We’re off to do a cruise of the war graves and see the tulips for Pauls belated 60th birthday. We were meant to do this in April 2020 but that was when everything got cancelled due to Coronavirus and has taken a while to reschedule and even at the last minute the sailing was cancelled due to staffing issues caused by the war in Ukraine but we were offered one two days later.
We were informed last night that although the ship wasn’t two years old these are its first sailings due to Covid.

First we explore the tiny villages of ‘old’ Holland from where ships of the 16th century Dutch East India Company set sail in search of silks and spices. Then it’s off to Arnhem scene of the famous battle in 1944 before visiting Antwerp, the city of Diamonds and Rubens with its main square lined by the tall step-gabled, merchant’s houses so typical of the ‘low’ countries. Then we explore the very best of Flanders in delightfully medieval Ghent. From here we see Ypres and one of Europe’s finest ‘old world’ cities, delightful Bruges. Listen to the sound of the carillion emanating wonderfully from the instantly recognisable Bell Tower, sip a coffee in the old market square and reflect on how wonderful life can be. Finally we discover one of nature’s most spectacular of floral displays, the kaleidoscope of colour that is the Dutch Bulbfields.


Got to the airport early to avoid the queues that the rest of UK were experiencing only to find it deserted. Direct to Amsterdam from Newcastle then to the five-star cruise ship moored near the city centre.
Time to familiarise ourselves with the first-class floating hotel before experiencing the chef’s specially chosen menu for our first dinner on board.


We’re moored in the heart of delightful Amsterdam, and there’s no better way to explore than taking a classic glass-topped boat tour through the network of canals that infuse every aspect of life here. The tour brings a real insight into the history and everyday life of Amsterdam, a maritime, financial and cultural powerhouse uniquely located facing both the sea and the heartlands of Europe.

As we glide over the calm canal waters, there’s a fascinating variety of typically Dutch narrow gabled buildings, bustling streets and historic bridges immortalised by the great artists, and we learn about its famous canalside residents, from the tragic Anne Frank, who wrote her diaries hidden in a merchant’s house, to Rembrandt, the Dutch Old Master.

A splendid buffet lunch awaits as we slip away from the quayside towards the IJsselmeer, the enormous inland lake created when the Zuiderzee was cut off from the North Sea by a series of dykes and dams.

Our port of call is Hoorn, once a prosperous port of the Dutch East India Company. Reminiscent of another age, it’s a charming mix of imposing buildings dating from the 15th century onwards, brick- built warehouses, cobbled squares and twisting alleys. Hoorn’s ships traded the world over, with one sailor even naming the southern tip of South America after his home town – Cape Horn. We disembark and explore this intriguing spot and its boat-filled harbour, dominated by the distinctive 16th-century Head Tower, before returning to our cruise ship to enjoy dinner and a nightcap in the lounge.


We’re now deep in the heart of Holland, passing flower-bedecked houseboats, flocks of wildfowl and, of course, windmills! We soon arrive in Arnhem, synonymous with the ill-fated 1944 aerial assault depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far. Following the Normandy landings of June 1944, the Allied advance through northern Europe was extraordinarily rapid and on 11 September 1944, the Second Army entered theNetherlands just south of Eindhoven, the first Allied troopsto set foot in the country since its fall in May 1940. Their next aim was to cross the Rhine before the Germans had time to reorganise after their recent setbacks, securing crossings over the rivers and canals that stood in their path at Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem. ‘Operation Market Garden’ would involve the United States 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the Commonwealth 1st Airborne Division and the Polish Parachute Brigade.

On 17 September 1944, the 1st Airborne Division began landing west of Arnhem, but German resistance, bad weather and problems with supplies and reinforcements led to heavy losses, and their objectives were not taken. They were forced to form a perimeter at Oosterbeek they held stubbornly until 25 September, when it was decided to withdraw the remnants of the division across the lower Rhine. Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery contains the graves of most of those killed during the September landings, and many of those killed in later fighting in the area. There are now 1,678 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated the cemetery. 246 of the burials are unidentified and casualties are commemorated by special memorial are also 73 Polish burials and eight Dutch graves.

General Urquhart had his headquarters in Hartenstein, which is now home to the Airborne Museum. In 1942 the Municipality of Renkum acquired the Villa Hartenstein, which got a new destination as a hotel. During the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944 Hotel Hartenstein was in the middle of the fighting as the Head Quarters of British parachutists commanded by major-general Roy E Urquhart.


