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Cruise Diary ~ BALTIC CAPITALS

Amsterdam & a Day at Sea
Cigars, More Chocolate & Good Friends

Amsterdam

Our good friend (and local resident) Bart De Boer collected us at the Amsterdam Passenger Terminal after the morning "rush hour" slowed down a bit and we headed for the countryside. Mel and I have both explored Amsterdam and a good bit of Holland in the past so Bart showed us "his" homeland. 

As we drove through Spaarndam, Bart pointed out the statue of the little boy who held back the sea water beyond the dike by plugging the leak with his finger. This legend is popular with visitors but the Dutch don't really know how it originated; they only know that they didn't start it. 

Reaching Haarlem, we walked through the peaceful Grote Markt and stopped for coffee and an opportunity to relax in the marketplace on a tranquil Friday morning. Across the square is the imposing Grote Kerk (cathedral), begun in the 14th century and completed in the 16th. Streets surrounding the market square contain fashionable shops, tiny pubs, and chic restaurants. There are flowers everywhere--even in hanging baskets over the middle of some streets and in diminutive "gardens" alongside front doors. The scene is enchanting.

Off we went through the very posh Bloemendaal neighborhood where the locals were engaged in a spirited challenge of field hockey, a favorite leisure time pursuit. Even with only glimpses of the homes (mostly hidden behind lush hedges and foliage) we knew they were special. In a small country where land is treasured enough to be reclaimed from the sea, these houses were surrounded by lavish grounds--a sure sign of the well-heeled.

After a drive past medieval Brederode Castle, we stopped to examine the working windmills in the Molenmuseum (windmill museum) on the river bank opposite Zaandijk. The area is lovingly maintained and run by people who live in the mills and wish to keep the old milling skills and traditions alive. 

A spin through Bart's boyhood neighborhood in Velsen-zuid revealed the origin of his love for ships and the sea. A variety of vessels passed literally within feet of his front yard and passengers liners caught his attention. Any ocean liner/cruise ship enthusiast would appreciate the view from his front door.

Bart dropped us off in Amsterdam near Rembrandt Plein with instructions to "go right and follow the signs to the Centraal Station" in order to find our way back to the ship. He assured us we couldn't get lost and, sure enough, we didn't. 

To me, the presence of so many bicycles gives Amsterdam an air of briskness and adds a moving dimension that's missing in other cities. There's a palpable youthfulness and vibrancy. Our brisk stroll from Rembrandt Plein took us over canals and we dodged bikes and other tourists until we reached the Dam Square where we paused to enjoy the entertaining street musicians and performers. Mel found a fascinating and elaborate cigar store where patrons have individual storage units for their collections and gentlemen savor cigars and conversation in a luxurious atmosphere.

At Sea

While sailing to Norway, at midnight there was still light on the horizon. At 4am sunlight was streaming in our window (we'll have to remember to close the drapes!) and it wasn't long before we saw land. Norway! My grandparents homeland and the country I've been dying to see all my life.

We had an exceptionally beautiful day in Oslo--warm and sunny. Perfect! More of the day in Oslo, Norway in the next installment...

Back to the Baltic Capitals Cruise Diary index


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