29 Rhone 2014
Home Up Rhone Passengers Versailles Marie Antoinette Watching the World Go By

Rhône River 2014 Home Versailles Marie Antoinette
Passengers The River Cruise Experience Story Watching the World Go By

The 2014
Rhône River Cruise

Story written by Rick Archer
Trip Organized by Marla Archer
May 2014


Rick Archer's Note:  In mid-April 2014, Marla and I completed a river cruise up the Rhône River of France that included a side trip to Paris on the way home. 

You will definitely want to read my story Watching the World Go By.  It completely captures the River Cruise experience.

The article on the page you are reading now gives a different slant.  This story is a somewhat tongue in cheek look at the Rhône River Cruise itself.  We will get to it shortly, but first a look at my other stories. 

On the final day of our trip, Marla and I visited the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris.  This visit was without a question my favorite day of the trip.  Considering the great experiences I had on this trip, it doesn't matter - I will pick Versailles as one of the great cruise trip experiences of a lifetime.

If you get a chance to read my story, you are sure to see why.

Palace of Versailles

During my trip to Versailles, our tour guide, a young man named Costigan, explained the troubling story of Marie Antoinette in great detail.

Costigan made it clear that the infamous "Let them eat Cake" story was completely erroneous. 

I had always thought differently, so I decided to study about Marie Antoinette when I returned to Houston after the trip.

As I researched Antoinette's story, I found that I was angry at myself for spending the majority of my life in total ignorance concerning Marie Antoinette's immortal phrase "Let them eat cake". In trying to understand why the angry mob would cut her head off, I assumed the woman was so mean and insensitive that she deserved her cruel fate. So imagine how I felt when I finally discovered the entire "Eat Cake" story was a complete lie meant to turn public opinion against her.

This story had been fed to me by my history teacher when I was at the impressionable age of 14. Judging by the sincerity with which he related the story to our class, I have no doubt my teacher completely believed the story himself.

I suspect if 20 people on the street with any knowledge of Antoinette were asked, at least 16 would say they believe she made the statement. It would be interesting to ask.

I have come to the conclusion that well-placed lies and propaganda have enormous power. For example, didn't someone once swear to us that Iraq had nuclear weapons? 

This was our reason to go to war with a country that had not attacked us.  Has anyone found one yet?

Marie Antoinette did not deserve to be executed.  She never committed any crime.  Nevertheless, she is an important historical figure because she is the perfect example of what happens to a public figure who doesn't pay attention to their public reputation.

The simple truth is that the majority of us are nowhere near the people or issues we read and hear about through the media. We are completely dependent on the accuracy of our news sources.

In addition, many people are not trained to question everything they read or hear.

I think the American people are fed a steady stream of lies and half-truths on a daily basis. Call it "propaganda". But since few of us have any way to disprove what is being said, these lies are able to develop a life of their own and do vast damage.

This is the lesson of Marie Antoinette, a woman who never grasped the importance of public relations. By allowing the myths about her to stand unchecked, she paid a huge price.

If you agree with my point of view, I think you would thoroughly enjoy reading my story of Antoinette's bizarre Necklace story. It is the story of an event where the Queen did not do a single thing wrong… repeat: NOT A SINGLE THING WRONG… nor did she directly participate in the event, but nonetheless ended up with her reputation so badly tarnished that it led to her death.

The story of Antoinette gives me the perfect opportunity to trot out my favorite quote about travel.

Mark Twain once said, "Travel is fatal to bigotry."

His complete quote is even more impressive.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

Amen to that. A good example of Twain's quote in action would be my trip to France which cured me of a lifetime misconception about Marie Antoinette.

And that in turn reminds me once again to always stay on my toes anytime I run across a public or historic issue that doesn't ring true.  "Travel" teaches me to keep my eyes wide open.  RA


Overview of the Rhône River Cruise

April 13 - April 20, 2014


  April 13: Day 0 Sunday Avignon
  April 14: Day 02 Monday Arles
  April 15: Day 03 Tuesday Avignon & Viviers
  April 16: Day 04 Wednesday Tournon
  April 17: Day 05 Thursday Vienne & Lyon
  April 18: Day 06 Friday Lyon
  April 19: Day 07 Saturday Burgundy Wine Tour & Beaune
  April 20: Day 08   Sunday Chalon-sur-Saône
  April 22: Day 09 Monday Paris: The Louvre
  April 22: Day 10 Tuesday Paris: Versailles
River Cruise Overview Part I

Rick's Note: 

Let's begin our story of the river cruise with an anecdote

Back when I ran SSQQ, Marla and I stayed to a strict schedule on every cruise - get to the departure city at the last moment and come home immediately. I felt a need to keep a close eye on my dance business.

Consequently we missed out on some great adventures because often the cities from which a trip leaves are definitely worth exploring. For example, on our 2005 Alaska Cruise, we didn't spend any time exploring Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

When Marla and I take our second Alaska cruise in June 2014, we intend to go in to Vancouver early. We already have our long walks planned through two different amazing city parks. This extra time, after all, is one of the joys of being retired and not having quite so much responsibility to deal with.

Putting this same principle into action for our 2014 Rhône River cruise, Marla had us fly into Avignon a couple days early. That way we could get settled in our hotel room, then go out and explore this historic city ahead of time at our leisure.

Many people on our cruise agreed with Marla's philosophy of getting there ahead of time. We had so many people on the same plane… a dozen, I think… that for everyone's convenience Marla rented a private bus to take us from the airport in Marseilles to Avignon, a 45 minute drive.

Naturally as the bus got closer to Avignon, the excitement mounted. At last!

Then a funny thing happened… everyone was disappointed to see shopping malls, grocery stores, car lots… all the modern stuff that may be necessary, but not particularly fun to look at it. This was Avignon? Boring!

Finally one of the ladies in our group couldn't stand it anymore.

Our friend Sue exclaimed, "Gosh, Marla, when are we going to see the cool stuff?  All I see is a bunch of shopping malls."

No one knew what to say. I believe we were all thinking the same thing; I know I was. I flew 5,000 miles to see this suburban goulash?  I can see urban blight at home for free!

Just about that time our bus passed an enormous 20 foot wall.

The wall was endless. It stretched as far as the eye could see. I immediately became suspicious about that wall. What was hiding in there?  After paralleling the wall for about a mile, the bus turned into an entrance through the giant wall.
Suddenly the medieval world of Avignon appeared out of nowhere. Everyone on the bus gasped at the instant transformation. We had just realized that this wall kept the old part of Avignon thoroughly disguised from the modern world.

The moment we entered those gates, we had instantly gone back in time 500 years to the Middle Ages. I have never seen a more dramatic transition.

Sue began to smile. "Never mind, Marla, I think I see it now."

