Posts Tagged ‘AmaWaterways’

Mekong River Voyage of Discovery: Connecting Past and Present

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

THE MEKONG RIVER…The artery that led us on our hearts’ life-long mission…to trace where our fathers once walked in time of war…we now walk in time of peace.

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. ” ~ Alex Haley, author of Roots, whom I had the privilege and honor of working with in the early 90’s impressed upon me the importance of knowing who we are, by researching the lives of those who bravely paved the path before us. 

 

THIS IS OUR STORY.

 

By Mel Gee Henderson
with Maynhia Yang Stott
Photography by ESCAPESEEKER,
unless otherwise indicated

Prologue: Part 1

A.S. Peapealalo“Your Dad, Sgt. Major Peppy saved my life!” This was the remarkable sentiments expressed by soldier upon soldier as they shook my hand during my father’s packed Memorial Service. For you see, my father, a U.S. Marine whose military career spanned more than three decades, volunteered for deployment during the Vietnam conflict, not once, twice, or three times, but five!  It only seems natural then that he would have had occasions to save equally as many lives.
Back home, during my father’s absence, my mother served as CEO of our home.  My elder brother was in his prime (sometimes rather wild)  teen years; while I was still in the thick of my formative elementary school phase. My mother worked full time in order to stay sane and keep her mind off the Vietnam War fueled further by nightly news reports of the conflict only escalating. We, along with other military families in our Oceanside, California neighborhood learned to cope with our soldiers’ absence.  But underneath the calm exterior, even as a child, I knew full well that everyone dreaded the mere sight of the Chaplain’s black sedan slowly cruising our streets, looking for the designated address.  It only meant one thing: another life had been lost to the Vietnam War.
 

My Mission

Fast forward, 42 years after the Fall of Saigon, I am now granted the opportunity to walk the very same Asian soil my father walked.  The stark difference:  He walked as a soldier through enemy-thick jungles in sweltering heat, and marched with boots laced with leeches across verdant rice [mine] fields in war-ravaged Vietnam; I, however, now walk in time of peace.  I see a country that bears only a small resemblance to the images that lit up our TV sets, accompanied with disturbing, grueling reports about a war that few understood.  I feel compelled to learn all that I can about this Southeast Asia region that occupied a major chunk of my father’s life, and impacted our entire family…a familiar story that was repeated in homes across America’s vast landscape.
  

Part 2: Enter… Maynhia Yang Stott

 


​Maynhia with ESCAPESEEKER during our “Astonishing Australia” film shoot

How It All Began

In mid-October of 2017, I enjoyed a Chinese lunch with one of our most ardent ESCAPESEEKER Travel Series supporters who had accompanied our film crew on an epic, month-long Australia filming assignment in August of 2017. Her name:  Maynhia Yang Stott, a Hmong Laotian-French-American. She began to recall the story of how her family narrowly escaped from Communist-ruled Laos after the Fall of Saigon. As she spoke, I realized for the first time, the depth of how far this young entrepreneurial woman had come from that singular moment that her  2-year old self had literally been plucked from the grip of an extremely difficult and dangerous existence.  She looked me right in the eyes, and pointedly expressed,  “Mel, I want to go back to Laos, and learn more about my family’s past, and more importantly, I want to find a way to give back and help the Laotian people.  I want to improve the lives of impoverished children, who like me, need a chance for a better life.  Will you help me?  Remember, I was only 2 years old when I left. It is so foreign to me, and I know little about how to navigate that part of the world.”After giving it a great deal of thought, I suggested to her, “If we’re going to go back and learn more about your family’s heritage, then we must also explore the other countries that have impacted Laos history–the countries that make up Indochina:  Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.  Throughout its history, the horror of wars that impacted one, impacted all three.  And, the best mode of travel since we are both unfamiliar with this part of Asia, I think we should consider joining the AmaWaterways‘ River vessel, the AmaDara, designed specifically to navigate the Mekong River and its complex arteries which embarks from a tiny port–a 5 hour drive from Siem Reap, Cambodia, and winds through the Mekong River until it reaches its final destination:  Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.”

Maynhia agreed. But before we join the AmaDara River Cruise Voyage, we shall first travel to the land of her roots, Laos, officially known as Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

The AmaDara, our chosen vessel for exploring the Mekong River and its tributaries.

The AmaDara, our chosen vessel for exploring the Mekong River and its tributaries.

Map

Thus, the stage is now set for two friends to accomplish two distinct missions. Yet, both reasons for their journey are actually similarly tied; we both seek to understand our father’s past–a past that has played such an integral part in shaping our most formative years. 

To understand Maynhia’s motivations to return to Laos, you must first gain a glimpse into her family’s vivid past 

Laos, a foreign name and an even more foreign land for a little girl who escaped the country as a two-year old toddler.

In her own words… 

My mother describes vividly how our family left Laos when the Americans pulled out of the Vietnam War. 

