As promised, here is Part Two of Tales from a River Cruise Convert… If you haven’t read Part One you can find it here.
During breakfast on Monday (AmaVerde’s waffles = amazing!) we arrived in Arnhem, where we were offered the choice of a visit to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, the Netherland’s only battlefield museum, or a visit to Doorwerth Castle; one of the oldest castles in Holland.
We figured there are worse places to spend a Monday morning than in a fairy tale castle on the banks of the River Rhine and after a tour of Arnhem (a town located close to the site of the Battle of Arnhem Bridge during World War II) we arrived at the imposing gates of Doorwerth Castle. Passionate gardeners gave us the low down on the way they grow crops just as those in medieval times did before them, a rather convincing impersonator was joined by his feathered friend to tell all about the artists who would flock to the castle to paint, and an informative guide gave us a tour of the castle interiors. After tea and cake, we headed back to the coach for the journey back to the ship (where lunch was waiting, of course). AmaVerde set sail as we enjoyed lunch in the Verde Restaurant.
It was difficult to prise us away from the dessert table and its inexplicably delicious walnut ice cream but the sun was shining on deck and Laura had arranged for the ship’s mountain bikes to be readied for our use. After all, we had to burn off those calories somehow! Once docked in Nijmegen, the ship’s crew prepared our bikes at the water’s edge and we became seemingly the only helmet-wearing cyclists in Holland. Having not ridden a bicycle in the last ten years, I would best describe my attempt as ‘wobbly’. We made our way around Nijmegen in a fashion far less graceful than it sounds, stopping for photos and biscuits to refuel along the way. Sarah’s exceptional map reading skills meant we eventually returned to the ship, where our efforts were rewarded with a cocktail on the Sun Deck.
With pink faces and tired legs, we made our way to our cabins to change for tonight’s special event; dinner in The Chef’s Table restaurant. Six courses of exceptional food and wine pairings later, and it took all we had to bypass bed and head to the Party Night that was underway in the lounge. Once we realised there were Beatles-style wigs and glasses waiting for us, we were soon in the party spirit and joined a packed dancefloor for 70’s, 80’s and even a few 90’s classics.
All things considered, we can certainly say that we have had worse Mondays!
With our cases loaded on to the coach and the riverside views appreciated for one last time, we joined the first of the day’s excursions into Brussels, Belgium’s beautiful capital. The journey from Antwerp to Brussels took around an hour and a half, but our half American/half Dutch tour guide keeping us entertained with Belgian chocolate and even a book of the ugliest Dutch houses.
We stopped for a photo opportunity at the Atomium, before arriving in Brussels, where the smell of chocolate was almost overpowering (never a bad thing in the eyes of a chocoholic). We marvelled at the opulent buildings of the Grand Square, overstretched ourselves with Belgian waffles that proved our eyes were bigger than our bellies, shopped endless chocolatiers and didn’t know quite what to make of the Manneken Pis (or Peeing Boy as the bronze statue is better known).
So as a first-time river cruiser of 28 years old, what did I think?
While I wouldn’t suggest river cruising for families and can’t deny that it tends to attract an older passenger, it is definitely something I would do again. As cruise ships get bigger and bigger, there is something quite charming about smaller vessels; they take you to the heart of a city so you can explore from the moment you step on dry land, your fellow passengers become friendly faces that share the same experiences and mealtimes are a social occasion where everyone exchanges stories of what they saw that day. We missed the local performers who came aboard during the second half of the cruise and the chilled piano music in the lounge each evening wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but it set a relaxed tone for the night and was perfect for some down time after a busy day of excursions.
I was amazed at how many places I was able to visit in just four days and there is something so exciting about waking up in the middle of somewhere new in a morning. I haven’t been lucky enough to experience a river cruise in Asia yet, but I can imagine that being so close to the communities that make their homes around the water must be incredible.
All things considered, I’m a river cruise convert. Next stop? Mississippi!