We all laughed. We agreed with Sue the first time and now we agreed with her again.

That first experience was quite impressive. There was a festival going on inside the Avignon old town. The streets were so packed with people that the bus couldn't do better than inch along at 2 miles an hour. We didn't care. The throngs of happy people with their dogs and kids were entertaining to watch. Everywhere I looked, there were thousands of people milling about with smiles on their faces on this perfect spring afternoon.

As it turned out, Marla had discovered a gem of a hotel for us to stay at. Hôtel de l'Horloge was a marvelous restored building located in the center of everything. I think the word we all agreed on was "quaint". This quaint hotel was right on the edge of the Old Town square.

What a view!! Cathedrals, trees, open air restaurants, museums, carousels and countless people crossing the cobble stone square in every direction. The architecture was all middle ages. Too bad the people weren't in costume or we would have had an instant Renaissance Festival on the spot.

After we got settled in our room, naturally Marla and I wanted to explore. We were joined by Larry, Marla's brother, and his wife Roz as well as by Frana Banana and Marsha Mellow.

We walked and we walked and we walked. Everything was so pretty. We had gotten a map of the twisting, winding streets at the hotel, so we had no fear of getting lost. But we got lost anyway. There was no discernible order to the streets.

Hidden behind the age-old ramparts (means "big wall"), we were lost in a maze of narrow cobbled streets. Not to worry, we eventually figured out where we were.

The women loved looking at all the shops as we wandered along. Now temptation became our biggest problem. There were French pastries and chocolate shops calling to us at every turn.

After an hour of walking, for the first time I noticed a tiny symbol for a boat on my map. Seeing as how the map placed the boat on the Rhône River at the edge of the walled city, surely that was where our riverboat would be docked tomorrow.

Marla had told everyone that our river boat was docked close enough to the hotel that people could walk to the boat in the morning and save the price of a taxi ride. But now Marla was worried that maybe she had been a bit over-optimistic.

Looking at the map, the distance seemed further now. Marla didn't want to set people up for an unnecessary ordeal. So I volunteered to test the distance. I separated from the group with the understanding we would meet back at the hotel for dinner.

While the rest of the gang headed back to the Hotel, I wandered over to the location on the map where the boat was supposed to be.

After passing through an opening in the protective Wall, to my pleasant surprise, I saw a long, sleek riverboat docked on the river about 400 yards away. I couldn't see the name from this distance, but that had to be our boat. It sure looked the same as the pictures I had seen of it.

It had only been 10 minutes since I left the group. I was surprised at just how close our hotel was to the dock. Marla had been right all along.

When she originally told me we were close enough to "walk" to our boat, I raised an eyebrow. Marla and I have never "walked" from our hotel to begin an ocean cruise before. No fancy hotel in its right mind would be built next to a massive ship complex.
But here in Avignon, the boat was located so close to our hotel that this idea seemed doable.

As Marla had predicted, the hotel turned out to be about a 15-minute walk away. Back in the old days when people carried their luggage, a walk this long would have been unthinkable. But thanks to the brilliant idea of putting wheels on luggage, this walk was no big deal.

I think the next morning eight or nine of us took advantage of the convenience and walked to the ship, saving $15 and getting some fresh air in the process. I enjoyed it because it was an adventure. It was fun participating in the luggage wagon train although some of the locals stared at us like we were nuts.

You know, walking isn't such a bad thing. At the end of the trip, I did it again. I walked from the boat to the train station. Yes, I took my sweet time. And why not? I had four hours between disembarking the riverboat and the train to Paris. My walk took me 30 minutes. So what? I got more exercise than anyone else and I saved another $15 in the process.

People ask why I walk so much. Wouldn't a cab be so much easier? I tell them the truth - I could afford the cab, but this is how I stay in shape. Walking more allows me to dance more.

It also allows me to enjoy exploring new places on cruise trips, especially one like this Rhône river cruise where the towns are so conveniently close to the docking point. At several ports during the trip, I simply walked off the ship and roamed around for a while. I enjoyed this feature of the trip thoroughly.

Meanwhile, I had begun to wonder what the ship was doing here a day early. We weren't scheduled to board till tomorrow. I decided to go in and have a closer look.

A highway running alongside the river separated the boat from the wall. As I crossed the highway using a convenient tunnel, I was naturally curious about our ship. Or was it a boat? The ocean cruise people are very touchy on this subject. To them, it is a ship. Don't call it a 'boat'!!

Considering the immense size of the modern cruise liners, I am quite willing to agree with them on the ship versus boat issue. However, as I stared at the Viking Hermod (named for a Norse God), it seemed more like a boat to me. A long one, to be sure, but a boat nevertheless.

The boat was situated at most about 400 yards outside the walled city of Avignon. As I crossed the highway, I noticed a crewman from the ship out on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. He didn't pay a bit of attention to me as I passed. I idly wondered if he was in charge of security because I didn't see anyone posted in front of the ship.

Now I was close enough to look through the windows from the sidewalk. I noticed there were plenty of guests already on board. My first thought was that some of the guests on our trip had been allowed to come on a day early. If so, why weren't Marla and I invited? Who are those people and what are they doing there? Hmm.

I gave it some thought and realized this was the LAST DAY of the trip for the previous week of guests. Now it made sense. These people would be departing in the morning to make room for our group. Now I figured it out. Unlike ocean cruises that make a round trip voyage, a river trip goes only one way.

To date, only my Panama Cruise trip had a similar feature. We sailed out of Los Angeles and ended up in Florida. But I imagine all river cruises are one way trips. These people had boarded in Chalon a week ago in northern France and headed south. Tomorrow we would board in Avignon located near the Mediterranean Sea and head north.

By chance, I already had my Hermod ID tag in my wallet. It wasn't part of any deliberate planning, but since I had it, why not try to bluster my way on board and have a preview sightsee? I couldn't see the harm of a quick peek, so I walked to the ramp up ahead.

The ramp stretched about 30 feet from the boat to the sidewalk. It was interesting to notice that the Hermod and the Avignon highway were only about 20 yards apart. That would certainly be convenient for the people arriving by taxi… they could walk straight from their car to the boat.

That's when I imagined this unpretentious docking area under the trees had likely been in use for the past 2,500 years. Surely the use of this vital water artery dated back to the days of the Roman Empire and earlier.

Now it occurred to me that the Walled City of Avignon was built where it was primarily because it was located next to the Rhône. I laughed at myself. Earlier I had thought it was a nice coincidence to find the river so close to the Walled City. Now I realized it was no coincidence at all. Duh.

Back in the 14th century, seven different Popes had ruled the Holy Roman Church from Avignon. In fact, now that I looked, there was the gigantic Papal Palace looming high over the ramparts in the distance. I would get to visit this enormous building later in the week.

