So after a very healthy breakfast, having been gently woken by sunlit through the porthole about 7am, we gathered in reception to meet the robust Rita, our guide for today, here in Hoorn. It’s another very Dutch place, with a touch of Lymington in Hampshire about it. Maybe it’s the marina, all those masts and a certain air of affluence too. It was a beautiful clear day, with a bite to the air, but we set off at a brisk pace.
Once past the marina, we were in a very pretty town that has changed little, I suspect, in two or three hundred years. Beautiful gables, age-defying wooden doors and a little trickery with planning permission (a universal issue, I gather) are all pointed out to us, by Rita, who epitomises Dutch cheer and jollity. What amazes me is that Dutch houses that face the street here have no desire for privacy, quite large, low windows are there to be looked into. Not a net curtain in sight, a little beautiful lace hung at the window, Belgian style for sure, but no nylon whatever. I find myself glancing into interesting living rooms, kitchens, studies.
We arrived at the cheese shop, an absolute wonder. It was tiny, crammed quite literally to the rafters with cheese, Edam of all sizes, all flavours (spicy, chive, basil and more) and all colours! Orange predominates, as in many of the shops in preparation for the installation of King Willem-Alexander on April 30th after his mother’s abdication. Now that would be a day to visit Holland!
After a fascinating tour of this charming town, we headed to an ancient café-cum-bar on the main square, for a warming hot chocolate, it was so delicious, I had two! And then followed a truly unexpected, low-key but enlightening surprise. The Westfries Museum across the square was exhibiting a sizeable collection of Rembrandt’s sketches, what a testament to the artist’s brilliance, detail, delicacy and just a hint of decadence. I loved it! Hundreds of pencil drawings showing the minutiae of life in the 17th century.
A little more wandering about Hoorn, we got slightly lost I confess, as heading for water to find the ship actually leads you just about everywhere, canals, small bridges and cobbled streets really are in abundance. We dashed into lunch for more delicious food, late but graciously received, then the Royal Crown set sail for our final destination, Amsterdam.
During a gentle afternoon’s cruising, past wind turbines that seem to have replaced windmills, I reflected on the past four days, would I cruise again? Most definitely, yes. Would I take a river cruise again? I certainly would, it has to be one of the most relaxing, yet interesting experiences I’ve ever had. There’s plenty of downtime, water everywhere, which I like, the chance to explore on land and absolutely no feeling of being hustled about or rushed. We avoided coach trips, not a favourite, and still had a tremendous time. The intimacy of a small-ish group is very appealing, as is the calmness and gentility of the ship. I do not want to walk miles to my cabin, eat in a huge restaurant or admire small children’s antics when away! Yes, I’m now over 50!
The Royal Crown docked in central Amsterdam, within easy reach of the centre. A champagne cocktail preceded the Farewell Dinner, where the food excelled itself, it really did! We were entertained by The Robinsons, an attractive guitar playing duo who quite frankly easily matched, maybe surpassed, Simon and Garfunkel, whose songs they covered. Later on, some headed off for the delights of an evening walking tour in the city, I, a touch behind schedule, packed.
Next morning, with more than a hint of sadness, we left the elegant Royal Crown. The canals and architecture of Amsterdam were calling, as was a trip to The Hermitage to see Van Gogh’s exhibition (brilliant) and a sobering visit to The Dutch Resistance museum, which is well worth going to.
So after a wonderful five days away, Mother summed it all up, ‘Let’s do that every year, it was so peaceful, so friendly and so very interesting. River cruising is undoubtedly for me. Absolutely divine food, a gorgeous cabin and a beautiful ship.’ All that remains is to decide where to cruise in 2014!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hebridean Island Cruises for European Sailings on the Royal Crown.