Monday May 10, 2010

It feels weird writing that date. I mean, we’ve been away only three days, yet we’ve done so much already that it seems like a week-and-a-half!

Take Amsterdam, for example …

We spent yesterday finding our way around this captivating old city, with its picturesque waterways, cobbled streets, colourful markets, old crooked houses, lumbering windmills, steep-gabled mansions and cosy Dutch cafés. A downtown rubbish-strike didn’t leave a great impression, and the wind-chill factor had us wrapped up like Eskimos. But we still had a ball. Then, later in the day, we headed out together for a leisurely cruise along tree-lined canals (they wind their way around this city for at least 100kms) and the first of many treats: a Midlife Madness Welcome Dinnerat an Indonesian restaurant.

Oh, prior to dinner, we paid a respectful, thoughtful visit to the museum-plus-hiding-place of Anne Frank – one of the millions of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution during World War 2. Teenager Anne kept a remarkable diary (now published in more languages than any other book, save the Bible) until 1944, when someone betrayed her family to the SS. She died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen camp.

Holland is small (you can drive from north to south in just a couple of hours), densely populated (16 million people), and famous for its islands (90 of them), bridges (400 of them) and bikes (600,000 of them). Much of the country is also below sea-level – like the area surrounding the airport, which at one time was a lake. But that’s no problem to the Dutch: they’ve long been experts at dykes and dams, draining water and reclaiming land.

Anyway, at 7:30 this morning we packed bags and bodies onto a coach and drove to Amsterdam’s rural outskirts in search of flowers. First place we stopped was Aalsmeer, home of the largest flower auction in the world – where we caught the tail-end of buyers bidding for zillions of flowers. Then, having been thoroughly boggled by the organisational brilliance of that vast enterprise, we moved on to the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens for an eyeful of gorgeous Dutch tulips-by-the-acre (not to speak of a prize-winning lily exhibition).

Finally, early afternoonish, we motored to the cruise terminal where our floating hotel, the Amadeus Elegant, lay waiting to take us on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure through five fascinating countries along three famous rivers: the Rhine, the Main and the Danube.

Getting welcomed onboard, inspecting our cabins, then exploring this brand new vessel from bow to stern – it was like a dream-come-true for all 47 of us Mad Midlife Kiwis. And, now, with a five-course dinner under our belts, there’s nothing left to do but crawl into our big soft beds for some more sweet dreams …

… which is precisely what I plan to do as soon as I’ve typed the last fullstop, chosen some photos and emailed this blog.

PEOPLE NEWS: The nominations are rolling in nicely now as people clamour to win these highly sought-after honours …

* The ‘Wanna Be A Tour Guide Award goes to Jocelyn M – who, confident in her ability to lead a bunch of us to the Dam Square (“You go left, then left, then left, then left …”) only managed to lead us around the block and back to our hotel.

* The ‘Man Overboard Award goes to Judy – who misread the instructions about an onboard briefing by the crew and arrived at the meeting fully prepared for lifeboat drill, all trussed-up in her bright-orange lifejacket (much to the puzzlement of everyone else).

TOMORROW: We have a few more hours in Amsterdam before a blast on the ship’s horn will signal the beginning of our long-awaited cruise. First stop: Cologne and its stunning cathedral. So stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) beside the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And don’t worry: we’ll make sure they get these messages. Also, if you want a better look at our route map and some of the photos here, just click on them and they’ll enlarge –  magic!