Back in the days before cars and airplanes, I imagine they used boats as the major source of transportation.

Surely any time someone in Rome wanted to visit the Pope in France, they took a boat down Rome's Tiber River to the Mediterranean, sailed along the Ligurian Coast (think French Riviera) past Genoa, Monaco and Marseilles, and then sailed up the Rhône and docked exactly where I was standing now. I suppose the trip took two or three days.  Not fast by today's standards, but at least it was comfortable.

I smiled.  In Houston, I never get the idea I am walking on historic ground. However, it didn't take much of an imagination to see Roman soldiers standing in this very spot.  Serving under Caesar during his conquest of Gaul, I would suppose a number of legionnaires would be posted here to guard their boat against barbarian attack.

Speaking of guards, I was suddenly snapped out of my reverie. Now that I had reached the ramp, I realized it was unguarded. Well, since there was no one to stop me, what the heck?

So I walked up the ramp. To my complete surprise, there was no one guarding the front door either. No one. No Roman soldiers to protect Caesar, no Swiss guards to assure the Pope's safety, and no one to protect the guests from me either.

This meant ANYONE could walk in, good guys, bad guys or even a weirdo wandering waldo like me.

Any bum, wino, terrorist, robber, barbarian, Jack the Ripper, or nosy tourist could board with complete ease.  I was indignant. What was the reason for this total breakdown in security?

Now I stepped inside the door expecting an alarm or something to go off. Maybe there was a person manning a closed-circuit TV. I wasn't worried. The moment I produced my Viking ID tag, I was sure anyone's concern would vaporize rapidly.

But no one appeared to confront me. Oh well, it seemed like I was free to walk about the ship, so I did.

The first thing I did was walk to the other side. The ship is long, but it is also narrow. To my surprise, there was a second riverboat docked on the other side. It was sitting parallel to the Hermod. The ships were at most two feet apart. These two boats were sharing the same dock. I realized to get to this other boat, which was owned by the Swiss river cruise line Scylla, its guests would have to cross the Hermod. Now that was weird.

This open-door policy was disconcerting to say the least. I really couldn't see Royal Caribbean letting Carnival passengers use its ship in the same way.

Now I turned around and walked into the lounge. There were about 20 people milling around having a drink. They all seemed friendly enough. I noticed the men weren't dressed any better than I was. Like me, the men had on jeans and casual shirts. Marla had told me Viking encouraged casual dress; these men had obviously taken the Viking philosophy seriously.

I remember being amused by this. While the ocean liners sell a form of Titanic-style High Society with their Formal dress nights, these river boats go the opposite direction. Despite the fact that their guests are typically very affluent people, a person who shops regularly at Target or Walmart wouldn't feel out of place.

In fact, I had to raise an eyebrow at the clothes some of these guys were wearing. What a bunch of old bums. There wasn't a well-dressed guy in the whole crowd. If someone asked my opinion… which people should because I have an opinion on everything… I would say these were the kind of old guys who have reached the point in life where they didn't give a darn what people think of their appearance.

Well, good. I had accidentally worn the perfect camouflage. I looked just like they did. What a coincidence.

Then I noticed all the men had grey hair... except for a couple vain enough to color it. And most of them had forgotten to comb their hair as well. Hmm, I had accidentally developed the perfect disguise as well. Hey, I fit right in!!

On the other hand, I imagine after a week of seeing the same 190 people day in and day out, they might notice a new face. After all, on a cruise ship with 6,000 guests, one can expect a certain degree of anonymity. But not on a river boat.

After sharing 3 meals a day and 4 hours of daily excursions with the same 190 people for a week, you would assume a new face would stick out like a sore thumb, especially a handsome one like mine.

And surely they would have noticed me if they were in a mood to pay attention. No one cared. No one's suspicion was even remotely triggered by my illegal presence. Good grief. As I wandered around, I almost felt insulted. Had I become invisible or something?

I walked around and couldn't even rate a glance. A terrible thought crossed my mind. Maybe I wasn't as handsome as I thought I was. Perish the thought.

Since the guests weren't interested in me, I decided to walk around some more. I found a cappuccino self-serve spot complete with cookies and croissants. Why not? It said self-serve, so I helped myself.

I wanted to do at least one rotten thing before leaving, so stealing a couple cookies was about the best my imagination could come up with.

Eventually I gave up trying to get in trouble, so I walked back off the ship. No one was there to say goodbye to me either.

"Cognitive dissonance" is a highfaluting term for the mental discomfort an individual experiences when two contradictory ideas butt heads at the same time. At this moment, I was deeply cognitive dissonant.

I had been led to believe by my 30 previous cruise trips that expensive cruise ships need to be guarded at all times from attack by Jamaican drug dealers, Somali pirates, and Jimmy Buffet deadheads looking for a free Buffet buffet.

Yet at this very moment, I was witnessing a dangerous no-security situation.  This very expensive riverboat which carried a bunch of well-heeled passengers disguised as old guys had no defense against an intruder like me. What gives here?

And that's when a strange thought raced through my mind. For a moment there, I believed I had finally deciphered the river boat security plan. By disguising these wealthy old farts as Walmart-shopping bums, any burglar would see that robbing these guys would be a waste of time and simply leave. What a clever idea!

Only one problem - some of the women were wearing very attractive jewelry. Oh no. Dead giveaway. Obviously a "guy" had come up with this idea.  There was a real flaw in his plan.

Truth be told, my scouting mission had raised my eyebrows.  I was an intruder and no one had a clue.  No guards at the door, no ID check, no metal detector, and a laid back attitude.

This stood in stark contrast to what I am used to.

I am used to maximum security on the ocean cruise ships equivalent to Texas prisons. I am serious. All cruise ships have several armed guards at the entrance complete with walkie-talkies and the kind of grim, frowning faces typically associated with trigger-happy concealed gun carriers in a grocery store... you know, the kind of people who will shoot you dead if you accidentally pop a champagne bottle.

Not the Hermod. As I wandered around the Hermod, based on what I had learned today, I could have smuggled a Zulu warrior on board and these guys would have never known.  [Sure enough, as it turned out, when I boarded the ship the next day, they didn't check my luggage.] 

I was amazed at the philosophy of actually trusting the passengers.  It blew my mind. But that is what they did. 

Ocean cruise ships clearly do not trust their passengers.  They take the opposite philosophy of Viking.  And why is that?

Sad to say, the ocean cruise liners do have a reason to keep their guard up.  On 7 October 1985, four members of the Palestine Liberation Front took control of the cruise ship Achille Lauro off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said.

Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Syria and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. After being refused permission to dock in Syria, the hijackers killed a disabled Jewish-American passenger and then threw his body overboard.

