Buckle your seatbelts, this is a bumpy and long ride (read).
My husband David and I signed up for the Heart of Belgium and Holland tour in mid-June 2021. All of the other tours that included Keukenhof were full. This tour was added after those filled up. Our tour started March 30th. It was a little early in the season for visiting Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as for Keukenhof. Different people told me that the gardens had something blooming the entire time that they are open. So, even if we were early in the season, there would be something blooming. After being confirmed on this tour, I purchased Rick’s books on “Amsterdam and the Netherlands” and “Belgium”. I read the books, studied the maps and figured out what I wanted to see in addition to the tour. My biggest desire was to go to Bastogne and visit “Battle of the Bulge sites”. My Dad fought in World War II in an area close to Bastogne. My husband and I are big history fans and are very interested in World War II. After doing all my research, I decided to add a week to the front of the tour and a few extra days at the end of the tour. The Belgium/Holland tour is 11 days. The total length of my trip was 22 days. I planned my itinerary and started shopping for airfare. I live in Central Texas, so I looked at airfare from Austin, (a 1 hour drive from my house) DFW (2 hr. drive) and Houston (3 hr. drive). There is a direct flight between Houston and Amsterdam, so I booked a flight on United from Houston to Brussels on March 22 with a return flight from Amsterdam to Houston on April 12. I picked the flight that worked best for me and watched the price for about a month. We don’t want to spend extra for Business class, so I usually fly on Premium Economy. It has a little more leg room and this particular flight had 2 seats by themselves / 3 in the middle / and 2 on the other side of the plane. This is my preference so I don’t have to sit by a stranger and have them take the arm rests. In November, the flight back to Houston was getting full in the Premium Economy seats, so I booked our airfare. I also did some research on Battle of the Bulge tours and found information on the Rick Steves forum about Reg Jans tours. I booked a group tour with him for Sunday, March 27 out of Bastogne. I was feeling very hopeful that all these plans would actually happen this year, since I had several tours/trips cancelled during Covid.
Omicron hits! The Netherlands has a quarantine in place after you arrive and frequent testing to even visit museums and go to a restaurant. Belgium required pre-travel Covid tests, a second test on day 1 and another test on day 7. Rick Steves tours required a Covid test 48 hours before the start of the tour. Here we go again! We received emails for the RS office saying there was a possibility that the tour would be cancelled and changed the date of our final payment to 1 month before the tour started. I was getting nervous that this tour would happen. Then, Putin decides to invade Ukraine and talks about nuclear weapons. My husband is now leery of traveling to Europe. My thoughts are that if we cancel / Putin wins. I would not allow this crazy man to ruin my trip. Finally, in late January we get the happy email from Rick that the Netherlands has dropped the quarantine. Then Belgium drops their requirements for all the Covid tests. I think this is actually going to happen! We send in our final payment in late February. About the same time I get an email from United Airlines that the flight back from AMS to IAH had been changed. Our new plane did NOT have premium economy seats. After looking at alternatives of flying home with layovers in either Newark, Dulles or O’Hare we decided to stay with the Economy Plus seats so that we would have a direct flight home.