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Europe cruise part five: The Netherlands

Friday, July 29, 2011
Back on board Scenic Pearl with Carolyne, this is the last leg of her Scenic Tours Jewels of Europe tour.

After enjoying fabulous food and beverages on board and everywhere the river cruise vessel stopped, Carolyne was very grateful that there can be lots of walking in ports if you choose, and that Scenic Pearl has a walking track.

The 123.5m-long vessel takes just 169 passengers and joins its sister cruisers — Emerald, Ruby, Diamond and Sapphire. They all offer wonderful itineraries and whichever gem you choose, you can't go wrong.

*Watch part four of Carolyne's journey in Europe here
*View part three of the river cruise in Germany
*Watch part two of the Europe river cruise to Austria and the Czech Republic
*Check out part one of the river cruise in Hungary

Gourmet cuisine and European wines are served in Scenic Pearl's fine-dining restaurant, which has floor to ceiling windows. Portobello's is an intimate Italian restaurant at the front of the ship, which passengers get to enjoy on a rotational basis. Butler service is available for all your needs and at night, passengers relax around a piano in the ship's lounge.

It's all wonderfully, wickedly indulgent, and as the final leg was reached, everyone on board was wishing they could stay for the next cruise.

Still, there was the Rhine Gorge and the Netherlands yet to enjoy. The Rhine Gorge stretches about 65km from Rudesheim to Koblenz and best views are from the ship. Ragged cliffs rise more than 100m above the river and everywhere you look are magnificent castles.

Marksburg Castle is the only medieval hill castle on the Rhine River that has never been destroyed. It has been lived in for more than 700 years making it an ever-changing and developing complex, growing into its present state over the centuries.

Its construction began in the 12th century as protection, rather than a royal residence. Rising above the town of Brauback, its slender central tower (keep) rises high over courts and ramparts. Scenic Pearl passengers stepped back in time to enjoy a medieval banquet in the castle which these days is the headquarters of the German Castles Association. Their main task is the protection and preservation of castles and stately homes.

Back on board and jolted into the 21st century, the cruise continued to Amsterdam, the final destination.

The capital of the Netherlands is built around 150 canals and is one of Europe's great cultural cities.

The low-lying country (around 25 percent is below sea level) is great for cyclists. Around 500,000 of them pedal their way around the cities and towns, and for around $15 a day rental, you can join them!

As you pedal around you will see windmills, fields of tulips and lush green pastures, perfect for contented, grazing cows responsible for the Netherlands' €7 billion cheese industry. The Dutch have been making cheese, mostly hard and semi-hard, since 400 BC, so they are pretty good at it. Many towns have cheese festivals, and if you're in the Netherlands between April and September, Alkmaar is worth a visit.

Cheese carriers wear colours to represent respective companies as red-rinded gouda, edam, leiden and other cheeses are weighed and sold by dealers on a clap of hands. Herring is almost as popular as cheese, but the fish doesn't necessarily tickle the palates of those from the antipodes. If you do like it, you are bound to love the many ways it can be enjoyed in the Netherlands.

The Dutch are renowned for their flowers, particularly those grown from bulbs. An amazing 75 percent of the world's flowers stem from the Netherlands and you will be treated to a visit to the world's only floating flower market.

Bloemenmarkt on the Singel Canal dates back centuries and has been at its current location on a series of moored barges since 1883. It's not all about tulips. They have myriad other flowers, cypress saplings, beautifully shaped Christmas trees in December and in keeping with the country's marijuana tolerance, cannabis starter kits.

The Dutch love their coffee, so wherever you go you can enjoy a cup of a special brew before you hop on your bicycle to check out another of Holland's offerings. So, in less than three weeks, Scenic Tours showed some of Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands. It may satisfy most travellers' curiosity, but be warned — it could just whet your appetite to see more. If that's the case, they have plenty of other, equally wonderful, destinations!

Location

Scenic Tours' Jewels of Europe tour.

Cost

Scenic Tours 15-day Jewels of Europe river cruises leave from Amsterdam or Budapest. They start at $6095 per person twin share and include return flights from major Australian capital cities. This price is based on March 7, 2012, departure. All meals, drinks with meals, sightseeing to suit your personal interests and headsets on tours are included. They run between March and November.

Prices correct at July 30, 2011.

For further information

Scenic Tours
14/56 Pitt Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: 1300 723 642
www.scenictours.com.au
info@scenictours.com

It is recommended travellers see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended for your destination. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au and www.welltogo.com.au.

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