This morning we marvel at the Captain’s skill as he calmly navigates the busy River Scheldt and moors in Antwerp.
According to folklore, and still celebrated by the imposing statue that stands in front of Antwerp’s Town Hall, the city earned its name from a mythical giant who exacted a toll from people crossing the river Scheldt – severing one of the hands of those who refused, and throwing it into the river. It’s a legend that’s only the start of a long and fascinating history. With early origins in a Gallo-Roman civilisation, the Scheldt became a boundary of the Holy Roman Empire at the end of the 10th century. Antwerp became the sugar capital of Europe and its largest port north of the Alps in the 16th century, importing from Spanish and Portuguese plantations. It also gained huge wealth from trading in pepper, cinnamon, silver and textiles. With a bourse that attracted many foreign merchants and rich bankers from all around Europe, the profits were invested in the city’s art and architectural heritage.
In 1576 during the Dutch Revolt and the Spanish Fury, Antwerp was plundered by Spanish soldiers who massacred 7,000 citizens and burnt down 800 houses. Even today, the inhabitants of the city are locally nicknamed “Sinjoren” – a reference to the Spanish noblemen who ruled it during the 17th century. But this was also an extraordinary artistic high point, when Antwerp’s school of painting included Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordans, the two Teniers and other Flemish Masters. Many of their masterpieces can still be seen today in the city’s Fine Art Museum.
During World War Il, Antwerp was an important strategic target. Occupied by Germany in 1940, it was liberated by the British 11′ Armoured Division four years later. Although German attempts to destroy the port ultimately failed, the city was severely damaged and rebuilt after the war in a modern style.
Today. Antwerp has rebranded itself as a world-class fashion centre and has achieved something of cult status in the world of fashion. It’s also famous for local products such as Mokatine sweets, locally roasted coffee, Bolleke amber beer, Poolster pickled herring – and inevitably, biscuits called “Antwerp Hands.

This morning we enjoy a tour led by a local guide taking in its numerous highlights and lesser-known features. Once part of the Spanish Empire, Antwerp grew wealthy during its 16th-century Golden Age, when it was Europe’s largest port north of the Alps, with profits invested in the city’s Flemish art and architectural heritage, and later it became the world’s diamond trading centre. At its heart is the captivating main square – the Grote Markt – dominated by ornately gabled guildhouses, the Renaissance town hall and opulent Brabo Fountain.

This afternoon we explore visiting Rubens’ extravagant former home and studio, the magnificent Gothic cathedral and a painstakingly restored train station, of such architectural splendour it is often called the ‘Railway Cathedral’.

on the way back we found a really interesting bar and an even more interesting shop where I think they bred coconuts


Today we awake in picturesque Ghent, once Western Europe’s second largest city after Paris. Historians believe that Ghent owes its name to the Celtic word “ganda”, which means confluence – appropriate for a place that started as a settlement at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Lys. By the Middle Ages, Ghent had become the second biggest city in Europe after Paris, with up to 65,000 people living within its city walls. Today, Ghent remains a perfectly preserved medieval gem with an unspoilt picturesque waterfront, the imposing Gravenstein fortress towering above the river, a 13’h century skyline punctured by the soaring Belfry and Van Eyck’s masterpiece “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ which decorates the cathedral.
Although Ghent’s two rivers regularly flooded the local land, its early inhabitants turned this to their advantage by herding sheep on its richly grassed water meadows and using the wool to make cloth. During the Middle Ages, Ghent was the leading city for cloth, later helping to forge strong trading relationships with Scotland and England. In the 18th and 19th centuries the textile industry flourished here again, after Liven Bauwens smuggled the plans for the first mechanical weaving machine out of England. Charles V. a native of Ghent, and Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain in the 16′ century, punished the city after the 1539 Revolt of Ghent. After forcing the city’s nobles to walk in front of him barefoot with a noose around their necks, the people of Ghent gained a new nickname – “Stroppendragers” or noose bearers. Later centuries brought devastation and many changes of national allegiance to Ghent. The Eighty Years’ War ended its role as a centre of international importance, and the city was captured by French forces in 1745 before being returned to Austria following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The Treaty of Ghent formally ended the war of 1812 between Britain and the United States, and Ghent became a part of the Netherlands for fifteen years after the Battle of Waterloo. Despite the ravages of history, much of the city’s medieval architecture remains wonderfully well preserved and restored. The 13th century Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicolas church are particularly notable, along with the imposing architecture of the old Graslei harbour and the city’s many other intact old churches and beguinages.

