Amsterdam, Two Ways

Exploring Amsterdam like a local was the name of the game today, on the first full day of my Avalon Waterways’ river cruise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Unbeknownst to me, I managed to time my voyage aboard Avalon Waterways’ 166-guest Avalon Expression with a major weather system that yesterday brought damaging winds and heavy rains to parts of the UK. Today, Storm Aileen moved into the Amsterdam area. The Dutch Meteorological Office issued Code Orange high wind warnings, cautioning that gusts of up to 120 kilometres per hour were possible. As of this morning, Dutch carrier KLM had already cancelled 60 flights.

Now that’s a view to wake up to! But it doesn’t show the incredible wind or the torrential rain that hit moments later… Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I opened the curtains of my Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Balcony windows to find rain pouring down outside and heavy winds buffeting the ship. My plan, originally, had been to walk Amsterdam’s Old Town to do a little shopping. My new plan involved a good book, a cup of coffee, and Avalon Expression’s cozy lounge.

Fortunately, yesterday I was able to take part in a Culinary Walk through Amsterdam in much better weather. This afternoon, it was off to a nearby studio for a painting class, weather-be-damned. Both excursions are going to be offered next year as part of Avalon’s new Active Discovery on the Rhine river cruises, and together with a small group of journalists, I’m going to be road-testing these new offerings on this voyage in advance of their roll-out.

Departing Avalon Expression in the afternoon to explore Amsterdam to the fullest. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

To be sure, I missed my walk, but the best part of river cruising is the flexibility it offers. Unlike a hotel, you’re not really trapped here if the weather turns nasty. Instead, it’s just a great chance to take a breath and enjoy all that your ship has to offer.

A Culinary Walk Through Amsterdam

If you want to truly know a place, the best thing to do is eat and drink like a local. This is exactly what Avalon was thinking, too: the line has put together a fantastic tour that will be offered in Amsterdam on its Active Discovery on the Rhine river cruises.

The best way to explore Amsterdam is to get out there and walk its streets! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

During our three-hour long walking tour, we stopped at nearly a dozen different locations in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district, from funky restaurants like Stuyvesant, with its vibrantly-coloured décor and bizarre paintings, to local cheese shops and fish mongers. The tour ends, appropriately, in a pub along one of the city’s famous canals. If it’s nice out, like it was for us yesterday, I highly recommend having your Dutch beer outdoors.

Our walking tour took us to numerous cool eateries…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…like funky Stuyvesant, a cool bar and lounge in Amsterdam’s Haarlemmerstraat area. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

A visit to a cheese shop was practically required…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…while numerous cafes beckon. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Despite having been to Amsterdam half a dozen times now, this tour introduced me to some brand-new culinary delights. I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I found the Dutch caramel-filled stroopwaffel years ago, but that was before I had fresh herring; poffertjes (a mini Dutch pancake blanketed in sugar powder); and kibbeling – a battered, salted fish snack that’s so good I was going back for thirds and fourths.

How do you wash all of this down? With a few local beers, a couple shots of vodka and the locally-made spirit, genever. Genever is a lot like Gin, but don’t be surprised if the Dutch get you to drink (or shoot) it straight-up!

Of course, you’ll need a pint to end your day. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Licorice. Did I mention the Dutch make amazing Licorice? Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Coupled with a wonderful stroll through the Jordaan district, this is one of the best tours I’ve ever taken in Amsterdam. You’ll want to be fully mobile to get the most out of this tour, though – unlike other walking tours, this one is conducted at a good pace that should please anyone looking for an active outing in Amsterdam.

No Wonder Van Gogh Went A Little Crazy

Amsterdam’s canals are nothing if not inspiring. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Today, we took part in a Painting Class that Avalon is going to begin offering as part of its Active Discovery on the Rhine cruises in Amsterdam. I did this art class once before, with Viking River Cruises back in 2015, but it’s nice to see that Avalon is including it as one of three activities for next year (the other two being a guided run through the city, or a canal cruise).

Guests are welcomed to the Altiers Westerdok art studio by owner Sanne Verdult with hot coffee, tea and fresh stroopwaffels. From there, we were given a short orientation on Vincent Van Gogh and painting theory and techniques, then turned loose on our own masterpieces. Various still life exhibits are located throughout the studio, and you can pick the one that speaks to you the most.

Our painting class taught us the techniques used by Van Gogh…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and then we were unleashed…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…to paint our very own still-life scenes. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Now, this is where I mention I’m terrible at art in general. My level of expertise could best be described as “slow five-year-old”, so creating something that could stand up against Van Gogh is totally out of the question. I’d rip my ear off, too, if I had to do something at that level.

But the experience is a fun one. Together with assistant Tatyana Yassievich, Verdult encouraged us to try new techniques, and both offered assistance whenever we were stuck.

After two hours, this is what I came up with. It’s not great, but the objective isn’t to out-paint your fellow shipmates. It’s to challenge yourself. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The really cool thing about this painting class is seeing what your fellow shipmates came up with. I also found it enjoyable to challenge myself to something I’m not naturally good at. Despite the fact that it wasn’t a masterpiece, the sunflower scene I painted turned out better than I expected. Considering the fact that you get to keep your canvas art after the class, this adventure offers great value, especially considering that Avalon offers this free-of-charge in 2018.

Our Rhine River Cruise Begins

For the first time all day, the sun shone down on Avalon Expression as we departed Amsterdam. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

After our departure from Amsterdam at 5:00pm, Avalon Expression sailed for 72 kilometres down the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, going through two locks as it did so. We reached the mouth of the Rhine River shortly before 10 pm, and from there, proceeded on to the border between the Netherlands and Germany, located at kilometre 865.

For the first time all day, the sun shone on Avalon Expression. Its rays illuminated our departure until it set just after seven pm tonight.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

There’s nothing quite like river cruising. With the river banks so close at hand, it’s almost like you can reach out and touch the surrounding scenery. We passed impossibly-green fields filled with grazing cows; residential areas with cozy Dutch houses; and groups of teenagers relaxing on the banks of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. If the views from the Avalon Expression are breathtaking, I can only imagine what the sight from shore is like as our blue-and-white-hulled ship glides by.

Best of all, we’ve got nearly 24 hours of scenic cruising still to come before our arrival in Cologne, Germany tomorrow at 4pm. Getting there really is half the fun, onboard Avalon Expression.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Avalon Waterways’ Avalon Expression continues tomorrow, as we arrive in the city of Cologne, Germany.  Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Avalon's Magnificent Europe - Amsterdam to Nuremberg

September 12, 2017Amsterdam, NetherlandsEmbark Avalon Expressionin Amsterdam
September 13Amsterdam, NetherlandsCulinary Walking tour in Amsterdam's Jordaan district; Dutch Painting Class
September 14Cologne, GermanyCologne Off the Beaten Path
September 15Rudesheim, GermanyHiking and Wine Tasting
September 16Miltenberg, GermanyHiking and local flavours excursion
September 17Wurzburg, GermanyHike to Marienberg Fortress
September 18Bamberg, GermanyCity cycling tour & Rauchbier tasting
September 19, 2017Nuremberg, GermanyDisembark Avalon Expression

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