The ship then headed back towards Port Said.  After two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct. They were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner. This plane, however, was intercepted by US fighter aircraft and directed to land in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested and later tried for murder.

While this horrible incident from 30 years ago is largely forgotten by most people, I have no doubt the scars from the experience have forced ocean liners to be paranoid ever since.  I am sure the events of 9-11 contributed to the tension as well.

These days, the ocean liners are so worried about security, they don't just check once, they check twice!

On ocean cruises, I always have to go through two different lines. The process starts outside the ship. Usually they make passengers stand in a building or some perimeter point under a tent. The guards are typically local people obviously selected due to their innate tendency towards rudeness.

They make me take off my sunglasses to compare my face to my ID badge. Then they make me take off my hat to be sure there's no marijuana hidden in there. I hate taking off my hat because usually my hair is disgusting.  But what choice do I have?

After the perimeter check, then we go stand in another line to get back on the ship.  This line is a little quicker, but it still takes 5-10 minutes.  I will be honest... on certain days after some of the more vigorous excursions, it tries my patience to go through this double process.  But I suppose it is necessary.

My conclusion is that right now the river cruise industry is still living in the Garden of Eden.  They are able to let their guard down because no evil has surfaced to date.  But let the right snake come along and the situation could change in a flash.

I worry someday there will be an incident on a river boat.  I certainly hope not.  The river cruise approach is so much gentler on the spirit.  But in this crazy modern world, it just takes one monster to change everything.  A good example would be the 2001 airline shoe bomber.  Here it is 2014 and the entire world is still taking their shoes off at airports.  Or we could have the riverboat equivalent of the  Achille Lauro story.

Another contrast in the riverboat strategy was the no-frills approach.  I have already remarked about the relaxed dress code and the time-saving "trust" approach to boarding and luggage.

Even something as simple as the ramp that led from the sidewalk to the riverboat was different.  It was boring. It lacked fan fare. No trumpets.  All we did was just walk up the ramp.

Not cruise ships. Oh, baby, trust me, cruise ships make coming and going really special. There's usually a band outside playing music. Mariachi bands, Reggae-Calypso steel drums or Scottish bagpipes, you name it, it's a festive atmosphere.

They always take your picture at boarding time. This is an exciting time for me because some local girl is typically clad in an authentic low cut pirate outfit. This girl is just dying to have her picture taken with me.  Considering her enthusiasm to be in a picture with me is so intense, it is the highlight of my day.

Not this river boat. As I walk up the steps, no one is there to take my picture. I cannot begin to share the depths of my disappointment.  This relaxed approach can get old really fast.  How am I supposed to feel important? 

Another thing I miss are the boat tenders.  There are no tender boats on a river cruise.  This is very upsetting because I love tender rides so much!  And I love standing in line waiting for them as well. 

So what is a tender?

Sometimes on an ocean cruise they let you take a fun boat ride to and from the ship. A tender is a boat that holds 100-200 people; it ferries cruise passengers from the island or mainland back to the ship docked a mile off shore.

The problem is that some of the modern cruise ships are built so large that the water at the pier isn't deep enough for these behemoths to dock at shore. So they have to sit out in the bay.

This is a real break for the passengers. Now they get to experience a Disney-style fun boat ride from ship to shore and then another great trip at the end of the day from shore to ship.

And, just like at Disneyworld, the lines to get on these tenders are very long. And that's the way it should be!! Everyone knows the most popular rides have long lines.

I cannot begin to express the disappointment I felt at the thought that there would be no tendering on this trip.  The pain of this loss was palpable; my tender tender feelings were hurt.

Another baffling difference between the ocean cruise and the river cruise is the check-in process.  Believe it or not, I never even checked in.  When I entered the boat, no one said a word to me. I was about to ask at the desk, but a lady saw us and asked if we wanted to put our luggage in our room.  Marla and I stared at each other in shock - typically we don't get our luggage on a cruise ship until many hours later.  But this was different.

Marla already knew our room number so the lady took us straight to our room.  While I unpacked, Marla went to check us in.  She was back in five minutes [one should note a similar process on the Hawaii 2013 cruise took over an hour].

I asked Marla when we were going to get our pictures taken for our photo ID. Marla shrugged. "I don't know, Rick, but I get the impression they don't take pictures of the guests."

What?!?!?  No ID picture? 

First the lonely ramp.  Then no one to take my picture.  Then no one at the front door.  Then no check-in procedure.  And now I learn that no one will be taking my picture for an ID badge.  

If my face wasn't even on my ID badge, anybody could pretend to be me.  What if I wanted to buy something? 

Marla said they just write down your room number.  OMG, there's that trust thing again.  Good lord, weren't these boat people worried about anything? Apparently not.

This blew my mind AGAIN. My cognitive dissonance was at a peak level. Won't someone please check my ID badge for crying out loud? Why even bother to give me one?

I have to say my first experience of Viking was unusual.  Their approach to the cruise business was so radically different than what I was used to that I found myself shaking my head.

To be honest, I liked what they did a lot.  But I admit I was surprised at how flustered I was by the differences.

Marla's 2014 river cruise along France's Rhône and Saône rivers delivered everything exactly as promised. This was our chance to relax and watch the world pass by.

Every day after lunch Marla and I would go out to the front deck.
From here we would view the tree-lined banks of the river, the magnificent Alps in the distance, the rolling hills, vineyards, châteaus, cathedrals, ancient castles, and modern-day million-dollar estates. There was not a single stretch during the entire seven day span where the view was not beautiful

Sue, Eileen, Marla, Rick, Marsha, Linda, Paula, Ann, Leslie, Fran, Roz, and Larry

As we drove up, we had no idea what was hiding behind that wall

Once we got inside that wall, Wow!  What a beautiful place.  I enjoyed watching the father help his son blow a giant bubble

The boat symbol was not very noticeable, but there it is.  The red star marks where our hotel was.  Look for the huge Papal Palace at the top of the map.  It was just down the street.  As for our boat, it was all of 600 yards away from our hotel, less than half a mile.

Rolling the luggage from the hotel to the river boat.

Here is the restaurant where we had dinner in the town square.
In the background notice the sign for 'Hôtel de l'Horloge'

Here is a good view of the highway and the ramparts protecting the Old Town of Avignon.  Notice how easy it is to get to the ship.  A taxi has just dropped some passengers.  The ramp is 10 feet away.  There is no luggage inspection and check-in takes 5 minutes.

This was my first look at our boat obscured by the trees.  Do you see anyone standing in front of the ramp??

You can see some of the passengers enjoying the evening out on the Aquavit, an outdoor deck perfect for viewing the river.  Inside those windows I could see other people milling about in the lounge

Do you see anyone watching the front door?  Me neither.

