Saturday, November 26, 2022

Reflections on the cruise and on traveling with friends

Often when I travel I don't realize what the high points were until I've been talking about the trip after I get home. I've been back for several weeks now, and this is what I've been thinking about.

1. In years past I've been skeptical about cruising. A decade or two ago, I experienced a couple of large-ship cruises and didn't much enjoy the casinos, or the entertainment, or the glitz, or the people everywhere, eating and drinking all the time. Recently I've been on three small ship cruises (to Greenland in 2019, an ocean cruise this summer from Barcelona to Tudbury, UK, and a river cruise last month from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. I like the small ship cruising now and expect I'll do more of it.

2. I will be having my left knee replaced next spring. I went on the cruise anyway. My knee will hurt whether I'm walking around in a city or walking in my yard. I might as well be out there, learning and experiencing new things. I took a cane and a pair of trekking poles. I used the cane on the ship and the trekking poles on the excursions. People were thoughtful and kind to me as they offered a hand as I got off the bus, or held my poles so I could take a picture. The guides respected my slower pace and offered opportunities for me and the group to rest while they talked about the places we were visiting. 

3. Wheelchair assist is a fabulous and humanitarian option in airports. There's no charge for an airline employee to take me through security to a gate, or from one gate to another in a big airport like Denver or Munich or Amsterdam or Atlanta, or from a gate through customs. We used elevators rather than walkways or escalators. My travel companion walked alongside me. I always offered to tip my attendant; sometimes they said yes and thank you, and sometimes they said no, tipping wasn't allowed. I had some good conversations with these people who made my airport transit so much more doable.

4. I've done lots of independent travel, but now that I'm older and have less stamina I'm quite content to be part of a group - especially a small group - where the tour company takes care of all the details, including the flight arrangements. I sign up, they tell me how I'm going to get there, I make a change if it's necessary (a six-hour layover deserves a change), I show up at the airport. At the end of the tour, I'm taken to the airport to return home, and I'm picked up at my home airport by a family member. 

5. My mother once said, "I like tours where all I have to do is get on the bus and get off the bus." At that time I thought she was a passive traveler, not wanting to get out there and explore. Maybe even a little bit entitled and lazy. Now, though, I'm at the age she was when she said that, I get it. My quote would be, "See #4 above!"

6. I've taken over 90 trips of three days or more since I quit my job in 2010. The vast majority of them were with my husband Art. When a destination looks interesting to me, I always invite him first. For the last few years, though, he's been more of a homebody, so I've traveled with friends. Art is fine with that. 

7. I took three trips with a friend who always insisted on separate rooms. That worked fine for short trips to Toronto and Las Vegas, but when we decided to take a cruise to Greenland, I said, "I can't afford to go unless we share a room." She said, "Okay, but I'm pretty sure this will be the last trip we take together." And she was right! Our habits and idiosyncrasies weren't a good match, and the friendship actually cooled after that.

8. I traveled twice with a friend I'd known for several years. Neither trip was a cruise. We traveled well together to Churchill, Manitoba and to New York City. She is a high energy, curious person like me, and we had good adventures, both spontaneous and planned. Laughter is always a good thing - and we still laugh about the futon that broke when she sat on it in our NYC AirBnb.

9. My most recent trip, another cruise, went well also. My friend and I discussed our habits ahead of time: are you a night or a morning person, when do you take a shower, are you tidy or casual in a small room, are we okay to keep individual schedules and join up when we want to? This friend is easygoing, curious and patient. We had a grand time together.

10. This year was the first time I took two cruises within three months of each other. One had been planned for a year, and the other came up closer to the travel date but was too good a deal to pass up. Both were excellent experiences. I'm ready to stay home now for a year or so. By then I'll have a new knee, and hopefully I'll leave my my trekking poles at home.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

What? Another cruise?

 Back in April, my friend Shelley got an email from Viking advertising a sale to celebrate their 25th anniversary. She texted a few of us: "A weeklong river cruise on the Rhine, from Basel to Amsterdam, for $2200 INCLUDING AIRFARE." But we had three days to decide. One friend was having back surgery, so she was a no. Another said she needed more time to think about it. But I said yes. It was really too good a deal to pass up. So Shelley and I decided to go together. We added a few things, of course - travel insurance and a two-day post-trip extension to Amsterdam and the Hague.

