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Sunday, November 8, 2015

GAWA Day #53: Highs and Lows of My Tauck European River Cruise

First of all, it was a great European river cruise, and Tauck deserves to be #1 at this.  I expected portions of the experience to be almost intolerable, and they were:  interminable tours of palaces, churches and castles.  I was told beer and wine were largely free.  This was not even close.  From nine in the morning to midnight, you could have any drink you wanted:  Glenfiddich, Absolute Vodka, Calvados Gilbert, Remy Martin VSOP Cognace (7 types of brandy), five bourbons, eleven kinds of beer, a wide variety of wines, a wide selection of liqueurs (Cynar, Pernod, Ricard, etc.) and name your mixed cocktails.  I steered several cruisers to have limoncello in Prosecco, a combination I created at the Ward Buca di Beppo as the Italian version of Kir Royale.

So what was so terrible about this two week tour?
  • Walking down stairs.  Just to get to my cabin took took many steep steps down. I don't quite have climacophobia, but I'm losing confidence in walking down stairs.  All those tours somewhat challenged me.  I'm okay going up.
  • Just walking was sometimes a challenge.  So in Passau I bought, for 19.9 Euros ($21.40), a cane.   Adjustable aluminum with a wooden handle.  The one I bought in Bangkok for $3 and lost in Dubai did not have any height adjustment.  My new one did, but no one told me that you also needed to screw the assembly into place.  Thus, people were complaining that I made too much noise walking about...until Maruja of Panama one day grabbed it and proceeded to properly complete the process.  I now have a virtually noiseless cane, and after a week, haven't yet lost it.
  • The internet worked for e-mails well, but downloading 20 megapixel photos took anywhere from ten minutes to forever.  There were days when I did not succeed in processing one shot.  Usually this takes but a few seconds at home.  The problem had to do with the satellite connection.
  • It was too cold.  Actually, never below 48 F in the early morning, and usually well into the higher 50's by mid afternoon, but the wind chill sometimes made the walk a tad uncomfortable.  You needed to be from Alaska or San Francisco to tolerate the view from the sun deck towards dusk.  Note how Lareene and Lesley are dressed.
  • The low river level.  Not a great concern, but this fall has seen mostly drought conditions, and our ship had to accelerate its schedule to get through one portion.  Else, it would have been stuck at that point, and we then would have had to be bussed to all the other stops, with the attendant re-packing hassle
  • If you are a couple, don't take the lowest floor.  There is a view--here from my room--but you need to stand.  As a single to avoid the double payment or supplement, I was confined to this choice.
  • Not necessarily a negative, for who watches TV on a cruise, but the choices were limited, if available at all.  Late in the going I finally figured out there were movies, and you can leave it on pause, and return ten hours later.  So I saw Judgement at Nuremberg and A Bridge Too Far, for both films occurred in the region of the cruise, and each went on for three hours, taking me several days to complete them.
  • CNN was one of the only English channels, but I've confirmed why I don't watch it anymore.
The positives:
  • The whole experience was terrific.  The Tauck and Scylla staff were exceptional.
  • The cuisine, including a wide variety of choices, was better than I expected.  I would rate the food as better than Crystal Cruises.  They had French and Italian nights at the Bistro, but the meat dish was not satisfactory.  Yet, others enjoyed them, so that could just be me.
  • My final dinner featured a saffron truffle risotto topped with foie gras, slices of white onion, basil and arugula.  I had been communicating with Chef Siegfred throughout the cruise, but he could not find in port any real truffles, so used truffle oil.  Still, probably, the one best dish I've yet had on this entire trip.
  • Lunch was fabulous, for here you were floating by fall colors while enjoying your food with white and red wines, plus, maybe, in addition, a glass of beer.  I look forward to my bento and sake combo on the Japanese Bullet Train, and the sub sandwiches with beer on European trains, but the food is cold.
  • I should underscore that this cruise occurred at the peak of Fall Colors.  Reds and oranges are generally missing, unlike the  eastern USA and Japan, but the continuous flow of the landscape mural was overwhelming.
  • The people.  Made a lot friends, and no enemies, I think.  Maybe here and there I talked too much, but tried to mostly listen whenever I could.  Someone was actually interested in the Blue Revolution.
  • There were no problems with the moving ship, and, in fact, I probably slept better with that slight sidewards movement.
  • The entertainment and lectures were outstanding, from glassblowing to a German oompah band to Tour Guide Kati relating here experience transitioning after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  She was almost ten then, and her favorite television programs were West Berlin commercials:

Kati also taught us everything we needed to know about German beer.
  • There is always one memorable event in any world journey.  This time it was my blue bar pigeon, who kept following me around Europe, from first eating my breakfast in Venice, and final goodbye in Amsterdam.  They are amazing creatures:
    • can recognize specific humans
    • pass the mirror test, that, is self-recognition
    • incredible navigators, capable of traveling nearly 100 MPH
    • mate for life
    • are recorded to have been living with Mesopotamians in 3000 BC, but, descended from dinosaurs, coming way before humans
    • yes, they crap (25 pounds/bird/year), and there are 400 million of them around the world, but my blue bar gave purpose to my photography

Let me close with a a few photos capturing the color of the tour:

I'll probably add more plusses as they come to mind.  If you haven't been on a European River cruise, go.  I would recommend Tauck.  Tomorrow, back to the USA.  This is a photo from my Sheraton room, showing the exact flight I'll be leaving on tomorrow.  I can probably reach the departure gate with two good golf shots.


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