Taking a vacation isn’t only fun, it’s also one of the best ways of learning about other cultures and histories that you may not normally be exposed to. Many charter groups choose to sail with Boat Bike Tours for just that reason: they want to give their students a unique experience that combines learning with pleasure. Last year, we had a great time hosting a group from the University of Alaska Fairbanks as we explored the rich cultural history of the Netherlands together. Here we interview Michelle Bartlett, director of Summer Sessions and Lifelong Learning at the University of Alaska, to find out about what inspired her to organize the tour, and what the highlights were.
How did you find out about Boat Bike Tours, and what inspired you to organize the trip?
The University of Alaska Fairbanks educational travel program organizes tours all over the world for professionals and retired professionals, but this was our first barge tour. We aim to find out as much as possible about the natural, cultural and political history of the country we visit. I knew friends who had taken a tour with Boat Bike Tours from Amsterdam to Bruges, and I always wanted to experience a barge tour for myself.
How did the planning and organization work?
I got in touch with [charter tour organizer] Jossie and we worked together to create an itinerary that would work for our group. We needed to make sure it was at least two weeks long because people are flying in from the US and had to recover from the jet lag when they arrived. We wanted to make sure they’d have time to see as much as possible while they were here. I left the organization strictly up to Jossie with the brief “If your favorite cousin was going to come and spend two weeks with you, what would you want them to see, do and understand?”
For our next trip we’re tweaking the itinerary to include more cycling. A couple of the travelers are really avid cyclists, so Jossie has arranged time in the program for them to go and explore by themselves. There’ll also be optional guided bike tours for whoever wants to participate. We’re also adding on an excursion to the Den Hague city center because people are really interested in the political history of the Netherlands, and the International Criminal Court.
What were highlights of the trip?
That had to be the staff. I did not expect them to go out of their way like they did. The kindness was just wonderful. Harry and the dog, and the chef – Oh my God! I tell everyone who’s going this year, lose about 10 pounds before going on the ship, then you can really enjoy yourself.
And what were the most memorable excursions?
The excursions really wove together the cultural and natural history of the Netherlands. A cultural highlight was seeing Vermeer’s portrait of the Girl with the Pearl Earring in the the Mauritshuis.
We also went to the Anne Frank House, a place I have a personal connection to because my father’s sister was a Jewish refugee from Germany who knew the Frank family. She also went into hiding, and gave her three-year old daughter to the Dutch resistance to keep her safe. That saved her life. My aunt and her husband were deported on the last train to leave Westerbork for Auschwitz near the end of the war. She managed to survive in a slave labour camp in Czechoslavakia, and moved to America with her daughter after the war.
Are you inspired to start planning your own tour?
At Boat Bike Tours you can charter your own ship and receive a group discount to make the tour even more affordable. Read about all the details of “booking your bubble” here, or sign up for our 6-part e-mail charter tour course.