Prior to checking out in the morning, Viking asked that we put a special tag on our bags, which had been mailed to us weeks prior to the trip. They also instructed us to leave our bags outside of our hotel door promptly at 8:15 and they would be retrieved by staff….so we followed instructions and left our bags (which included my laptop, camera, and medicines). However, after breakfast, we went back upstairs an hour later and our bags were still in the hallway. This hotel was large, and the Viking cruise members were just a fraction of the guests…not to mention that we were on the 2nd floor and there was no restriction on entry to the hotel. So we brought our bags down to the hotel concierge and continued on with our day.
Now that we were totally comfortable taking the tram around town, thanks to my wife who figured it all out, we felt like we could easily go and see whatever we wanted with relative ease. Our first stop was the Rijksmuseum, the National Art Museum. We were told that school is still in session (but near the end) so large school groups frequent the museums this time of year…this is also the case in the US. So in order to avoid annoying school kids (and yes, I have one) we set out to be there right at 9AM, when they opened. This was not a problem for me, as I have been getting up at 4:30/5 every morning. Jet lag typically sneaks up on me a few days in and screws up normal patterns.
The museum building itself is a grand 1885 structure built similar to a church, with the two imposing towers flanking the main bay. However, unlike a church, on the facade, instead of religious figures, you find the names of famous Dutch artists, and on the interior of the museum, the stained glass glorifies men such as Rembrandt rather than telling Biblical stories. The museum recently went under a 375€ renovation which kept it closed for several years, but the results are stunning…it’s a beautiful building.
Our arrival plan worked, and we got to the museum early and before any kids had shown up. No lines and no crowds…not even for the museum’s centerpiece….”The Night’s Watch”, by Rembrandt. Like the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre, this is THE artwork that defines the museum. It was much larger than anticipated and quite impressive.
Rather than go and on about the museum, I’m simply going to show you the things that stood out to me on our visit.
We saw some amazing Dutch art and artifacts at the Rijksmuseum. You should remember that at their height of power, the Dutch were an amazing sea-faring empire that had colonies all over the world including New Amsterdam ( which would become New York)…throughout the Caribbean…in South Africa…Malaysia and Indonesia, etc.
We left the museum and had a hiccup that occasionally happens when traveling to an unknown place…a moment when you have the unfortunate combination of being ravenously hungry, frustrated, thirsty, undecided, annoyed, and a bit irritated with one’s spouse….it happens to the best of us, but it passes. For us, after leaving the museum, we didn’t know where we wanted to go, how to get there or what to do when we got there…so there was a bit of back and forth until a compromise was made.
Our next stop was “Our Lady in the Attic” Church, which happens to have the unfortunate fate of being located smack in the middle of the red-light district and a major tourist trap. We did NOT want to eat lunch there. We hate to pay for overpriced mediocre food. So I did a little research and found a spot that had a local vibe with organic, whole food called Gartine. We made our way there and found it to be a funky/granola/hippie type eatery cum Tea House.
We literally ate like rabbits with a very vegetarian lunch and a rose and lime tea to wash it down! We also finished it with a lemon merange pie, which fit in with their homey vibe, but I chose not to photograph it…if it wasn’t documented, then the calories weren’t real.
After lunch, we walked by an unassuming gate and decided to take a peek. It turned out to be an enchanting little Catholic commune within the neighborhood called the Het Begijnhof. You can read the story behind it in the photo below.
Our Lady in the Attic
The last stop of the day, before going back to the hotel to join the cruise, was Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder, or “Our Lady in the Attic”, a clandestine Catholic church built-in the attic of a canal house. There were other such hidden churches, but I think this is one of the only surviving example. They were used during the 17th century when (openly) practicing Catholicism was against the law.
The bottom portion of the house depicts things as they would have been in the late 1600’s, but then as you continue up through the house, and ascend the final set of stair, you are amazed to find this astonishing little gem…a complete little Catholic Church.
When we finished our tour of the church in the attic, we walked around the oldest part of Amsterdam, with most of the structures dating to the 16th century.
The Viking Cruise Begins
We were supposed to report to the hotel lobby at 3PM to depart by bus for the ship. When we got back to the hotel, everyone else seemed to have already arrived. There was a bit delay in boarding, and we also had the task of going into a large holding room and identifying our bags one last time before departing.
Our original and intended ship, the Viking Vili, was actually trapped on its way back to Amsterdam by a barge that blocked the river. So we were given another Viking ship, which was a twin ship, named Viking Mimir (all of the Viking long boats are named after Viking gods). In addition, the Amsterdam port authority, which designates where you dock, gave Viking a very distant docking point for our boat. Typically, it is much closer to the Amsterdam center, but in our case, we had about a 30 minute bus ride to a very distant and much more industrial dock.
We were docked with a sister ship that was going on a different cruise. They literally dock these ships side by side to within inches of one another. We had to pass through the other ship to get onto Viking Mimir.
Viking river cruise ships have about 5 different room choices….from simple, small rooms below deck with only port hole-type windows, to the most extravagant type of room, the Explorer Suites, which there are only 2 of on the ship, that face the rear and have wrap around windows, room service, etc. As part of our splurge trip, we have the 2nd best type of room, a Veranda Suite. We have a nice living room with a sitting area and a balcony that we can sit on, plus a separate bedroom with a french balcony, a nice walk in shower…so lots of light and extra space. We also get complimentary laundry service, and they stock our refrigerator with water and wine.
So far, we are pleased with everything. The rooms are small by hotel standards….but that is the case in any type of cruise situation, and we are lucky to have a much larger Suite by comparison to most people on this cruise. Most of the guests are retired folks in older age brackets, but there is definitely a contingency of 40/50 year olds like ourselves.
At around 11:30, we left the shores of Amsterdam to start our two-week journey.
First stop is Kinderdijk in the Netherlands. I will check back then.