Gallivanting in Europe

This item appears on page 52 of the May 2015 issue.

(First of two parts)

To celebrate my upcoming 90th birthday on Dec. 26, 2014, I traveled to Europe for six months. My journey started in Florida on March 14, 2014, and I returned to Seattle on Sept. 9. Even my rollator, a 4-wheeled walker, did not impede my travels!

You’re probably wondering what I did during those six months.

I started with a 57-day Holland America Line (HAL) voyage through North Africa and the Mediterranean followed by a Road Scholar tour of France, a 2-week cruise along the Norwegian coast with my 24-year-old granddaughter, a Road Scholar tour of Ireland, a river sailing from Budapest to Nürnberg with Viking River Cruises and a 56-day HAL voyage from Amsterdam to Northern Europe

After composing the above sentences just now, I had to stop and take a deep breath, as I was writing and reminiscing about my extensive adventure. Yes, it really took six months, and I enjoyed every minute of it. 

At the conclusion of each part of this journey, I visited friends and family in the Netherlands. While there, I resided at my cousin’s in Aalsmeer, a town that is the site of the famous Flower Auction marketplace, not far from Schiphol, Amsterdam’s airport.

I will give you a short overview of my experiences.

The HAL voyage

It was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that I boarded the Prinsendam for the nearly 2-month cruise with HAL (877/932-4259, www.holland My fare, including single supplement, was $39,310 for a verandah stateroom.

The ship docked in the old-world African ports of Morocco, The Gambia, Senegal, etc., in the Canary Islands (in the Atlantic Ocean) and in the Mediterranean harbors of Spain, Gibraltar, Malta, Greece, Israel, Turkey and Italy. I disembarked in Cittavecchia, the port of Rome, on May 10.

Although I had visited many of the Mediterranean ports before, I didn’t mind doing it again, as I relish the flavor of these countries and their subtropical climates. 

I love Mediterranean food, and I delight in the superb scenery, the native markets and the immaculately clean villages with their whitewashed homes reflecting the sunlight. In addition, I am fascinated by the natives in their attire that often dates back 100 years or more.

During the cruise, I made many new friends, several of whom I have visited and others whom I later contacted through email.

Road Scholar tour of France

Next on my agenda was a delightful, approximately 3-week tour of France with Road Scholar (Boston, MA; 800/454-5768,, previously called Elderhostel. The expedition, May 16-June 5, 2014, was titled “Survey of France: Paris, Provence, the Wine Regions & More” (program 20781), and it cost $7,898, including single supplement.

In every location, Road Scholar trips provide excellent English-speaking local guides, who offer insight into the regions in which you travel and who make each area come to life with a discussion of its history and present appeal. 

A coordinator, present on every tour, accompanies the group on the entire trip and, in addition to briefly discussing areas to be visited, ensures that every single arrangement is carried out with precision. This guide speaks English as well as the language/languages of the country/countries to be visited. 

ITN readers will be happy to learn that the cost of each journey includes all gratuities. Also, bathroom stops at 2-hour intervals are an integral part of every tour. 

In the past, my late wife, Flory, and I took nine trips with Road Scholar, and I highly recommend the company.

Despite the fact that Flory and I had traversed France numerous times by bicycle, as well as by car and motorhome, I visited the country again, as I am enamored of France’s superb scenery and enchanting food. 

The attitude of the French toward foreigners has improved tremendously during the last decades, and many natives actually deign to speak English with visitors. In the past, the French would only converse with outsiders if they spoke French. 

Our trip stretched from Normandy, with the Allied invasion beaches of WWII in the north, all the way to the town of Arles in the south. We also visited Le Mont St-Michel, the towering abbey which, in the olden days, you could reach only at low tide, as the water surrounded the abbey at high tide. 

In 2009, construction started on a new hydraulic dam, causeway and bridge. When our Road Scholar group was in Mont St-Michel, there were so many visitors, our bus had to park in a humongous parking lot nearly two kilometers away from the abbey. 

To get to the monastery from the car park, we ran after our fast-moving guide for 15 minutes, hitched a ride on an overcrowded shuttle bus for 10 minutes and then took another 10-minute walk — all in all, a long and arduous trip. When Flory and I stopped at Le Mont St-Michel years ago, there were very few tourists and we could park just opposite the abbey.

Our group spent time exploring Lyon and had a gastronomic meal in the Villa Florentine, an elegant and expensive hotel restaurant situated on an overlook, which was so high above the city that the bus driver had difficulty finding it. 

In Paris we visited all the well-known sites, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, the Palace of Versailles, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and more. Our tour concluded with a delightful Seine dinner-cruise, with fabulous food and vistas as well as a fantastic view of the illuminated Eiffel Tower after dark.

The coordinator on this French tour, Robert André, was a gem.

Norwegian coast cruise

Next, I took my 24-year-old granddaughter, Kelly, who is a high school teacher, on a 14-day Holland America Line cruise (June 7-21) along the Norwegian coast as far as the North Cape. It was a spectacular trip, and each of us enjoyed the actual cruising as well as the port excursions offered by the ship, the Prinsendam again. Our ocean-view stateroom for two cost $6,182.

While on the vessel, Kelly participated in exercise classes and worked out on the treadmill in the gym. I spent my time reading and writing. Both of us attended informational lectures about the harbors to be visited, and at night we watched musicians and magicians perform. We also savored the great food on board.

As I am typing this report, the Prinsendam is sailing past Norway’s North Cape, a 1,007-foot-high cliff with a large plateau from which tourists can view the Midnight Sun.

The North Cape is 600 kilometers above the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost part in Europe to which you can drive. Only nomadic Sami herders and reindeers live there. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the temperature in the region is 20 degrees warmer than in Siberia.

In the olden days, the only way to get to the North Cape was by ship, and interested monarchs were keen on climbing to the top of the plateau by rope. Today, you can travel to the North Cape on the main north-south paved highway, the E69, a road that partly runs across wild, unpopulated terrain.

The Prinsendam, not being able to travel on the E69, sailed to the fishing village of Honningsvåg, from where a bus took us to the Nordkapphallen (North Cape Hall) on a road lacking any adjacent plant life. 

As we entered the hall, we discovered an underground tunnel that led to an overlook of the Barents Sea. The hall also had a theater, where we watched a fascinating video that displayed nature as it changed during the four seasons in that region. A cafeteria provided a tasty snack, and a chapel made it possible to “tie the knot,” if you were so inclined.

The weather outside the hall was very unpredictable. One moment you might have gorgeous sunshine, and the next moment low-hanging clouds would envelope you, making everything beyond your body invisible.

Next month, I will continue my narrative.    

Dr. Wagenaar welcomes questions but may not be able to answer them individually. Write to him care of ITN.