In the late afternoon light, the La Panache barge looks welcoming, moored alongside the historic buildings that line the canal in the old part of Haarlem.
After getting settled in our rooms and cleaned up a bit, we all met again in the main salon, where Amy, who will take care of our every need for the next six days, greets us with a glass of champagne, and fresh French oysters on the half shell. Chef Sebastian and Chief Navigator Willi introduce themselves as well.
The main public rooms on board are larger than I expected, with lots of big windows and a comfortable U-shaped sofa, perfect for watching the shoreline slip by. In one corner is a bar area, where wine, spirits juices and water are available any time. There’s a piano, and beside that, a table where Amy sets up tea and coffee and cakes during the day.
The dining room is also spacious, with room for twelve, a mirror that makes the room look even larger, and comfortable seating.
Our cabins are attractive, but quite snug. However, this is a barge, and there is never a lot of space to play with, and passengers seldom spend too much time in their rooms anyway.
The bathroom is surprisingly big, with a good sized shower and double sinks.
The beds can be configured as two singles or one large bed.
The closet is adequate, but a bit awkward to get at. There’s a desk and chair in one corner, television, and … fresh tulips!
After a welcoming drink and some time to get to know our fellow passengers – a diverse but unfailingly interesting group – we are more than ready for dinner.
Let’s see how Chef Sebastian measures up.