Monday, July 11, 2005

Day 1 AMSTERDAM The Netherlands
7June 2005 Tuesday

The inadvertent discovery of the River Harmony’s library computer and its email capacity changed the face of my correspondence. Postcards have far too small a writing area for me to tell a story properly. There is only enough room for haiku, or severely abbreviated sentences SO when upon discovery that a dense email could be sent for $2.00 AND I could receive replies GRATIS, I quickly shifted all my writing focus to the screen and keyboard.

FLIGHT FROM AUSTIN TO AMSTERDAM. Day #1. Monday.You know of course that our flight was made in bits - Austin -Houston (uneventful) and the Houston - Dulles (on a new jet, so new that the plane did not properly connect to the tunnels. We actually had to disembark, walk several meters and then climb back on OLD SCHOOL.) Not very attractive feature of this flight. We had to really move quickly to get from the gate in Terminal D to the gate in Terminal C that was in the furthest corner of Dulles, or so it seemed. It had become very clear at that time that my job was to really stay right with my mother, watching every step and being aware of every possible convenience and inconvenience.

In the Dulles Airport Gate C#7, we had been met by a red-jacket Grand Circle Tour representative, who checked us off her list and informed us that we would be joining 31 of the GCT members on this flight. We were identified by our GCT nametags, our black GCT travel bags and our blue tags attached to the side. There were brief greetings among those identified, but we all fell into the quiet of travel. The flight from Dulles to Amsterdam took about seven hours on a particularly comfortable wide-bodied 777 plane. We had more than enough space to be comfortable, and were congratulating ourselves for forethought for purchasing fruit and bringing our own bottles of water. One movie later (to be discussed later) and some reading and some sleep and we were there.

(Arrival Time 6:30 am) We were more than ready to leave the airplane after the trip. There had been several somewhat turbulent moments on both the latter flights, so I was silently VERY thankful to be down again. The most challenging hurtle was ahead - that is the baggage claim portion of our show. Passport Control - where the passport inspector had a red-cheeked giggle when my mother stood stoically behind the yellow line despite my apparently humorous attempt to get my mother to stand next to me while he checked and stamped our passports. Mother/Mother/MOM! Our bags were pulled off onto the free rolling cart, arranged and I had one moment of having to scold my mother who was about to leave all our baggage untended while she looked for another cart that we didn't need after all. Grrrr. In the end, with our bags neatly organized, one atop the other, we rolled through the sliding double doors and VOILA, we were in the main terminal of the Schipol International Airport.

Despite the usual bustle and movement of an airport, we were easily able to identify our DCT representative, a thirtysomething blonde Flemish woman Katya. Too much sun, paled but fluent. Our group began to gather each with their baggage carts, pointing inward like quiet cattle. It became clear that there were still some of our group missing. Remember that there were those who were coming from the Brussels Pre-trip, and those who were coming from all over the country. We would eventually have to leave without the three unnamed individuals and get on the bus, which was merely across the street. Apparently there was a series of storms that had affected the East Coast and therefore some flights had been delayed behind the other, and therefore a few of our fellow passengers were affected.

Motorcoach with cushy chairs, we were tired beyond tired. Twenty minutes or so through light morning traffic, we arrived at the River Harmony, ship for cruising the Rhine. Low, wide and quite unlike the HUGE ocean liner that we saw docked at a glass building many many stories high. Clearly our 137 fellow travelers were nothing like the hundreds and hundreds who would be travelling on the enormous ocean liners.

The River Harmony had just made the trip from Vienna to Amsterdam with one group and this group was waiting in the lounge. Their baggage would be loaded onto the bus and our rooms were swiftly being prepared. In that time, we were able to meet several of the outgoing travelers - including some Filipinas married to Indians who were on their way off to London UK. After the usual hesitation (on the Gutierrez Heimsath part) we had a wonderful extended conversation. The Filipina doctor (now retired by and large) from Michigan, recommended Wertheim (homevisit) and Vienna. The Filipina nurse and her doctor husband enjoyed Heidelberg etc. It was clear from the beginning that a clever conversationalist would be greatly valued.

At this time it would be important to point out the endless number of meals, well served by the tireless crew of forty plus members (!). It is critical to wear one's tag so as to be properly identified by name and by area of the United States. The great majority of our fellow travelers are frequent travelers - and those who sport the gold tags have been on Grand Circle Tour at least four times. Most, like my parents, began with the large ocean liners and have done those enough times to want something else, more intimate. From what I gather, this river tour is much more detailed, less formal is some ways, but preferable for most.

