After breakfast, we were transported by coach to the canal boat mooring. During this short coach ride, the most amazing sight that you will see is the number of bicycles. We drove past this multi-storied bicycle station and there were thousands of them parked side-by-side. The guide told us that there are 14 million bikes in the Netherlands to a population of 7 million. Each year some 70,000 bikes are stolen and many end up in the canals. As such, the canals are dredged for dumped bikes every two years.
The canals in Amsterdam are called grachten and the tour was very pleasant, especially since we had nice warm weather. If you are keen on photography or holiday shots, as many were, you'll have a great time snapping on this trip.
Cruising the Canals:
Amsterdam has been called a city of "well mannered" architects as its charms lie in intimate details rather than grand or stunning effects. Certainly you'll see lots of waterside mansions and heritage preserved buildings with elegant facades and ornate gables; most of the best ones are now the expensive offices of commercial organisations. You can pick out the houses of the rich by the size of the steps on the front of their building and their fancy gables. Maybe a game of 'spot the gable or facade' for you architecture buffs?
If you notice a certain regularity in the sizes of building facades, this was due to planning laws in the 15th century. Due to instability of the topsoil, town planning required that facades be built of lightweight brick or sandstone, with large windows to reduce the weight. Taxes were also levied according to the width of the frontage and canal houses were often long and narrow. Keep a lookout for Anne Frank's home near the Westerkirche and for those who were interested, Anne Frank's Diary is one of the movies shown on the MS Poetry that day.
Overall, the cruise was well worth doing as Amsterdam is noted for its canals and waterways.
Of course, if you've already done it before, you could have given the arranged tour a miss and spent time in Amsterdam. The city is 700-year old and it's fun to wander along the canals (the Jordaan is the best area, I think) or view works of famous Dutch masters in the Van Gogh, Rembrandt or the Rijksmuseum. And those "brown cafes" really are friendly, although forget non-smoking...
Mussels Go Missing:
Our guide on the canal cruise told us that mussels and oysters are exported from the Netherlands and I was hoping that we would be treated to some Dutch seafood at dinner tonight, being the Captain's Gala Welcome Dinner.
Well, due to some technicalities (?), the Captain's Gala was postponed, and to my great disappointment, there was not a trace of oyster or mussels on the menu! I thought I might have been mistaken in what the guide said, so checked up on the internet and yes, it does say that Yerseke in Zeeland is the Dutch centre for mussels and
oysters. The city has one of its ports dedicated to the mosselkotters (mussel cutters), the boats used for mussel fishing.
Yerseke, it seems, has the only mussel auction room in Europe (you couldn't make this stuff up) and a museum dedicated to the history of mussels, oysters, shell and sea shell fishing in Zeeland. They also farm lobsters and musselbeer there and have an Annual Mussel Day (photos).
Being a great, even obsessive, fan of mussels, I was really disappointed that we left Amsterdam without sampling some of its gastronomic exports - something Avalon might like to remedy...?