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Going with the flow on the Rhine
6:00am Saturday 7th June 2014 in Travel
Admiring the last drops of sunlight sparkling on the canals of Amsterdam, it is hard to believe that just two days ago I was sipping champagne as I watched the sun go down behind the impressive skyline of Cologne in Germany.
The idea of waking up in a different European country every day is something I'd always associated with backpackers on a Gap year. But those days are far behind me. Instead, we're travelling in style on a floating luxury hotel.
River cruising is becoming more and more popular with UK holidaymakers, and as I watch the splendid views of the banks of the River Rhine drift by my cabin window on board the Avalon Poetry II, it's easy to see why.
Going on holiday can be very stressful. You worry about getting to the airport on time, parking the car, losing your luggage - will you like the food at the hotel?
On this trip, however, a representative from Avalon picks me up from my front door and takes me to the airport, so that's the first stress over and done with.
The next time I see my suitcase is in my cabin on the ship, just waiting for me to unpack and get changed for dinner.
And we're not talking a dingy little cabin with a tiny porthole window and a folding door to the bathroom that you have to squeeze yourself into. I didn't bring the cat, but I'm almost sure I could swing one in here if I wanted to.
And unlike sea cruising, drifting along the river feels pleasantly stable and smooth-sailing.
I could happily spend days relaxing here - quite literally an armchair tourist - as the sights of The Netherlands pass me by through the wall-to-wall sliding window.
As it is, with everything organised and looked after by the cruise director, the biggest decision I have to make is what day trip to go on tomorrow.
But in the meantime, there is dinner to contend with.
Regular cruisers on board are used to these mammoth meals. For me, it is yet another lavish element to this lifestyle which I take to like a duck to water.
Course after course of rich food is put in front of me - king prawns, fillet of seabass, tenderloin of veal - and my wine glass never seems to empty.
If you do choose to leave your cabin, there are two bars - completely surrounded with windows - and a sky deck where you can sit and admire the scenery.
And after dinner, when the sun goes down, a live band is on hand to keep us entertained. They kick off the evening with some relaxing lounge music, but as things got more lively, they come back on for "just one more" en core, and the dance floor quickly fills.
The next morning, I am overwhelmed by the variety of options for breakfast. It's only the final call to board a coach for our daytrip that saves me from eating something of everything.
As the weather is good and flowers are in bloom, we take a trip to the Keukenhof flower park.
We drive past fields of colourful tulips, divided into strips like a rainbow, and as soon as I step off the bus, I can smell their sweet perfume in the air.
The park is a huge place, with all kinds of flowers displayed outside and inside pavilions. Every turn we take, there is another photo opportunity or flowerbed to admire.
But I'm soon in the mood for some culture. The Dutch are very proud of Van Gogh and at the Kroller-Muller Museum, they have an incredible collection of his early and later works, along with many other artists.
The museum is located in one of Holland's national parks and so it is surrounded by a beautiful garden and woodland, dotted with sculptures.
A stroll around the park, admiring the artwork, helps me to walk off all that food. But as I look at the gloomy image of Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters, sharing out their one plate of boiled potatoes, I'm soon thinking about lunch.
Every day, an enormous buffet is served on the ship, hot and cold, and no matter how much you had at breakfast, there is always something to tempt you.
There is a gym on the ship, with cycling and running machines and weights, but I never see anyone heading in that direction. I do see people in the hair salon though, getting their nails painted and their hair blow-dried.
Dressing for dinner is clearly a big deal, and even though the dress code is not formal every night, everyone seems to enjoy making an effort.
With the lights twinkling on the water, the glasses tinkling on the tables and the bling sparkling on the guests, it all feels a very glamorous affair.
But if you don't fancy making the effort, there's also a hot buffet in the bar, so you can grab a quick bite to eat and go on shore to see the local nightlife.
Our trip comes to an end in Amsterdam. The city extends far beyond the notorious red light district, with a huge number of museums to visit, including the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House.
To blend in with the natives, I decide to hire a bicycle to explore the city.
Having a rest on a bench beside one of the many canals, I sit admiring the higgledy-piggledy buildings that line the cobbled streets.
A tour boat chugs past along the canal, reminding me of the ship.
What a way to see Europe! It's a sailor's life for me.
:: Albertina Lloyd was a guest of Avalon Waterways (www.avaloncruises.co.uk; 0808 668 1190) on their eight-day Tulip Time cruise of Holland and Belgium. A departure on March 31, 2015 aboard the Avalon Expression costs £1,279pp, including flights, transfers, a door-to-door home pick-up service, a seven-night full-board deluxe cruise with wine served with dinner, on-board gratuities and included excursions.
:: Avalon Waterways' newly launched 'Suite Ship' Avalon Poetry II will be sailing a range of itineraries this summer on both the Danube and Rhine, including the 10 day Paris, Moselle & the Rhine, 12 day Central European Experience, 11 day 'Legendary Danube' and 13 day 'Blue Danube Discovery'.