In Flanders Fields the Poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row

Tonight, we set out for one of our most moving and memorable events with Tauck - a private visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, we set out for one of our most moving and memorable events with Tauck – a private visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Today is a very special day aboard Tauck’s beautiful new ms Inspire, as we wind our way towards Brussels as part of this Belgium & Holland in Spring river cruise itinerary. Not only do we get to visit Antwerp, we’re setting out this evening on one of the premiere events on this itinerary: a journey to Ieper (Ypres) and the moving In Flanders Fields Museum.

Antwerp, Belgium - as seen from the city's gorgeous Antwerpen Centraal Station, constructed in 1895. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Antwerp, Belgium – as seen from the city’s gorgeous Antwerpen Centraal Station, constructed in 1895. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In Antwerp, I took the opportunity to get together with a good friend of mine – Mr. Mike Louagie, editor of SHIPPAX CFI and founder of the wonderful website Black, Blue, Green – and a Touch of Pink. After a delicious Belgian breakfast at the STORM restaurant near the river Mas, we set out on a photography exploration of this fascinating city.

Some images from my photo-book this morning:

The Streets of Antwerp. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Streets of Antwerp. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Antwerp's gorgeous squares are stunning in the early-morning hours. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Antwerp’s gorgeous squares are stunning in the early-morning hours. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Museum Aan De Stroom, on the River Mas. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Museum Aan De Stroom, on the River Mas. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Breakfast at Cafe Storm in Antwerp. Funky place with great food! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Breakfast at Cafe Storm in Antwerp. Funky place with great food! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Making Belgian Chocolates. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Making Belgian Chocolates. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

These Scouts are out and about, enjoying breakfast in the warm sunshine. Note the open bottles of champagne; I knew I liked this country! Thanks to all of them for letting me post their photo here. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

These Scouts are out and about, enjoying breakfast in the warm sunshine. Note the open bottles of champagne; I knew I liked this country! Thanks to all of them for letting me post their photo here. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Antwerp Centraal Station rivals train stations in Paris in terms of raw beauty. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Antwerp Centraal Station rivals train stations in Paris in terms of raw beauty. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Outdoor Dining, Antwerp-style! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Outdoor Dining, Antwerp-style! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Guests participating in Tauck’s included tour of Antwerp could embark on a fantastic walking tour of the city, followed by a visit to the newly-opened Red Star Line Museum and a Belgian beer tasting. Belgium makes some of the world’s best beers, and though German readers may disagree with me (their beers are damn good, too), I really enjoy Belgian kreikCherry Beer.

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Our Live Voyage Report from the maiden voyage of Tauck’s new ms Inspire continues tomorrow from Maastricht, Netherlands. Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

Veere, Middelburg and the Delta Works

The kind of sunrise river cruises were made for!  Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The kind of sunrise river cruises were made for! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Tauck’s beautiful new ms Inspire was bathed in the amber glow of sunlight filtered through a thin layer of wispy fog as dawn broke on the day that was to be Saturday, April 12, 2014. It was one of those bizarrely perfect sunrises; the ones where everything seems to have mysteriously aligned to produce a dazzling, postcard-perfect sight.

That I should begin my morning by viewing this amazing landscape from a ship called the Inspire is decidedly appropriate.

The fog sweeps in along the river as Tauck's ms Inspire comes alongside in Veere, Netherlands.  Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The fog sweeps in along the river as Tauck’s ms Inspire comes alongside in Veere, Netherlands. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The official program for today:

  • 6:00am – 10:00am Light breakfast in Arthur’s, Deck 3 aft.
  • 7:00am – 8:00am Full breakfast in the Compass Rose Dining Room.
  • 8:30am – depart the ship for a tour to Neeltje Jans where we will learn about the massive Delta Works project. Bring your “Voxes.”
  • 12:30pm – Lunch in Arthur’s, Deck 3, aft. Today’s feature: nasi goreng
  • 12:30pm – Buffet lunch in the Compass Rose Dining Room
  • 12:45pm – All aboard! Inspire departs for Middelburg
  • 2:00pm – Inspire arrives in Middelburg
  • 2:45pm – We invite you to the Main Lounge to meet some traditionally-dressed locals and sample a “bolus”, a local treat.
  • 3:00pm – Depart the ship for a guided walking tour of the beautiful town of Middelburg. As always, you may skip the tour and visit Middelburg at your leisure.
  • 5:30pm – 6:30pm Cocktail Hour in the Panorama Lounge
  • 5:45pm – Discovery Briefing in the Panorama Lounge
  • 6:00pm – 8:00pm Enjoy dinner in the Compass Rose Dining Room. Open seating.
  • 6:30pm – Steakhouse Dinner in Arthur’s. See Reception for the menu and reservations. Please make your booking before 2:00pm.
  • After Dinner: join us in the Panorama Lounge for dessert, drinks and dancing.
  • 7:45pm – All aboard! M.S. Inspire departs Middelburg.
  • 05:00am – M.S. Inspire arrives in Antwerp, Belgium
Tauck's new ms Inspire sparkles in the port of Veere on April 12, 2014.  Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Tauck’s new ms Inspire sparkles in the port of Veere on April 12, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Initially, I wasn’t going to tour the Neeltje Jans – or Delta Works – project. But our Dutch Tauck Director Joeri convinced me to take part in it. I had planned on going for a stroll through the small town of Veere in which the Inspire was docked, but as we each helped ourselves to the ship’s stunning breakfast buffet, he said it would be well worth my time.

