$25.00 Taxi from our Las Vegas condo to the airport early morning 10 April 2014.
$55.00 Taxi from airport back to the condo and then back to the airport to retrieve a passport someone had forgotten and left in the scanner when photocopies were being made of travel docs the night before. The person who had left the passport in the scanner got in an airport taxi all atwitter and whipped that driver like a mule-skinner to get cross town, come to a screeching halt in front of our condo, run in, get the passport from the scanner in the study, rush back to the taxi to whip that former camel driver all anew to make it through stop lights and switch lanes and dodge pedestrians to get back to the airport where Brenda had been able to complete our check in, with luggage checked through to Amsterdam using the photocopy of her passport. The person who did that dash home and back, out of breath, pushed Brenda then through TSA and to the gate – getting there as the plane was finishing loading.
$1,495.00 Viking River cruise price for United flight from Las Vegas to Amsterdam. Not bad, ’bout $750 per person, for the 3 hour flight to Houston where the Parkers met the Berwicks and then the 9 hour flight on to Amsterdam.
$998.00 2 day stay at the Hotel Moevenpick in Amsterdam plus reception and transportation to the hotel from the airport; all arranged by Viking cruises. Rms were Holiday Innish, but convenience and assistance from airport right to the front of the hotel was of considerable value.
$494.65 Dinner and drinks at the bar later for six at the Moevenpick Restaurant in Amsterdam. Walt and CJ Berwick, me and Brenda and my cousin Alan and his significant other, Karen. Alan, a journalist with the Toronto Sun at the time, had initially met Karen, a German travel agent at the time, in a bar someplace in central China… That’s just how they met… everyone brought stories to the table. CJ owns two of the best restaurants in Key Largo, Florida. She knows her way around a restaurant table and can at any moment give you some comments on the way the dinner is being served. Walt “Scott” Berwick, a former US Navy submariner, super-grade agency roustabout and honorary PhD from his alma mater is not shy. And me and Alan and Karen… we did a lot of the talking. If you are keeping score, that left mostly Brenda to listen. So OK the meal/drinks were pricey, but I promise you this… the conversation was worth it.
$54.00 Price for an Amsterdam canal boat tour for the Parkers and Berwicks. One of things I remember is some comment over the canal boat loud speaker that all canal-side houses had hoists outside so that they could pull stuff from the street to the living areas upstairs. We guessed that one hand written canal side sign read, “Attention, Berwicks and Parkers in town. Lock your doors.”
$13.00 Price for after-canal-tour drinks at a street side café near the red light district. It was like a Disneyland parade of people moving up and down the sidewalk in front of us – only different. Very Soho. Cutting edge European chic crowd, that the 4 of us, all over 70, I’m not sure could appreciate. The great sights to be seen in the red light district of Amsterdam were never considered, because, like I said, we were over 70s, and that place was across the street and down a block or two.
2 Number of free Internet stations in the Amsterdam hotel in which I accessed my aol.com account…. which resulted in some bug getting into my address book and sending out a rash of spam asking many in my address book to go to some curious web site. Of the several people who then wrote to me about getting the spam, I responded to only one, apologizing for the bug. He wrote back saying, “Damn, I picked up a virus at a Amsterdam hotel, too, right after the war.”
$5,511.00 Price for the 8 day, 7 night Rhine River cruise on the Viking Helvetia, from the Netherlands to Switzerland for both Brenda and me. This price was 2 for 1, due fact we reserved and paid in summer of ’13 for this spring ’14 cruise. Plus we went in April, before the peak season. Plus we got a $200 discount for referring the Berwicks to the Viking program… though they in fact also got a discount because this was not their first Viking cruise.
1 Number of Viking Helvetia river boat crew who – just incredibly – remembered Walt and CJ from their previous European river boating. She was our boat’s concierge. We received almost personal attention from the boat staff thereafter. For example I went to the reception desk to ask if the boat had an internet station so that I could check my emails. Lady lent me an extra boat computer to use in my room for the duration. Cost? $0. In fact hard to think of anything we asked for during the week, that they did not provide. With a smile.
1 Minute it took for Brenda’s 110v hair roller to burn up when plugged into the wall using a transformer I had used before overseas.
63,941 Times Brenda said thereafter that she looks a scream because she couldn’t roll her hair.
10 Approximate number of castles and castle-looking places we saw overlooking the Rhine River as we motored on down out of the Netherlands towards Switzerland.
0 Number of castles and castle-looking places we saw overlooking the Rhine River – that we actually visited. BECAUSE the people who built these castle and castle-looking places did not make them wheel chair friendly. There were no provisions for elevators whatsoever. Pretty inconsiderate really of those Germans back in the day castle construction was going on.
4 Number of men and women who danced with Brenda in her wheelchair at a German beer garden we visited our 4th or 5th night out. There’s some word for the music the German group played, sounds like Oom, Pah, Pa… whatever, it was big on horns and accordions, that pulsated through your body and made you want to dance… all this helped of course from a full night of beer and wine.
1 Number of people in our group who had a birthday on the day of the Oom, Pah, Pa… That would be our captain. CJ. She was serenaded at lunch on the river boat and that night at the hofbrauhaus was presented a personal birthday cake by the concierge and the boat master. That was nice. Brenda and I gave her a shopping cart for her birthday. Yeap. Shopping cart. She couldn’t fit it in her luggage of course and gave it back.
