. Holland Viking Pride Cruise Review by Tom Wuckovich : ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine

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Sailing The Viking Pride: Going Dutch in Style

Sail Through Picturesque Holland in Springtime

Holland Cruise Windmills

I believe passionately that Holland is enchanting any time of the year. But Holland at springtime, now that's magical. It's the season when the tulips are in full bloom, and the fields and farms are vibrant carpets of color that would rival Joseph's coat. The breathtaking blooms are worthy of an artist's inspiration. Sprinkle in the quaint cities and towns, the Old-World windmills, and the warmth of the Dutch people and you have the consummate vacation experience.

This time, I was exposed to Holland's qualities in a unique way. I saw many of these remarkable sights by river ship on Holland's magnificent waterways. The Viking Pride, a sleek, intimate 150-passenger ship operated by Viking River Cruises, was my home base for seven days as I traveled virtually the length and breadth of this unforgettable country.

Viking River Cruises is one of the best small-ship cruise lines in the world, and the amenities onboard the Pride spacious cabins with large picture windows, a fine restaurant offering gourmet cuisine, a cozy bar, library, sun deck, in-room telephone and private bathrooms plus outstanding crew service were only exceeded by the itinerary and the included shore excursions, which were first rate.

The cruise began and ended in Amsterdam, Holland's capital and a world-class city. Before embarking to the first of many historic ports, there was time for a canal cruise on one of the city's famed canal boats, and a guided tour of the Rijksmuseum, which features the works of the great Dutch masters, including Rembrandt's heralded "Nightwatch."

The included shore excursions on the Viking Pride are impressive by any standards. The tours were top tier and conducted by knowledgeable English-speaking guides who patiently explained the background and interesting points of each destination. There were no long bus rides and plenty of time was allotted for exploring on your own. That's a good thing considering the diversity among the passengers.

I have my favorite places in Holland, but I added a few more during this voyage. For starters, the medieval fishing center of Enkhuizen is a journey back in time. This harbor on the Ijsselmeer first developed around the year 1000-1200. During the Golden Age, the town prospered and witness to this past era are the many striking buildings such as Drommedaris, the Weighing House and the Town Hall which bears a remarkable likeness to the Dam Palace in Amsterdam.

Zuiderzeemmuseum Holland Cruise

You can also visit the Zuiderzeemuseum that is nearby. This open-air museum consists of wonderfully preserved buildings dating back to the 15th century. Residents in period costumes add to the flavor and you can tour the historic shipyard, go into the structures, watch clog making, and sample smoked herring and visit the windmills. The museum focuses on the period between 1800-1932 and boasts over 130 dwellings, stores and workshops.

In the town of Hoorn, named for its horn-shaped harbor, you'll see another place steeped in maritime history. Hoorn was the headquarters for the Dutch East India Company. Stroll the narrow streets and note how the homes and other buildings tilt forward from the roof down. The structures were built with a form of seashell that was porous, and in order to keep the rain from seeping in, the buildings were angled forward. The practice is prevalent throughout Holland.

Several other items that are widespread in The Netherlands are cheese, flowers and windmills and the Viking Pride assures that you don't miss any of them. The village of Edam, replete with canals and drawbridges, is best known for the round cheese that bears its name. You van visit a restored traditional cheese market, or simply step into one of the many shops along the streets to buy some cheese for a souvenir or to snack on during the tours.

From Edam, it's on to Marken, a picturesque island fishing village connected by a dike to the mainland. Here, you can watch as villagers still practice the art of making wooden clogs, though fishing is still a prime industry. As it is in Volendam, a neighboring busy little harbor filled with fishing vessels of all sizes and shapes and where you can still find fishermen dressed in traditional caps and baggy-legged trousers and villagers who wear the familiar Dutch costumes in honor of their heritage. Many Hollanders come here from the larger cities to enjoy a day out near the water. They sit on benches on the waterfront basking in the sun, shop in the specialty stores or enjoy a lunch at one of the outdoor cafes. It reminds one of places such as Sag Harbor in New York, or Cape Cod, or Mystic, Connecticut. The towns also illustrate Holland's deep and abiding connection to the sea. The historic windmills that survive to this day vividly demonstrate that connection. The windmills provide a revealing glimpse into Holland's centuries-old struggle with the sea.

At Kinderdjik, probably one of the best examples of the typical Dutch landscape, there are 19 windmills, and though their task of handling water has been taken over by steam and electric pumps since 1868, the mills are still turning. Kinderdijk's windmills are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and illustrate the contribution made by the Dutch people to the technology of managing water resources. One mill is open for inspection and you can't help but marvel at the Dutch resourcefulness.

Holland Cruise Tulips

The same must be said for the country's devotion to flowers, particularly tulips. The normally frugal and sensible Dutch were consumed by tulip fever, especially in the 1600s when the first tulip bulbs were clandestinely brought from Constantinople by botanist Carolus Clusius. By 1634, the price of tulips skyrocketed and people were literally going broke to own them. Houses were mortgaged and one man was even sentenced to prison for stealing a bulb he mistakenly thought was an onion and eating it! The bubble burst by 1637, but the Dutch are still mad about tulips and flowers of every sort.

There is no better place to view this phenomenon then at Keukenhof Gardens, the scene of one of the world's most spectacular floral extravaganzas. Set in a beautiful park of winding streams, small lakes and tree-shaded paths, the gardens cover more than 70 acres and contain nearly seven million tulips and other flowers. The indoor and outdoor exhibits showcase the genius of Dutch gardening. To include Keukenhof Gardens and many of the other significant Dutch sights demonstrates the genius of Viking River Cruises.

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