Our visit to England had been absolutely brilliant. Linda and Mike went out of their way to make sure we had a jam-packed six days filled with fun activities and we couldn’t thank them enough. They did all the hard work – we just had to turn up. Sadly, it was time to say goodbye.
We’d booked an economy seat for the very short flight from LHR to AMS. Doing an online check-in and a bag drop at Heathrow was apparently the way to go, so I put the app on my phone and did the job, recording the boarding passes for both of us (since I’m the IT manager). I think this was a first for us.
We went up to the self-service check-in and read the instructions. Scan your boarding pass here. So I did. Or tried to. The scanner didn’t want to know. I turned the phone around, tried the other scanner (for documents). I had no idea what I was doing wrong. Neither had Pete. Eventually, the woman waiting for us felt sorry for the two clueless old folks and suggested we increase the size of the QR code, which is all the scanner is interested in. Like this. She used her fingertips on the screen.
Ooooh. That worked. I thanked her for her patience.
Bags checked in, we found a couple of seats in the crowded departure hall and waited for the couple of hours before our flight boarded. As it happens, I got the window seat and witnessed an atmospheric quirk when the shadow of the aircraft was projected onto the cloud.
Schiphol used to be easy to get around. Not so much now. We couldn’t find a single sign to the baggage claim, so we looked for the exit – where we came across baggage claim. Since UK is no longer a member of the EU, we had to go through (manual) passport control, which took a little while. I was a bit surprised that the tech-savvy Dutch hadn’t installed gates capable of reading digital passports. The young man at the desk asked if I spoke Dutch (since I was born in Amsterdam). But I’m afraid most of my Dutch has atrophied through lack of use, as has my German. Fifty years ago, I spoke German quite fluently. Now I struggle putting a sentence together, though I can still read signs and the like.
The Scenic Jasper was moored in the IJ just along from Amsterdam’s Central Station. A very tall Dutchman called Caspar drove six of us to the ship in his lovely electric van and the next stage of our holiday was ready to begin.
It was time for our first meeting with our Cruise Director, Alex. I got the impression he’d dealt with Aussies before – a good 2/3 of the passengers were Australian. Alex had a great sense of humour, happy to send up his own German heritage and he made a point of telling us he would be honest with us. The rivers were all full, he told us, and so far the water was still rising. Unless the water levels dropped, we might find ourselves in trouble upriver from Frankfurt. As I’ve explained on previous river cruises, the river boats are designed within two sets of limitations – the size of the locks they have to navigate dictates the length and width of the vessel, and the height must be able to pass under the lowest bridge. Of course, when the river is high, the height of the lowest bridge is even lower.
So, even on day one we knew river conditions were likely to be difficult.
Alex made a point of explaining this was not a Christmas market tour. Sure, we’d experience some Christmas markets, but they closed on Dec 23. There might be some around on the 24th. Maybe. But Christmas was very much a family celebration in Germany/Austria. Everything except bars and restaurants would be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, so people visiting the walled city of Rothenburg on Christmas Day would be walking around an empty town with shops closed. Or indeed, any city on the 25th and 26th, or on New Year’s Day.
We all knew where we stood.
The following morning, we’d booked to visit some windmills at Alkmaar but one look out the window was enough to persuade us that there were better alternatives like watching the comings and goings through the lounge windows before the ship sailed at lunchtime.
By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.