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The Netherlands Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Holland and Belgium are so picturesque, they remind me of illustrations from storybooks. The Netherlands is one beautiful destination, and I enjoyed it via a "Tulip Time" AMA River Cruise.

We flew to Amsterdam and immediately explored Anne Frank's house. When I read her diary growing up, I never imagined I would one day get to climb the stairs of the secret annex behind the bookcase -- this bookcase still filled with original files from her dad's business -- and walk through the rooms in which the family hid. Anne's bedroom is still decorated with photos of American celebrities, the frayed and yellowed original magazine clippings, hanging on the wall, suspended in time, the blackened shades, still shut tight. The rooms of the annex are much larger than I envisioned, and her checkered diary, is on display, covered in glass.

We got to walk to the back area of the attic where a high window allowed Anne and Peter to view the sky without being seen, their only connection to the world outside their hideaway. Picture-taking is not allowed inside the house, but these incredible visions will remain embedded in my memory for a long time to come. There's always a long line to get into the Anne Frank house, but so worth the wait.

Other stops along this exciting river cruise included the Arnhem Airborne Museum where we viewed the famous bridge immortalized in the movie, "A Bridge Too Far," and learned the history of this important World War II battle.

One of my favorite stops was the small port town of Volendam, a step back in time, with its small shops, uniquely-shaped trees, and vessels of every shape and size in its harbor. We enjoyed cheese-tasting in Edam and Gouda, two very quaint towns, and explored Ghent and the beautiful town of Brugges. Of course, I devoured chocolate in the chocolate capital of the world -- Belgium -- sampling a variety of types in as many stores as possible. I even brought home chocolate soap.

At the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, we explored windmills, climbed their steep staircases, and learned how families lived there, working to pump water to clear the land. Wooden shoes were worn by the Dutch farmers because the soil was always wet, and these shoes provided protection against the dampness. At some points during our journey, we would still see wooden shoes, hanging outside homes, to dry.

As this was a "Tulip Time" Cruise, the highlight was the Keukenhof, a huge flower garden, where tulips of every shade of the rainbow were in full bloom. There were rows and rows of breathtaking tulips, as far as the eye could see; a feast of vibrant colors. In some areas, tulips were grouped together to create images. For example, there was a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, and tulips were planted in a manner so that one of his famous paintings was re-created. It was truly the most amazing gardens I have ever experienced. No wonder millions of people come from all over the world to enjoy this season which lasts just about two months.

After the cruise, we stayed another three nights in Amsterdam, visiting museums such as the Van Gogh. We participated in the Heineken Experience, learning how the brew is created, and enjoyed interactive activities such as tastings, video-making, sing-alongs, and more. We stayed at the Hilton Amsterdam, where John and Yoko held their famous love-in. Guests can walk by and take a photo of the sign which notes the exact room they were in. If you've got a big budget, you can opt to stay in the same suite. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the room, and the hotel would have gladly accommodated my request, but it was fully occupied while we were there.

For more on river cruising, read my article, "What's the difference between a river cruise and a cruise on an ocean liner?"

Ready for the Netherlands?  Contact me.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza