Tales of foodie, sports loving Aussie expat in the Netherlands.

Life on the river

November 14, 2017/Austria

As I type this, the city of Mainz appears outside my window. People wave from deck chairs set up along the banks of the river, drinking cocktails on their fake beach with the Mainz Cathedral looming behind. It’s already starting to get dark; late August brings shorter days than the beginning of summer and little lights start twinkling from the residential buildings nearby.

Only ten minutes later my view has changed somewhat. I can see vineyards, grand old manors and half-timbered little cottages. We’re out of the big smoke already and like clockwork, I check Google Maps for my blue dot. It only moves when I zoom right in.

I started writing this post back in August 2014. I am finishing it more than three years later, which makes me smile. I had great plans back then, thinking I would blog a couple of times a month in my free time.

I’ve just completed my fourth season as a cruise director on Europe’s rivers, primarily the Rhine, Main and Danube between Amsterdam and Budapest. I used to blog about my time as a tour guide on bus tours around Europe but I haven’t said anything about my work these days.

In short, they are similar jobs. At the end of the day, I am still responsible for the logistics and happiness of a group of people travelling away from home. I’ve always worked with English speakers, and I’m still on buses a lot. I get on a microphone several times a day, still get asked the same questions (where’s the toilet, what’s the WiFi code, how much money do I need to get out) and without fail, fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.

But my head now hits the pillow after dancing the YMCA with a few septegenarians or perhaps MCing a trivia night. I don’t dance on bars in Lagos or line up shots in Krakow anymore. And instead of stumbling through cobblestoned streets, trying to find my hostel at an ungodly hour, I just go downstairs. I don’t have to pack again in the morning. I even hang things up.

I don’t guide in each city we visit, which I miss a bit. (However, I probably look at those times through rose-coloured glasses. I ALWAYS got lost when giving that walking tour of Sofia.) Instead I organise the guides in each city, which isn’t nearly as intellectually stimulating. Thankfully I can actually use that history degree for all the lectures, ‘port talks’ and inevitable questions regarding the Habsburg dynasty (they are always SO interested).

Quite literally the view from my office in Budapest. We dock next to the famous Chain Bridge.

The cities are also different. It’s no longer Florence-Nice-Barcelona in consecutive days, but rather a collection of medium-sized German cities, smaller towns and storybook scenery. I’ve gotten to know about a dozen ports well, instead of scratching the surface of everywhere from Tangier to Belgrade. Plus, I still get some regular ‘me time’ in stops like Budapest, Vienna and Cologne.

But the biggest bonus now? I have colleagues. About fifty of them at a time, actually. They hail from all over the world, but predominantly Eastern Europe and the Philippines. We have a crew mess, where we can relax, have a drink and talk about something other than work. As lovely as some of my former drivers were, give me my current workplace anyday.

Back when I was a tour guide, I managed to paraglide over the Swiss Alps, sit in the front row of the Moulin Rouge and skull beer at Oktoberfest. I threw tomatoes at my friends at La Tomatina, got pretty much beaten up at a hamam in Istanbul and utterly failed at surfing in Portugal. I’ve written of those experiences on the blog.

Some of the highlights of the last few years? Walking on the rooftop of the Cologne Cathedral springs to mind.  So does making sausages from scratch in Regensburg. Dining at the famed Gundel Restaurant in Budapest was a good one. Touring the Mercedes-Benz plant in Rastatt was amazing, even for someone who knows zero about cars. Oh, and listening to Mozart in the Lichtenstein Palace! And the wine! Oh my goodness gracious me, the wine. There’s been the wine tasting in Alsace, the Rheingau, the Moselle, the Main and the Wachau. I actually know a bit about wine these days!

Sailing through terraced vineyards in the Rhine Valley.

So don’t worry, I’ve got plenty more stories to tell. Life on the river has been anything but dull.

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