By Lisa TE Sonne


On April 1, if all has gone well, I will be landing in Amsterdam to start a luxury barge trip through the canals of Holland during tulip season! And I will be sharing the wonders and windmills with a girlfriend I have known since I was 7 years old – a true Boomer friendship through the decades.

My friend Kathy will be joining me with Panache, which is what European Waterways calls “our” 129-foot wooden barge – with a dedicated chef, captain, wine and cheese expert, and expedition guide, as well as a spa, sundeck, salon, library, and open bar. So I guess we will be traveling with great panache, too!

We used to bike to each other’s homes for sleep-overs. Now, we will be biking along canals and vivid fields of flowers in the Netherlands (knees allowing; Kathy is recovering from surgery). As Southern California girls, we used to go on field trips to the California Missions and the Huntington Library and Gardens. Now, we will be going to villages that are eight centuries old and seeing the Rembrandt masters in the painter’s home town.

We have always loved to garden. Now, we’ll be strolling through “Europe’s Great Garden,” the Keukenhof, which in spring displays millions of blooms in every rainbow color and in hues forgotten elsewhere. As young girls, we watched “Laugh In” and giggled at the song “Tip Toe Through the Tulips.” Now, we’ll be laughing with tons of tulips and an exuberant extravagance of other blooms.

Who knows what we will remember best, when we look back on this trip? Will it be the Delft China tour or the deft (or daft) lunch conversations on the open deck? Which of our senses will be the most delighted—sight, smell, sound, touch, taste, or humor?

As I write, it is the anticipation that is tickling me with salivating joy. Thirty years ago, my inspiring mother returned from a spring trip to Holland with memories and photos that are still colorful today. Huge swaths of purple and red and yellow tulips fill landscape canvasses of beauty. In her images and mind, the Keukenhof Gardens are an explosion of fairytale-like magic. I have wanted to follow her footsteps on those garden paths, and now I will be enjoying it with someone who also knows and loves my mom.

The Bests of Barging

I will be traveling in one of my favorite ways—based in a room with a window that frames scenery that keeps changing dramatically. Because it is a boating cruise, I’ll be able to unpack my stuff only once, and being on a barge will allow me to pack in the experiences and memories in intimate and firsthand ways. The small, deluxe barges of European Waterways weave through waterways with portside itineraries that combine the iconic and the little-known-that’s-worth-knowing. The crews cater to both comforts and curiosities.

One of the reasons I like to keep going back to this bespoke barging way of traveling is that trips are inspiring, not intense; relaxing, not rushed. There is time for reflection, reading, resting, and conversation while a panorama of life glides by. Almost every day offers hours of seeing the world float by from a boat deck – or cycling along nearby paths – as well as optional shore trips to explore stimulating, memorable places with private guides.

All the meals are thought out by a great chef who incorporates fresh local ingredients and cuisine, as well as tailors to guests’ desires. With skilled professionals taking care of all the thinking about logistics and core needs, I have time to enjoy where I am and who I am with. Whether it’s romantic times with my husband, getting to know someone new onboard, or catching up with an old dear friend, the choices for a medley of settings is varied – European Waterways offers 21 vessels (from 8 to 30 passengers) that explore the rivers and canals of nine different European countries.

In the Beginning… France

My first barge trip was with a girlfriend from graduate school days at Stanford. Our lives since college had us living all over the United States, but never in the same city at the same time. A week on the waterways of France – sating our culinary appetites and curiosity – was an ideal way to catch up. I called the trip a “continuum of contentments,” in the France section of LuxuryTravelMagic.com http://www.luxurytravelmagic.com/?cat=18. We enjoyed chateaus and Chablis, art and awe, while regaling and rejuvenating.

I loved going from lock to lock to see who the lockkeeper was. They ranged from a strong woman with cute kids, to a motorcycle tough-guy, to an artist who had flanked the banks with delightful papier-maché characters, an al fresco exhibit. For my own artful try, I dipped a paintbrush into a canal and mixed it with water colors, while my friend (a talented painter) gave me a lesson. At the next town, a kind crew member bought more water colors and other passengers also enjoyed playing with colors on paper.

For Romance, Italy

My next great barge trip was with my husband on a joyful journey that started and ended romantically in Venice, the captivating capital of canals and the perfect place to start a “la dulce vita” boat trip.

Victor learned first hand and first taste that barging and luxury can be synonymous as he wrote for GLOBAL WRITES http://global-writes.com/2013/08/barging-through-italy.html

Barging can also be culturally rich and delicious. In the section on Literary Travel, in MY ADVENTURES: A Traveler’s Journal, I recommend, “Take La Bella Vita (the Beautiful Life) through Italian Waterways from Venice to Mantua for a shore dinner at Ca Zen, where Lord Byron wrote poetry and had secret trysts.”

For History, Great Britain

My husband and I still regale people with our trip through the incredible locks and lochs of Scotland. Queen Victoria first made them famous as a travel destination, and we felt like royalty while listening to private bagpipe concerts in the Highlands and getting to steer the boat in the waters where the Loch Ness monster supposedly resides.

We loved the blue poppies and Shakespearean associations of Cawdor Castle, where the crew surprised us with a picnic. Eilean and Urquhart Castles also conjured history. The pre-historic burial Clava cairns and the Glen Ord whiskey distillery conjured different kinds of spirits. And always the scenery was dramatic and beautiful.

Victor posted a video (http://www.oneminutetrip.com/Europe.html) of our barge going through the Caledonian Canal, once considered the greatest engineering feat on the planet, and I highlighted the trip for WatchBOOM: http://www.watchboom.com/articles/more-of-scotland. Scotland is where I learned the slang word “More-ish,” which means, “it’s so good you want more.” There’s no question it confirmed that I want more canal barging as a way to explore a country.

For Tulips and Windmills…

Holland, here we come---- with Panache and panache!

For a full itinerary and videos on the Holland trip, go to: http://www.gobarging.com/panache-classic-4-itinerary

Hurry to sign up if you want to jump aboard one of this year’s cruises that go from late March through April to mid-May.  The all-inclusive cruise (guides, shore expeditions, accommodations, food, drink) for 6 nights is $5,350 per person.

If you are a flower-lover and can’t book fast enough for the tulips of Holland, take a look at the Chelsea Flower show in May or other outstanding flower trips in England in July on the Magna Carta, www.GoBarging.com

European Waterways also offers theme trips for golfers, families, opera lovers tennis lovers, art lovers, wine lovers--- and the ultimate lovers- honeymooners.

Some special 20 percent offers (!) are being made now for certain suites or to charter whole barges ---1-877-879-8808 toll free or www.gobarging.com

Author Lisa TE Sonne’s  HAPPINESS HANDBOOK cites research of why traveling is goof ro you, and her recent books encourage you to be the co-author in the journaling pages: The Great Outdoors: Nature’s Bucket List and My Adventures: A Traveler’s Journal .  See LisaSonne.com

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