In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Second Choice Is Not Always Second Best
I realised that I was probably glowering into my Cappuccino. In the happy bunny stakes I did not believe I was in the gold medal position. To add to my minor depression I was in a place that was probably one of my five least favourite places in the world; LHR; London Heathrow airport. Even without the third runway, whether it goes over or under the M25, Heathrow is a crowded, hurried and unfriendly location. Nevertheless!!
Then, perhaps under the influence of the coffee, I brightened somewhat. Well, I was in Terminal Five, proudly proclaimed as ‘The home of British Airways.’ Well, maybe it was. I had never been in this terminal before: Terminals one to four certainly, but never five. I was going on holiday so it was surely a moment for rejoicing. Wasn’t it? All right then, it was a happy occasion.
Perhaps so, except it was a month late and not to where I had previously booked. Prague to Berlin via five days on the River Elbe was something I had been eagerly anticipating for a year. Yes, for a year until five days before the off. It had been cancelled because of low water levels on the Elbe. The pain had been sweetened somewhat by the refunding of my money in full and, as a conciliatory gesture by Viking River Cruises of seven days on the Danube, water levels co operating, at half price.
Thus consoled and with a final check for wallet, passport and backpack, I climbed aboard BA 784 or whatever. It was a smooth flight to Munich, with a clear sharp glass of Pinot Grigio to soothe my nerves. It was subsequently necessary for me to ponder why Munich, when there was a perfectly serviceable airport at Nuremburg where the river cruise would start. Machts nichts, as the Germans might say. However after two hours in a cab along the German ‘autobanen’ the question returned. I like the Germans and I love Germany, in many places a beautiful country. However two hours on the autobahn, with a Czech driver who’s German was about as fluent as my Czech, was exhausting.
The cruise was splendid, as was the Danube or Donau, as the magnificent river is called by Deutschlanders. There were, sadly, water level problems also on the Danube which led to several shore excursions being amended or cancelled. Fortunately, these did not affect me. However, for many of those passengers who had booked to go to Saltsburg to see where Julie Andrews had trilled in the Sound of Music, it was hugely disappointing. The weather was mild, dry and often sunny except for rain in Budapest and a very chilly last morning. The crew came from a dozen countries in Europe, from Germany eastwards. The language of the ship was English, the currency the Euro.
As far as I could ascertain, all of the passengers were users of English as their mother tongue. There were about 130 passengers, of whom eight were British, three Canadian and just about everyone else American. This led to much banter in the days leading up to the Presidential election. I like Americans, perhaps as a result of working for US Corporations for nearly thirty years. I find them warm, friendly and agreeable even if sometimes naive. Almost exclusively they supported Donald Trump and harboured a visceral hatred of Hilary Clinton.
As it has turned out they were right. A few days after the cruise ended, the Donald was elected in a pretty conclusive way by his fellow citizens. First we had Brexit, and now this. That strange sight you see is the pollsters with egg all over their faces.
Most of the Viking Fjord’s sailing was done during the night which left the daylight hours available for shore excursions. I spent half a day in Nuremburg with visits to the famous court in the Palace of Justice where the 1945/46 trials of the leading Nazi leaders took place. As our visit was on a Sunday, the actual courtroom was open to visitors. Fascinating! As l had once experienced in Jerusalem I felt like I was walking with history in that city’s narrow cobbled streets. The cabal of thugs who once sat in this courtroom bore no connection with Jesus but they had lived and faced justice in my own lifetime. Nuremburg jail where they were secured is just next door, but as a working jail, we could not visit
We also went to the famous rally grounds where Hitler encouraged his troops and loyal civilians. The non military people, the civilians, who attended, paid for the privilege, travelling from all over Germany. In addition to their travel costs, they paid the present day equivalent of 30 Euros for entrance.
The following day I went to Munich; my first visit there for forty years. It was not an over popular venue for my fellow passengers as only three people, including me, were in a sixty seater coach. There was, therefore, plenty of room to move around, although we maintained a tight little group at the front of the bus with our guide and driver, an off duty police officer. Munich was fascinating with a stop at the BMW museum. I much admired the display of German owned, British built Minis.
My two fellow travellers were Ben and Gay, an American couple. They were great company as was our guide, a huge Bavarian with superb English and knowledge of history whose name I have forgotten. Somehow, after lunch, we three tourists got separated from our guide, and spent an hour lost in Munich and going around in ever decreasing circles. Tips to young travellers: take the guide’s mobile number.
The rest of the week passed quickly with stops at Pannau, Krems, Vienna and Budapest. I found Vienna a bit boring and ducked out of a performance at the Opera House and an afternoon learning to make apfel strudel.
Pannau was a great little town in Bavaria, with the ship’s docking point about 800 yards from the city centre. It was also the proud possessor of a medieval castle on the northern bank, with stunning vistas over the river.
Budapest was a different matter and I fell in love with the place especially the Castle area and the splendid Fisherman’s Bastion, with its magnificent views of the river. Budapest was once two cities, Buda and Pest. As one city it is worth a visit.
It was possible to eat onboard almost 24 hours a day and the cuisine was excellent, although a little rich for my palette. I tried very hard not to eat too much, and I think I succeeded despite tea, coffee and biscuits being on tap all day.
The crème de la crème was probably that the crew who could not do enough for their passengers. I fell in love with Programme Manager Suzi, an Audrey Hepburn lookalike from Transylvania. She did not have large incisor teeth although she claimed to know people who did.
I made many friends among the Americans on board and was amused by their interstate rivalries. There was much exchanging of email addresses and promises to maintain contact. I made especial friendships with Erwin and Susan from Texas and their daughter Nikki, recovering from a broken heart. Ramona and her newly married husband, Lon, were also good mates. Ramona accused her beloved of talking like the British with his ‘bloody’ this and ‘bloody’ that. As Lon was about six foot seven, and tipped the scales at 320 pounds, I never felt like correcting a word he said. He was also a member of the NRA and had a licence to carry a concealed handgun. He had a cheery smile and a hearty laugh, so I suppose that was all right then.
My friends from Munich, Ben and Gay regaled others with our unwanted adventures being lost in Munich. Gay had also mistakenly said she had previouslybeen in Germany when she was 73 rather than in 1973. She was not allowed to forget.
I take some credit for educating the Americans in their language skills, my major victory being convincing them that there is no letter ‘w’ in the word Jaguar. On my way home on a packed BA 869 I concluded that second choice is not always second best.
This was my cruise last year, in 2016. I liked it so much I am going on the Rhine this year in about two weeks time but that’s another story.
Written by BM