One October, while watching Jeopardy!, an ad appeared for a river cruise through Europe. Most of us have seen these and thought, “Hmm, that looks like a great trip and I would love to do that someday.”
This particular evening, I sent a text to my son suggesting that we take a river cruise. His reply was that he did not have the time for a cruise, but if I would like to go, he would send his sister, Laura-Todd, and me. He wanted us to do river cruise reconnaissance for a future family trip. Laura-Todd and I decided not to allow grass to grow under such a generous offer, so we accepted...immediately! Within an hour, we decided we preferred the cruise from Paris to Normandy, cruising north up the Seine, and on the return, a day’s tour of Versailles – a dream trip for me.
The following morning, I contacted my friend, Rosemary Mann, to ask her who she uses as a travel agent. After she told me, she asked where I was going. I told her, and she said she would meet us at the agency, because she wanted to go also. Rosemary called her friend, Jane, and we became four.
It is debatable which is more enjoyable: the anticipation and preparation for a trip or the actual trip itself. In this case, the preparation for this trip covered six months. There were numerous dinners and lunches dedicated to the topic of our personal priorities for sightseeing, shopping, eating and museums. Then, of course, we devoted an entire afternoon to finding the perfect walking, traveling shoes...at Nordstrom’s, of course, with a delectable lunch to follow. It is important to note that everything we do includes eating.
Once we had solved the shoe dilemma, we began the search for a perfect under-the-seat pull bag. This bag must fit under the seat in front of us and it must accommodate enough clothing, cosmetics and appliances to cover any unforeseen inconveniences, such as lost luggage. Also, there must be outside pockets to facilitate easy access to passports, tickets, or toothbrushes, whichever comes first. The other hitch is that we had to be able to pull it, not carry it. And did I forget? It had to be black! The miracle is that we found it.
Laura-Todd, Rosemary and I spent several days visiting our shopping haunts, looking for this ideal bag. Jane spent many hours searching the internet, looking for the perfect bag. Everything fell short of fulfilling our needs. Then one day, I was at the travel agency, signing papers and such, and I decided to look at the luggage display. There it was: The perfect bag. It had been sitting there all the time, just waiting to be discovered. Mission accomplished!
After an overnight flight to Paris, the four of us, all dressed in black, proceeded to take in our preferred sights: the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, L’Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre, the night river cruise up the Seine, and my personal favorite, the D’Orsay. Oh, those impressionists.
The sightseeing was whirlwind because of time constraints, but most of our goals were accomplished and we only lost Jane a couple of times.
When we boarded our riverboat to set sail for points north of Paris, all of us were ready to unpack our black clothes and to let someone else direct our sightseeing. Tell us where to be and at what time, and we were ready to accommodate. The cruise line has this down to a fine art.
Every afternoon, there were briefings, complete with historical background, to prepare us for the following day’s tours. Additionally, we were served delicious meals, which were prepared on board and which incorporated local produce, fish and meats, as well as dairy products purchased locally. And did I mention... wonderful wines.
One of the first stops was Giverny, the sight of Monet’s home and gardens. If Monet had never painted a canvas, he would have distinguished himself as a horticulturalist. The gardens, both water and landscape, created ever-changing subjects for his paintings. While we were there, the tulips, daffodils and some of the water lilies were blooming in a wonderful array of color. These flowers and colors reappear in Monet’s paintings.
From Giverny, we sailed north to Rouen, the sight of Joan of Arc’s demise. Rouen is a charming, medieval city. The cathedrals, cobbled streets filled with strolling shoppers, the stunning architecture and the charming shops offering macaroons and other delicacies provided us with a fun-filled day. The beautiful, contemporary chapel dedicated to Joan of Arc is very impressive, because the architecture is a sharp contrast to the rest of the city and to the medieval era in which she lived. Nonetheless, this chapel creates a serenity which captures her spirit.
Our river cruise continued north to Normandy, and our foursome relished every moment. We purchased black berets from a street vendor there, and we wore them the rest of the trip. Surprisingly, we were the only people wearing them. Hmm…we didn’t feel like tourists. We wore our berets the rest of the cruise, and everyone loved them!
All of us agreed that river cruising is a great way to travel. You only have to unpack once, you sleep in the same bed every night, the meals are great, the tours are well organized, and we met lovely traveling companions. My daughter and I shared a wonderful lifetime experience and vowed to plan another soon! Thank you, Clarke, for a cherished gift. The only thing missing was you. Maybe next time.