I learned unexpected lessons about love, agelessness and acceptance in Rudesheim am Rhein, Germany during my Viking River Cruise last spring. I must admit that I was hoping some of the “younger” cruisers (in their 50s or 60s) would join us for our dinner excursion. My 40-something husband, Phil, and I were among the youngest people aboard our ship and felt we'd have more in common with people closer to our age. Instead, the oldest couple on the ship asked if they could join us. Of course we said yes. And I'm so glad we did.
We had seen Michael (age 89) and Daphne (a few years younger) struggling to get around the ship. Michael's pride kept him from using a cane, walker or wheelchair, although it was clear he needed one. We learned they hailed from England but had traveled extensively during their many years together and had even lived in the U.S. for a number of years. Daphne had a hard time hearing so when the oom-pah-pah band starting playing, we had to shout to be heard. No matter, they were both so affable and interesting, it was worth my hoarse voice the next day.
Restaurant workers lured guests to the dance floor and plied them with shots of schnapps. Metal shot glasses affixed to a wooden board made drinking the cherry liqueur a group effort. The audience counted out in German, “Eins zwei drei!” before the board was tilted and the elixer went down the collective hatch.
When a man dressed in traditional German garb tried to pull me onto the dance floor for a tango with the schnapps board, I demurred. I learned long ago that shots and I don't go well together. Daphne had not ordered any alcohol to drink so I said, “I'll do it if she does it,” pointing at my new lady friend. Daphne surprised me when she stood and grabbed my hand to have our turn slamming shots together. Alas, Daphne was so petite, her lips could not reach her cup on the board and her serving was spilled on the floor. This was soon remedied with a fresh pour of schnapps and a solo swallow for just her.
The four of us enjoyed a hearty dinner of potato soup, beef with a gravy of raisins and almonds, applesauce, mashed potatoes, and pickled beets at Rudesheimer Schloss – a restaurant located on the town's lively Drosselgasse pedestrian street.
Then we sipped coffees and gobbled up tasty slices of apricot cake. Before our table mates departed, Michael leaned over to tell my husband, “This will be our last holiday. I knew it would be difficult for me, but I am here for my wife. I wanted to do this cruise for her.”
When the dance floor filled with cruisers happy from wine, beer and schnapps, Phil and I joined the fray, bouncing to the upbeat traditional music. Then we wandered along the rain spattered streets of Rudesheim am Rhein seeking a spot to grab a glass of wine before heading back to the ship.
Rudesheim am Rhein is the picture of a quaint German town, filled with charming wine garden restaurants as well as souvenir shops peddling adorable Christmas treasures. The Viking River Cruise three-hour excursion includes transportation to and from the restaurant on a mini track-less train plus dinner and drinks with live entertainment at Rudesheimer Schloss restaurant and inn. It's an easy walk (about 15 minutes from the ship), though, and well worth going early to explore the town's stores and stroll its quaint streets. There is an extra charge for this excursion and you could easily have dinner in town on your own, but the group tour was a jubilant way to get a taste of Germany.
I think about Michael and Daphne from time to time. I wonder about their health and whether Michael is still struggling to get about in this world without the help of anything besides his wife's steadying hand. I try to imagine my husband and I together so many years from now, and hope we will still have a light in our eyes for each other, like this couple did. When I tell people I went on a Viking River Cruise, I am sometimes asked if I minded the advanced ages of my fellow cruisers. No, I did not mind one bit.
Have you ever forged unexpected friendships while traveling? Let us know in the comments below!
A Note from The Travel Mama: Our cruise and optional dinner excursion was hosted by Viking River Cruises. All opinions are mine, as always.