A little note on Viking River Cruises

About a year ago, I gave my contact details to Viking River Cruises. They advertise on TV on something I watch, I disunremember exactly what right now.

I also saw their rather lovely looking boats when we were on a school trip to the Rhineland last summer – there is no question their boats were the swankiest on the river.

Their itineraries also look outstanding. Their most recent mailing details an 8 day rail tour where you go from St Pancras to either Strasbourg or Amsterdam, and for all the of the rest of the time they feed and entertain you. It’s full board on boat. There are excursions to a bunch of World Heritage Sites I’d be thrilled to visit, and the whole trip looks awesome.

Since I signed up for a bit more information, though, they have bombarded me with direct mail – two or three emails a week and at least three glossy brochures in the post every month.

Every so often they send emails designed to allay any fears you might have. What is life like on board? Is the food designed with English people in mind? Don’t tell me I have to eat that foreign muck or talk to the boat staff in anything other than the Queen’s English?

After a while they even sent me a survey with the subtext WE’VE SENT YOU A MILLION BOOKLETS, WHY OH WHY HAVEN’T YOU BOOKED ANYTHING YET YOU INGRATE????

Well, there’s a few reasons.

One, all the beautiful stuff they send make it clear that their target market is heterosexual married couples in their 70s. While, to be honest, quite a lot of our holidays have been surrounded by people like this, with whom we have had quite nice times, I’m slightly less convinced I’d want to be shut up on a boat with then what appears to be precious little respite for 192 hours. Seriously, it looks like you do everything together. Eat together, day trip together, German lessons together.

Two, the lowest possible cost – for a broom cupboard with a porthole below the water line in November – starts at £1500 per person. I’ve never had a package holiday so I don’t quite know what it is we spend on going away. But I’m pretty certain even our most lavish excesses have never amounted to a three grand holiday and we certainly can’t afford it. If we were to spend that much, we’d have to save up a bit more and spring for a slightly nicer room where we have a chance to hide from the monoglot septuagenarians for at least a few hours a day without bumping our knees on the wardrobe when we got up to make tea. And, of course, we’d have to go in school holidays which bumps up the price considerably.

Whilst I’d love to take P on holiday to Germany, I don’t think it’s going to be with Viking any time soon.

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School trip(s) to Germany

Next week I head off with school to the Rheinland in the valley of the Loreley, to a town that has seen both flooding (Hochwasser) and heatwave (Hitzewelle) in the last few weeks. I’m looking forward to it immensely and it’s hard to remember I have a full week’s worth of teaching to get through first.

I have always found German harder than French. Although I love the language very much, speaking German accurately and getting the ton of inflected endings anywhere near correct is a bit of a challenge. In class, when people ask me for a French phrase I can almost always do it off the top of my head, checking later in the dictionary to see if my instinct was right. In German I just don’t have anything like the range of language immediately to mind.

Part of this is just that I have not been to Germany nearly as often as France. If (and it’s a big if) you count my six months on my year abroad in Magdeburg as a single trip, you can count my trips over there more or less on the fingers of a single hand.

I was fortunate enough to do two school trips to Germany with school. (Interestingly, never did a French trip with school and as a family we only ever went once.) I was on exchange with a boy in Nürnberg in 1992 or 1993. I have only dim recollections now of most of my school years and the people in them, but can still remember my Austauschpartner’s name. I was probably rude and sullen during the trip and spent a lot of it learning my lines for the Crucible. He spent a lot of time playing on his computer. The exchange was the first time I had been on a plane, and it messed with my ears something chronic. The first stop on arrival was the loo, where I encountered for the first time German inspection platforms, continental hot/cold swivel taps, and where it took me aaaages to figure out how to turn on the water or flush the toilet, and I didn’t anything like the language skills to ask for help. The only food I can remember was a very exciting night when we all sat round some sort of table top stove called a Raclette and grilled our own cheese. On the return trip, we all went to the cinema to see Jurassic Park, newly released, and I found it more than a little scary and had to have time shortly (spoiler alert) after the lawyer got eaten.

The following year school took a drama trip to Germany. We learned a play about a disastrous mediaeval crusade of children, performed it in school, then the entire company got on a bus, drove to Germany, had a bit of a stay in a hotel somewhere and performed the play again to a German audience, whose thoughts on the show are lost in the mists of time. I don’t remember where in Germany this was, and the most memorable bit of the whole trip was the very exciting purchase of a six foot inflatable dinosaur. Somewhere in the house I still have the very simple, and now quite rusty, beer bottle opener we bought over there. Why on earth did I need that at 15? It was long before I learned to like beer.

A family friend helped us organise another semi-exchange during my sixth form years when I went, alone this time, to stay with a family with a daughter my age in the Ruhrgebiet, in response to my concern that my German was far below my French and my fear for my A Level result. Although we cast it as an exchange, it was pretty clear from the get-go that my Partnerin was not going to be unduly concerned if she didn’t get to come back to the UK.

During my university years I spent half of my year abroad at the Otto von Guericke Universität Magdeburg, where I wasted rather too much of my time doing internet stuff in English in the computer lab rather than making any real effort to improve my German. I beat Civilisation II on my laptop in my room whilst drinking home made margheritas in preference to socialising with the other foreign students on my corridor. (If Germany was a bust, my year abroad time in Paris was, however, awesome.)

Here’s a couple of photos to show what Magdeburg was like in 1999, ten years into what many appeared to consider West German occupation of the former glorious Socialist East Germany:

breiterweg

This is Breiter Weg (wide street) – which had been Karl Marx Allee until very recently.

hoteltheater

This was the Hotel am Theater. I’ve no idea why it was in this state.

After 1999, I didn’t go to Germany again for nearly a decade, when an opportunity presented itself to leave P at home and go on a weekend for like-minded gentleman in the beautiful city of Munich. I stayed in a gay B&B thanks to EBAB and had a fantastic time. Photos here. This was in the period when I tweeted and when my blog archived my tweets, so my days are documented. 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8. There are also subsequent posts on Lederhosen (I tried some on in C&A, but didn’t buy, which I now regret) and travelling my sleeper train – my plans and my experience.

My final day there I spent at Dachau concentration camp, which was a really moving experience that I have never really managed to process or write about.

And really, that’s it.

I really need to spend more time in Germany.

Perhaps next summer, WWOOF Deutschland?