We sailed through the night, and when I awoke to bright sunshine at 5AM, we were just pulling into our first stop, Kinderdijk, a small village just southeast of Rotterdam. It’s essentially a rural village…mostly marshy farmland, which at one time had more than 90 windmills that pumped water out into the river in order to re-claim the land for farming.
We were only to make a stop in Kinderdijk for about 2 hours. There were three different options for us: a walking tour of the windmills, a barge ride to a windmill or a 4 mile bike riding tour to see the windmills. Can you guess which one we chose?
Of course we did the bike tour…with just 2 other guests! Yes, we were a group of 4 plus our tour guide, a local Dutch woman. The guide met us on the boat, and then we walked to a little building to pick up our bikes. These bikes were not like the ones Josette and I have at home and commute to work with…these were old-fashioned beach bikes with no gears and pedal breaks. Honestly, it took a little getting used to (it’s like driving a stick shift after many years of driving an automatic), but it was completely flat terrain…so it was very easy riding.
Our guide wasn’t much on words, but to be honest, there was little info to know about other than that the majority of the mills were built-in the mid 1700’s. They were used only as water pumping mills, to push water out into the river, as opposed to grinding mills such as sugar mills you see in the Caribbean. Everything you see in the photos below would be underwater, if not for the mills. Today, they have electric pumps that push the water out, but these old windmills are still 100% operational. People actually sign up to be part of a lottery system to live in the windmills. The government subsidizes the rent provided that the windmill tenant maintain the windmills at all times. All of that is interesting, but this stop was really just about riding bikes amongst one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen.
We stopped at one mill where we had a little tour. This windmill was not occupied, but is run as a museum. It is set up like a 1950’s mill keeper’s house…but the mill itself is about 275 years old. The guide was a lovely Dutch lady who explained that as beautiful as it all looks, it was a very isolated and hard life to keep a mill up and running. While it looked very quaint, she said most millers were quite poor, nearly sustenance-living, most being so poor as to not even able to afford a cow. Most lived from the milk and meat of goats and what they were able to grow in a small garden.
The whole time she was giving us the tour, the windmill guide was walking around in her wood clogs….sort of the ultimate cliché of (historic) Dutch style. Of course, I had to ask about the clogs. Why are the Dutch known for their clogs? I suppose her answer was obvious after actually being in The Netherlands and seeing the terrain for myself. Clogs are very practical. They can get wet and muddy and not be ruined. And more importantly, they are inexpensive…you just carve some wood to make shoes….far cheaper than leather shoes. So, they were the ideal type of shoes for the no-nonsense lifestyles that these folks lived. Now you know!
Another fun fact that we learned on this tour was that the Dutch windmills have 4 spokes–the “fan” portion that catches the wind and spins around. Depending on the direction and amount of wind, they pull out the sails (or sheets) on the spokes…like the sails on a ship. However, it was important to balance the sails. You never want to have 3 sails out at the same time, or it imbalances the windmill and makes it undsteady….hence the saying “three sheets to the wind”, meaning a drunk person!
We finished the windmill tour and leisurely rode our bikes back the ship. This was a beautiful morning and a great start to this river cruise.
Back onboard the ship, it was time to perform a safety exercise at 2PM…we were assigned an area of the boat to report to with our life preservers. I think this is common on any type of water cruise, ocean or river. It was fairly painless, and we spent most of the afternoon sitting on our deck relaxing as we cruised down the river.
Later in the evening, on the long journey from Kinderdijk to Cologne, Germany, we had our first pre-dinner meeting with the Cruise Director, Gary. He’s a very entertaining British gentlemen, with a sort of old school late night talk show host personality. The over 60 crowd seems to think he is hilarious. Obviously, it isn’t required to be in attendance, but in addition to some corny jokes, he tells you what’s happening the following day, and the Chef comes out to explain the evening’s menu. This is also cocktail hour…so you can get a drink (which you pay for) before the dining room opens at 7PM.
As I mentioned, dinner is served promptly at 7PM in the Dining Room, or you can sit on the semi-outdoor Aquavit Terrace (which is billed as less formal, but it has the same menu and service). They asked that you to be on time, so they can serve efficiently. Dress is very casual: men wear shorts and polo shirts, but most (including me) change into khakis for dinner. Women’s dress seems to be everything from super casual to cocktail party attire (the British women seem to dress a bit more fancy than the American women).
Despite the casual attire, the tables are set very formally in terms of silverware and drinkware. And the service is meant to be formal, but as formal as the young staff are able to provide. Our servers were all from the Philippines and the staff pouring the wine were Eastern European. Everyone was friendly and seemed to be doing their best, but they seemed a bit new to the gig, if you know what I mean.
The Dinner Menu offers three courses that center around local specialities–this changes every night–and then there are several other choices such as fish, chicken, steak, etc. that appear on every menu. For this meal, the speciality option was Chateaubriand, which I’m not sure was particularly “local”, but that is what we choise. It was very tasty, nothing spectacular, but cooked well. The wine flows freely and is free at dinner.
One important thing to point out is that at Lunch and Dinner, you are not assigned a seat. You simply find a spot at any open table, which are as small as 4 tops and as large as 8 or 10 tops. Admittedly, it was a little intimidating this first night, very much like carrying your lunch tray into the Cafeteria on the first day of Middle School. But we quickly found a group to sit with…a brother/sister/sister-in-law/work friend that turned out to be one of our go-to groups to enjoy a meal with. Before choosing one of these Viking river cruises, you should be aware that you will have to have your social game on point. There are very limited places to eat breakfast/lunch/dinner and even fewer places to sit alone….so you will be meeting new people at every meal.
After dinner, we went up to the uppermost deck and watched the boat sail by random towns in the Netherlands, and eventually into Germany. It’s very soothing and very relaxing.
Tomorrow, we will visit Cologne, Germany and see the tallest Gothic Cathedral in the world.