I first heard of the volcanic ash cloud while cruising on a river through Belgium on a bright, sunny day. As we reached the Netherlands days later, I heard that airline travel had been stopped across northern Europe, affecting more than 16,000 flights the first day. Docking in Rotterdam, we spent a beautiful day visiting Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, featuring more than seven million tulips among windmills and other displays - a real European treasure.

As we cruised to Amsterdam, the cloud was all the buzz. When the cruise ended the next day, we were told we could not fly home - the airport was closed and all flights were canceled because of the cloud. We were taken to a hotel and told that we could stay on a day-to-day basis because of a backlog of airline passengers who could not leave the city.

The calls to the airline started, and we spent hours, without any luck. We e-mailed relatives in the United States to contact the airline for us. Meanwhile, our hotel started raising its rates, saying they could change daily.

Our travel insurance covered only a trip delay of about five days. Meanwhile, rumors about the cloud ran rampant through the hotel. Television reports said it could last for weeks. With the airport closed, we could not speak with airline agents. People were stranded at the airport, and no one had any answers about how long this would last.

Meanwhile, our weather was still perfect, as it had been throughout our eight-day cruise. Where could this sinister cloud be hiding?

On the third day of uncertainty, an e-mail from my son at home said we had been rebooked on a flight back to Philadelphia in two days.

Would this cloud dissipate by then? We had no way of knowing.

During our five-day delay, we met many people in the same boat, so to speak. And we decided to make the most of this extended vacation with them, visiting the renowned Van Gogh and Rembrandt museums, walking the canals and flower markets, and enjoying the shops and cafes of this beautiful gem called Amsterdam.

The tension of not knowing day-to-day whether we had a room or when planes would fly again was unnerving. We went to the airport not knowing whether our plane would take off. Fortunately, it did - on time - and everyone was relieved.

It was an adventure, but the people and surroundings of Amsterdam seemed to put us in a never-never land of enjoyment.

Dan Gleason lives in Haddon Heights, Camden County.