L to R, first row: Dab Nplooj, Dab Xwm, Tais Mim, Dab Ntxhawg, Yawg Duab Ci, Tais Lig, Tais Ab and Maynhia's Mom,  Tais Maiv. In the second row: Niam Tais Hlob, Tais Paj, Tais Ntxhais, Niam Tais Ntshuab and Dab Choj.

L to R, first row:
Dab Nplooj, Dab Xwm, Tais Mim, Dab Ntxhawg, Yawg Duab Ci, Tais Lig, Tais Ab and Maynhia’s Mom, Tais Maiv.
In the second row:
Niam Tais Hlob, Tais Paj, Tais Ntxhais, Niam Tais Ntshuab and Dab Choj.

Xiang Khouang Deputy Governor Youa Pao Yang

Xiang Khouang Deputy Governor Youa Pao Yang

Because my Father,  Xiang Khouang Deputy Governor Youa Pao Yang, was a high Hmong official, and the first recognized Hmong Lao government official (along with General Vang Pao), who fought along side the Americans, his life was in real danger. In May 1975 the Americans sent choppers to evacuate the Hmong officials from Long Tieng. Choppers carried out air lift missions to Long Tieng for three days. Long Tieng was a Laotian military base located in Xiangkhouang Province.

During the Laotian Civil War, it served as a town and airbase operated by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. At that time my family lived in Ban Naso, a little village where we took refuge for four years after the capital seat of Xiangkhouang, Satong fell under the communist regime.

I was born in Ban Naso. We arrived in Long Tieng the second day after an arduous five hours drive. For two days my family tried to board with no success; the airport was crowded with people. When the helicopters arrived, they would rush and scramble to get on. The soldiers in charge of helping us couldn’t control the crowd. My mom was with child. She was holding a suitcase and carrying me on her back with a nyaaj, a traditional baby cloth carrier. I had just turned two years old. My dad was holding my older brothers’ hands. Kou was six, and Yi was four.  My sister Bao who was eight was old enough to walk by herself. My mom says this time was the scariest time of her life. She wasn’t scared of the enemy as much as she was of the crowd of people. They were so ruthless. It seemed that no one cared about anyone. Prior to the helicopters coming, the Americans told the people that they will only send helicopters to evacuate the officials and that the people were safe from the Viet communist since the communist will only punish or kill the officials.

The first day, the people let the officials board but like anywhere in times of war, fears and doubt creep into the peole’s mind and chaos acrrues. The second day, when we arrived the airport was crowded with people fighting to get on board the choppers. No one listened to the Americans anymore. It was survival of the fittest.

After two days of trying to board to no avail, my mom suggested that my dad leave for Thailand by himself and she and the children will stay behind with my grand mother since his life was in imminent danger and ours was not. My dad refused to let us stay, and said he will find a way. We hired a taxi to drive us to Vientiane– an 8-hours drive through a small dirt road. It was just our little family. When we left Naso my dad told his body guards to go home and take their family to safety. Once in Vientiane, my dad’s 3-5 body guards  who were already there at our house, refused to let him go out since the city was already occupied by the communist. After three days they finally found a boat from a Thai man who agreed to help us. The body guards snucked us out of the city to the river bank and we finally crossed the Mekong river. They placed us in a boat and watched us cross, hidden from the river bank. When we reached the other side which was the city of Nong Khai, they returned to our house and gathered their families to make the same crossing we had just made. All of them made it safely across.

Fast forward–they now reside in the United States, or in France. Because my dad worked with the French government most of his life he chose to emigrate to France. We lived there for 14 years. This is my Dad in his civilian attire, thriving in his newfound, conflict-free, adopted country.facebook_1513140648467

After my father’s passing we moved to the United States to be reunited with my mom’s family. I was born in April of 1973. If you ask my mom, she will say that I was born when “we were planting.” That’s how the Hmong remember when their children were born. One would say “you were born just during the rice harvest because I remember that I couldn’t help since I was with child.” Another one would say, “you were born the year our dad passed away, at the beginning of the planting season. That year we didn’t farm much because we didn’t have a dad to help us anymore. You uncles were young so we didn’t have any men muscle to help us till the land. Farming was very small from then on, until your uncles were big enough to clear trees for a new farm land.”

As you can see everything was based on the agriculture calendar. It is bitter sweet to finally be in Laos. It’s a beautiful country. I love it already. I can imagine living here myself surrounded by the emerald forests, the majestic mountains, the deep valleys, and narrow roads; the hillside farmlands caressing the mighty Mekong River. The sad part is that we’re not able to visit the actual places where our family lived. They say the road to Satong is too dangerous, and that we are likely to get mugged. They say that Long Tieng is now a closed base.  And, Ban Naso, where I was born, is now under an artificial lake. I hope to come back soon with my family.  Perhaps I can gather three  generations to return to Laos–to recall, to learn, and to pass on our family’s legacy. We will always be grateful for the sacrifices of our parents, for their courage in leaving their homeland, and the resilience to start over in a total foreign country with a vastly different culture. Most importantly, our parents stressed the importance of making a success of our lives so that someday, should we return to Laos, we can give back. This is the reason I have journeyed to Laos. It is my own personal journey of discovery, to learn more about who I am. And, equally important,  it’s time for me to find a way to give back.  ~ Maynhia Yang Stott

 

Lovely Laos...Gives whole new meaning to "A River Runs Through It."

