Amsterdam Viking Grand European Cruise Finale

Our point of disembarkation on the Viking Grand European Cruise finale was Amsterdam, Netherlands. Carmen Palogruto, our close friend at Travel with Carmen, visited Amsterdam just months earlier and said we’d enjoy the very eclectic and dynamic Dutch city, and he was undoubtedly correct.  Amsterdam is a must-see.

We sailed past Rotterdam, arriving at the busy harbor and docking alongside four other Viking longships next to the giant cruise ship terminal. Our hotel, the Movenpick, was a short walk from the Mimir.  The hotel was about a quarter-mile from Amsterdam’s central rail station and cathedral. It was right next to the ocean-going cruise terminal. Our room had a panoramic view of the city and the massive harbor. Amsterdam is the fifth largest port city in Europe.

The weather was good, sunny and 75 degrees. It was a treat for the locals as the city is often cool and wet. We were there during a holiday weekend, so the combination of great weather and time off for the Dutch found the city extremely crowded.

 Bicycles are everywhere:

Bicycles in Amsterdam were everywhereOur tour guide shared that there are almost 600,000 bicycles in the city. The bikes even have their parking garages. Unfortunately, he also told us that the theft rate for bikes is incredibly high. He had three stolen bikes since he lived there.

The Dutch are very serious about biking in the city. You must always be on alert for riders because they own the roads and will run over pedestrians if they are not careful. Furthermore, if you are arrested for biking “under the influence,” in addition to a hefty fine and possible jail time, you also lose your driver’s license as a penalty. That’s why you see an extensive line of taxis at many restaurants and taverns at night.

 Viking Tour:

We took the last Grand European Viking Cruise tour the first morning we arrived.  The guide showed us everything from the Cheese Shopfamous pancake houses to the world’s oldest stock exchange, cathedrals, museums, lots and lots of canals, the red-light district, by day, the flower district, and much more. We also took a food tour which included the following:

  • Cheese shop to learn about and sample gouda cheeses,
  • Restaurant for shots and appetizers,
  • Famous pancake house.

 Amsterdam Coffee Houses:

“Coffeehouses” in Amsterdam are found everywhere. Except for a handful of Starbucks, most coffee houses are storefronts for cannabis dispensaries.  With seating outside, you can buy and consume cannabis in all its forms. Hundreds of them are found around the city, so the smell of marijuana assaults you on many streets. Interestingly, smoking pot isn’t legal in Amsterdam; simply put- there are no criminal penalties for using it! Of course, you aren’t supposed to toke on the streets, but our tour guide assured us that no one ever gets arrested.

Public transportation is excellent.  Everyone who wasn’t on a bike used the trams and buses day and night. It’s inexpensive, the maps are easy to read, and there’s plenty to see as you ride. You can buy passes at rail stations, or you can buy them onboard. Don’t forget to scan your receipts getting on and off because if you don’t, they won’t work the next time you attempt to use them.

Based on a tip from our guide, we went out of our way to visit the on-canal flower market. It was bustling with activity featuring tulips and other bulbs by the thousands. Unfortunately, tulips don’t grow well in Florida, so we didn’t purchase any. However, we did buy some dahlias for our home garden.

 A morning in the Museum:

Rijksmuseum - Art and History MuseumOn the second day, we visited the Rijksmuseum of Art and History. Spending several hours at the museum was an excellent way to stay out of the cold, windy morning. Don’t miss the opportunity to view the “Dutch Masters” works while there.  Note:  Buy your tickets online to avoid long ticket lines at the museum.

 Canal Cruise Tour:

Because the canals are such an essential part of the Amsterdam culture, we decided to jump on one of the canal tour boats for about a ninety-minute excursion. There are over 160 canals in the city, covering 60+ miles.  The cruise was a great way to see the city and the architecture. No two buildings are alike, and since taxation usedTree linedAmsterdam Canal to be based on how wide a building was, the houses are very narrow (sometimes less than 20 feet wide), so they usually go up five floors. Most have davits just below the roof peaks, which are used for hoisting furniture and equipment and other items that won’t fit through the staircases up to the upper floors.

 Dining in Amsterdam:

We enjoyed our evening meals at two phenomenal restaurants in the city. The first was called the Five Flies, and the second was Assagi.