After lunch on board we join a tour to Ypres, a name synonymous with the horrors of the Great War. Almost totally destroyed during a series of battles, Ypres is now a place of peace, reverence and reflection.  Ypres is located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Though leper is the Dutch and only official name, the city’s French name, Ypres, is most commonly used in English due to its role in World War I when only French was in official use in Belgian documents. Ypres is an ancient town, known to have been raided by the Romans in the first century BC. It is first mentioned by name in 1066 and is probably named after the river leperlee on the banks of which it was founded, Ypres occupied a strategic position during World War I because it stood in the path of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north (the Schlieffen Plan). The neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by Britain; Germany’s invasion of Belgium brought the British Empire into the war. The German army surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. To counterattack, British, French, and allied forces made costly advances from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding hills. English-speaking soldiers in that war often referred to leper/Ypres by the deliberate mispronunciation Wipers. British soldiers even published a wartime newspaper called the Wipers Times. The same style of deliberate mispronunciation was applied to other Flemish place names in the Ypres area for the benefit of British troops, such as Whyteshaete becoming White Sheet and Ploegsteert becoming Plug Street. After the war the town was rebuilt using money paid by Germany in reparations, with the main square, including the Cloth Hall and town hall, being rebuilt as close to the original designs as possible. The Cloth Hall today is home to In Flanders Fields Museum, dedicated to Ypres’s role in the First World War.

We started off with a visit to the Menin Gate, the deeply moving memorial to the missing where the ‘Last Post’ is played every evening.

We visit the In Flanders Fields Museum that tells the haunting story of the conflict, providing a thought-provoking insight into the extraordinary lives of the soldiers and civilians; it’s located in the Cloth Hall in the heart of Ypres’ beautifully restored town centre.

After this we visit Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world.


Quite simply one of Europe’s most beautiful and perfectly preserved medieval cities, Bruges wears its remarkable legacy with charm and modesty. With its name probably deriving from the Old Dutch for “bridge,” the historic city centre of Bruges is today a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of serene canals, narrow cobbled streets, romantic gabled houses, exquisite churches and myriad shops selling artisan goods – including its legendary chocolate! Bruges held a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic Leaque trade and the southern trade routes, and was active in the circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century. Much later, during the 17th century, the lace industry brought new wealth to the city. But as Antwerp became increasingly dominant, the fortunes of Bruges declined. It became impoverished and gradually faded in importance – so much so that it came to be called the sleepy – or even the dead – city. So much the better for us, then, as we wander its quiet cobbled streets, walk along its peaceful canal paths, breathe in its calm atmosphere and find a tranquil refuge from the bustle of modern life. The first book ever printed in English was published in Bruges by William Caxton. But the city’s historical importance goes right back to the reawakening of town life in the 12th century, when Bruges’s wool market, woollens weaving industry and cloth trade were all protected by the shelter of city walls.

Its main square is dominated by the soaring Belfry, whose 47 bells chime to create an idyllic atmosphere. It’s a 366-step climb to the top, but the breathtaking views are well worth it. We see the City Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, home to a venerated relic – a phial of Jesus’s blood reputedly brought back from the Crusades. We also see the Church of Our Lady, home to Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, a work of incomparable beauty carved in white Carrara marble.


Today we visit Keukenhof, the heart of the glorious Dutch bulbfields. On arrival, nothing prepares you for the dazzling spectrum of colours stretched out before. Between the end of March and the end of May, the Keukenhof Exhibition Grounds in Lisse are transformed into a ravishing sea of colors when their extraordinary selection of spring flowers burst into bloom. Set up in 1949 on the site of a former kitchen (keuken) garden of a 17thC castle, these are the largest flower gardens in the world. A total of about 7 million bulbs including over 700 tulip varieties add up to one of the most delightful horticultural displays imaginable, and its attractions are further enhanced by neat formal gardens and indoor shows in massive greenhouses, the latter including an introduction to the finer points of bulb cultivation. Covering an area of over 70 acres, this show unfurls an ever-changing tapestry of horticultural splendor that has to be seen to be believed. The Keukenhof can be regarded as the crowning feature of the so-called ‘Bollenstreek,’ an area bounded by Amsterdam, Haarlem and Sissenheim that has been the heartland of Dutch bulb-growing for about four centuries. Each spring, the vast fields of spring flowers transform the whole area into a seemingly endless quilt of dazzling colors with an almost magical quality.

Artististic shots

Flemish Master style shots