"Scylla" is the name of a Swiss riverboat company.  This ship was docked parallel to the Hermod.  To get to this boat from the shore, one would have to first walk through the Hermod like I did.

As appearances go, women seem to still care, but not the men

I took this picture as I wandered around the ship.  As one can gather, no one paid me the slightest bit of attention.  They had an intruder in their midst and they didn't care.

The Viking ethic of trusting the passengers was intriguing to say the least.  Compare that to the normal situation on an ocean cruise.   Here is a picture of a drug-sniffing dog checking out the passenger luggage before it is loaded on.  Besides the use of the dogs, many pieces of luggage are opened and inspected. 

Leslie and Marla wheeling their luggage to the riverboat.

It is so much fun to take a tender!!  Gosh, I missed this special feature so much on our river cruise

Frana Banana told me how upset she was that no one was taking her picture upon arrival, so I helped her out.

That's Velma down there.  She is already checked in.  Meanwhile Marsha, Leslie, and Eileen have just finished the 5 minute check-in

On top of the world in Vienne.  Notice the Rhone River below as it curves through town.
Velma, Emily, Marla, Rick, Susanne, Deanne, Judy, Bonnie top row/ Eileen, Ann, Linda, Paula, Meredith, Tom, Mike, Sarah, Roz, Larry bottom row. 

River Cruise Overview Part II

I had been disconcerted by the Viking approach to security.  This was only the beginning.  There would be other disconcerting features that jarred my mind. For example, the staff on this boat completely blew the all-important life boat drill.

At first, I was happy when they announced the drill. It is one of my favorite activities. At least, thank goodness, they have a mandatory life boat drill on this riverboat. Finally a display of professionalism. It was about time.

They told us to carry our life jacket all the way to the top of the boat. Because I am an expert thanks to 30 previous cruise trips, I knew something was wrong right from the start. There was no one in an orange jacket and a whistle stationed at the stairs to point us which way to go. Marla and I had to find the way all by ourselves, but thanks to our vast experience, we found the roof.

The drill was so boring. First some young lady checked our cabin number, then she asked us to put our life jacket on. Yes, she actually made us actually do it once. She wouldn't even take our word for it that we already knew how to put on a life jacket thanks to our vast experience.   How rude!

After Marla and I demonstrated our competence, she smiled and said we could leave. I was baffled. That's it? That's all there is?
I felt so cheated. This process took 3 minutes tops.

Frowning, I couldn't believe it was over. The last time I went through this on a cruise ship, I had to go to the dining room and watch an elaborate 30-minute video on a giant screen. Now that was an impressive way to run a lifeboat drill.

Now here on the river boat, I could barely contain my disappointment at this pathetic 3 minute drill.  Everyone who knows me well knows the lifeboat drill is my favorite part of every cruise trip.

Even worse, as I prepared to walk back to my cabin, I nearly had a heart attack. There I was in the middle of the staircase when it suddenly dawned on me that these staff people had failed to show me where the life boat was.

This was serious.

I knew the Hermod was a new boat. This trip was only the fourth trip the crew had ever taken. By forgetting to show me where the life boat was, their lack of experience was blatantly clear. Obviously this staff was deeply in need of more training!

I excused myself from Marla and rushed back to the roof. I looked everywhere. There was no visible life boat! Where did these numbskulls hide it?  Now that is criminal. Hiding a life boat could cost lives!

Angry, I confronted some Swedish girl. "Where's the life boat?"

"I'm sorry, sir, we don't have one. Our boat has to fit through tight river locks and go under low bridges. There is no place to store a life boat.  I think we have a few inflatables downstairs somewhere."

I was shocked. No life boat? What if there is an accident? What if we hit an iceberg in the river? OMG, this was another Titanic just waiting to happen! My life was in imminent danger.

The pretty blonde Swedish girl smiled. "Well, sir, if you can't swim, then simply put your life jacket on and jump overboard. You can come up to the roof if you wish to jump from here or you can jump from a balcony if you have one."

The pretty girl paused, and then continued, "Typically the shore is usually about 20-30 feet away. If you can swim, you won't even need your life jacket. In fact, sometimes we are so close to shore you might even be able to wade to safety. However, no matter what you do, I apologize, but you'll probably get wet. But at least you will be alive."

"What about hypothermia? Won't I freeze to death?"

"I imagine you will be uncomfortable, but even in the worst cold weather at Christmas time, you have over an hour to make it to shore before your body gives up the fight. If you get your life jacket on properly, I suppose it will take five minutes max to paddle to shore."

"What if the boat sinks?" I asked.

"I wouldn't worry about that. But even if that happens, then the top of the boat will probably still be above water. These rivers aren't as deep as you might think. In fact, now that I think of it, you could probably just stand here on the roof and wait to be rescued. That way you wouldn't have to get wet."

Now the young lady just smiled at me. I suppose she was curious what my next intelligent question might be.

"Are you trying to tell me there isn't much danger?"

She smiled. "No, sir, there isn't much danger. You might lose your shoes in the water. That's something you can worry about if you wish."

No security! No lines to wait in! No metal detector! No decent life boat drill! And no life boat either!

What a shoddy operation.

Sad to say, these initial observations were omens screaming to be noticed. They hinted at all sorts of troubling things to come. Boy, was I right about that!!

One of the things that first attracted me to the river cruise idea was the promise of daily excursions. And sure enough, there were daily excursions. They were all free.

Viking advertised the various day trips as "learning experiences". And in one town, Viviers, they had a spooky midnight walk as well.  We did not cross the path of a single soul the entire walk, but I am sure I saw shadows moving on the perimeter.   And the weird trees were something out the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

It didn't help that several black cats crossed our path.  Complete with a glowing full moon, the evening had a definite Halloween feel to it.

The guide noticed the people in our group were edgy and looking over their shoulders.

She whispered low into the microphone, "Do not worry about the vampires, in this town they drink red wine, not blood."

We were too afraid to laugh.

Here I am at the back of the ship.  Do you see any sign of a life boat?  Well, neither did I.

The shore here is probably 200 feet away.  The river was at its widest at the start of the trip.  When we got further north, it wasn't nearly as far to shore.

Here is an example of the distance to shore on the final day of the trip.  The shore here was about 30 feet away.

The Fearsome Foursome... Paula, Ann, Linda, Sue

The midnight stroll through the town of Viviers was seriously creepy

However, in the town of Arles, we did manage to have a very good laugh.  But first a little bit about Vincent Van Gogh. 

The small town of Arles in southern France is famous for its time as the brief home of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. 

This troubled genius led a miserable life.  During his final two years, Van Gogh moved to Arles.  He hoped for refuge at a time when he was ill from drink and suffering from smoker's cough.

