Trip to the Netherlands

By: Miyako Storch
This item appears on page 42 of the September 2018 issue.

Trip to the Netherlands

My husband, Bernie, and I decided that, after we took a 24-day cruise aboard the Seven Seas Voyager and stayed a few days in the United Arab Emirates, we would go west to make it an "around-the-world" trip.

From Dubai, we flew to Amsterdam via Istanbul. Istanbul's international airport was confusing and chaotic, with people sleeping on benches and on the floor and others at the gate making lots of noise. But it did have a peaceful lounge, which included a prayer room.

In comparison, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was very clean, functional and orderly, with signs and lit-up bulletin boards everywhere, so we didn't have to ask anyone where our gate was or shops or the lounge.

We stayed five nights (May 5-9, 2017) at the Room Mate Aitana (IJDok 6, 1013 MM, Amsterdam, Netherlands; phone +31 20 89 14 800, room-matehotels.com/en/aitana), which sits halfway over one of the canals and half on the ground — very interesting. We found the hotel to be a bit funky, but it had everything you want in a hotel, and it was downtown (but very quiet).

The costs of our hotels, guides and pickups in the Netherlands were charged to us in a lump sum by our travel agent, Linda Kavanagh at Montecito Village Travel (Santa Barbara, CA; 805/207-3525), but I estimate we paid about $450 per night for both of us at this hotel, including a breakfast buffet. Wi-Fi was free.

While in Amsterdam, we took private guided tours. For the first two days, our guide was Elke de Boer (phone +31 62 44 39 869), who is with Tours by Locals (www.toursbylocals.com/Amsterdam-Tours). (We learned about Elke through our travel agent. Once Linda knows what travelers are looking for, she matches them with companies local to the destination.)

With Elke, we went on a canal cruise, walked in Old Town and went through the Red Light District (a regular stop on tours of the city).

On the second day, she took us to a tulip farm outside the city. Since our visit was in the first part of May, we thought it would be too late for the tulips, but Elke took us to a farm that grows tulips for the bulbs as well as for the flowers, and we had a feast of colors and shapes with tulips and crocuses. Wonderful!

We also went to a farm called Fluwel (Belkmerweg 20 A, Burgerbrug). There were tulips as far as our eyes could see. They also had a souvenir shop and café. A lovely place and lovely people.

Elke said the cost of the first day's tour was $795, but we liked her so much that we hired her directly (not through Tours by Locals) for the second day's tour. We agreed to pay $350 for what turned out to be three-fourths of a day (but we paid good tips).

For the last two days we had a different guide, René Smit (also with Tours by Locals), who was not as talkative. He took us to Kinderdijk and on a canal cruise to see 17 active windmills and dykes, and we drove over the dams to Zeeland Water Park.

Because my husband has a slight problem with walking, we try to take private guided tours as often as possible so other tour members won't have to wait for us. Elke understood this, but we didn't feel that René did, as he often walked quite far in front of us.

The last day, we went to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. It was huge, almost the size of a soccer field. There was a walkway above, crossing the entire area, over carts loaded with flowers in pots to be shipped all over the world.

We also peeked inside the auction floor. I was expecting noisy activity, with buyers waving name placards and bidding out loud, but everything was so quiet. The flowers and bulbs to be auctioned were displayed on a screen, and the buyers stayed in contact with their home offices by computer. Items auctioned were moved from cold storage and shipped out immediately. It's a modern way of doing business but was a bit of a letdown to us.

Our stay in Amsterdam was a real eye-opener. There were millions of bicycles in the city center alone. Our hotel was about a 10-minute walk from the Centraal Station, where we were stunned to see thousands of bicycles parked in a several-story building. (How does a person find his or her own bike?)

They have a saying in Amsterdam that "God created the world, and the Dutch created The Netherlands," as about one-third of their land was reclaimed by dams and manpower.

Even for a short stay, we were stunned to find out what Holland and her people are. This country is simply amazing.

MIYAKO STORCH

Santa Barbara, CA