Our room (#211 on the Sonata Deck) is quite lovely. Key cards were issued to both of us. Tiled bathroom with toilet, sinks and shower. Two racks of thick white towels, changed everyday. Two upholstered loveseat sized seating areas, comfortable single sized beds pull out from the walls and between the two seating areas is a small fixed table. Double lined curtains, personal thermostat, and two separate closets with hangers, one with a small metal safe, and a desk with a handsome chair. Small television (that we have never used) and a telephone which never rings. On this our first day on the boat (Day #2) of our adventure, my mother and I unpacked, systematically hanging and folding and organizing our space. My mother had wisely brought additional hangers, which both of us needed desperately. Hang hang fold fold.

I have to say that when we had our first exposure to the Dutch weather, I was very concerned that I had packed inadequately. The brisk air was 55 -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Whoops. Brisk stiff wind despite the bright sunshine, and I only had the one light lined coat and my short denim jacket. Not even one pair of denims, lots of skirts and dresses and formal wear. Oh no. Then we would be told by other travelers that formal wear would be altogether unnecessary, 'Smart/Casual' for any more formal affairs. Great. No hose for warmth. No turtlenecks or sweaters. No sweatshirts. Everything was wrong. Then I discovered that I didn't have any Tshirts, etc etc etc. Aggravating altogether. Still - nothing to be done but to marshall on.

The first lunch and then dinner involved what we would discover was the routine. Find two seats with different groups of people. Talk talk talk talk talk. Lots of seventy plus people. There are at least three mother/daughter teams, few single older men (including intrepid 90 year old Werner Hebenstreit.) First you shake hands and identify what part of the country in which you live. Compare travelling notes and family and interests. Mostly retired. Grand parents. Familiar travelers.

One enters the boat via sliding glass doors and to the immediate right is the reception desk with a clerk, on the wall (I'm presently staring at this and describing this to you at the same time) are cubbies for keys. The entry way is tiled in marble, lots of polished red wood. Turn to the left and there is a pair of red carpeted stairs and brass railings. Seven steps curving from the right and left up to the hallway that take you to the Level 4 room hallway and at the end of this is the gracious seating area. Round tables, long tables, all covered in linen tablecloths, silverware, linen napkins, leather covered menus of the day's meal everyday. Uniformed waitpeople (mostly Slovakian) wear sharply starched white and black. Cleaning people wear light blue polo shirts with collars and khakis with white Keds. Chefs wear the proper chefware and of course the captain and his immediate crew wear the formal jackets with brass buttons and occasionally don their hats as well.

We have three group leaders: Kayta (30 something Belgian/ Flemish speaking), Gerald (mid twentys German) and Nela (24 very blonde and Belgian/Flemish). All three speak flawless English and Flemish/ German and French. Katya is the most experienced of this small group. The two younger ones are newer at this but clearly fun-loving. By this our Day #6, we have had a chance to have dinner with Katya and Nela as part of our dining group. So interesting - clearly a taxing job. While it sounds very romantic to be guiding groups up and down the Rhine, all of this crew including the GCT guides are on, 24 hours, to make our trip as enjoyable as possible. Every one of this crew lives on tiny rooms on the lower deck, but they rarely see their beds. There are rooms for guests on the 4th, 3rd and 2nd level. The fourth level has windows that open up to small balconies. The third level rooms are slightly larger than our 2nd level rooms, but all frankly are very comfortable, and if ours are smaller, there is more than enough for all of us.

The name of the game was to stay awake as much as possible until the true night hours of Amsterdam. Miraculously, my mom and I were able to stay awake (kind of) until 9:40 PM and then gratefully fell dead asleep on our beds that had been turned down (yes chocolate). During dinner, for which we had dressed up, our beds had been pulled down; fresh linen set up out, a small chocolate on the pillow and the next day's agenda neatly typed up. We hung up our jammies, got ready for bed and fell asleep HEAVILY.


At 4:36 PM, Blogger Maggie said...


I found your blog because someone was clicking on my blog to look at my Melk photo (under December on archives on I have book marked you blog for when I have time to read it. I scanned a bit and found that your ship broke down. Horrors.

My husband and I were on a River Cruise with Uniworld from Amsterdam to the Black Sea and back up to Bucharest for a couple of days by bus. It was about 25 days, in total. I am going to load my pictures to my web page, when I finish doing the text and fixing the photos I want to add. I hope to be finished in another couple of weeks and have it loaded to under Travel and 05Danube.

Your blog is much more in depth than my photo albums will be. I hope to get back to finish reading soon... got to run...

It is so cool to compare travel notes like this.


Post a Comment

<< Home