Once he moved to the south of France, his art was influenced by the strong sunlight he found here. His work grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888.

Many art experts say the best work of Van Gogh's life took place here in Arles.  Indeed, this was a very prolific period for him.  He drew many of his best-known paintings during his two year stay.  During our visit to the town and to the mental hospital he later lived at, we saw many examples of the various local places he used as backdrops for his paintings.

After years of painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, Van Gogh died in the fields outside the mental hospital from a gunshot wound.  His death is generally accepted to be self-inflicted although no gun was ever found.  Perhaps he found someone willing to pull the trigger and put him out of his misery.

Only 37 at the time, Van Gogh's work was then known to only a handful of people and appreciated by fewer still.

I noticed most of the group shaking their heads in sympathy.  What a shame that this great artist had so few moments of true happiness.  Still, none of us wanted any part of his destiny.  He was the "Michael Jackson" of his day - gifted, yet miserable.

We all agreed we would far rather lead normal happy lives than die a discontented genius haunted by mental demons.

Our guide Joanna used her wireless microphone to talk about Arles and the life of Van Gogh. 

The microphone system worked extraordinarily well.  Each night Marla and I would charge our units at a charging station in our room.  The receiver unit had a strap we hung around our neck and a small cord that allowed us to hear through the ear piece.

The distance and the quality was exceptional.  I could hear Joanna speak from at least 50 yards away. 

An odd feature of the wireless system was the ability to hear two people at the same time.  With one ear I could listen to the tour guide.  Then someone could ask me a question and I could hear them perfectly well using my other ear.  That feature made it convenient for whispered conversations.

The wireless system led to a very unusual event during our visit to Arles.  A day earlier Marla had made a point to track down Matthew, the program leader.  Marla asked him if he could put her SSQQ group together on the various excursions if possible. 

Matthew, a courteous and helpful man, said he would do his best.  At that point, Marla and I moved on to something else.

By the next morning, I had completely forgotten about the conversation.  All I knew was that I was still tired from the long walk Marla, Fran, Marsha and I had taken at Avignon the previous day. 

This was ridiculous.  We were just two days into the trip and I was already pooped out.  And judging from the expressions, so was everyone else who got on the bus.  Trust me, these Viking people are serious about delivering a thorough excursion!

Viking has a marvelous bus set-up.  It currently runs three different ships on the Rhone River each week.  In fact, we passed the sister ship one day.  Consequently Viking has purchased an entire fleet of buses.  These buses travel up and down the highway that runs parallel to the Rhone and are made available to any of the groups that need a bus ride.

Matthew explained it can be complicated juggling the buses between the three riverboats.  Some stops required buses, some stops didn't... those people could just walk into town.  The secret was to get the buses to which particular boat needed a bus ride. Whatever their system was, it worked just fine.  We never had a moment's wait when the buses were involved.

Apparently three buses have the capacity to transport 190 guests, but not everyone went on every trip so there were always a few empty seats.  Each day we had three buses of 50-60 people.  There six guides; each tour group had 25-30 people.

We needed the buses for our visit to Arles.  As I got on, I noticed several people from Marla's group were on the same bus with us.   Marla's group numbered 30, but I only noticed 10 or 15 familiar faces.  Out of the sixty people on the bus, there were more unfamiliar faces than there were familiar faces.  So I assumed the missing members of our group were on a different bus and assigned to a different group.  The bottom line is I didn't give it much thought one way or the other.

After our tour guide Joanna finished showing us the bull ring, she led us through the streets of Arles to another location. It turned out Joanna had brought us to a former hospital were Van Gogh briefly stayed after he famously severed his own ear. He was later moved to the mental hospital out in the country.

We were treated to the view of a lovely courtyard.  It was very pretty, but I was a bit preoccupied.  At this particular moment, I had just realized that everyone in this courtyard was part of Marla's group.  Matthew had confused me by putting two groups on the bus.  When we got off the bus, our group went with Joanna while another group went with a different guide.  I guess I was tired because it had taken me over an hour to notice Matthew had done exactly what Marla asked him to.

My attention returned to Joanna.  She explained that Van Gogh had drawn a picture of this courtyard.  Once I heard that, my hand quickly reached to my pocket to pull out the camera.  I wasn't alone.  I noted that everyone in the group obediently pulled out their cameras and started taking pictures.

As we snapped away, Joanna pointed out the likely spot where Van Gogh had been sitting to paint the picture.  She said there were enough exact landmarks left to make an educated guess.

Now it occurred to me this might be a nice opportunity to take a group picture.  However, Joanna was still talking.  So I pulled the three nearest people aside - Marla, Fran, and Marsha - and asked them if they would quietly pass the word to meet at the fountain area in the middle when Joanna was done speaking.

My fear was that we would be expected to leave immediately, so I wanted to let people know in advance to meet in the middle.

I reminded each lady to be discrete since Joanna was still talking and I didn't wish to be rude. So my trusty lieutenants fanned out among the crowd to begin the whispering campaign.  Five minutes later, Joanna concluded her talk.

That was the cue everyone had been waiting for.  At this point, the entire group began silently walking from all different directions towards the center of the courtyard.  As people strode to the center, the blank look on their faces made them appear as if they were under some sort of alien mind control.  Joanna's eyes grew wide at our behavior.  The woman was completely dumbstruck; her mouth dropped in confusion. 

Without realizing her microphone was still on, Joanna began to babble to herself mostly in English, but partially in French.  Every one of us could hear her speaking to herself in befuddlement. 

"Mais oui, but what is this?  What are they doing?  These people, huh, I think they are behaving in an organized manner.  Mon dieu, why are they collecting together?  Is there another voice here?  Do these people know each other?  Is there another leader who is unidentified?  These people are surely responding to another authority.  What is taking place??"

By now, everyone had reached the middle.  We all stopped and looked at Joanna who was freaking out like someone who has just seen a flash mob assemble out of nowhere. 

I will never forget the look of astonishment on the lady's face. It took Joanna more than a moment to collect herself. She had no idea her entire group knew each other. We got a good laugh out of her confusion, then explained what was going on.

Unfortunately, Joanna was embarrassed once she realized the entire group had overheard her furiously speaking out loud to herself in consternation.  The poor woman turned crimson red.  I think at first she thought we had played a practical joke on her, that we were somehow trying to trick her.

However, once we made it clear what had happened, she began to calm down.  It was a harmless misunderstanding.  Joanna had no idea we all knew each other.  She was used to her guests coming in pairs or foursomes, not large groups.

I found myself grinning over how we had inadvertently set the poor woman up for the shock.  Our spontaneous and perfectly coordinated movement had taken her totally off guard. 

