Many cruise ships and tours visit Amsterdam. I had visited there myself twice before. Although I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Amsterdam and loved both of these vacations, neither of these trips gave me time to venture outside of this major Dutch city into the Netherlands countryside.
Not long after leaving Amsterdam on the Viking Europe, we came upon our first lock of the cruise. The Netherlands is covered with canals and rivers. The locks were built to help with flood control, and ships must schedule their time in the locks in advance since they can only be opened during certain stages of the tide. All of the locks are marked with the water level, and ships can only transit when the tides are almost at a standstill. This means the locks are available for transit only four times a day--just a couple of hours on either side of low and high tide. When we came upon the first lock, another river cruise ship, the River Cloud, was already in the lock. Our captain squeezed the Viking Europe alongside the River Cloud, and we waited for the water level to match that on the other side of the lock. After a few minutes, the gates opened and the River Cloud left the lock, followed closely behind by our ship the Viking Europe.
After leaving the lock, we entered the Gouwzee Bay, part of the Ijsselmeer (Ijssel Lake). While dining, we enjoyed watching the other ships on the lake and small cottages scattered on the numerous islands in the Ijsselmeer. The Netherlands is very flat, and it is easy to see why flooding is of such concern. We also got a close-up look at the new " Dolly Parton" bridge. We had driven by the bridge on the way to the Floriade but had not seen it up close. Its two large spans make it seem aptly named.
We reached Volendam after dark. I had heard both positive and negatives about the village. Some friends had raved about how quaint and charming Volendam was, others complained about what a tourist trap it was. Its proximity to Amsterdam certainly makes it an easy day trip for throngs of tourists, and its rows of wooden houses and numerous sailboats make Volendam very picturesque. Volendam was once a thriving fishing port, but the completion of the enclosure dike in 1932 and the subsequent change of the Zuiderzee (South Sea) from saltwater to the freshwater Ijsselmeer ruined the fishing.
Early the next morning, I went outside and was amazed to see how charming the city was. Volendam was quite beautiful in the early dawn. The sailboats rocked peacefully, and the sun was trying to peek through the cloud cover. What a wonderful way to start the day! We left Volendam early to visit Edam and Hoorn before meeting the ship in Enkhuizen. As we walked through the village in the early morning to meet the bus, I saw that most of the quaint buildings were souvenir shops. Maybe there was something to the "tourist trap" moniker after all! I'm kind of glad we left Volendam early. My memory of it will be as it looked in the early morning--calm, peaceful, and almost deserted.
Dancing with the Dutch
Our first night "at sea" (guess I should say "at lake" since we were on the freshwater Lake Ijssel) on the Viking Europe, we were treated to a dance troop who demonstrated several Dutch folklore dances in traditional costume. If you crave Las Vegas-type entertainment on a cruise, then a small ship river cruise is NOT your style. Our small ship featured local talent such as these dancers or the ship's crew. It was all great fun, but definitely not Vegas!
The small dance troop were all senior citizens, but had a lot of energy. You could tell that they loved the traditional dances and were proud of their heritage. The women wore 4 petticoats under their silk dresses, and the men wore heavy woolen jackets and pants, along with knitted socks. I'm sure they were sweltering after all of that dancing. The women wore traditional lace caps held in place with silver pins. We all agreed that they were NOT very attractive! Where were the cute little Dutch girl pointed caps? The women had wonderful hand-stitched purses and carried all of their sewing tools on a chain. The stitching on the bags was intricate, and took many hours to complete. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing about the costumes and learning about the dances. I was lucky enough to be asked to dance by one of the gentlemen, and we did two dances, one of which was the "famous" skating dance. I didn't embarrass myself, but don't think I am ready to change careers!