Lovely Laos…Gives whole new meaning to “A River Runs Through It.”

First Sighting of the Mekong River: We fly to Laos’ Paksi Airport, and travel by car to Champasak.  Our Laos base of exploration–The River Resort, on the emerald banks of the Mekong River,  Champasak Province.

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The bamboo-lined entrance to The River Resort revealed an organized, naturally sculpted landscape captured in the image below, reflective of the fertile soil, and abundant flora along Mekong River’s edge.

IMG_3627 (1) [Photo Credit: The River Resort]

River Resort VillasThe minute we stepped into our clean, bright, simple, yet well-appointed villas, it’s clear that the architects and landscape artists of The River Resort put a great deal of thought behind its Southeast Asia design.

 After our long, multi-transpacific asiatic flights, we easily sunk into a deep slumber, serenaded by the sounds of the Mekong River’s rippling currents.

At dawn, I awoke to this glorious sight! The tiny silhouette of a Laotian fisherman in his boat already hard at work before sunrise.

Mekong from the River Resort

Fully energized after our hearty River Resort buffet breakfast, we spent the early morning learning more about The River Resort and making new friends with several of the local guests.  What an eye opener. We learned that many of the guests live in nearby Paksi, and travel to The River Resort for weekend get-a-ways because “it’s beautiful and they serve the best food in all of Champasak!”  By day’s end, after exploring and photographing the resort, and even receiving the most jet lag-curing massage from the Resort’s Spa therapist,  I eagerly created the following collage from the images I captured, accompanied by the following entry from my journal:

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Our Sunday was spent exploring our Laos #homeawayfromhome, The River Resort,  savoring the Chef’s unique culinary offerings, and making brand new friends, like 4-year old, Lin [pictured above in my Sunday collage] who can speak Lao, English and Chinese! Her beautiful Mama, Kitar also speaks beautiful English. Kitar says she learned to speak via the internet! How brilliant is that?#splendidsundaysentiments…After just two days, this is what we know: The beautiful Laotians we have met are warm, friendly, and oh so kind-hearted.

22885795_10156744730818032_2819682524662395027_nIt’s 1:08 a.m. on Monday morning and I’m too excited to sleep! I can’t wait for the sunrise so our adventures can continue. We’re heading towards the mountains to experience a plethora of waterfalls, and you know how I am when it comes to water, water, water! Have a beautiful week everyone, and remember, no matter where you go, be the kindest person you know. Honestly, the world is full of engaging friends, just waiting to be met. So…SMILE…and I bet you’ll make a new friend or two this week!  May we all strive to make the world a more loving place by learning to understand one another, and savoring cultures different from our own. You know what you’ll discover once you get to know one another? Beyond the differing language and religious faiths, the national attire, and really spicy foods, we’re really not that different after all. We all need to know that our lives matter…and we’re all striving to create meaningful, joyful lives infused with love by family and friends.  Goodnight for now, from#lovelylaos and The River Resort

We  awaken to such a flawless view of the mesmerizing Mekong River from our suite at The River Resort rested and ready yet again for another Champasak Province adventure.  And, the best part, Maynhia and I were able to share our adventures with our brand new friend whom we only met during our lunch at the Resort! She’s a Filipina (via Cyprus and Pakse, Laos that is), and we instantly became friends. It is as if we’ve known her forever. Her husband welcomed us to their beautiful home upon our return, and treated us to the most fabulous Italian dinner! Indeed, my ESCAPESEEKER theory rings true once again:  #theworldisfullofengagingfriendsjustwaitingtobemet

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To understand the present, you must first study the past…
Temple (1)

  WAt PhuWat Phu (meaning ‘mountain temple’), is situated on a hillside and offers stunning views over the surrounding land and Mekong River. Those who appreciate art and history will be amazed by the magnificent workmanship in this ruined Khmer temple complex in the form of temple pillars, barays, lintels, pediments, terrace, courtyard, walls, doorways, sanctuary, shrine, library and palaces. There is also a natural spring that is believed by locals to emit holy water. Older than the great temple complex at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Wat Phu was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2002.

Wat Phu (Vat Phou) is opened year round. It is located in Pakse, the main city of Champasack Province in southwestern Laos.  Visitors can travel to Wat Phu from Pakse via land or by boat along the Mekong River.

