Day 3: In Which We Embark upon the River Duchess

This is the day! The day we actually move from the hotel to the boat. Or ship. We keep going back and forth—some of us insist that a ship can carry boats, but a boat can’t carry a ship. None of us are maritime experts, so I’m not sure.

Anyway, the main point of the day is checking out of the Conscious and checking into the River Duchess, a Uniworld tour boat/ship. Which is about all we got done today. We arrived at the docks, which we passed yesterday on the canal tour. River Duchess is a long, low ship (or boat), fairly new looking. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it met or exceeded every expectation. The staff is lovely. They greeted us and took us to the lounge and gave us champagne. There are mirrored surfaces everywhere, which I suppose makes the spaces look larger. (But I really don’t want to see the view of my backside looming unexpectedly at me. Too unnerving.)

Our party I. The lounge of the River Duchess. With champagne.

After a bit, they herded us into the restaurant for a buffet lunch. The dining room is at the stern of the boat/ship, with windows everywhere providing a panoramic view. We sat for a long time, eating and watching the busy boat traffic—river cruise ships, coal barges, pleasure boats, ferries, and other maritime vehicles made for a lively scene. Eventually, the staterooms were ready.

Random shot from the sun deck because I am having trouble uploading pictures. This is on the Rhine.

I have to tell you, we have never done this before. Not only have we never taken a cruise of any kind, we usually scrimp a little on accommodations. I guess they were seriously underbooked, because they offered us the opportunity to bid on a better stateroom. Tom made a lowball bid and secured a suite— the ritziest accommodation on the boat (or ship). It comes with a butler! Complimentary everything! More space! It has a marble bathroom, a large window that opens, king bed, drinks bar, live orchids, dressing table, etc, etc. I love it. The shower is a good size, which I did not expect.

Our butler’s name is Alexandru. (Call me Alex.) Alex is from Bucharest, Romania, as many of the crew are. He reassured us multiple times that we did not have to pay for laundry services (I wasn’t worried about it). He wears full butler regalia, tailcoat, vest and all. He is much better dressed than we will be at any time on this trip. Seems like a pleasant young man. We can call him if we need something—at any time, I gather, but I am sure we won’t be ringing him at 3 am to make us sandwiches.

The others walked back to the old town. I stayed to unpack. Also, my poor toe could use a break. I am wondering if I will be able to wear my sandals again on this trip. I hope so, because I only have one other pair of shoes with me.

A word about Amsterdam and its canals. They have hundreds of them, lined with trees, which makes the city parklike and beautiful. We learned that fresh water continually flushes through from the River Ij (pronounced “aye”), which means “”water.” This keeps the water clean, and indeed, we saw people swimming and fishing in the canals and the port. I investigated and found that the canals are literally teeming with more than 20 species of freshwater fish, so the water must indeed be clean. It also means that Amsterdam does not reek from filthy water, as does Venice. These are people who thoroughly understand water management, and we have a lot to learn from them as the world’s water levels rise from climate change.

Day 2: Amsterdam

Tom and I woke early and went for a walk in Westerpark. It’s a lovely park, a combination of landscaped and wild areas in the middle of the city. OK, not the middle, but close to the docks where we will be embarking on the “River Duchess,” our home away from home for the next three weeks. They were cleaning the wading pond that had produced so many happy childrens’ screams the day before. We saw great blue herons, mourning doves, and a number of birds I didn’t recognize.

This statue of a court dress stands in the middle of a small pond in Westerpark. The lady has evidentially strayed elsewhere.

We returned to the hotel and sat down to order breakfast via Q-code. Our coffee came almost immediately, but not our friends. Or the food. Eventually, Linda texted us. They had decided to sit in the roped-off area for some reason. And the staff had decided to serve them there. So we joined them. Their breakfasts arrived. Ours did not. Tom went to see why not, and apparently the order never went through. No worries—it arrived shortly after Tom inquired.

We had decided to visit the Reichsmuseum today. The Reichsmuseum has the same issues as the Louvre—it is so huge, you would need days to really do it justice. It has a huge collection of Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” which we had seen on our first visit to Amsterdam. It was a bit of a shock to walk into that gallery. An enormous crowd was gathered in front of the “Night Watch.” I remembered from our first visit that we had been one of a few gathered to gawk at it, and we stayed a long time with no interruptions. Then I remembered we had come here in February, which probably explains the difference. It isn’t Rembrandt’s most fascinating work, in my opinion, so I skirted the rapt crowd to focus on other works.

And I got to revisit some faves—Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Vermeer, and others, and discovered a new favorite, Judith Leyster, who had the same qualities I so admire in the others—capturing the personality of real people, distinct personalities, on canvas. I will have to further explore Leyster’s work.

One of Judith Leyster’s genre paintings. If it is in the Reichsmuseum, I didn’t see it, but it has all the qualities I love in the Dutch genre paintings.

We wandered through more galleries, and I began to skip over the things that didn’t interest me in favor of the ones that did—there’s just too much to see! Eventually, we dragged aching feet to the cafe and had some lunch. David ordered bitterballen, which I had never tasted before. Bitterballen (which I think means battered balls) consist of a stew rendered down until the gravy is very thick, frozen, battered, and deep fried. Very yummy. Very heavy. I had boar sausage with picked onions and bread.