Joanna could not for the life of her figure out what was going on. I will never forget her bewildered look.  No doubt she thought the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh had turned us into puppets.

Marla with the Fearsome Foursome, Sue, Linda, Paula, Ann.
Look how pretty they are together!!   Great smiles.

Here is a Roman amphitheater.  Considering it is 2,000 years old, it is in marvelous condition.  Our guide Joanna is explaining that it is used as a bull fighting venue these days.  The picture is too small to see, but Joanna is speaking into a wireless microphone and everyone in the group is listening via their ear phones.  The wireless system worked to perfection.  I heard the guides loud and clear.

Eileen and Matthew 

Viking has a fleet of buses that alternate between three different boats floating along the Rhone and Saone rivers

We walked right past this outdoor cafe in Arles.

Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles by Vincent Van Gogh

A look at Van Gogh's courtyard today. 

Before the strange parade began, we were all spread out on the sidewalk to the right.  When 20 people wordlessly began to walk to the center at the same time, Joanna was dumbfounded.

The SSQQ Flash Mob!!  Leslie, Donna, Eileen, Georgia, Fran, Marsha, Ann, Larry, Roz, Velma, Emily, Marla, Rick, Sue, Paula, Linda, Bonnie, Mike


Château des Baux

Now don't get me wrong; the Viking people did their job well. Every day without fail there was another great excursion.

Some locations we walked to, other locations required a bus. They were always prompt and they always delivered what they promised.  Their guides were excellent, the locations intriguing.

But it was too much. And when I say "too much", they gave us far too much for our money.  It's like giving someone too much turkey at Thanksgiving or too many presents at Christmas.  Viking should know better not to be so excessive in its treats.

Do you have any idea how tiring it is to go on 7 excursions in 7 days? I mean, really now. There is a limit to how much education and experience a human being can take.

Cathedrals, vineyards, Roman ruins, statues, gardens, art museums, fashion districts, insane asylums, sidewalk cafes, hilltop vistas, palaces, and even a chocolate factory… it was just too much activity.

You know what?  I haven't even told you about Les Baux.  Château des Baux is a castle with a charming medieval village built high atop a cliff in southern France.  The chapel and buildings in the mountain aerie are perfectly preserved. 

Les Baux is an exquisite paradise both above and below.  From above, one can see the beautiful estates on the valley floor.

The valley is situated inside a box canyon.  It is surrounded on three sides by mountain walls, one of which supports the castle. This box canyon affords tremendous privacy and accentuates the beauty of the area.  Wherever the eye can see, there is nothing but beauty above, below, and beyond.

From what I gather, the castle atop the mountain is only a shell of its former self.  It was so powerful that King Louis XIII decided he didn't want to take the chance of an enemy gaining possession and establishing a power base in this region. 

So he tore most of it down.  What a shame. 

You want to know something funny?  I didn't even realize there was a castle at this place until I wrote this story.  Our guide never took us up there and the shops on the level where we visited obscured my view of the top. I noticed there were some trails going up, but I assumed they led to some lookout point.

I was curious about those trails, of course, but the guide said time to go. Oh well.

My point is that when given all the time in the world to explore a place like France, there is never enough time. 

And even when given the time, I swear I didn't have the energy to appreciate it all!!  This was the trip where I learned that it is truly possible to overdose on pleasure.

This picture does not begin to do justice to beauty of the valley. These homes were valuable estates with beautiful landscaping.  It is a real paradise down there.  Incidentally, that highway is elevated to preserve the beauty.  People in the valley don't even see the highway.

This picture was taken from the top of an imposing cliff.  To figure out where I stood when I took this picture, take note of the chapel, the wall and the two thin trees.  Using these clues, you should be able to locate this viewpoint in the larger picture below.


Whining and Dining

Go here, go there, learn this, learn that, see this, see that, taste this, taste that. OMG. After a while, it became such a blur that I could barely tell a church from a castle. Just show me where I can sit down.

Here again, the ocean cruise people know what they are doing. The human mind can only tolerate so much culture. By interspersing an occasional port call with several Bingo-filled days at sea, people have a legitimate chance to vegetate.  That's what I'm talking about.

I can imagine the Viking business plan might appeal to intelligent people with a deep thirst for knowledge, but count me out.  This trip made it obvious to me I am unable to absorb so many powerful experiences.

The meals were another place where Viking really overplayed their hand. They had the worst idea I have ever seen - a neverending cascade of wine.

Can you believe they serve wine at every meal? And it's free! They just bring it to you over and over and over again. It gets so monotonous having all this wine to drink. I suppose I could have turned it down, but that would not have been polite.

I mean, seriously, half the fun of drinking alcohol at meals on a cruise is "the Game".  At each meal, some exotic Russian girl will come to my table and interrupt whatever I am doing so she can persuade me in her deeply sexy foreign accent to buy a drink.  If I show any interest at all, she turns on the charm.

I love having some sexy From Russia With Love lady come to my table and beg me to buy a drink from her. "Oooh, Mister Rick, Vould you like me to bring you some delishish Wodka tonight??  Wodka shot make you feel very gude inside."

Oh, Ekaterina, please say it again!  It is always such a treat to listen to her cool accent.

Not these guys. They make drinking boring. The entire trip, they simply stuck the wine in front of our noses without fanfare.

And the selection was pitiful. Instead of a huge wine list of 100, our only choice was between white and red. Just 2 choices!

I definitely think it was wrong to serve wine at lunch time. Viking was taking a terrible risk. What if the guests drank too much and got a little fuzzy wuzzy in the brain if you know what I mean? Some of us weren't exactly spring chickens.

Sure enough, too much wine and every afternoon turned into rocking chair time for some people.  We all went out to the front deck and found our comfy chairs.

It was time for Marla and I to watch the world pass by… trees and hills and bridges and water birds, beautiful estates, mooing cows and friendly cyclists waving to us from shore… so idyllic!!

But soon enough people began to doze. Maybe I was one of them.  All this beauty and here I am sleeping. Pathetic. 

When I awoke, I felt so cheated. It's like paying good money to see a movie and sleeping through it. I blame the Viking people for giving me that wine at lunch. This was their fault. They made me miss seeing those cows.

Not an ocean cruise. They make people pay for their booze at lunch time! And that's the way it should be. No naps for their customers. They want their people to stay awake so they can gamble or play afternoon bingo!! 

That reminds me - there was no bingo on this trip. What a rip!
Gosh, I cannot begin to say how much I missed the daily bingo announcements telling when the next bingo game was coming.

Here's another thing I didn't like about the wine. I didn't trust it. Normally when I drink too much wine, I get a headache. I didn't get a single headache on the trip. Not one. Trust me, I tried as hard as I could to get a headache. That's how I know when I have been drinking too much.

