"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Cruising the River Rhine

By on June 27, 2018 in Columnist with 1 Comment

Jim BrownBy Jim Brown, M.D.

A ‘significant birthday’ spent on european river bordered by stunning history

Over the years Lynn and I have been fortunate to be able to do a lot of traveling in many countries around the globe.

A few years ago we decided that those days were over for us due to our aging as well as the uncertainties of travel, worries about the constant news of terrorism, negotiating unfamiliar airports and negative news of air travel in general.

Public television often showed advertisements of Viking River cruises in Europe that looked wonderful. A few months ago, watching one of these ads, I mentioned to Lynn that I only really remembered three of my birthdays, where we were and what we were doing.

When I turned 50, a milestone of sorts, we were in Switzerland staying in a small hotel in the mountains. When I went out the morning of my 50th in May, it had snowed and was cold. I asked the receptionist if there was anywhere warm in the area. She suggested that if we drove south over a mountain pass we would be in Italy and recommended we stay at Lake Lugano. We took her advice and had several pleasantly warm days eating delicious Italian meals on that lovely lake.

The middle Rhine is castle country, left over from when medieval noblemen built soaring castles to oversee trade on the Rhine.

Several years later on another “milestone” birthday year, I accompanied Lynn to St. Remy-de-Provence, France, where she was taking a week long pastel art workshop. We both wondered what I would do with my time.

As it turned out, I rented a car for the week and every day took off in a different direction on quiet, sparsely traveled country roads, taking photos, taking long walks, sitting in small village squares drinking coffee and watching the daily activities of these lovely villages. I had a wonderful time that I will never forget, as did Lynn in her workshop.

The third milestone birthday occurred in Montenegro. We had signed up for a Road Scholar sailing tour of Croatia and the beautiful islands in the Adriatic Sea. We finished the sailing portion in Montenegro, a country adjacent to the south of Croatia.

Our last few days were spent exploring Dubrovnik on our own. This is one of the most beautiful well-preserved cities in Europe I had ever seen.

Jim and Lynn at the windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands.

After seeing the Viking TV ad, Lynn reminded me that I was nearing a “really big milestone” in May and suggested we sign up for the Viking River cruise on the Rhine River, so we did.

Viking’s goal is to exceed our expectations, and they certainly did that. The staff and crew, from 11 different countries, were outstanding in every way from their friendliness, wonderful service, and providing outstanding gourmet food for every meal in what seemed to be a 5 star restaurant onboard.

There were about 150 passengers on the ship, small enough to meet and make many new friends. The planned activities were outstanding as we broke into groups of about 15, each with a guide, to see and explore highlights on our seven-day cruise.

There was more than enough to keep us busy and engaged. There were daily talks about the countries we were visiting including Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Lynn and I went four days early to Basel, Switzerland, to explore that fabulous city on our own before we boarded our boat.

If I ever decided to live in Europe, I think it would be in Basel. The buses and trams that went out from the city center in about six different directions were free, clean and enjoyable. What a great way to see and get a feel for a city.

Because of this tram system, there were very few automobiles in the city center. No matter where one lived in Basel, they were close to a 10-15 minute tram ride to the city. From the Basel train station one could be in Paris in three hours.

The Viking river ship makes a stop on the River Rhine.

On the boat, I remember fondly a talk we heard when we were in Cologne, Germany about how Germany recovered after World War II.

Thanks to the Marshall Plan in which we offered Germany reconstruction aide, they were able to rebuild.

The speaker said that most Germans are still very appreciative of that help.

He also mentioned that all of the 420 universities in Germany are free, even for foreigners. There is no need for students to take out loans and be straddled with debt loads like is the case in our country.

Their healthcare is universal with everyone covered. He mentioned on occasion we might see beggars in Cologne, and we had seen them infrequently.

He said there is no reason for anyone to be homeless or to be begging as there was ample housing provided for them. He said, however, that their homeless housing had rules, and one of them is “No Drugs” so some addicts prefer homelessness and begging instead.

New immigrants to Germany are given a passport. After eight years they can become a citizen if they have committed no crimes, have a job and speak German fluently. It certainly is a different and a more humane approach to immigrants than what we are familiar with here.

Germans call their cherished Rhine River “old father Rhine.” The river starts in the Swiss Alps and flows 820 miles through several counties until it reaches the North Sea.

In what is known as the “middle Rhine,” it is hard to take one’s eyes off the numerous castles and vineyards extending up the rugged hills bordering the river. These vineyards date back 2,000 years when the Romans introduced viticulture there.

The medieval noblemen built soaring castles to oversee trade on the Rhine, collecting tolls from the ships and defending their kingdoms from marauders and power seekers. They became very rich in the process.

The Rhine has been and still is a major transporter of goods both inland and also toward the sea. It was pointed out that one of these frequent barges is able to carry more goods than 92 trucks and at a much lower cost per pound than either truck or rail.

UNESCO declared the Upper Middle Rhine Valley a world heritage site in 2002, stating its outstanding universal value. Viking river cruises stop at many UNESCO heritage sites, medieval villages and beautiful historical areas.

On our last day in Amsterdam we had enough free time to take a “Hop on Hop Off” canal trip throughout this city of many canals.

We hopped off to visit Amsterdam’s famous “Rijksmuseum” and were thrilled to see the fabulous paintings of the Dutch masters from the 1600s, including many paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer.

I am sure for my artist wife, Lynn, this was one of the highlights of our trip.  I, too, marveled at the detail that these painters were able to put into their very large oil paintings. It was something neither of us will ever forget.

This was another wonderful experience that will be a highlight in my “significant birthday memory” bank.

The question is, will we do this type of trip again?

All I can say now is we aren’t ruling out another Viking river cruise in our future. I don’t have time to wait for another “milestone” year. Portugal’s Duoro River is looking very tempting to us.

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. Chuck Largent says:

    Nice pics, great coverage Jim. Thanks

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