Royal Crown Trip


Helen Worthington – 14-04-2013 – Ewaterways – Royal Crown

 



I have just returned from a 4 night cruise with Ewaterways aboard ‘Royal Crown’, travelling along the Dutch and Belgian Watereways from Antwerp to Amsterdam via Rotterdam, Gorinchem and Hoorn.

I decided I would take a leaf out of the Burt Bacharah song ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’ and tackle all three modes of transport on this trip: Manchester to Amsterdam courtesy of KLM, then the Paris Nord Thialys high speed train service from Schipol Airport to Antwerp (just under an hour). The sight of Antwerp Central Station – dubbed the Railway Cathedral was very impressive and started off my photographic memory of the trip. Then a short taxi ride to meet the ship (All three modes of transport in 5 hours!)

‘Royal Crown’s’ cruising ‘strap line’ is ‘The Golden Age of Travel’ and the ship decor is nostalgically reminiscent of the 1930’s; a slightly retro, art deco style with dark wood, brass fittings and arched windows, which gives her a very different look and feel to many of the other, more modern, river ships currently sailing. This theme is carried through into the big, brass door keys which are used for each suite and the brass lamps in the suites and public areas. Carrying just over 90 passengers, she is a unique, small river cruise ship with a wrap round deck, offering what I found to be a friendly, comfortable experience in most relaxing and elegant surroundings.

I was checked in by the Hotel Manager, Kristina and a short walk down the Promenade deck got me to my cabin. Lazily, I noted that the restaurant was a turn to the left and the bar, just off to the right. There are 48 cabins on Royal Crown. They are spread over 2 decks (fixed portholes on the lower deck and large, non opening windows on the Promenade deck) and offer a selection of fixed twin and double beds as well as a few single cabins (boasting ¾ size double beds). There is ample wardrobe and drawer space and the bathrooms are tastefully tiled, along with a marble sink, brass effect fittings and a decent sized shower.

Off to the bar for a ‘Welcome’ drink and then dinner – I never cease to be amazed by how quickly you get into the routine of eagerly anticipating the next meal, even though you’ve just finished the last one only a matter of a few hours before (and that’s without snacking in between!) There is one dining room at the aft of the ship, which seats all passengers in a single sitting and gives you the opportunity to dine with someone different at every meal, if you want to. Dinner was served at 7pm whilst I was on board (often just in time to watch the sunset as you sail along), with breakfast and lunch at slightly different times to fit in with shore excursions and departure times. Breakfast was buffet style with a wide choice of fruit and juices, yogurt, cereals, ham, cheese, assorted breads, pastries and preserves as well as cooked items and an omelette station. Lunch was 4 courses, with salad and soup from the buffet, followed by a waiter served main course and dessert. Like many river cruises, dinner was a relaxed and splendid 4 courses with a main course choice of meat, fish or a vegetarian option. The food was excellent – courtesy of the Executive Chef and his team – I would particularly recommend all of the soups, every fish dish and an exceptional beetroot risotto!

One of the beauties of river cruising is waking up in the morning and either looking out at the centre of a city or town or lying in bed and watching the action on the river as you cruise along. The Dutch waterways are busy trading routes moving a host of items from A to B, as well as bikes and the odd small car, presumably for personal use in each port. At times you could liken it to driving on a US highway, with barges and other craft (including a range of other river cruise ships) going in either direction and passing on either side of our little ship, all at the same time. Our first port of call and what I woke up to was a rather dreary, grey day in Rotterdam, but lightened by a view of the Erasmus bridge and tall buildings, both old and new, on the riverside. You could just imagine traders plying their wares up and down the river in years gone by, pulling in and unloading goods into the tall warehouses that litter the riverside and still retain parts of their lifting gear.