23032862_10156750438458032_5541436916855339063_nThis “Tuk Tuk” was our preferred land transportation for our temple visits. By the way, I didn’t really drive it. Best to hire a local driver who really knows his way around. Your task will be merely to wave to all the friendly locals because it will quickly become apparent that your driver knows everyone in town!

If you really want to get to know a place, get to know the locals.  Respectfully see, feel, hear, taste, embrace their country, and their culture through their eyes!  I promise, they will welcome you with open arms.

If you really want to get to know a place, get to know the locals.
Respectfully see, feel, hear, taste, embrace their country, and their culture through their eyes!
I promise, they will welcome you with open arms.

Our stay went by all too fast, and we knew we were going to have a really tough time saying goodbye to our new Lao friends, not to mention our delicious feast prepared by their French Chef, who thoroughly enjoyed conversing with Maynhia in her perfect French. Our private sunset cruise on the Mekong River with The River Resort Champasak  multi-tasking, multi-skilled team was exceptional. Honestly, their amazing native staff know the Mekong like the back of their hands, having grown up along the River. And, they seem to be able to do it all, wherever their skills are needed, and do so with a SMILE! Their pride in being part of “The River Resort family” is reflected in everything they do, and especially in how they extend the VIP treatment to all the guest!  We sure picked the perfect place for Maynhia to get a beautiful re-introduction into the land of her native roots:  LOVELY LAOS already has Maynhia and this ESCAPESEEKER longing to return!

#amazingasia Mekong River Voyage of Discovery… to be continued…Next Stop, The Splendor of Siem Reap!

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia at sunrise is absolutely worth the 4 a.m. wake-up call. Thanks to our guide extraordinaire, Ben Bond, we were able to document our most amazing visit to the largest and oldest religious monument in the world, which has become a must-see destination in Asia. Now, the temple is part of Angkor World Heritage Site and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The name– Angkor Wat means “Temple City” in Khmer.  Ben advised us exactly where to stand to capture the very best images, and provided one mind-expanding, scholarly narration about each Temple we visited. It is easy to see he is absolutely passionate about his work, and so very proud for the opportunity to share his country’s most famous treasures. Please stay tuned tomorrow when ESCAPESEEKER brings you Part 3: Cambodia…There’s so much more than meets the eye! 

We can’t wait to show you where we stayed during our Siem Reap exploration. Talk about an absolutely luxurious “oasis” right smack in the heart of Siem Reap splendor. Just a short 10 minutes away from the famous ancient temples, we found French colonial elegance thriving amidst the manicured gardens of Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort!

Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort

 

Oh, less I forget, we will also introduce you to a boatload of AmaWaterways’ “AmaZing” guests who share our insatiable wanderlust, many of whom we now count amongst our roster of global, brilliant friends.  My ESCAPESEEKERisms (things I personally believe to be true) clearly applies here:  If you wish to meet amazing friends, engage in amazing things. Yes, like traveling and discovering the sheer majesty of our wondrous world!

"Amazing Journeys" is an international travel program designed for Jewish singles and Jewish adult travelers of all ages. President and founder Malori Asman, brings with her over 30 years of travel industry experience.  Her travel experience speaks for itself—she has sailed on more than 100 cruises and has traveled to over 110 countries on seven continents! No wonder we instantly felt like soulmates. The seasoned team of Amazing Journeys plan, implement and personally escort 10-12 trips a year for Jewish singles around the world.  We had the good fortune of being on the same AmaDara Mekong River Cruise as Amazing Journeys, and well, it was exactly that:  AMAZING!

“Amazing Journeys” is an international travel program designed for Jewish singles and Jewish adult travelers of all ages. President and founder Malori Asman, brings with her over 30 years of travel industry experience. Her travel experience speaks for itself—she has sailed on more than 100 cruises and has traveled to over 110 countries on seven continents! No wonder we instantly felt like soulmates. The seasoned team of
Amazing Journeys plan, implement and personally escort 10-12 trips a year for Jewish singles around the world.
We had the good fortune of being on the same AmaDara Mekong River Cruise as Amazing Journeys, and well, it was exactly that: AMAZING!

[Photo Credit: Amazing Journeys]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A LUXURIOUS FLOATING HOTEL + BREATHTAKING LANDSCAPES + ENGAGING NEW FRIENDS = AMAWATERWAYS’ AMAPRIMA RIVER CRUISE

Friday, May 20th, 2016

Spring has sprung.  And, nowhere is this more evident than in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Amsterdam, here we come!

With select images by Jim Jones…

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Peg Whisler Jones, and yours truly, the ESCAPESEEKER

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 Introducing my ESCAPESEEKER Team to the Art of River Cruising

Amsterdam, here we come!Amsterdam, Netherlands ~ Ok, I have a confession:  I’ve always been hesitant to go on a river cruise because I’ve had the conception that I would be stuck on a boat for seven days or more with senior cruisers, so senior that they would not be up for doing  much of anything.  And, the last thing I need right now is to be reminded of how old, I too,  am becoming!  Well, WOW!  Was my conception a total MISconception! What I discovered and experienced has changed my view of River Cruising forever.

