifetime was about spending many hours on the computer, researching all the different companies who offer the itineraries that I was looking for, and sourcing the services of a good travel agent who was invaluable in weeding through all the different cruises offered.

Having at last decided on a particular cruise, and having sent in our deposit, we sat back and waited for the day to arrive.  With the wealth of information available on the  cruise line’s web site, we were able to choose our cabin and the excursions and optional ones we wished to take.

We flew out of Kamloops to Vancouver, then Vancouver to London with British Air, and then to Amsterdam for our 10 day adventure.

Our seven day cruise started in Amsterdam,   and finished in Basel, Switzerland.  We were to pass through the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France and Switzerland.

One thing in the favour of river cruising is that if you have an engine room failure, you are not drifting around on a rather large ocean waiting to be rescued.

The cruise we were on had a maximum of 139 passengers, and was sold out.  On the entire cruise, I am happy to report that everyone on the ship, from the crew to the passengers, had a very happy time.  Yes, it rained a few times, but no one cared.  We were a happy lot.

By the way, it was announced that the language on board was English, every one I spoke to spoke English.  I think this was for the benefit of us North Americans, as most Europeans speak at least two languages.

It’s nice to know that a senior traveler who has some mobility restrictions can ask for a handicap transport at all the airports.  We found this fantastic, as the people operating the usually ‘golf cart’ style transport took us not only to the correct gate, but as we traveled to other countries, to the immigration and customs areas, and usually stayed with us as we cleared, and then whisked us to the waiting areas.

I found the immigration and customs, including border security, were both efficient and courteous.  Their job is to keep us safe as we travel, and I for one appreciate the effort it takes to be pleasant and still be alert.

England’s security was the most serious of the ones we went through.  I was surprised that even if you are in transit and still in a secure area, you must go through security again.

After clearing customs in the Netherlands, we never had to show our passports again until leaving Switzerland.  I can see how this has enhanced travel and commerce between the European Union (EU) countries.

We started our cruise on day one in Amsterdam.

From our hotel room on the 19th floor we had a view of what I thought was the Rhine.  Boy was I wrong! The Amstel River runs through Amsterdam, and is a waterway that ocean cruise ships come into.  Our hotel was a dock for these ships, one of which was docked when we were there.  What a busy waterway, from large ocean ships to river cargo boats and river cruise boats.  We were looking at five river cruise ships; it turned out that the one in the middle was the one we were going to spend a week on.

Amsterdam is a city of bicycles.  We were told that they have one million bicycles registered, and that there is a parking garage for only bicycles.  Yes, some do get taken; the estimate is about half a million bicycles have been stolen.  Everywhere you look where there is a fence that they can be tied to, are bicycles, and more bicycles.

Amsterdam has canals everywhere.  Our canal boat tour lasted about two hours and never retraced our route.  The canals are lined with house boats, and I never saw one empty space along the canals on our tour.

Of course Amsterdam is known for its, diamonds, from the Diamant Museum, to diamond polishers.

There is art by the masters everywhere.  What to see, a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt?

There is even a museum of bags and purses.

Our tour took us past the Anne Frank House.  Having read the book, it was sad to see and know the history behind it.  We were told that Anne Frank’s father was a merchant and sold goods on the lower floor.  The family lived on the upper floors.

The houses along the canals are high and narrow, some even tilted forward.  This isn’t because they are sinking.  They had been built this way so that the owners could lift furniture, etcetera through the windows into the upper stories.  Each house had a beam jutting out from the top with a rope and pulley.

We saw Zaanse; a hamlet on the banks of the river Zaanse, which is a very interesting side trip for tourists to see working windmills and  old buildings.

We were fortunate to be able to see the Keukenhof Tulip Gardens as this was the last weekend for the garden that offers numerous different species of tulips.  The gardens are huge and had thousands of people were there, it was very crowded but nice.  I took lots of pictures, then lost my camera.

At 6 p.m. that evening our bus dropped us off at the cruise ship, where our luggage had already been delivered to our rooms.

There was a welcome on board reception for the passengers, and we were introduced to Heinrich, the cruise director.

We finally set sail and left Amsterdam behind after dinner, which was served at 7:15 p.m.  We mingled with some of the other passengers, and became instant friends with a couple from Melbourne, Australia.  They had started their trip in Sicily, then traveled to Rome, trained to Amsterdam, and after this trip were on their way to Paris, then the UK and finally would be returning home in August.

As I had been in Melbourne during WWII, we had a lot in common.

Another couple we became friends with were a couple from Virginia.  We had a lot of interesting conversations with these two couples, and still stay in touch.

The boat traffic on the canals we were travelling on was almost constant.  It was interesting that the water in the canal we were on was about three feet higher than the land that we were passing.  Now I know why they describe the area as “polder”, it means a piece of low-lying land reclaimed from a sea or river, protected by dikes.

Look for Part 2 in an upcoming issue.