Susan had arranged for a canal tour. The departure point was supposed to be very close to the museum. This proved to be true, but they told us it was the wrong place for our tickets. Then they kindly put us on a tour departing from that location, complete with wine and goodies, even though we hadn’t paid for them. Great customer service. The canal tour was interesting, and you get a short lesson in Amsterdam’s history, albeit through the recorded voices of a couple who argued coyly with each other. I know know what the Zeiderzee is—the southern sea that was closed off from the ocean at some point, protecting Amsterdam from tidal surges that tended to flood the residents’ houses from time to time. It was pretty crowded on that tour boat, but that’s what we get for coming during the tourist season. Horrifyingly, as we passed under a low bridge, someone on the bridge threw a half-full can of Amstel Beer through the open top and hit Linda’s head, soaking her clothes in beer. Somehow, I didn’t expect hat kind of behavior here. Fortunately, Linda was not badly hurt.

After the canal tour, we walked to the Reichst Restaurant (not the museum cafe), but we didn’t have reservations so they turned us down. We wound up back at the Conscious Hotel, where the food was very good, if not spectacular. This is a town where reservations are really required most places.

I tried to watch the third Jan. 6 hearings, but Judge Michael Luttig, who was one of the witnesses, spoke SO slowly, with so many long pauses between phrases, that by the time he finished a sentence I had forgotten what he was talking about. It drove me nuts and I realized I was probably tired, so I went to bed.

Voyage to Budapest

Days 1 & 2: San Francisco to Amsterdam

We planned this trip for two years, believing that Covid might be over by then. It isn’t, of course, but we came anyway. I thought we would be traveling a lot after we retired but Covid put an end to that for a while. At my age, I don’t know how long we will be able to travel, and it is worth the risk. I, my husband Tom, and our friends Linda and Clod and Susan and David are doing a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, something none of us have ever done. Apart from Amsterdam, this trip will be covering a huge swath of Europe Tom and I have never seen before. (The others in our group have seen some of the places we’re going, but not all.)

The Covid infection rate here in the Netherlands is 14 per 100,000, which is better than any place in the US. I believe this is because they are not encumbered with as many radical conservatives and conspiracy theorists, but that’s just a guess. Very few here are wearing masks, indoor or otherwise. I am not so trusting, and wear a mask indoors. If one of us gets Covid, they get kicked off the ship at the first opportunity to quarantine elsewhere, and who wants that?

We few over on United Polaris—Business Class. They have eliminated First Class. The seats fully reclined, but it didn’t help me. I have never been able to sleep on a plane. I took prescription medication in an effort to overcome this, with no success. I found it massively uncomfortable, but there were a lot of people who looked blissful tucked up in their reclining seats. Being tall does not help. The food sucked. Honestly. I can’t imagine what they served in Economy.

But it was my choice to watch “Cyrano,” with Peter Dinklage and Jennifer Lawrence. I love both of them. It was a massive waste of their considerable talent. Pretty much a hot mess with meh music and silly choreography. Cyrano is supposed to be a comedy. It opened with promise, but got less funny as time went on, with a tragic ending. Towards the finale, I found myself impatient for it to end. Don’t waste your time.

We are staying in a hotel in a park. You have to walk from the taxi drop-off to the hotel, not very far. The hotel is called “Conscious Hotel at Westerpark.” I thought that was amusing because when I am in a hotel, it is usually in an unconscious state. But the name refers to being ecology-conscious, green, etc. The front lobby looks like a snack shop, which threw us for a few minutes. The rooms are minimalist, but clean and extremely comfortable. The park is lovely. I fell asleep to the sound of happy, screaming children playing in the park. (I am only perturbed by unhappy, screaming children.)

Sitting in the middle of a pond in Westerpark. A statue of a court dress with no one in it. A statement?

The second couple, Susan and David, arrived not long after we did. We walked around looking for a restaurant with tables in the shade. The only one we could find was a vegetarian restaurant with the most wonderful veggie lasagna I have ever tasted. Then to bed again for about 10 hours of sleep. I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with no jet lag—a first. The bed here is seriously comfy.

The next day, we decided to walk to one of David’s fave breweries, located in an old windmill. While we were hoofing it, Linda and Clod checked in to the hotel and we arranged to meet them at a restaurant for lunch. I ordered a Caesar salad, but what arrived was basically a large quantity of fried meat on a meager bed of lettuce. It did have a lot of shaved Parmesan, but it was definitely not what I wanted on a hot afternoon. And I had developed a massive blister and went back to the hotel in a cab rather than walking another 3/4 mile on my abraded and bleeding toe. So I missed the beer. I imagine there will be other opportunities.

It was fun looking in the store windows and just soaking up the city. Head shops everywhere, which I don’t remember from my last visit here. I recall we had to go to a coffee shop to get weed. Not on my to-do list this time.

Tomorrow: the Reichsmuseum! I am so looking forward to that—but I will be wearing different shoes.