A bit of background: My ESCAPESEEKER Advisory Team

Three of my ESCAPESEEKER travel companions are members of my TV Program Advisory Team.  They’re seasoned global travelers.  And, they’re fearless, ready and eager to experience the very best in travel.  Based on the activities we continually engage in–climbing mountains, white-water rafting, canoeing in the Amazon, scuba-diving in French Polynesia–you may never guess from our adventurous behavior that two of us are in our early 60’s, while the other two are in the prime of their seventh decade!  And, the main trait we all share–we’re passionate about travel and the people who reside with us on this majestic planet! Oh yes, one more common trait–we have all managed to raise one huge family (each).

 

Our Big Family965582_10202540215885388_1749892738_o So when we’re not engaged in our extensive grand-parenting duties, we are conducting our ESCAPESEEKER advance research, and yes, the destination and experiences need to be simply amazing to make our time away from our families worth every second.

 In figuring out which of the plethora of river cruising options we wanted to try, one in particular stood out from all the rest:  AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima Tulip Cruise! After all it’s Spring time and we were advised everything is blooming in the Kingdom of the Netherlands!

AMAPrima Entrance

Why AmaWaterways?  It’s more than just about the destination–AmaWaterways is all about the complete journey.

We landed at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol around 8:30 a.m. and I have to say Schiphol is about the easiest airport to navigate. We were in the city being treated to a wonderful “Welcome ESCAPESEEKER breakfast” at the Hoofstad Brasserie overlooking the Amstel River, and located in the historic De L’Europe Amsterdam [http://www.deleurope.com/the “Grand Dame” of luxury hotels in Amsterdam by 10 a.m.  I highly recommend their delectable Spinach Eggs Benedict!

Hotel De L'Europe

Dutch Masters Wing - Junior Suite 2We had reserved two Junior Suites for the day, complete with a 6 pm late check-out in case we should need the extra time exploring the city before joining the AmaPrima later that same afternoon.  It proved to be exactly what we needed to fuel up, freshen up, and get rid of any signs of jet lag.  The city beckoned us, and we quickly acquiesced!

There’s nothing like walking and getting up close and personal to quickly orient yourself to the rhythm of the city.

 

AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima…River vessels are not created equal

AMAPrima Jim

Inspired by classic ocean yachts, the AmaPrima strives to provide the most distinctive river cruise experience. As you board, the magnificent glass elevator will catch your eye, hinting of the unique design elements you’ll continue to discover onboard. Being the lover of a well sunlit rooms, I was delighted to see our cabin had their exclusive “Twin Balconies” to allow for more private, friendly-viewing of the Netherland’s gorgeous landscapes. By the way, I soon discovered that certain ports required us to be tied to another commercial river boat.  What an outstanding way to get a sneak peak of the competition, and I noted, we on the AmaPrima were the only ones who can relax in a heated Sun Deck swimming pool with a “swim-up” bar after our energizing bike rides–yes, AmaWaterways provides a fleet of bicycles for guests to enjoy–free of charge!  Our ship also featured a Fitness Center, Massage, Hair and Beauty salon–and I was too busy having fun to take in any of it.  You’ll have to test it out for me when it’s your turn to go river cruising on the AmaPrima ok?  

Our Sweet Suite

Suite-on-the-AmaPrima.

It’s a given, most people who sign up for a River Cruise do not expect to find an extra large stateroom.  After all, these river boats have their size limits so they are able to navigate the many locks throughout the voyage.  What AmaWaterways did to make the cabins look and feel more expansive–they added the “twin balcony” concept for the majority of staterooms.  It lets so much more light in, and combined with white on white plush bedding, it simply evokes what you would expect to find in a luxury 5-star hotel. Yes, it’s all there–the flat-screen TV, with local and satellite channels, spacious bathrooms with multi-jet showerheads, even the luxurious terry bathrobes! All combined, definitely keeps with my lux-seeking ESCAPESEEKER mantra!

Feasting our way through the Kingdom of the Netherlands…tough assignment right?

Feasting our Way through the Netherlands

AmaWaterways offers an array of dining options for your culinary enjoyment. Enjoy Chaîne des Rôtisseurs culinary creations in the main dining room, or in the Chef’s Table restaurant with its own private chef.

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AmaWaterways is proud to be the only river cruise line invited to join one of the world’s most prestigious culinary organizations founded in 1950 in Paris. Every AmaWaterways vessel cruising in Europe is an official member of La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Membership is considered an achievement of world-class culinary acumen.It was tough to distinguish the offerings on our floating restaurant from the land-based award-winning variety! After trying to control my intake and appetites I finally decided to just surrender, and just sign up for more excursions and activities that would help me physically burn the calories so I could “earn” the next amazing spread!

