UP CLOSE WITH HISTORY
Our last stop, sailing with Abercrombie & Kent, was a tour through the Netherlands, making connections with local people along the way. We passed through several small towns, toured the birthplace of cheese, enjoyed a nice lunch at a local hotel and learned more about making and selling cheese along with what wines and spirits go well with it. It’s what A&K calls their “Connections” program, a travel product well-suited for those who want more than a passive vacation experience.
“Connections by Abercrombie & Kent offers one-on-one connections with the world’s most intriguing places and cultures,” says A&K on their web site, promising their well-traveled “explorers at heart” an experience to “discover the world in the company of unmatched local experts, at an unbeatable value.” This is exactly what A&K delivered and the best example came at the end of our journey on an immersion into the Netherlands the likes of which we don’t often see.
Our Netherlands experience started two days ago, when Amadeus Brilliant arrived in Amsterdam where she would stay for two nights. That positioning alone would have allowed time to get a good feel for the area; the history and culture of the largest city in the Netherlands.
The first day brought an overall tour of Amsterdam by bus that gave us a clear reference base from which to plan our activities.
The old center is surrounded by three concentric ring canals, (Herengracht, Zeizersgracht and Prinsengracht). “The street that connect the ring canals are full of lovely shops, especially the section between Brouwersgracht and Leidsestratt,” we were told in pre-travel information received from A&K that also includes destination information with answers to questions travelers commonly have (currency used, places to eat and see).
We toured Amsterdam and saw its stately Royal Palace and Neiuwe Kerk (New Church) learning that canals in Amsterdam were the main transport routes and homeowners whose houses fronted the canal were taxed according to the width of their house.
Not enough for A&K to just give us that information, we immediately toured via canal boat for an entirely different perspective.
Day two rolls around and rather than staying aboard Amadeus Brilliant, we’re off on a tour of the countryside, visiting Volendam, Marken and Edam by bus. In Volendam, a charming fishing town beside the Zuiderzee, we learn about waterfront and traditional folklore.
Dykes, polders, windmills, pumps and more were given their place as our local guide explained each element in the process of pushing back the water in a land which has a lot of real estate below sea level.
On the ground in Edam, a walking tour took most of the group around town. Having done that tour before, I sat at a sidewalk cafe and drank in the surroundings, waiting for the group to rendezvous there for a fabulous meal.
Continuing our tour, we stopped by a cheese factory to learn how many different varieties of world-famous Edam cheese is made, followed by a sampling of cheeses, wines and spirits to go along with them.
In the afternoon, we checked in to the Sofitel Legend The Grand, arguably one of the nicest hotels in Amsterdam and the subject of an upcoming post. To make up for a slight delay in the time my room was to be ready, the hotel upgraded me to a bi-level mini suite overlooking their serene courtyard.
Just steps away from a frenzied Amsterdam caught up in World Cup madness, the place was an oasis of tranquility in a sea of crazy.
That evening, a molecular dinner hosted by our A&K guide topped off the experience, providing a crescendo of destination immersion and going a bit further, connecting us to the Netherlands as none of us had experienced before.
Viewed all in one place, all at one time, the A&K Connections small group tours product covered the area like a blanket. Looking back on the experience, the takeaway is that A&K Connections are a very good option for those with discerning tastes. Every step of the way, our A&K guide was there to eliminate standing in lines whenever possible, to provide a physically comfortable travel experience and, best of all: to connect each of us in the destinations, in our own way.
Chris is on location this week, sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent touring Europe by river. On assignment with Porthole Cruise magazine, Chris is covering a variety of topics along the way, testing Boingo Wireless connectivity and a variety of travel products that have been provided for him. As always, Chris provides the details to let readers decide what resonates (or not) with them in an unbiased, factual manner.
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