But this wine didn't stop me from drinking one time. I came to the educated conclusion there was something wrong with the wine they used.  What other explanation could there be?

Another thing that bothered me about the wine was the endless conversation. You have no idea how much people begin to talk when they have had too much wine. It's terrible.

Many of these conversations made me uncomfortable.  I couldn't believe it.  Due to those daily overdoses of vino, people began to open up to me.  They told me their life stories. They told me personal stuff that seemed to matter to them. Good lord, I had to remember how to listen!!  It's been so long.  When was the last time I had people tell me sensitive things about their lives on a cruise trip?  Probably never.

I so much prefer superficial conversation on ocean cruise trips. I like to talk about how calm the water is and the temperature outside and which beaches have the most sand.

Otherwise I risk getting emotionally involved with people which can lead to friendship. Not me. No friendships. I don't want any lingering attachments when I return home or I run the risk of missing people.

Here's another thing. There was too much laughter. Oh, it was so distracting!

I have never heard so much laughter on any cruise trip. Never. It was awful.

One of the beauties of an ocean cruise dinner are the constant interruptions.  There is an endless stream of distractions.  First there are the pretty drink girls who drop by the table to sell their Wodka.  Then there are the photographers who make everyone at the table smile with their mouths full of food. 

Then come the dancing waiters, a real crowd pleaser.  And to top it off, there's Mr. Zee the Maitre Dee who babbles over the loud speaker at every meal to ask if everyone is having a great time. And of course the real highlight is listening to all those foreign waiters singing Italian love songs off key. 

The neat thing about these distractions is that they suppress intelligent conversation.  I appreciate this immensely.

Gee whiz, there was not a single interruption at dinner time on this river cruise!  Trust me, I paid attention.  I notice these things.  When the conversation got a little serious for me, how I longed for Mr. Zee the Maitre Dee to make some sort of announcement and ruin the train of thought. 

But no luck.  The waiters poured the wine and served the food and left us alone. I barely knew how to behave when the conversation ceased to be superficial.

For seven straight days, there were no interruptions. It was awful, just awful. The people at the table just kept talking and talking and talking and I had no choice but to listen.

And you know what else? People cried. I am completely serious. Sometimes it was sorrow, sometimes there were tears of happiness. At some point or another, practically everyone at the table cried about something right in front of everyone else.

I was so disgusted to see these people let down their guard like that. Surely you understand what I am trying to say.

Let that be a lesson to all of you.  Without interruptions, there is always a risk that the conversation might become much too deep or much too fun.  It might not happen the first night or the second night, but when this kind of behavior is allowed to take place for 7 straight nights, the table begins to function as if it was a "family". Is that just not the worst thing ever?

I know the reader completely agrees with me.

Basketball coaches have a great solution to this problem. When the other team is playing well, a time-out interrupts the momentum. The more interruptions, the harder it is for a basketball team to get into any kind of rhythm.

Same thing with conversations… on an ocean cruise, every single interruption completely kills the conversation. I like that!

Interruptions allow all ocean cruise conversation to remain superficial… beautiful! This is exactly what I prefer. No crying, keep the laughter under control, no talking about personal stuff.

Why would anyone want to get to know someone better on a vacation? Like I said, that risks making friends. We wouldn't want that, now would we?

I have to admit something. I came dangerously close to becoming fond of the people I shared this trip with. I am still shaking my head over this close call.

I did not like this river cruise at all.  In conclusion, let me review the mistakes on the Rhone cruise:

Not nearly enough time wasted standing in lines
No one to insist on taking our pictures
Too many excursions, too much to see
Too much wine
Too many nice people
Too many deep conversations
Far too much laughter
Smooching and crying in public
Definitely not nearly enough interruptions 
Even though we were not attacked, the security was terrible

I disliked this trip so much that I cannot believe Marla was able to persuade me to take another river cruise same time next year.  That's right, we are going to do it all again on Germany's 2015 Rhine River Cruise

I am already worried. These Viking people ruined my Rhone trip by giving me too much to do. And now it looks like the same awful thing will happen on the Germany trip:

The Swiss Alps, the mighty Rhine River, the Black Forest, the beautiful French town of Strasbourg, Castles on the Rhine, the ominous misty Rhine Gorge, Lorelei maidens, Polka Dancing and Beerfest to German Oompah bands in Rudesheim, plus a grand finale of windmills, tulips and canals in Amsterdam.

It looks like this trip to Germany, Switzerland, France and the Netherlands has the same kind of "fun exhaustion" written all over it as the Rhone trip. I am already dreading this trip.

I don't know if I have the strength to handle another intense vacation.  Vacations are not supposed to tire people out. 

These Viking people obviously haven't learned that.  They give their guests far more benefit than their customers paid for. 

Why people keep coming back for more is a mystery to me.

Paula, Deanna, Bonnie, Velma, Sue, Linda, Marsha, Fran

Do you see what is in those glasses on the table?  Wine.
Do you see those smiles?  They're feeling fine.

Do you see these ladies doing anything? No. They should be doing something useful like gambling or playing bingo.  But instead they are just sitting there wasting their time having a great conversation

Those giggling, goofy grins are the perfect example of what too much wine does to people.  In my opinion, it makes them overly friendly.

Georgia and Donna.  More wine, more smiles.  You get the picture?

John, Lee, Diana, Jim.  More smiles, more wine.

Leslie and Shan.  More wine.  Draw your own conclusions

Look at that wine.  Good grief, they couldn't even drink it all!  These goofy women acted like they have known each other their entire lives.

To truly understand the terrible effect of too much wine, let's use Larry and Roz, my brother in law/ sister in law. Here they display an excessive amount of laughter.  The danger of too much laughter is well documented.  You can split a gut if you aren't careful.

Another danger of too much wine were excessive public displays of affection like these.  I made Marla take this picture because I couldn't stand it.  For me, this was too much.  In polite company, people do not smooch at the dinner table.  I had to look away. 


How embarrassing. I suppose maybe I had a little fun on this trip, but there are serious consequences to fun.

For example, this stupid trip made me like Emily.  And now I miss her.  I object to situations that make me vulnerable to any feelings.

Now look at me.  It has been over a month since we completed this trip and I still think about it every day.  This is completely wrong.

When it comes to cruise trips, I prefer to love them and leave them behind.  Not this trip.  I got attached.

Roz and Emily had never met before this trip.  Now look at them going boo hoo hoo in each other's arms.  I can only shake my head.

Every picture tells a story.  I tried as hard as I could not to get close to anyone and I failed miserably.


Further Reading:
he Versailles Article 
Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution

Rhône River 2014 Home Passengers Watching the World Go By
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