Jim Miller doesn’t view the world like everyone else. Rather, he watches it through the lens of his camera, always ready for his next shot. Recently returned from his latest Vantage journey Essential Holland: Tulips in Spring, Jim shared with us a few of his favorite images and the stories behind them.
We travel with Vantage because they give us the opportunity to be surprised, to discover things we never expected. After a tour of a city or town, we usually receive a map and time to explore. During our time in Cologne, we had our biggest unexpected treat. As we wandered the streets during our leisure time, I unknowingly dropped my hat. Behind us I heard a woman’s voice saying something in German. When she got no response, she switched to English. “You dropped your hat,” she repeated. I turned to thank her and saw she was young, with a flowing white gown. She was a nun on her way to a 1,000-year-old church, Cathedral St. Martin, to sing daily prayers with her small order. After talking briefly with her, she asked if we would like to come with her and hear them sing. Of course, we jumped at the offer; we walked with her to the old church, went in and sat, almost alone, on the wooden benches. Four sisters came out of one door, and three brothers out of another, and stood 15 feet from us at the front of the church. As their Gregorian chant-style prayers filled the church, a chill swept over me. The acoustics in the church were astounding, and their voices heavenly. They sang for 20 minutes before flowing silently out of the church. This was the kind of memorable experience you could not buy for all the money in the world, and I truly thought to myself, “I think an angel must have knocked my hat out of my hand.” I took a few quiet photos.
When deciding on this trip, the UNESCO Kinderdijk windmills were not high on my “must see” list. (I was of the “Seen one windmill, seen them all” mentality.) That’s why I was surprised that this location turned out to be one of my favorites. First of all, seeing one windmill in action was amazing…but, seeing so many, all in one location, was very special. the experience was their location, with its peaceful canals, waving grasses, and arching trees. We walked among the giants, learned about their many uses, and even explored one from top to bottom to see how families lived and worked in them. Vantage had arranged the opportunity for a boat ride through the canals for beautiful viewing and photo opportunities.
As a young man I had little use for gardens; to me, flowers had a limited life and required way too much work. As I’ve grown, however, my opinion of gardens has changed. In fact, one of the reasons we chose this Vantage tour was the chance to visit the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. Approximately seven million bulbs are planted there every year, yet it is only for a few weeks each year. It is an amazing display, and the Vantage tour gives passengers the entire day to wander its ponds, trails, and flowers, first with a knowledgeable guide and then on our own. For myself, I most love the garden paths weaving around the many trees and ponds.
While visiting a new destination each day is certainly an exciting part of river cruising, my favorite part of river cruising is just that—peacefully traveling down a river, admiring a view that is always changing, with surprises waiting around every twist and turn. It could be a quaint, colorful village… a steep hill with wine grapes flourishing on its banks… a castle, in ruins or maintained, sitting on the top of a hill… farmland with its river banks lined with rows of matching trees. Some of my favorite memories are of my time spent on the top deck during the “golden hours,” right before sunrise or around sunset. Nothing else compares to relaxing with a soft breeze, a glass of evening champagne, my camera, and an ever-changing photo opportunity.