 The Five Flies:

Five Files had a set menu with up to six-course meals. Unfortunately, our reservation was a bit later in the evening, so with the time spacing required for the experience, we only could have five courses and five different wines! The restaurant was old and is considered a museum as well. It was first occupied in the 16th century. The Five Flies was charming, with excellent food and service. Get a reservation if you’d like to visit it.

 Assagi:

We found the second restaurant, Assagi, by accident. On the last night, we decided we’d like to try some Italian food. I thought I had logged a reservation at a small bistro in the old town, but when we arrived, the restaurant was full, and our reservation was not in their system. There were restaurants everywhere, so we decided to find another one that could seat us.

We wandered a handful of blocks for about a half hour, being turned down by each restaurant as they were all full. Finally, after grabbing a glass of wine and a beer while we waited for one to accommodate us, we hit the street again. After asking for a table in another three restaurants and just before giving up and settling for some fast food, we tried Assagi.

Assagi was small (remember the narrowness of the buildings), and they were full, but the Maître de said he had a table upstairs in their loft. At this point, we were thrilled to get a table, so we headed upstairs. The staircase was dark, circular, and crazy narrow. When I got to the top of the stairs, I hit my head on the very low ceiling. Three women were already seated up there, so we took the other small table against the wall.

The server made her way up to us, and one of the best-ever culinary experiences began. After a perfect burrata and tomato salad, we devoured the best calamari we’ve ever had. We both ordered pasta dishes.  Marilyn’s had fresh scallops over homemade pasta; mine was a carbonara made with guanciale. Both were sublime, and I’ve been trying to replicate each of them at home ever since.

Scramble through the airports:

The following day, we headed to the airport for our flights home. We had gotten word from our traveling friends that the airport had been a disaster the previous morning. They had to wait hours on the check-in and security lines, and with two-plus hours of lead time, they just made their flight.  So, the following day, we decided to get to the airport super early, just in case. We found no lines that early in the morning and sailed through the Amsterdam airport to our gate.  Our biggest concern was getting to our connecting flight to Heathrow, London. It was the last day of Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee. Our concerns were well founded.

For reasons unknown, our flight from Amsterdam was delayed on the ground, and our connection in London was down to minutes instead of hours. When we arrived, the airport was quiet and running with a significantly reduced staff.

We did our best to deplane quickly, and when we entered the terminal, we had only 31 minutes to get to our gate. It wasn’t looking good, but we decided to sprint anyway.

We couldn’t go directly to our gate because we were forced to leave the secure area we arrived in and go through the connecting gates security. When we got to the electronic checkpoint to reenter the protected area, we scanned our boarding passes, and to our chagrin, the turnstile would not let us pass, saying that our flight was closed.

We didn’t give up, even though departure was scheduled in 10 minutes.

The Rescue:

I ran to the female security officer monitoring the area and told her of our plight. I begged her to see if she could let us through and if she would call the gate to ask them to wait for us. She was a hero as she used her cell phone to get to the gate and told them we were coming. We ran our carry-ons through the scanner, and she told us we had three minutes to get to our gate, so we started running even faster. We must have looked like a comedy routine, as I didn’t even have time to put my belt back on. I was running with a carry-on in one hand and using the other hand to hold up my pants.

Marilyn ran ahead as she was faster and had a bit less stuff to carry. But, of course, the gate was at the far end of the wing and more than three minutes away- probably more like 10. But when Marilyn arrived, they welcomed her and waited an extra minute or two for me.

We made it to our seats just a row from the back of the plane. The doors closed, and we were on our way one minute later.

 Thanks to the security guard who helped us get home that day. And it won’t surprise you that our bags didn’t fly with us; they showed up a whole day later on the next scheduled flight to Tampa.

Don’t hesitate to view this outstanding Wikipedia article, including the places we visited and dozens more. Amsterdam

So, our Viking Grand European Cruise finally ended in Amsterdam.  It was a fabulous trip, and we are glad our friends Jean and Paul were able to share their experiences with us.  We rate Viking with 5 Stars.  Their service, dedication to passenger comfort and safety, and food and staff were as good as any other luxury cruise we have been on.  So don’t hesitate to book the Viking Grand European Cruise – you won’t be disappointed.

 

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