I knew I wouldn't be as mobile as I wanted to be. My new hip from last year was fine, but my left knee needed to be replaced. Still, I thought I'd be okay to go. If a day's tour looked too active for me, I could stay on the boat. I'd pack a cane and a pair of trekking poles.

On October 21, my husband Art and I flew from Seattle to Tucson to our winter place. The next day, Shelley and I flew to Basel, Switzerland via Denver and Munich.

We boarded a very cool longship, the Viking Hlin.

Here's what we saw:

Breisach is in the Black Forest. This mountain range was named by the Romans because the densely packed conifer trees found in the area are very dark green. A beautiful drive that day, with a stop at Furtwangen to look at cuckoo clocks and glassblowers. When I got home, I ordered a wall clock from their online store. I'd wanted to first check with my son James, who has a great eye, to make sure the clock would be a good addition to our Washington apartment, and with my husband Art, just because!


is a city in Alsace, in northeastern France. Historically, Alsace has alternated between German and French control for centuries, and reflects a mixture of those cultures. We had an excellent guide for our tour, but I had forgotten to charge my radio-guided device, so I couldn't hear her. I stayed as close to her as I could, but I know I missed a lot.

Speyer is a city of 50,000 people, one of the oldest German cities. Our guide was born and raised there and loves his city. The cathedral is a Unesco World Heritage Centre; the foundation stone was laid in 1030. 

We made a quick stop in Rudesheim, Germany during the afternoon. Shelley and I ventured out to a shopping area and bought identical "made-in-Italy" blouses for a great price.  Then on to Koblenz, where I met up with my friend Nasar; we met when I was a volunteer at the refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece, where he and his family lived for over a year. They are in Germany now.

Cologne gave me the opportunity to walk two miles with a guide. It's the biggest city we'd visited so far. Our walk took us to the Old Town, where the Christmas Market has been held in some form for centuries. On the way to the cathedral we stopped at the metal statues of Tunnes and Schal, fictional characters invented by Johann Christophe Winter, the owner of a puppet theatre in the 19th century. The good natured but dim Tunnes is constantly being taken for a ride by the cunning and crafty Schal. It's a good place for a photo; if you touch the hand of Schal, you may have good luck.

Kinderdijk is a World Heritage site; the old windmills have since been replaced by electric pumps to remove the water from fields below sea level. Rather than a long walk, we boarded a vintage barge to the old windmills, where the millers and their families lived.

And, in a two-day extension after we disembarked:

Amsterdam is a low-lying city of about 90 islands and 1500 bridges. It's got a population of about 880,000 people. After a canal tour - including passing the Anne Frank house -  our small tour group of six left from Rijksmuseum (the national museum of the Netherlands) to explore. 

The other four wanted to shop; Shelley and I decided to go to the Holocaust Memorial. We looked at a map and started walking.

It took a while because (1) I had to stop and rest my knee every few blocks and (2) we had to keep a very close eye on the hundreds of bicyclists and (3) Shelley needed to use a restroom, and the only way we could do that was to order a coffee or snack at a sidewalk cafe. 

The Memorial is only two years old and contains the names of all Dutch Jews who died in the Holocaust. Each of the 102,000 bricks displays the first and last name, date of birth and age at death of a victim. 

We found the taxi stand after some hunting around and rejoined our group at the museum. We were then driven to The Hague (Den Haag), about an hour away.

The Hague is a smaller city, with a population of 700,000. It's the seat of government for the Netherlands and the permanent home of the UN International Court of Justice. 

We covered a lot of steps here too. Our group walking tour in the morning was especially pretty; sometimes we were shuffling through fallen autumn leaves.

In the afternoon we took the public tram to the sea, where Shelley looked for a restroom and we ate lunch.

The last two days of the trip were the only ones where we explored on our own. It helped to have our guide make suggestions. It was fun to "figure it out" rather than following someone holding a paddle saying "Viking".

We were ready to go home after nine days in Europe. We loved the experience and were impressed by the attitude of Europeans toward their homelands. Still, we were glad when our final flight touched down in Tucson and our husbands were waiting just outside for us.