frotton windmillphoto: Windmill in Holland.  photo courtesy Jane Frotton

While the initial cost of a Viking river cruise might seem a bit high, read the small print. And look for their two for one specials which seem to always be available. The good news is, other than beverages you might have during the day or evening (beer and wine are freely included at both lunch and dinner), and tips for staff at the very end of the cruise, it’s possible not to spend a single cent other than your initial payment for cruise and airfare, if Viking has arranged your flight accommodations as well. When they do, they meet you at the airport and deliver you back to it at the end of the cruise. Also included in that initial price is at least one tour a day every time the ship is in port, educational programs relative to the sites during the day or early evening, and music and superb local entertainment in the lounge every night.

Take Kinderdijk, for example. Since it’s in Holland, the land of windmills, there’s a program, presented by the program director, on water management, and how the Dutch manage to keep their land beneath sea level dry. You learn about water boards…the efficient kind, of course…..the committee that maintains the water controls, essential because without them the entire country would flood within three days. You learn that those picturesque windmills have been pretty much replaced by modern technology and efficient diesel operated plants. You learn how Holland is giving up some sections of the country to the water and why, and that at the same time they are teaching other countries how to pump and adapt. Then you are invited to leave the ship for a walking tour to the UNESCO site windmills, and you set out on your tour. A slight drizzle doesn’t dampen spirits at all…Viking not only provides each passenger with a bottle of water before heading off the ship, but also a large and sturdy bright red Viking umbrella.

If you’ve taken the time to read your daily schedule and information newsletter before breakfast, you know you’re in the province of South Holland, about 15 kilometers from Rotterdam, and the 19 windmills you’re about to see are among the 28 still standing across the country as opposed to the more than 150 at its highest peak.

At each tour along the way, Viking has local guides to ensure its passengers are learning from the best. Such was the case here, where the short walk led to a windmill and an almost instant lesson in all the terms associated with one….sails, millers, the language of the sails, how millers spread both good and bad news among themselves by means of the sails (those big paddles that keep the water moving from the polders by scoops into reservoirs.) Guides will explain what determines the number of sails which are used, and point out the huge beam that holds all the mechanisms to keep this very necessary process ever active. You can take a visit inside the mill, where the miller and his family lived, since the mills had to be kept operating both day and night. It’s worth the climb up very steep ladders to the second and third ‘floors’ of the miller’s home and workplace. The buildings are round, of course, and the huge oak trees used to create the beam where all that mechanisms are is in the center. It’s probably a matter of efficiency, but I would have preferred the winding steps of a lighthouse to the straight-up ladders inside a mill.

It was only perhaps a half day stay in this part of the Netherlands, before getting back aboard the Sun, and a departure for Cologne, our first stop in Germany. Once back moving on the river, we had our mandatory safety program and safety instructions course before lunch and an afternoon program on Dutch Masters. Of course, with three meals never enough on a cruise, there were some great Dutch treats at teatime and the opportunity to visit the wheelhouse and see Captain Bartosz happily at work as we slowly cruised up river in a southerly direction. Before dinner, the Captain and Jan Petersen, the hotel manager, also welcomed all guests to the Lounge for a meet and greet, a bit of the bubbly, and an opportunity to learn about the wonderful people who make life aboard a Viking cruise ship such a terrific experience. We also learned that every night there would be a brief briefing before dinner to let us know what’s in store for the next day.

If you still have energy enough, and travel partner Jane Frotton and I always managed to, there was music, dancing, and entertainment in the lounge, more time to share laughter and conversation with newly discovered good friends and a friendly and still efficient staff ready to do your bidding until the wee hours of the morning. Tonight, it’s goodbye to Amsterdam because tomorrow, it’s our first day visiting Germany.