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The weather was rougher on new passengers on the next voyage, headed south, who sailed only a day and a half, instead of seven, because of rain. They spent nights on the boat but mostly traveled to sites by bus. After that, Grand Circle canceled three riverboat trips in Europe, which had the worst flooding since the early 1500s.
We hadn’t picked the most luxurious of river trips. Our little group’s planner, Pat Deckas Becerra, a retired Robbinsdale French teacher, chose Grand Circle because it has the smallest cruise ship on the Rhône and offers special cultural components. She knew we wanted to walk and explore on our own and have a lot of adventures. We didn’t want coddling. We did want guidance.
Of course, we did the usual touristy things, too. We were bused to the Eiffel Tower at 10 p.m., when lights twinkle for six minutes. Sure, Monet’s magnificent home and gardens in Giverny, an hour’s bus ride from Paris, astonished us with its zillions of tulips.
While riverboat travelers may have old bones, this trip wasn’t for the infirm. No wheelchairs, please. The boat moved at night and when it docked, we went ashore and walked, usually at least several miles, often on cobblestone streets and stone stairways and around Roman ruins.
But mostly, comfort was the password.
Jean Philippe Ruzé, 49, our tour’s director, speaks five languages fluently and four more for fun and has a motto of “This is not going to be any problem.”
He said that many seniors, especially widows, won’t go on trips abroad on their own. They need a sense of security in a different country, with a different language and habits. They want constant reminders that they’re away from home in gorgeous and historic places, but they freak at the thought of planning such a trip and having a medical emergency or something else going wrong. Besides, good travelers like to travel together.
Ruzé kept telling us we were an unusually fun group. “Nobody is a pain,” he declared chirpily.
With 43 passengers to keep happy, he wouldn’t have the time to devote to a grouch or boozer. He was impressed with the reading and film-viewing passengers had done to prepare, the classes we’d taken, the questions we asked, the conversations that ensued over dinner, the photographs we shared.
Fellow passengers were likewise satisfied. Several said we were given plenty to do and little pressure to do it all. Judith Laxineta of Goodyear, Ariz., said, “We couldn’t have learned this much on our own.” The guides really enjoy teaching, noted Linda Huxtable from Rocklin, Calif. All aboard concluded that the crew was unbelievably capable and fun.
Faults? Not many. French bacon is soggy. Someone’s hotel shower was puny. Maybe we were served too much good food (but not piggish amounts, as on some ocean cruises). The more one travels, we agreed, the more one learns to adjust to differences and appreciate indulgences.
Would you like another croissant? Oh, oui.
The meal presentation on the boat is so splendid, isn’t it? Oui, oui.
Would you care for another glass of chardonnay? Oui.
Oui, oui, oui, all the way home.
Peg Meier, a retired Star Tribune reporter, is the author of nonfiction books about Minnesota, including “Bring Warm Clothes” and “Through No Fault of My Own.”