Bruges to Amsterdam 2022
After 4 years of planning, multiple changes in our itinerary, and multiple Covid cancellations, Cathy and I finally got our European vacation in aboard a Viking River cruise from Belgium to the Netherlands. It got off to a rough start when we landed in Belgium…after flying all night we waited in line for over 2 hours just to get through customs in Brussels, fortunately, that was the worst part of our journey.
We started on land in Bruges, Belgium, for a few days. This medieval city dates to Roman times and has been an important port city since that time. It reminded us of Venice with all the canals and pedestrian streets. If you ever consider traveling to Bruges, there are two things to help you prepare; watch the quirky moving “In Bruges” starring Collin Farrell, Brendan Gleason, and Ralph Feinnes which shows a lot of Bruges; and, read Bruges La Morte. Published in 1892, it’s a short novel and the first book to be illustrated with photographs. It also helped create the tourist attraction that is Bruges.
We did take one day outside of Bruges to explore Flanders to visit some WWI memorials and cemeteries. We visited the Flanders Field American Cemetery and the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world, Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing. We also visited the “hospital,” or more specifically a triage center, where John McCrae was inspired to write the poem “In Flanders Field.”
We ended the evening back in Bruges with new friends from St. Louis that we met while on an E-bike excursion, and then a quiet dinner at an obscure and wonderful Tapas restaurant called Cookies recommended from a friend who was there several years ago.
We toured Bruges by E-bike, canal boat, and by foot, and relaxed by tasting local beers at des Flandres Brewery. Cathy and I also bought hats from a great hat store, Patcap, so my trip was complete.
On the way to meet our ship we detoured to Ghent for a tour of this beautiful port city. After walking around I found a sketch in the city and Cathy visited St Bavo’s Cathedral to see the influential altarpiece “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” completed in 1432 by brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. This was one of the “first major oil paintings” and marked the transition from Middle Age to the Renaissance. We ended the evening in Antwerp, Belgium where we boarded our Viking ship, Kvasir, where Cathy introduced herself to the piano player, Joseph.
Our tour of Antwerp was food focused and walked Roman ruins while beginning a Belgium beer tasting. I can’t say as I like my fries with mayonnaise, but I could not stop eating them all vacation. The other common Belgium food is apparently beef stew, it’s on every menu. We visited the Cathedral of our Lady and viewed Baroque paintings by Peter Paul Rubin in their original setting. Our final food tour stop was at a chocolate shop Cho Fleur and then a glass of Elixir d’Anvirs. We ended the evening meeting the newlyweds Dan and Ashley on the ship, one of which happened to attend Roger Williams University, too, so we had a lot to reminisce about.
We began the following day in Maastricht, Netherlands, a vibrant medieval university city. In the afternoon we took took a bus to Aachen, Germany, home of the cathedral in which Charlemagne was laid to rest in 814 AD. Aachen Cathedral has seen 31 German Kings and 12 Queens coronations and was one of the first 12 items to be listed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.
The following day was a leisure sail through the countryside to the port city of Njmegan, Holland’s oldest city and ancient Roman ruins and chapel still standing. The bridge crossing the river Waal was depicted in the movie “A Bridge too Far” during “Operation Market Garden.” Cathy and I found the city’s only brewery, De Hemel, and tasted a flight of beers.
Our walk-about in Wesel the following day was just in the morning. 98% of the town was destroyed during WWII, so almost everything in the town was rebuilt in the 1950’s +/-. The old citadel was interesting, as was the re-built cathedral. We spent the day cruising, and I spent the evening on deck sailing through the night on our way towards Dordrecht with new friends. This island city was spared many of the allied bombs, so the history is still very much intact. We could have spent more time here, but we needed to get to the ship to sail to Rotterdam for the afternoon. Rotterdam was almost completely bombed during the war, too, but this has rebounded into a large, modern city. I very much enjoyed the impressive Market Hall designed by MVRDV, a large arched office and residential building with a very large market on the ground floor. I spent the day sketching while Cathy visited the maritime museum.
We arrived into Kinderdijk, Netherlands to tour this magical low-land of original 18th century windmills dotting the landscape. We toured a windmill to learn how these windmills pumped water up from low land to canals to control the water level in the area. Although these windmills are not needed anymore, it really is a beautiful area to tour.
We sailed past Amsterdam to arrive into Hoorn and witness a beautiful sunrise in this city from 1357 and home to one of the six chambers of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). After our walking tour Cathy visited the Westfries Museum while I found a sketch. The canals and narrow streets give plenty of opportunity to sketch. Back on the ship I shared my sketches with new friends from West Virginia and he showed me amazing Japanese inspired oil paintings he does as a hobby. It is fun meeting new people in a small setting like a Viking River boat. I even met the grandson of a hardware store owner in my hometown of Norway, Maine. They still come up to Waterford, Maine from Connecticut every summer. Ended the evening again with the St. Louis friends at a pub once we landed in Amsterdam.
Our last day on the tour was spent in Amsterdam dodging bicycles, and that is not a joke. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life! After a canal tour Cathy and I trammed to the Van Gogh Museum and then walked back through the city to get a real sense of the city and its vibrancy. I got one sketch in in Amsterdam and a lot of walking. The final night of our trip we walked the Red Light District with our STL and MA friends just to say we’ve been there, and capped it off with a pub nightcap to say our goodbyes.
We are back to work to get some rest. An epic vacation by our standards, Viking, again, did not disappoint.