by Bob Sparrow
Let’s get the itinerary out of the way first, because rather than focus on the places, which you can look up on the Internet if you’re so inclined, I’ll focus on the people – the crew of the ship, the people cruising with us and the people we met at our ports of call. After leaving Amsterdam . . .
First port: Kinderdijk – Lots of windmills
Next port: Cologne – Gothic Cathedral
Next port: Koblenz – Marksburg Castle
Next port: Rudesheim – Quaint German town
Next port: Heidelberg – Famous castle and university
Next port: Speyer – Another quaint German town
Next port: Strasbourg – Quaint French town
Next port: Breisach – Quaint German town in the Black Forest
Last port: Basal – probably a quaint Swiss town, we only saw the airport
Our ship was the Viking River Cruise Ship, Jarl. Jarl was a mythical Norse god who was the grandson of Odin and a symbol of strength and intelligence – characteristics with which I am unfamiliar. We had a full ship at 186 passengers and 52 crew members. River cruising provides a much smoother ride than ocean cruising, provided the water level isn’t so high you can’t get under the bridges or so low you can’t move at all, or you don’t run into all the other traffic on the river, and you are able to negotiate the tight walls of the many locks along the way. So on the surface, while river cruising may seem rather benign compared to ocean cruising, it is actually filled with a lot more variables. However the Captain did reassure us that if the boat sank and was sitting on the bottom of the river we could all stand on the top deck and be higher than the water level. So we had that going for us.
I must admit that when I first went aboard the Jarl and saw my shipmates, I had the same reaction as when I arrived at my 50th high school class reunion – “What are all these old people doing here?” I wondered if I had mistakenly stumbled onto a ‘Prunes for the Prostate’ cruise?” However, like the high school reunion, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was ‘one of them’.
As we introduced ourselves to our new shipmates, I found that the first three men I met were two engineers, and a research scientist and the first three women I met were two authors and a Stanford graduate. I then met a group of 18 Filipinos – all doctors from Chicago. I was wondering if we’d mistakenly been booked on a Mensa Cruise – talk about miscasting!
We then met Gary and Cathy and realized that this was no Mensa cruise. I promised them that I’d mention them in my blog so there you are! Just kidding, they were delightful people that we hung with for the entire trip and laughed our way up the Rhine. They are from Tennessee by way of Michigan and Buffalo and said if we ever wanted an NFL team to have a losing record that they would just need to move there. We also met and hung with a father and daughter, Bill and Liz, traveling together – both cigar smokers. He looked hauntingly like my late best friend, Don Klapperich and she looked like . . . well, she just looked drop-dead gorgeous. And we also hung with three ladies from San Antonio, the Stanford grad, Krista, also a cigar smoker, and her friends, Carla and Dez. We met a lot of other very nice people, all from the US or Canada (Viking separates their cruises by language so they don’t’ have to translate everything into 5 different languages throughout the cruise), but these three groups helped us close down the piano bar every night.
We became good friends with Lazlo, our delightful Hungarian piano player, who encouraged people to get up and dance as well as come up and sing. We were told that one of the doctors from Chicago was a contestant on the Filipino version of American Idol, I guess that would be Filipino Idol, and he was very good. One of the female Filipino doctors, specializing in internal medicine, wanted to do a traditional German dance, the hula, and asked if anyone knew how to sing ‘The Hawaiian Wedding Song’. Having had enough rum to cause the ship to stop in the first port and on-load another couple of cases, I lied and said, “As a matter of fact I do.” In retrospect I knew of the song and vaguely remember Elvis singing it back in the 60s. Undaunted, I got up to sing as the ‘Dancing Doctor’ performed a quite authentic version of the hula. In my enthusiasm I even included a verse in the Hawaiian language – or at least my interpretation of the Hawaiian language, which included a few swear words and several unmentionable (in English) body parts. Little did I know that there was a native Hawaiian in the audience, so when I was finished and walked past him he looked at me and slowly shook his head in disgust and said, “Really?”
It wasn’t the first time I’d publicly embarrassed myself and it wouldn’t be the last.
Thursday’s post: Viking Rhine River Cruise – Part 3 More Rhine Ramblings