How to Take a Viking River Cruise-Part 2

OR…Do A Grouch A Favor

Yes, I’m in the middle of a story. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

Refresh your memory, then come back because, you need to know that in the U.S. February 16th is “Do A Grouch A Favor Day.”

I began walking long hallways like a tiger, pacing the cage

Keep this in mind because I was in a grousing mood when I left Amsterdam and began cruising the Danube in a Viking ship. It didn’t take long for me to start bellyaching about the “confined” feeling of the ship. Occasionally we got off to traipse around a castle, and then we resumed floating past many, many more castles. I was trapped, listening to the stories of somebody’s brother’s health problems, or Aunt Whowho’s cake decorating business, or tales of “my son, the successful doctor.” (Shoot me now.)

Escape was difficult. The exercise deck was flattened. (Literally). Chairs, railings, and posts had been folded, hugging the top-deck so the ship could pass under low bridges and locks. You could sit (or pace like I did–inside) and watch the world go by.

But in Melk, Austria, the ship’s tour director arranged a treat for me and Dallas-Cowboy-Fan. A company close to the docks rented bikes. We checked in on-line, and the company sent us the combination of the bike locks. We unleashed our sturdy wheels and off we rode.  Our mission was to beat the ship to Krems, twenty-five miles away.

Now…a word about these bikes…when I say sturdy…I mean…like tanks.  Each bike weighed 40 pounds, had 3 gears with only back-pedaling to stop. But I was glad to be free, doing something, exercising, exploring. (Yahoo!!!!)

We took off like children at recess. About 4 miles out of town we pushed our wheeled-freighters up a hill to a bike-bridge over the Danube.

A group of cyclists we’d seen in town passed us, laughing about our WWII era bikes. It was the first of many snickers about our rentals. But I was glad to have the sturdy steed beneath me as we rushed down the concrete bike bridge, 3/4 mile long, picking up speed until we were flying over the Danube around 30 m.p.h. My stocking cap, which was in the front basket flew out, and I snatched it mid-air, petrified I’d somersault into the river and die if I took my hands off the handlebars again.

Charming villages in wine country

We should’ve taken pictures from the bridge, but neither of us were sure our gears wouldn’t strip if we tried to stop. The path turned into a winding trail through miles of countryside. Shrines of The Madonna or Jesus stood in vineyards or at the entrances/exits of tiny villages (prayers for a good harvest and blessings.) People were friendly, except the two old fraus in leggings who looked at us as though we were riding dead chickens.

The boat had already docked by the time we reached Krems. As I pushed my bike past it, a man asked me in German to take his picture in front of the boat. I told him, “Ich spreche kein Deutche.” (I don’t speak German). He cocked his head, confused.  “Keiner?”  (None?) I shook my head and continued looking for the kiosk where we could  self-check-in our bikes and stop the clock ticking up the fee of 5 Euro an hour).

In 5 minutes, we got back to the ship. The man was still there, admiring the boat. I felt like a donkeybutt for being unkind after such a glorious ride. “Willst ein foto?” (Want a photo?) I asked him. “Ja wirklich?” (Really?) he asked.

I nodded and he handed me his camera and began waving and calling people sitting on the benches. Aunts, uncles, grandma, kids…ten people hurriedly assembled in front of the gangplank, with the red Viking banners proudly waving on either side of them.

And that’s when the trip changed.

I’d been pacing, walking hallways, wanting to get off that ship. In front of me were ten people, hoping, dreaming that someday, they’d get on that ship and go somewhere. Until then a picture would have to do. It would sustain their hope of someday.

And then they gave me a kindness. I asked for their story, and they shared it. They told of their time of living in eastern Europe, of bananas as birthday presents (because they were rare), of cotton shortages and only polyester clothing, of Levis that were 2 week’s wages on the black market. When the wall fell, they made it out. Life was better—GOOD!  But someday…

My grouchiness died right there with the dawning that I was blessed. Fortunately, that gift has mostly stayed with me.  When I have too much to do, or hate our politics, or don’t want to cook another frickin’ meal, I’m back standing on that dock, seeing the world through their eyes.

So … how do you take a Viking cruise (or any journey)?

Yep, I’m going back out with Viking and try it again. A different river. Different countries. Different attitude. Instead of clothes, I’ll worry about being be more alert, watching, looking for how we’re all different or the same. I’ll write stories when I can’t exercise. Maybe I can ditch my expectations  (connections, weather, and grumpy peeves I drag around).  And heaven help me, I’ll learn to listen, especially when I hear  Auntie Whoever say, “my daughter, the successful banker….” (but honestly, I’ve already got a list of topic-changing questions in my pocket).

And if my attitude fails?