To put this in perspective: it’s five after eight in the morning. The coaches for the tour leave at eight thirty, giving me twenty-five minutes to tap down breakfast. But Joeri is from the Netherlands and he, like the other Tauck Directors, really knows how to connect with the guests. And I appreciated his advice: “Veere is pretty,” he said. “But the Netherlands is full of pretty towns.” In other words: there’s only one Delta Works Project. And it is quite the sight to behold.

This morning, we visited the Delta Works Project - one of the most magnificent technological feats designed to keep the Netherlands dry.  Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This morning, we visited the Delta Works Project – one of the most magnificent technological feats designed to keep the Netherlands dry. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In 1953, the Netherlands experienced flooding on a scale never before seen. The Hurricane Katrina of the Zeeland province, damage to property and livelihoods was severe. Existing defences broke down, allowing the water unprecedented access to the countryside. The devastating effect of the floodwater was particularly personal for the Dutch, who immediately began preparations to ensure that a flood of that magnitude could never happened again.

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Our Live Voyage Report from the maiden voyage of Tauck’s new ms Inspire continues tomorrow with a day in Antwerp, Belgium and a very special excursion to the In Flanders Field’s Museum in Ypres. Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

An Inspiring Morning in Rotterdam

Tauck's new Inspire docked in Rotterdam on April 11, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Tauck’s new Inspire docked in Rotterdam on April 11, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The sun was out in full force early this morning to welcome Tauck’s beautiful new ms Inspire to the famous Dutch port of Rotterdam.

Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands but, unlike Amsterdam, it didn’t escape the Second World War unscathed. The Rotterdam Blitz occurred nearly 74 years ago, on May 14, 1940, when Adolf Hitler ordered the city bombed as part of the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. Nearly the entire city centre – save for a few historic buildings – was destroyed, and almost 900 were killed. Those who survived the Blitz were almost inevitably rendered homeless.

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is strikingly modern, owing to its devastation during World War II. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is strikingly modern, owing to its devastation during World War II. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Today, the only remnant of medieval Rotterdam left standing is Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk, or Great St. Lawrence Church, constructed between 1449 and 1525. But if old Rotterdam is no more, the new Rotterdam is a shining example of modern Dutch architecture and sensibilities.

Colourful buildings with innovative, modern architecture adorn nearly every streetcorner, like some curious new-age cornucopia. But while modern Dutch architecture has the same sleek, clean sensibilities as its Scandinavian counterpart, it lacks the often cold design elements of its northern counterparts.

Holland America Line's venerable SS Rotterdam is now permanently moored in Rotterdam. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Holland America Line’s venerable SS Rotterdam is now permanently moored in Rotterdam. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

What I most wanted to do today was twofold: while most guests were headed to Delft – famous for its Delft Tile works – I wanted to take one of the Inspire’s bicycles for a spin again. I also wanted to see Holland America Line’s classic SS Rotterdam, now moored as a permanent hotel in Rotterdam after a long career as an ocean liner and cruise ship. And because Tauck is all about choice, both of those ideas were possible.

She is one of the last great 'ships of state' of the Netherlands. Her new counterpart, the 1997-built Rotterdam VI, regularly calls on Rotterdam today. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

She is one of the last great ‘ships of state’ of the Netherlands. Her new counterpart, the 1997-built Rotterdam VI, regularly calls on Rotterdam today. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Although now based in Seattle, Holland America Line is one of the Netherland’s greatest institutions, and the 1959-built Rotterdam is one of the last great Dutch “ships of state.” She served with Holland America Line from her inaugural voyage presided over by Queen Juliana until 1997, when she was retired from cruising service. She was sold to Premier Cruises and operated for a time as their Rembrandt until Premier went belly-up in September of 2000.

Arrested in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it looked like Rotterdam was headed to the breakers at Alang, India until 2004, when she had her asbestos removed and hull repainted in Holland America’s 1950’s grey-and-yellow livery. Four years later, on August 8, 2008, she arrived once again in her namesake city to begin a Queen Mary-esque career as a floating hotel and restaurant.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I have always wanted to see the Rotterdam. I’ve enjoyed many Holland America Line cruises, and the old Rotterdam was the one ship that escaped me. She was retired in 1997, and I never began cruising until 1998. So, to visit her – albeit briefly – I cycled six kilometres in each direction from Tauck’s brand-new ms Inspire to the SS Rotterdam’s final resting place in South Rotterdam at 3e Katendrechtsehoofd 25.

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Our Live Voyage Report from the maiden voyage of Tauck’s new ms Inspire continues tomorrow from Veere and Middelburg! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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