Right royal connections
The quest for the most regal of martinis ends on board the good ship Oosterdam
HER Royal Highness Princess Margriet of The Netherlands would have felt very much at home aboard Oosterdam (it rhymes with ‘‘coaster’’ and is pronounced Oh-ster-dam) when she christened this Holland America Line ship in 2003.
A member of the Dutch Royal House, Princess Margriet had lived at Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn, which was built in the 1680s and was known as the Versailles of Holland. It became a public museum and the princess now lives in the palace grounds.
With HAL’s signature artwork and antiques and a glittering Waterford crystal globe suspended at the top of a three-storey atrium, Oosterdam is fit for a queen (or, in this case, a princess) and is one of 11 company ships to be named by Dutch royalty.
Last year was the 140th anniversary of what started as the Netherlands American Steam Navigation Company, making transatlantic crossings between its home port of Rotterdam and New York, once a Dutch settlement called Nieuw Amsterdam.
Although Holland America Line became a wholly owned subsidiary of Carnival Corporation in 1989, I am delighted to find on a Pacific Treasures cruise from Sydney that it has maintained its rich Dutch heritage.
On a previous voyage aboard Volendam, the Dutch captain told me this is what sets HAL apart from other cruise lines. Oosterdam’s Captain Henk Draper, who was born in the Dutch city of Haarlem, agrees. He says the company has a long and proud tradition of premium, mid-sized cruising and passengers are drawn back to its ‘‘classic elegance’’.
The Dutch influence is everywhere. Jonnie Boer, owner of De Librije (The Library), a three-Michelin star restaurant in a former Dominican monastery in Zwolle that dates back to the 1500s, is a founding member of HAL’s Culinary Council. This dream team of chefs from across the world oversees all dining outlets, as well as the Culinary Arts Centre where passengers can take gourmet cooking classes.
HAL was a pioneer in introducing the alternate dining concept and Oosterdam’s renowned specialty restaurant, the aptly named Pinnacle Grill, is the pinnacle of the art of the table, with Frette linen cloths and napkins, Bulgari plates and Riedel glassware. The walls are dominated by portraits of characters from Rembrandt’s masterpiece, The Night Watch, painted in 1642 at the height of the Dutch Golden Age. Do I imagine an amused smile on their faces, I wonder, as I struggle to finish a baked alaska after feasting on lobster bisque, a jumbo shrimp cocktail and broiled lobster tail?
Alas, for safety reasons, the baked alaska is no longer flambeed at the table, but sprinkled with kirschvasser and set alight in the kitchen to finish baking the meringue. (There is a minimal charge of $US10 for lunch and $US25 for dinner and bookings are essential; cruise-savvy passengers have made reservations before the ship has even sailed from Sydney.)
In the main two-deck Vista Dining Room at the stern, also aptly named for its ocean views, I have a to-live-for Boerenjongens Sundae, a Dutch des- sert of ice-cream with citrus-scented brandy sauce, sprinkled with a little Dutch gin.
This is where I sit most mornings, gazing at the ship’s wake as I enjoy the Dutch Breakfast, an open-face sandwich of thick white bread, smoked ham, cheese and two eggs sunny-side up.
Aged Gouda and Edam cheese, both named after Dutch cities are, of course, available at the four-course dinners.
At night there is also dining at Canaletto, named after the 18thcentury Venetian artist. This Italian restaurant has a cover charge of $US10 and melt-in-your-mouth tiramisu. It is adjacent to the Lido Restaurant where vast buffet breakfasts, luncheons and dinners are served.
It is hard to believe anyone could eat between the ship’s scrumptious meals, but just about everyone turns up for the afternoon teas.
The Dutch East India Company brought the first green tea leaves to Amsterdam from China in the early 17th century and Oosterdam has a Royal Dutch High Tea on every sailing. As the Dutch have hearty appetites, this includes sausage rolls and chicken and mushroom vol-au-vents, as well as traditional sandwiches and pastries.
There are lots of ways to compensate for all the food — a state-of-the-art gym, a massage menu in the Greenhouse Spa, the 5km ‘‘On Deck for a Cause’’ walk for an optional $US20 donation to support six international cancer organisations, daily fitness classes and water volleyball.
Not being into sweat, I recommend a leisurely self-guided iPod Art Tour. It is like touring a great estate and Oosterdam has a significant collection of museum-quality art and sculpture, including an Andy Warhol painting of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, who abdicated last year, after a 33-year reign, in favour of her son.
It is one of a set of four Warhol paintings of the former monarch; the other three hang in Oosterdam’s Vista- class sister ships Zuiderdam, Westerdam and Noordam.
After the art-themed walk, which takes about 45 minutes, you may feel like a drink in one of the many comfortable bars and lounges. I certainly do and resume my never-ending search for the perfect gin martini.
Gin, I discover, comes from a Dutch word for juniper, the berry used in its production, and when William of Orange invaded England in 1688 Dutch gin came with him.
On board Oosterdam I try a Dutch gin martini for the first time. The charming Mirasol, who runs the Pinnacle Bar, uses Bols Genever, which is made with a malt wine of fermented rye, corn and wheat. To quote a beverage writer: ‘‘It is not hot on the palate, but perfectly balanced and smooth.’’
After many samplings in the panoramic Crow’s Nest, Atrium Bar, Explorer’s Lounge, Lido Bar, Ocean Bar, Piano Bar, Sea View Bar and Sports Bar, as well as my favourite Pinnacle Bar, I come to the conclusion that it prefers a twist of lemon to an olive.
I think my quest for the perfect martini is finally over. Proost! Helen Hutcheon was a guest of Holland America Line.
Clockwise from left, Mirasol serves a Dutch gin martini; Oosterdam in Sydney Harbour; the sleek Piano Bar