A cruise is like a buffet full of exotic foods. You take a small sample of a variety, but you don’t make a meal of any one thing. One can go to bed in the Netherlands and wake up in Germany. But then one finds something really good on the buffet, and you think: “I want to come back and get more of that.”
After a few days in Bruges, we boarded a bus that took us to Gent/Ghent where we stopped for little more than an hour. Then we went to Delft where we had most of the afternoon. And finally, in the evening we arrived at our Rhine river boat in Amsterdam where we had time for a walk in the evening and again the next morning before setting sail.
It really wasn’t sufficient time in any of these places, but it gave us a small taste, a small adventure, and perhaps a basis for some future trip.
The “Treaty of Ghent” ended the War of 1812. Right on the North Sea at the confluence of two rivers, Ghent – spelled Gent in Belgium – is a larger more prosperous version of Bruges. We enjoyed walking through the town looking at the large Flemish buildings long the canals. Some leaned out toward the street, not because they were settling after centuries, but because they were built to make it easier to haul goods into the upper stories.
The Groot Cannon, still its original orange color, sat along the street for over four hundred and twenty-five years without ever being fired. Near one canal, a sign had a long list of things poor students could do there for free such as holding hands, etc. (We remembered our own student days) or one could rent a big boat for 120 Euro.
There are 59 churches in Ghent, but their spires are low — perhaps to avoid seaside storms, or perhaps to avoid enemy cannon fire.
Our bus stopped at a McDonalds where our guide repeated a joke she often mentioned during our trip, calling it the “American embassy”. I had a quarter pounder which was similar to that in the U.S., and Alie’s chicken McNuggets were identical, but that seems logical as they are mostly made of corn. Had our guide called it our consulate, she would have been close to reality as we saw them everywhere (not really complaining as we own a few shares of the stock).
We saw a few classic windmills along the way. A film shown on the bus said they would not survive today if it were not for volunteers that maintain them.
We liked Delft. It is a even prettier town than Bruges. As with any commercial tour, we were taken to a pottery factory (tour guides often get a commission on tourist purchases at such places). This one, however, was one of only three that are genuine Delft Blue hand-painted pottery makers. Others make mass-produced reproductions.
We visited both the Old Church (1246) and the New Church (1496). The New Church is the burial place of William of Orange, but the old church has the burial spots of Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek, the discoverer of bacteria.
We had never met a Dutch person on a cruise or in the U.S. who didn’t immediately begin to tell us what was wrong with the United States. Therefore, it was a pleasure to meet Marley and Daniel, two tour directors from the Netherlands and extremely nice people who seemed to actually like the U.S.
Nonetheless, I had to hold my tongue, when it became obvious that two of the Dutch social experiments, pot and prostitution, haven’t been going well. Recently the Netherlands has found that their liberal attitude to drugs was being exploited by tourists from all over. And Daniel explained that legalized prostitution, designed to protect the girls, was still being used by pimps to exploit girls now being brought in from eastern Europe. Alie chose not to go on the walk, and while curious to see it, I did feel a bit like a voyeur.
The following morning before the ship sailed, we had a canal boat ride and a walking tour. We passed the house where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis. We saw the royal palace with just two guards out front. Michelle bought some cheese, and we walked around the streets always alert for bicycles. The bicycle is king in Amsterdam.
One final interesting item on our cruise buffet is the people we meet. One person we met early was Stan from upstate New York. He said he was not career Army. He just kept signing up for another tour until he was finally able to retire. We agreed there are many phony vets out there who will tell you war stories about their adventures as SEALs or Rangers or snipers. Stan observed the true vets tell funny or odd stories.
One of his own stories was about his time in Viet Nam at the very beginning of the war. He was on a patrol with a young captain, Collin Powell. The last day of the patrol, Powell stepped on a punji stake, a sharp pointed piece of bamboo infected with feces, an early booby-trap. “Colley,” he said, “you are supposed to do that on the first day so that you don’t have to go out on the patrol!”