IMG_2518Burning calories with mind-expanding excursions

Are you a “gentle” take everything in kind of walker?  Or are you an “active” fast walker that can’t wait to get to your target destination? Perhaps, you’re the kind of “late starter” tourist that’s in no hurry to get anywhere, even preferring to get your beauty sleep while on vacation? Well, no worries to all of the above because AmaPrima allowed us to set our own pace on shore excursions by signing up for the ones that describe our particular category–in my case–I definitely want to earn the evening’s dessert–I signed up for “active.”  All AmaWaterways voyages ensure that you’re treated with personalized attention, on land, as well as on the river. The complimentary Shore Excursions provide an an immersive introduction land tour to every destination. The local guides did inspire me to dig deeper, immerse myself more into the history of the places we visited once we returned to our boat.  If I could have my wish, I would wish we could stay longer at each location.  Just when I was savoring the moment, it seemed, it was time to untie the boat and cruise onward. 

Day 2      AMSTERDAM – VOLENDAM – EDAM

 IMG_2269We cruised the Ijsselmeer towards Volendam, enjoying a late afternoon tour of Volendam Harbor.

Then, we continued by motor coach to Edam, a total postcard-perfect, picturesque town.  I do not know how the Dutch maintain such immaculate homes and gardens.  Our guide hinted “we’re all born with a green finger.” Is that the same as a green thumb? After tasting the local Edam cheese, we know they have a gift for cheese-making too. We walked by the Old Quarter’s beautiful houses, canals, bridges and churches with towering steeples, including one of the largest in Holland, the Grote Kerk (Great Church).

We finished off our tour with a brief visit to the shoreline at Volendam.  If there’s one thing you absolutely must try, it’s the tiny, dollar size Dutch pancakes. It is served with fresh whipped cream…to die for…I kid you not!

It’s astounding to note that flood control is an important issue for the Netherlands, as about two thirds of its area is vulnerable to flooding, while the country is among the most densely populated on Earth. Natural sand dunes and constructed dikes, dams, and floodgates provide defense storm surges from the sea.  River dikes prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers Rhine and Meuse, while complicated system of drainage ditches, canals, and pumping stations (historically windmills) keep the low-lying parts dry for habitation and agriculture.  Water control boards are the independent local government bodies responsible for maintaining this system. In modern times, flood disasters coupled with technological developments have led to large construction works to reduce the influence of the sea and prevent floods.  In the interim, the Dutch became astute, expert sailors from residing by the sea, a trait that is evident everywhere we looked.

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Day 3       ARNHEM – NIJMEGEN
Hallowed Ground

We arrived early, in beautiful Arnhem. The perfect weather we were blessed with only magnified how charming this small town is.  Since my ESCAPESEEKER traveling companions are avid supporters of WWII veterans, we chose  to see the monument commemorating the Battle of Arnhem Bridge made famous by the classic film “A Bridge Too Far.” Such a humbling sight to walk amidst the rows and rows of tombstones bearing the name of soldiers who sacrificed their lives to liberate Arnhem.  We also visited the Airborne Museum to learn more about the Battle of Arnhem, one of the major campaigns of World War II.  This was well worth the time.  The town’s respect and reverence for those who died is clearly evident in this museum.  After our tour, we returned to the ship for lunch and a stunning cruise to Nijmegen. Mother Nature was definitely on our  side. The weather could not be any more fabulous as we cruised through the Netherlands en route to Belgium.IMG_2315

Day 4

     ANTWERP, BELGIUMIMG_2358 (1)We awoke to yet another glorious day, as we are welcomed to Antwerp.  A walking tour of Antwerp helped us get oriented to the layout of the main square, displaying the city’s superb architecture. In the afternoon we bravely explored Antwerp on bicycles with our two local guides, following each through the charming streets of Antwerp, passing impressive historical sites such as Cogels Osylei, Waterloo House, St. Jacob’s Church and the Museum Ridder Smidt van Gelder. It was especially enjoyable to see the different neighborhoods, some established by early Jewish settlers that continue to this day.  We returned to the ship with hearty appetites and our Chef definitely did not disappoint with yet, another amazing delectable spread.13164237_10154801999673032_6800186081863567539_n 2

Day 5

     GHENT AND BRUGESIMG_2393The evening’s cruised brought us to Ghent. A town I’ve only read about, I was eager to join the walked tour through the city,  which included the Belfry Hall, the Koornlei, the Graslei and the Castle of the Counts. My camera was going on overdrive as I captured one gorgeous image after another.  My only complain about Ghent?  The city council had instituted these public, open air urinals, and honestly, the scent destroys you even before you get close enough to realize what you were about to encounter.  Ghent, whatever where you thinking?  Please, there must be another option besides ruining the beautiful ambiance of your camera-ready city? We couldn’t board our buses fast enough as we headed to Bruges for the afternoon–one of Europe’s most perfectly preserved medieval cities, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It did not take long for my team to realize that it was a Belgian holiday and everyone had the same idea–to take in beautiful Bruges.  I had been to Bruges many times before, and I had never encountered such a crowd.  So, my recommendation to you if you wish to visit Bruges–make sure it is not a Belgian holiday.  After all, it is clear they love their impressive historic town as much as we do.IMG_2418By early evening, we were back on the beautiful AmaPrima cruising through the Dutch region of Zeeland, home to one of the world’s most complex engineering projects, the Delta Works, which took more than 30 years to complete!Engineering Feat in the Netherlands

