When Mom decided to book our “Grand European Tour” with Viking River Cruises, she told me she wanted to add the two-night pre-trip to Amsterdam, booked by Viking. It made sense to me from a practical standpoint as we’d know, even with any flight delays, we’d still be able to make the first day of the trip on the Atla. I also figured we’d have a bit of a chance to adjust to the nine-hour time difference from home.
For us, this was definitely a good decision–and others I’ve spoken with today touring with Viking have agreed. While we don’t board the Atla until tomorrow, we’ve been well taken care of by Viking. The lodging choice, Hotel Moevenpick, (a chain, I understand) is solid for river cruisers because this hotel is located right at the cruise terminal. We’ve seen three river cruise boats in the past two days (one was the Viking Helvetia, others were boat lines I didn’t recognize) berthed (is that the right word for it? I’m trying to get this nautical terminology down) just below the Moevenpick. Two very large cruise ships were just beside the hotel for the past night; these looked really, really big from water level, not so huge from the 15th floor where we’re staying.
The Moevenpick offers daytime shuttles every half hour to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station–the hub for the trains, buses, trams and even ferries that disperse Amsterdammers (is that a word? I’m guessing probably not…) around the city and region. There’s also a city tram that goes right by the hotel if you have one of the 24- or 48-hour passes and want to hop on it. But Mom and I found we don’t need to use the shuttles; the station is about a 10-minute walk away and we did it yesterday as well as today, after a long day of exploring and walking. I’d looked at the map ahead of time and, while it looked close, I couldn’t quite tell if it was easily walkable. It definitely is. The walking is safe (except for watching out for bicyclists–egads, they really move out in their bike lanes–look very carefully at least three times before crossing a bike lane) and, with the long summer evenings, we two women felt secure returning to the hotel even after 9 pm along the walkway.
The Centraal Station is the starting point for the “active/touristy” section of Amsterdam, it seems. From the Moevenpick, walk to the station then walk through it to get to exit to the other side, where you’ll see canals, old buildings, oodles of people and the Amsterdam scene. From that direction, anything is fair game.
But, back to the Moevenpick: Viking’s negotiated rate with the hotel currently includes the breakfast buffet. Dozens of seats are available at long tables and bars. The serving area includes baked goods (yeast breads, quick breads, muffins, croissants, toasters), cold meat (it looked like turkey, salmon and luncheon-meaty looking things), egg area (they’ll make you an omelette and scrambled eggs are plentiful and the boiled eggs looked good, but were not hard boiled enough for my taste). Add in tables of fresh fruit, veggies and even olives (!), bacon, two kinds of sausage and food items I didn’t recognize at all (a potato thing kinda like hash browns and little, puffy griddle cake things the size we used to call “silver dollar” when I was a kid). Look, too, for the honey comb still in its wooden tray; I got a croissant just to have something to put the honey on!
There’s free Internet in the room but the sign-on only last four hours so I’ve had to repeatedly put in my “log in credentials” over the past day. Oh, well.
The rooms are twin beds, either made up as one big bed or two individual beds; both are pushed together. The smoking area is outside only so rooms smell fresh and clean. If you forgot to bring an electrical adapter (they’re not needed on the Viking longships I understand), give the Moevenpick a 50-euro deposit and they’ll loan you an adapter…or maybe it’s a converter, too; I don’t know because I brought an adapter of our own. There’s a room safe (you set your own combination number) and a small refrigerator as well as a device to heat your coffee. I’d never before been in a hotel where you put your room’s key card in a holder in order to “have” electricity in the room. It was easy to forget, at first, that the bathroom light wasn’t broken–I just had to insert my key card in the slot and “there was light.”
The shower was a real puzzler–and I felt better when I heard that other Viking guests, too, had a tough time figuring out the plumbing for it. Your clue: The shower’s control is to the left (turn it and turn it) and the temperature is to the right on the stainless steel “bar/pipe.” I still haven’t figured out what the button on the right is for. Be forewarned, though, the hot water is really hot: Dangle the shower nozzle down and pointing away from you until you figure out the temperature controls; and watch out–the tub surface is really slippery, especially when you use the shower gel that’s mounted in a bottle on the shower wall (squeeze the bottle, the soap comes out the bottom). And, yes, I realize many of you probably know all about this European shower stuff–but I didn’t!
We met about 20 other Viking passengers this morning when we gathered for a two-hour walking tour of Amsterdam. Arrive a bit early in the lobby and you’ll likely have the chance to talk with Viking passengers who are checking out of the hotel after their cruise; it was educational to ask what they enjoyed about their just-completed cruise and ask for ideas and tips they can share with you. We heard about optional excursions they recommended (and some that they didn’t).
Klaas led our tour (the group was divided into two); he passed out the QuietVox listening devices that I understand are similar to the ones we’ll be using at tours on the river portion of the trip. The device is about the size of half of a deck of cards. You wear an over-the-ear speaker that’s plugged into the device. The sound was good and does allow you to stray a bit from the guide if you’re taking pictures. After an hour or so, it did hurt my ear a bit on the “over the ear” part on the back; I had to keep adjusting it but it never really felt comfortable (but perhaps I have weird ears; it wouldn’t surprise me…).
The tour pace was slow to moderate but we still had the opportunity to learn a lot about Amsterdam’s history, culture and appeal. Klaas introduced us to herring (with diced onions and sliced pickles) from a street vendor, offered personal stories about what life is like in Amsterdam and really seemed passionate about architecture and obscure little bits of Amsterdam trivia. Never having gone on a cruise or tour of any kind before, I admit I had some prejudices about walking around like a flat-footed clutch of ducklings behind their momma, but it really wasn’t objectionable. I quickly forgot I was in a group and hung back often to take the photos I envisioned.
For me, I think the “danger” of these tours is going to be that I forget to stop in the midst of all the information and photo opportunities to just “be” in that place, experiencing it through my own eyes. I’m guessing that the best tours (like the one this morning), will be those that give me the background and some stories but don’t mold my discovery into a pre-packaged experience. I’ll keep you posted how that goes!
Mom and I wandered through Amsterdam the rest of the day. We shared a tasty cheese sandwich sitting on a shady stoop in the main square; I had no idea “rocket” is British-speak for “arugula” so don’t be surprised when they ask if you want “rocket” on your sandwich; it has nothing to do with war arsenal. We enjoyed a canal tour from the Eco company (smaller boats, uncovered, all live English-speaking boat pilots–with none of those automated pre-recorded narratives) then boarded one of the free ferries (at Centraal Station) for the NDSM Werf (wharf); it was great fun to join the masses bolting on to these blue and white boats, traveling down the harbor and then bolting quickly off of it (again, watch for those oh-so-bold bicyclists). We had dinner by the yacht club (nice to see how the other half enjoys their summer afternoons) and rode the ferry back.
It’s late tonight–our camera batteries are recharging and we’re ready for tomorrow’s planned adventure on our own: a train trip 20 minutes away to Haarlem to see the Corrie ten Boom home (of The Hiding Place, book and movie). Before leaving, we’ll set our bags out for Viking to load onto the Atla (it’s not in dock yet, that I can see) and be back on the ship to check in before 5 pm. Cross your fingers, please, that we can figure out the right train, the right stop–and then do the same on the way back to the Atla’s berth.