That’s where you come in. Remember, “Do A Grouch A Favor” Day?  February 16th?

Maybe they’re grouchy because they already feel so small?

There’s no reason it can’t be extended. Nothing kicks butt out of a bad attitude like receiving a kindness. If you run into someone cranky like me, please take a moment to be kind. Sure, the person doesn’t deserve it, but your small gentleness will help the healing. (Trust me). And….who knows what changes will come? That grouch may carry the thought of you with them for months and perhaps over an ocean miles way.

Practice grace, everyday.

But especially on Feb 16th. Please come back and tell me what you did for a grouch.

And we continue the journey….

Advertisements

How to Take A Viking Tour…Part 1

Don’t use the back door when the blades are on that side.

It’s been a while since my last post. We have a bit of catching up to do.

Last Christmas, we decided we didn’t need any “stuff,” instead, we said we’d save our bucks spent on  anniversary, birthdays, and  Christmas and give ourselves an international experience in the upcoming year instead.

Okay, we were probably watching too much Public Broadcasting. The beguiling violins and cellos of the Viking Cruise song lured us like sirens … and shoot, darn, heck, who doesn’t want to travel to foreign places to learn to knead bread, make pancakes, and run between the blades of the windmills. (Okay, maybe not that last one.) We signed up.

The Grand European Tour: Amsterdam to Budapest

1.  PACK RIGHT:  I’m a small packer. I feel righteous about only traveling with a carry-on

Smart packing techniques.

and a backpack. Of course, I look like a charwoman most of the time, but when I’m traveling, I figure I’ll never see these folks again, so why risk a dislocated spine?

But on a river cruise, you DO see these folks. Everyday. Every night. Almost  every meal. Almost every tour. So I had to bring a slightly bigger suitcase and more clothes. Now here’s a travel-secret: Use the JEANS-TECHNIQUE: No one is sure if you’ve previously worn your jeans, OR if you’ve got on a fresh pair…so you could probably do a 15-day trip with 2 pair of jeans.  Except all my jeans look like they should be made into Raggedy Ann dolls, so instead I simply packed black clothes. I looked like Johnny Cash with a scarf. The good news is that no one cares what you wear (unless you’re naked). These trips are pretty laid-back.

2. ARRIVE AT YOUR DESTINATION EARLY: I have a lot of talents. Most of them are useless (like counting backward in Pig-Latin or juggling sponges), but my favorite skill is being able to sleep on airplanes. I snap on noise-canceling headphones, a blindfold, warm socks, blanket, air pillows, nearby snacks, water, and Chapstick, and I’m snoozin’ by the time we reach mid-Atlantic ocean. I arrive only slightly less jet-lagged than Dallas Cowboy Fan, who has watched four movies through the overseas flight. We try to arrive early and soak up some sunshine in our new locale; it’s supposed to help the body reset. I don’t know if it works because every time I sit in the sun, I fall asleep like a cat in a warm spot.

3. PREP BEFORE YOU GO:

Yeah, sure, the cruise folks provide local lectures and tours in every town.  But these are

IMG_2332

Welcome back to the boat. You were only gone two hours. That’s okay. Welcome back and have a drink.

the usual touristy stuff. If you want to mix it up with the locals, you’ll have to find your own adventures.  And honest-to-Pete, our unplanned forays were some of the best parts of the trip. (See Part 2-coming)

4. TAKE SOMETHING TO DO:

Why?  Because you’ll be spending A LOT of time sitting around, watching the scenery go by.  Yes, most of it is lovely and interspersed with the groans and squeaks of going through 67 locks, but it’s sort of like being at a party for 2 weeks with strangers. People start hauling out cards, board games, dominoes, or telling you about relatives that you may (or may not)  care about.  One experienced traveler brought his taxes to work on; others brought knitting, puzzles, Kindle readers stuffed with books, journals, and several brought work from their offices. (There’s a lot of down-time).

5. SETTLE-IN:

Unpack in your cleverly engineered room. You’ll be pulling up to the food tanks about every 4 hours During this cruise-time, Viking will treat you like a queen or king. So IF your ideal vacation is eating and visiting OR not having to cook, do housework, or laundry, then you’re going to be very very happy. IF you need to be a bit more activity… you’ll need to come up with a plan.

Of course, not all of our plans turned out like we expected. We’re in 4 different countries, don’t speak the languages, and can’t read the signs. What could go wrong? And that’s the joy of travel. Stay tuned…but in the meantime…

Merry Christmas…may you have a few surprises among your presents.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” 
― Anita Desai

COMING NEXT: PART 2:

TOURIST OR TRIP WARRIOR?…or

IF IT’S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE—HEY! WHERE ARE WE NOW?

in HOW TO TAKE A VIKING CRUISE