A boat the size of a small town? Nah. Cheeky and/or cheesy entertainment? Nope. Formal attire night? Gag!
So no, when I vowed to eschew the cruise for the rest of my days, I wasn’t kidding. I’d stick with the small group hiking/ walking trips which typically numbered between 10 and 20 companions.
My favorite vacation was probably the hiking and cooking one I took in Abruzzo just before the pandemic hit. There were no noteworthy landmarks but who cared? The landscape, which featured acres of olive groves, rolling hills, charming villages and the gentle waters of the Adriatic were all I craved. We cooked alongside delightful Italian nonnas,and of course devoured our culinary creations, downed with local wines, at garden picnic tables under the sun or moon, depending on the day. And the piece de resistance, at least for me? I got to speak my beloved Italian. The exchange may have been no deeper than “do you salt the eggplant or not?” but I still managed to experience my usual joy of speaking the local lingo with the natives. Honestly, deploying my linguistic skills on foreign ground is one of my life’s greatest pleasures.
So what in the world was I doing on a river cruise in France? Parkinson’s disease, that’s what. I didn’t think I could sustain my typical walking pace since my legs often ached after just an hour. But I felt desperate for a vacation where the lingua franca would sound like bonjour, buon giorno, or buenos dias. And river cruises, I’d learned, featured none of the icky excesses (dress up night, endless buffets) of the ocean liners and offered what sounded like interesting shore excursions. Sign me up!
So how was it? My nautical adventure is now in the rear-view mirror so I feel qualified to report that:
- The amenities are quite nice. My stateroom ( a word I never imagined would be preceded by the word my) was attractively designed and well maintained.
- I met some lovely people, and almost everyone was pretty friendly.
- The food was good. Many days it was actually excellent, only a few just so-so. I only had one meal I’d describe as bad but someone else found the veggie burger delicious. Overall, no complaints.
- The staff was unvaryingly attentive and pleasant.
- The shore excursions – a couple of small towns, a winery – were perfectly fine, if nothing special, though the local guides were excellent. I’d taken a hiking trip in Provence, where I am writing from today, 25 years ago, and we’d visited a number of villages in this area that displayed significantly greater charms. But of course we hadn’t been limited then by the need for access to a river port where the boat could be docked a short bus ride away from whatever attraction was on the itinerary.
- Lying in my bed with the curtains open and watching the shoreline go by was very soothing, and de-stressing had been a major goal of this trip. Mission accomplished.
But something was missing for me, and it was…..
- FRANCE! I seek an immersive travel experience. I want France to wrap her arms around me and squeeze me tightly. I want to smell her aromas – her Gauloises, her boulangeries, her fromageries – and observe her distinctively stunning landscapes, cityscapes and people. I NEED to hear her “Bonjour Madame” all around me. So I know I’m in, you know, France. It probably goes without saying that, except for the brief periods ashore, I was hearing English all day. While I was in France. Aaaargh!!’
- I wanted the wait staff to ask for my order in French, and for me to respond in kind. None of the staff on this vessel spoke French, though that may be a function of how things are in this industry.
- Speaking of meals, how about having some in a place that suggests France, as opposed to a pleasant-enough but soullessly generic ship’s dining room that could just as easily be in Buenos Aires or Oslo. I did skip the shipboard lunch one day in favor of a charming and scrumptious cafe repast on actual French soil in the picturesque town of Arles, famous as the place where Van Gogh painted Starry Night, among other works. For the privilege of having an authentic foreign meal, I paid for two lunches since I’d already paid with my cruise reservation for the missed one on the boat.
Please don’t misunderstand. I didn’t have a bad time. I enjoyed the company and especially, the respite from stress. But it was disappointing.
So…no more cruises for this lady. If my disease takes me to a place where I’m significantly less mobile, maybe I’ll revisit. But for now, I’ll stick to the real France. This kinda felt like watching France on TV.
I know I recommended this before but it truly does warrant a second mention. Shipping Out, David Foster Wallace’s take on cruises is biting (in a good way), oh so clever, and just plain hilarious. I dare you not to laugh.