The shore excursion from Rotterdam was a coach trip to Kinderdijk – it should have been to Keukenhof to see the famous blooms, but the weather had been so unkind to them, they were probably 2 or 3 weeks behind times, so only sporting 4” or so of green stem. Kinderdijk, instead, is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a host of different myths as to how it got its name (Children’s Dike). It was built in the 1740’s as a system of wind mills (19 in all) to drain the polder and is the largest concentration of windmills in Holland. On a bright, but windy and cold day it was easy to imagine the rigours of working there and losing a finger tip to the power of the wind in the sails. Our guide who had joined us at the ship navigated us through the information centre and out to a working mill, always with an anecdote or piece of new and interesting information. Part of our tour at Kinderdijk should have included a 20 minute trip on an open barge which we all politely declined and so after a quick warming coffee, we were whisked back to Rotterdam and taken on an impromptu and very illuminating tour of the city: we approached the centre past the Brainpark, home to multinational companies, as well as the Erasmus University (our guide told us that although Erasmus only lived for a short time in Rotterdam, the city decided to name its University after him, much to the chagrin of Gouda, where he was born). Throughout our journey in Rotterdam we went past lots of sculptures, apparently donated to the city. I can’t imagine what Rotterdammers must have done to deserve so many gifts!! Although the newly reopened Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, is perhaps synonymous with Dutch museums and culture; Rotterdam has its fair share too. We drove past the Maritiem Museum, the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum with over 600 years worth of art including some Monets, Reubens and a sculpture or two by Degas and the Sonneveld House Museum, a 1930s house, totally restored to how it was at the time of building. Rotterdam wouldn’t be in Holland without its share of quirky architecture in the form of the Cube Houses and what I called the Pencil Tower. The city is well known for inspirational and innovative architecture, starting way back in 1898 with the White House – at 45m high it was the tallest office block in Europe, at the time. The 20th century saw a lot of modern styled buildings built in Rotterdam, including the Euromast, which we circumnavigated on our coach trip. Our guide, of course, knew all about it – at 100m tall it is the tallest observation tower in Holland (bearing in mind that most of the Netherlands is below sea level or built on rushes, this is pretty good going!!) It was built for the 1960 Floriade and since 2010 has been a listed building. There is a 2 suite hotel and restaurant in it and should you have a head for heights you can take the Euroscope, a rotating lift up an additional 85m to the very top. Completing our circuitous whistle stop tour we travelled back to the ship past the long awaited and nearly completed new Central Station.

After lunch and fired up by our inspirational guide in the morning, I set off with a new found friend to explore Rotterdam on foot. We dropped a ‘pin’ on our iphones as we got off the ship and were off, knowing that a sat nav shut down withstanding, we could easily find our way back. Having been intrigued by the cube houses earlier and told by our guide that you could go inside one, we headed there first. Kubuswoningen (cube houses) were designed by Piet Blom and based on the concept of ‘Living as an Urban Roof’. From the outside, it appears that it would be impossible to stand up straight inside as the walls and windows are angled at 54.7 degrees, but of course this is an illusion, which disappears when you actually look out, from within. There are 38 small cubes and two larger ones, built over 3 floors and arranged round a small courtyard area. The house is 100 sq m in total, but over a quarter of that is un useable space due to the sloping walls. Having wandered round the cube, we set off to walk off lunch and followed the route we had taken earlier to Museumpark (complete with fountains, formally laid out, but bare trees and sitting areas). We really are spoilt in Britain with free museums, but it was the time factor, rather than cost which prevented us going in. We got as far as the Euromast. Sculpture hopped our way down the main streets and then wended our way back through the backstreets and river front of Rotterdam to the ship, stopping off for a much needed coffee in a quiet, little bar. I should have liked to spend longer in Rotterdam, visited another museum or two, studied the sculptures in more detail and taken a harbour tour, which some of my fellow travellers did. Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and from 1962 to 2004, was the busiest port in the world, albeit now surpassed by Shanghai. Its strategic importance is based on its position at the mouth of the Nieuwe Mass, a channel formed by the Rhine and Meuse rivers, waterways leading straight into Central Europe. One day I shall return !!

The next morning we were moored in Gorinchem (pronounced Horcum). Another very knowledgeable, female Dutch guide introduced us to this small walled city with its 15th & 16th century houses and interesting gable stones, its water defences and bronze statue commemorating the Allies arriving to liberate the town at the end of the Second World War. We saw the old orphanage with a trap door in the side, like a cash deposit slot for foundlings and warmed ourselves again with coffee in one of the local cafes, watching the youth of the area riding up and down the pedestrianised streets on what looked like one size fits all bikes, some decked out with front baskets and bright plastic flowers.

Our third port of call was Hoorn, a pretty fishing village with a large modern marina for pleasure craft. We were one of 6 river ships moored at Hoorn and it proved to be a place well worthy of a visit and probably the type of place you could stay in for a few days in better weather !! We had another very informed, enthusiastic guide who told us that not all of the typically leaning tall Dutch houses lean due to subsidence, but some were deliberately built like that as a larger house (in any direction) was a sign of wealth in the past. Historically Hoorn was the home base for the Dutch East India Company and there is a statue in the main square of Jan Pieterszoon Coen who founded the company, but is also notorious for his savagery in Indonesia. Other famous local residents have included explorers who first sailed round Cape Horn and were the first to visit Tasmania and New Zealand. There really is something for everyone in Hoorn – history, bars, coffee shops and shopping and all within easy walking distance of the ship.

We sailed in the early afternoon, heading for Amsterdam. It was relaxing to sit in the lounge or on the Sun deck wrapped in blankets, having a drink, chatting to new friends and wishing I had brought some binoculars with me to follow the birds on the river. All too soon we had docked, within spitting distance of Amsterdam Central Station and after our Gala Farwell dinner, an intrepid group of us ventured into Amsterdam for a stroll through the red light district before a bon voyage and good bye night cap in the bar (open daily from 10am until whenever!)

If you would like any other information on this itinerary, or the ship or any of the other 1200 small ships Ewaterways work with, please contact me.