Cathedrals, Cigarettes, Cobblestones

Late in the spring of 2022, I thought my sister-in-law, Abby, who I consider to be a brilliant woman had lost her mind.

Abby was proposing that our families take my 94 year old mother-in-law on a European river cruise. This trip would be a celebration of my mother-in-law’s upcoming birthday in February 2023, number 95.

All I could imagine was a disaster for my mother-in-law—a devastating fall, an unexpected medical emergency. Luckily, by the grace of God, none of my fears became reality.

Perhaps what is even a greater miracle is that I secured a passport in time for the trip. That’s right, my first passport.

My wife, the Commander Supreme, and our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, coached me on the nuances of saying the right words when I had my passport application interview. They were concerned that I might say something foolish, and I would be red-flagged to a no travel list.

I will be forever grateful to Abby for organizing the trip. In that gratefulness is my Commander Supreme too. I know at times during the trip she felt like she was marshaling two children, her mother and me. Yes, we had some moments of intense traveling impatience, but somehow we completed the trip intact.

Would I go again? Yes, but I need a couple of years to recover.

The flight back home was long, really, really long, and the darn flight tracker provided by the airline didn’t work. Boo technology failure.

Airplanes continue to fascinate me, but those long flights really wear on me. And it is clear as mud that airlines care more about pennies than they do about their passengers. Too bad Piedmont isn’t still in business.

Yet, I’m amazed at how many people are working behind the scenes to make all of this happen. Traveling with a 94 year old allowed us to see more of what takes place in the background.

Every place we visited was special. I can’t name a favorite, but I will give lots of credit to the weather. Aside from one rainy day, the weather was October perfect.

For sure, the cathedrals will stay with me. No matter the city, I’ve never seen anything like those cathedrals. The architecture, the art, the details, and the endurance to build them and to continue to maintain these structures is without question remarkable. But today, in their stunning opulence, I wonder how the needs of the people they serve are being met?

Another surprise for me was tobacco smoke. A lot of people in the places we visited are still smokers of cigarettes. It was so prevalent that I kept playing in my brain the Merle Travis and Tex Williams’ song—“Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!(That Cigarette).

I kept thinking about one line from the song: “Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate, I hate to make him wait, but I just gotta have another cigarette.” I guess when their time comes to meet St. Peter, there will be lots of European smokers at the gates of those cathedrals smoking their last cigarette just before their funerals.

But adding to charm of the age of all the places our feet took us were the cobblestones.

I imagine the supplier of cobblestones from Budapest to Passau lives on a remote tropical island faraway from river cruise tourists, cathedrals, and cigarette smoke.

I loved the worn beauty of the cobblestones and their patterns in alleys and public squares. I suspect the cobblestones could tell us many stories about the ups and downs of life.

And, I would be amiss, if I didn’t compliment, Viking, the cruise line, who took care of us.

I’m sure Viking has some imperfect moments, but I can’t say enough about their personnel, the itinerary, the food, and the ship.

Let me put it this way. Viking does everything they can to spoil their guests so that the guests will want to return.

Yes, they did spoil me. And, at some point in this old life of mine, I hope the Commander Supreme and I can return.

Until that day, I will hold the Danube River cruise deep in my aging heart.

Cobblestones in Linz, Austria (Photo by Bill Pike)

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