Day 6

WILLEMSTAD, THE NETHERLANDS – KINDERDIJK – SCHOONHOVENIMG_2431Once again, we were so excited knowing the morning light would find us biking through the charming 400-year old town of Willemstad. As we’ve discovered from previous tours, the Dutch are simply immaculate. No matter where we cycled, there was always a pleasant garden to greet our sight. I also conducted my own little test to see how friendly the Willemstad natives really are.  Whenever I encountered one on our bike path, I would call out an enthusiastic “Hello from America!” They would always have such a surprise look on their face, and immediately respond with, “Hello!”  Some would even add, “Thank you for visiting!” Or, “Please stay a while.”  Yes, I found myself falling in-love with this beautifully manicured country.  The hard-working people also inspire me.  Who would have ever thought from their humble beginnings and challenging environments (“the Netherlands” means “the low lands” and the land only rises, on average, 1 meter above the sea level, with one third of the land is below sea level) would rise a country that once ruled an empire. In the 17th century,  the Netherlands was the richest and one of the most powerful countries in the world. Thus,  the Dutch call the 17th century the Golden Age.  Their Dutch Empire had possessions around the world. The most important possession were the East Indies, a country that is now called Indonesia. And in case you are not aware, the Dutch also founded New Netherland, which is now known as New York.  Yes, I guess we can say, the Big Apple was once a Dutch Apple! Here’s a little interesting Dutch trivia for you: In 2004 the  United Nations declared that the Netherlands was the 5th best country to live in, in the world! I can totally understand why. Just think, if you’re English-speaking, and you moved to the Netherlands,  you wouldn’t even need to learn Dutch any time soon because every native I’ve encountered thus far speaks fluent English. I can tell, I have a lot to learn from the unique lifestyles of the Dutch. In the meantime, I better keep biking. The AmaPrima awaits.

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IMG_2513In the afternoon, after another delicious lunch on the AmaPrima, we were transported in equally impeccable tour buses to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, a lovely village renowned for having the country’s greatest concentration of windmills, all dating from the 18th century. The windmills at Kinderdijk are a group of 19 monumental windmills in the Alblasserwaard polder, in the province of South Holland, Netherlands.  Built in 1738 and 1740, to keep water out of the polder, it is the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands and one of the best-known Dutch tourist sites. The mills are listed as national monuments and the entire area is a protected village view since 1993. They have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

One of the first things you’ll notice when entering one of the Kinderdijk windmills, is the low door opening. In the early days the diets of the inhabitants of the windmills were not as well balanced as we are used to now. This caused the people to stay small, which resulted in low door openings.  Working and living in a windmill is not easy. For instance, the windmills can only be reached by foot or bicycle. But even in the past, life was very difficult. The millers used to have large families, 10 to 12 children was no exception. There a several reasons for these large families: The influence of the church, no birth control, children often died in their first years, and the more sons, the more labor could be done in the mill and the land surrounding the windmill. However, because of their bad circumstances, the millers became self supporting, and they would grow their own vegetables, and raise their own livestock.

Fast forward, present day, I’m reviewing our windmill photos, and I think they convey one clear, simple message:  “Hello from Holland!”

IMG_2455After our informative afternoon at Kinderdijk, we returned to our ship and as we dined at the Chef’s table, our ship cruised to Schoonhoven, where we moored until midnight. I can’t believe how quickly our time on the beautiful AmaPrima cruise is passing.  All I want to do is freeze-frame to allow my memory more time to soak it all in. How in the world will I give up the “AmaZing” royal treatment we’re getting from the AmaPrima staff and crew? Please stop the clock!

Day 7 Park-Keukenhof     AMSTERDAM- KEUKENHOF – AMSTERDAM

We arrived in Amsterdam the next morning, just in time to admire the spectacular display of millions of flowering tulips during our morning excursion to the famous 79-acre Keukenhof Gardens. Talk about color-overload! You cannot begin to comprehend its plethora of rainbow blooms unless you see it for yourselves.

Also known as the Garden of Europe, it is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. It is situated in Lisse, southwest of Amsterdam. It is accessible by bus from the train stations of Haarlem, Leiden and Schiphol.   According to the official website of the Keukenhof Park, approximately seven million flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares (79 acres).

Keukenhof is open annually from mid-March to mid-May. The best time to view the tulips is around mid-April, depending on the weather.

