Gems and Jewels Sailing River Cloud
Updated: May 16
The cruise was billed as “Art & Cultural between large and small canals” - I think that it should have been called “Gems and Jewels” - for that was what it really was! I was privileged to have been ensconced on the lovely River Cloud, sailing on magical canals through Holland and Belgium the first of May. The weather forecast for the seven days was rain and clouds with one day of possible sun... and yet we had seven of the most glorious sunny spring days that added a real sparkle to this wonderful journey.
Starting in Amsterdam we set sailing almost immediately after boarding the River Cloud, she was built in 1996 with a lovely European atmosphere. We sailed quietly down a canal lined with chestnut trees, pastures dotted with cows and sheep, it was just as I expected. Then there was more - a glorious sunset and then the sky was filled with colorful hot air balloons -- sailing as quietly as we, along the banks... what a memory.
Though we were only seven Americans on this European vessel, it was international in flavor, we met the nicest Swedish couple, a witty Russian couple, and elegant couple from Chile. And then Monica, a true adventurer, who had sailed eleven times on the Sea Cloud, but this, was her first river sailing. Language was never the problem; friendships can be stuck up over cocktails anytime, especially with Antal at the Steinway. And the top teak deck chessboard created no barriers, only winners and losers. We settled into an easy rhythm in our floating residence with its polished mahogany and etched glass.
The staff was always ready - prior to leaving a bottle of water was given, upon returning a cool refreshing lemongrass cloth and a juice greeted you back. Whether it was 6 am or midnight -- every possible whim was within arms reach.
The itinerary included Den Haag -- the jewel here was The Royal Picture Gallery, located in the Mauritshuis, a 17th century small palace on the Hofvijver. With a lovely selection of Rubens, Jan Steen, Rembrandts and Vermeer’s true masterpiece, Girl with the Pearl Earring. A gem that floods you with emotion remembering the cinematic homage to Flemish artist Johannes Vermeer, as he captured a look that would last forever.
We also traveled to Antwerp with its fantastic St Brabo fountain in the middle of the 'Grote Markt’ square. It’s surrounding guildhalls built in Belgium’s splendid golden era, makes this a top photo spot. We had the pleasure of visiting Peter Paul Ruben’s home and learned that he was a lot more than just an artist - he was a classically-educated, a businessman and himself an art collector, plus a diplomat who was knighted by both King Philip of Spain, and Charles I, king of England. But the other gems here are -- the gems themselves. Antwerp is the diamond center of the World. If diamonds really are a girl's best friend, than a lot of ladies will not leave without a visit to the diamond district and learning the four “C“s.
We sailed on to Ghent, a very charming small town with lots of towers, spires and the elegant stepped guildhall facades along the canals. During the Middle Ages, it was one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe, in some quarters considered second only to Paris. Now a university town, it is full of student energy and outdoor cafes.
One of the most surprising revelations of the trip was the vast waterway systems that are in fact a network of water highways. I thought canals were these wonderful narrow picturesque flows, but there are huge wide waterways that resemble seas. The Dutch certainly have water management totally in hand and brilliantly too. Why New Orleans is still struggling is unfathomable - get a few Dutchmen over and the problem will be resolved in no time. These countries use the water as an ally and make it work for them. I give them five thumbs up for being “green;” everything is used to lower the global impact - wonderful wind turbines, the sleek new windmills of Europe; polders, locks and dikes.
Another true jewel was to be found outside the town of Nijmegen with a visit to the Kröller-Müller Museum, unknown to me in the past, but it is one that I will now never forget. Amidst unspoilt natural surroundings, the Kröller-Müller Museums collection centers on the extensive collection of 267 works by Vincent van Gogh. Built in 1938 by avid art collector Helene Kröller-Müller who was attracted to the avant garde art of the time (she was one of the first to appreciate and recognize van Gogh’s genius), from impressionists, to works by Piet Mondrian, Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso and topped off with the world famous sculpture garden set in Holland’s largest National Park, also donated by Helene.
Some of the other gems of the trip were not just works of art, but great personalities that made this cruise more special, Nicole Rosch our cruise director was brilliant with lectures and always had a easy laugh. And Captain Harold Ripson, who with great precession guided our very long ship through locks with nary a bump. Also the delft and creative hand of Chef d’cuisine, Ringo Karsch was appreciated daily. There were many a flurry of creativity throughout our week, like the rose and champagne sorbet and a creamy lemongrass soup (recipes I refused to leave without).
One of the nicest evenings was dining on deck at sunset literally in the shadow of ‘Steen’ castle. But we especially enjoyed the Belgium waffle demonstration on deck; did you know there are two types of Belgium waffles? The Brussels is rectangular in shape with a golden-brown exterior, deep divots, their signature crunchy-golden outside and fluffy inside - topped with at least powdered sugar if not more, they are the lightest melt in your mouth delicious bite (recipe below)!! And then Liege waffle is golden-yellow, denser in texture and has a burned sugar coating on the outside.
We also had a tasting of Belgium beers matched with Dutch cheeses - another delightful marriage. And yes, there were chocolatiers at every stop! This was not a non-caloric cruise...besides all of Ringo’s efforts, I have to admit to a midnight raid into Antwerp were we lined up at Max’s Frites for a cone topped with curry ketchup, aioli mayo and tartar sauce! Made with Belgian Bintje potatoes, cooked twice, it was yummy! But those calories had to come off the following morning in the gym, cycling away in my own spinning class as we glided by Scheldt River banks.
Get in the mood by making a true Brussels Waffle.
10 tablespoons butter ½ teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon salad oil 1 tablespoon vanilla 2 cups milk 2 cups water 1 ounce fresh yeast or 1½ envelopes granulated yeast 4 cups sifted flour 4 eggs, separated ½ cup sugar
Heat ½ cup of the water to lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Put the flour into a large bowl. Stir in the egg yolks, the sugar, and the yeast. Beat in the remaining water, the milk, the butter, salt, salad oil, and vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth. Beat the egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. Fold them into the batter. Let the batter stand for 1 hour, stirring it 4 times. Bake the waffles in a waffle iron as usual. Serve with whipped cream, fruit, jam or sugar.