Originally, I booked a Spring riverboat cruise to the Netherlands and Belgium because I wanted to see tulips and go to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and other fine museums, all to be found in Amsterdam. The whole point was to glory in spring, enjoy great art, and paint. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do solo travel internationally and for once, be able to enjoy travel without coordinating with the riff and raff I call family and friends. None of them are the kind to stop suddenly to paint or sketch since they always want to soldier on to an alpine lake. They haven’t any concept of detours to coffee shops. So I left them all behind in pursuit of Splendid Solitude. It all worked out perfectly except for a number of miscalculations.
The First Miscalculation
I was looking forward to Splendid Solitude. I thought I’d mix in with all the elderly widows and no one would notice me. But no. First, I felt the stares and saw them staring at me as I sat alone at my table. They seemed a bit shocked and then there was mounting suspicion, concern, and sympathy.
As of the next morning, my solitude was over. First off, there weren’t any widows or widowers, they all seemed to be in couples and they weren’t having any of the solitude business. My son is of the view that they thought I was a widow spending the life insurance and self-medicating with wine. And so, the Wellington Football Club arrived in force and after that, this comfortable Invert was part of a cheerful, incredibly social group of Brits. All too soon, the lost Americans arrived and a couple of Brits who lived in France and I were exiled to the table for Miscellaneous English Speakers. Although I loved the French Expats, I would have cheerfully weighed the Americans with an anchor and tossed them overboard if I could have stayed with the Brits the whole time. Why? Even as an American, it’s difficult to socialize with Americans who delight in showing photos of ‘gators they’ve shot at the ranch and managed to insult an entire table of Belgians nearby. I missed the WFC and only got to rub elbows with them at the breakfast buffet. They tried to sneak me onto their tour bus for sightseeing since they knew that my tour bus spoke French with occasional spurts of English but no, I was not allowed solitude or the Wellington Football Club.
Holland and Belgium are rife with excellent food. It’s absolutely not the place for a person to maintain weight loss (which I had been). In fact, I completely ran amok the entire trip. The waffles! The chocolate! The coffee with whipped cream served with cookies!
The whole point of a riverboat cruise is that you have hotel, food, and transportation. I hadn’t realized my riverboat would serve a lovely breakfast buffet, four course lunches, and five course dinners. I now have a taste for French cuisine and other treats that has been brutal to squelch on returning home.
It was supposed to rain and I brought gear for it as well as counting on moody lighting for the tulips. I was light on clothes suitable for mostly blue skies and bright sunny days. Holland and Belgium, were for the most part a dazzling spring display of sunshine and fairly warm so the tulips were lit up with sunshine most of the time. Dutch tulips and other flowers grow so thickly, by the way, you can’t see the soil.
I did get to paint and sketch at will but mostly on the day before the cruise, the next day before boarding, and the day after the cruise ended. Because there are tour guides and they nattered along in French with the occasional bit of English and insisted on dragging us along in tour buses (bad for painting) and walking tours (timed).
To be fair, at the Keukenhof Gardens, they let us off our leashes for a while and I had a great time painting and even made it back to the bus on time. By the way, if you are the only English speaker on a tour, insist on getting key details repeated twice as to when to meet since this was a problem twice because they often get it wrong the first time.
The Keukenhof Gardens should be a daylong trip since it takes awhile to get there and it’s an enormous series of gardens that are spectacular and sometimes funny.
I have no sense of direction. We should all know our travel weaknesses, and this was one of mine. Yes, I used tourist maps and the location device on my phone but when unsupervised by tour guides, I tended to get quite lost despite help. This wasn’t all bad since I didn’t miss the boat or any planes. I did find some great places by accident and met a really nice Dutch grandfather who steered me back to my hotel in Amsterdam and gave me lots of interesting information on bicycles (watch out for them!), where to see life size chess matches, and other interesting information.
I should have spent more time in Belgium! The cruise ended in Antwerp, which has an awesome zoo with gardens right by their incredibly beautiful train station.
They have chocolate shops that I wish I had had more time to patronize. They have a main square with a statue of their patron, who apparently ripped the hand off a pesky giant, and they have outdoor art.
I thought going off on a painting expedition might mean I painted more when I got back home. I underestimated the effect, having just finished my second painting of Dutch tulips in oils, since apparently watercolor while traveling wasn’t enough.
Other Things to Know Traveling in Holland and Belgium
You need to book museums online if you want to get in during high tourist season at the time you want to get in (particularly for the Van Gogh Museum). The Rijksmuseum is one of the finest museums on the planet and not to be missed. From what little time I spent there, it seemed the Dutch are rather reserved but perfectly nice, despite recent media coverage that Amsterdam is sick of tourists. I suspect that paintbrush wielding, pastry-consuming tourists are not their problem. They don’t like tourists who drink heavily or are there to abuse legal use of drugs or get obnoxious in the Red Light District. However, they are quite nice if you ask them directions. Personally, they seem like a nation of people like me; introverted. I was never approached by a Dutch person for any reason, unlike some touristy places where the locals won’t leave you alone. I look at this as a good thing. Watch out for bicycles at all times, the Dutch are fast and they take no prisoners.
The Belgians also seem reserved, for the short time I saw them. Antwerp seems less touristed and crowded. You should reserve significant funds for purchase of chocolates in Belgium.