Keukenhof is situated on 15th-century hunting grounds. It was also a source of herbs for Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut’s castle, which is the source of the name Keukenhof (it served to provide herbs for the castle’s kitchen). Rich merchants took over the grounds after the Countess’s death. Dutch East India Company Captain and Governor, Adriaen Maertensz Block lived there in his retirement years in the 17th century in the country house (now known as Castle Keukenhof) which he had let built in 1641.

In the 19th century, the Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt assigned the landscape architect Jan David Zocher and his son Louis Paul Zocher, who had also worked on the Vondelpark, to design the grounds around the castle.

The garden was established in 1949 by the then mayor of Lisse. The idea was to present a flower exhibit where growers from all over the Netherlands and Europe could show off their hybrids – and help the Dutch export industry. The Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of flowers. Their plan clearly succeeded!

Keukenhof-Gardens-of-HollandAll previous photos I had seen just cannot compare to seeing it in person, up close and personal!

In the afternoon, all of our fellow passengers  joined in a scenic sunset cruise through the historic harbor and canals of Amsterdam. Once again, my camera could not click fast enough. Amsterdam’s unique beauty grabs at my imagination. It’s a total movie-set, and yes, it makes me want to stay, rent a tiny alcove apartment where I can write my best-selling suspense novel. But then again, these historic houses do not come cheap.  The better plan would be to write the best seller, make a ton of money, and then I can purchase that sweet alcove with a gorgeous view of the canal!amsterdam-bicyclesniederlande_amsterdam_kanal_gracht_grossIMG_2239There’s so much to see and do in Amsterdam, especially if you’re an artist, or just enjoy seeing the works of the Masters–Rembrandt, Van Gogh for starters.  The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, and the Stedelijk Museum are the  most popular choices, but there are many interesting small museums. There are seventy five Amsterdam museums, which attract almost seven million visitors every year. Alongside the wealth of majestic Golden Age paintings, you’ll find exciting modern art, press, film, theater, photography museums and some unique Dutch treats like the Heineken, Ajax Arena Tours, and the Houseboat museum.

And, Amsterdam wouldn’t be Amsterdam without the tourist appeal for the other eclectic side: Yes, you’ll also find the Sex, Erotic, Hash, or Torture museums.

My entire team realized that one week in Amsterdam alone is necessary, no matter your taste in art, to dedicate and explore the incredible museum offerings.

13103312_10154811523658032_1667017073633928299_nAlas, the evening would find us being treated to a final evening’s walk through Amsterdam, this time led by our dearest Amsterdammer friends, Robin Post van der Burg and Hanneke van Weel. Truly, such a special way to end our voyage, breaking bread with friends who treat us like family, while recalling our priceless Netherland experiences, all of which only fueled our desire to become new subjects in the Kingdom of the Netherlands! Yes, you can definitely count on us returning, sooner rather than later.  Thank you AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima for an unforgettable voyage.  To Captain Gerd, Cruise Manager, Rolfe, Hotel Manager, Gemma, Chef Jossef, Maitre d’ Romeo, and to our personal waiter Gabor, who took impeccable care of us at every meal, we extend our utmost heartfelt gratitude for granting us a  River Cruise to remember!

A Few Parting Words From Our Entire Team…

“Cruising is such a tremendous way to make new friends, and connect with dear ones too.  The AmaPrima’s size made making new friends so easy.”~ Mel Gee Henderson

13124730_10154802287648032_2056998124209403176_n“I never expected that we would be dipping into AmaPrima’s pool in the early days of Spring in the Netherlands! It was wonderful after our bike rides!”

~ Peg Whisler Jones

ESCAPESEEKER photogs“Absolutely fantastic boat, fantastic trip with fantastic friends for a fantastic experience. THANK YOU. again.” ~ Jim Jones

Volendam stroll “The AmaPrima exceeded my expectations…I’m definitely a River Cruise convert! By the way, if you’re an avid biker, here’s a terrific biking map for Amsterdam that will come in handy! You’ll feel like a native Amsterdammer by the time you’re finished!” ~ Roy A. Henderson

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Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, received the 2016 Travvy Awards in New York City where AmaWaterways was honored to receive 6 Gold trophies including the coveted Best River Cruise Line Overall and Most Innovative Executive.

Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, received the 2016 Travvy Awards in New York City where AmaWaterways was honored to receive 6 Gold trophies including the coveted Best River Cruise Line Overall and Most Innovative Executive.

AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and Jimmy Murphy. All Three brought tremendous experience, knowledge and dedication to the venture. Rudi was one of river cruising’s pioneers, having introduced the modern-day river cruise concept to the world of travel. Kristin brought with her vast sales and customer service experience.   And, the third member,  Jimmy Murphy is the founder and former owner of Brendan Vacations. Their combined expertise and passion for the river cruise business has resulted in a river cruise vacation experience that strives to exceed customer expectations. The toughest part of our team’s decision–with more than 20 different itineraries to choose from, which one would you pick? www.amawaterways.com

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