17,889 Number of church steeples we saw along the Rhine River.
2 Number of churches we actually visited. One in Cologne and one is Strasbourg. And that was enough.
2 Allied leaders who pissed in the Rhine River in March 1945. Churchill near Cologne and Patton near Oppenheim, where his Army breached the German lines, half way between Cologne and Strasbourg.
6 and 10 Number of seats at the tables we chose to take our lunch and dinner on the Viking Helvetia. So our Berwick/Parker group of 4 started at the table for 6 and over time moved an ad hoc dinner group to the larger table. Ended up with 6 Americans, 4 Brits and a lot of laughs. And yes that is Sean Connery standing at the rear who was part of our group. No it’s not. It’s Mitch with his wife Anne. To Mitch’s right is Linda, her husband Mike is seated below next to Brenda, who’s next to you know who, who’s next to captain CJ, who is next to Walt, who is next to Terry… who’s wife, Lesley is behind CJ.
0 Number of people we saw fishing on the Rhine River.
2,800 I think that’s the right number, but I’m not sure. It was the score the girls got when Walt, my bridge partner, went down 5, doubled, redoubled, vulnerable. This happened even though I never said anything other than “Pass” when it came to me, though to be honest I said something like “Holy Shit” when he got up to the 5 level in Diamonds, and if memory serves, “Oh God,” when CJ doubled. I remember distinctly that I said nothing when Walt said “Redouble.” I had fainted and passed out on the floor of the riverboat library.
6 Interesting things about Strasbourg. AKA the Alsace region of France. 1) Town is on an island in the middle of a Rhine river tributary 2) Alsace is formed with French alps on the west, Rhine River on the east. 3) Occupied alternately by French and Germans since forever. 4) Over 600 white stork couples live in Strasbourg during the summer. Their big nests dominate the skyline in places. Legend has it they bring luck, that’s why the people of Alsace seem so friendly, because they truly believe they are blessed… that’s what the guide said 5) When Hitler started to expand his reach out from Germany in 1939, the people in Alsace took the stained glass out of their cathedral and hid them in SW France, fearing the Nazi would steal them if they occupied the region. Nazis did occupy Strasbourg, but then also soon thereafter occupied SW France, and found where the church windows were hidden. They sent them back to Germany where they stayed the war in coal mines. Finally liberated by the Americans after the war they were returned to Strasbourg and re-installed in the Cathedral, where they are today. 6) There might be some ugly people in Strasbourg, but not the day we visited.
$40.00 Tip left in a prepared envelope for the Program Director on the Viking Cruise. This amount was suggested in Viking Cruise literature. “George” was in fact worth it. He was quite a character and very helpful. Spoke 764 foreign languages. None well. No that’s not true. He only spoke 6 languages, but he could tell you to kiss his ass in all 6.
$200.00 Tip left in a prepared envelope for the rest of the Viking Helvetia service crew. Altogether there were 196 guests on-board the long boat. 48 crew. Many were eastern European. Some were Asian. All were very, very good. Except the Filipino woman who kept serving free wine at every meal. When I found out early on all the wine at meals was free and this nice lady would be more or less our server of the free vino, I made nice with her in a big way, to find that she and her buddies kept filling my wine glass at every opportunity, many times when I wasn’t looking. So it was like an bottomess glass of wine, every meal. By the fifth day of the river cruise I gave up and took to bed for the afternoon through dinner, done in by wine and pushing Brenda up and down cobblestone streets in riverside German towns. Altogether, my best guess is that I drank the equivalent of 76,321 glasses of wine during the first 5 days of the cruise…. 4 in the last 3 days.
$1,598.00 Room in the Hotel Le Montreux Palace, Montreux, Switzerland plus transports in a private minivan 2 hours from where the Helvetia docked at Basil. That price also included one hour from Montreux to the airport in Geneva on 23 April. Our rooms at the Hotel Le Montreux Palace were upgraded to Signature rooms beside the Presidential Suite, that had a full balcony overlooking Lake Geneva. List price for this room was (according to a hotel Price list we requested at the front desk) $927.96 a night. Certainly we paid, through Viking, a third that price for this absolutely stunning room. It was three times the size of our Viking River Boat room. In fact our Viking River boat cruise room was about the size of the bath room in our chamber.
$213.01 Lunch for four at the Le Montreux Palace coffee shop. Here’s the story that goes with that number: So we take the Viking River Cruise minivan from the river boat to our hotel in Montreux on the east end of Lake Geneva, arriving around 11am. This was Easter Sunday. This hotel doesn’t force check out until 12 noon and the rooms are not guaranteed until 3pm. The very professional Swiss guy behind the desk said that maybe we would like to take lunch in the coffee shop while we waited. He thought our rooms would be ready by 1. So we went into the coffee shop, Walt, CJ, Brenda and I, were seated by the maître de and picked up our menus. I forgot who gasped first. Price for a special Easter Lunch at this “coffee shop” was 80 Swiss franc, or $68.80 US. For lunch. Other individual items were staggering. Easily, lunch would be around a hundred bucks each… so faced with this… what do you do? Get up and leave… and what sit in the lobby for a couple of hours? Plus getting up and leaving after reading the prices would get you branded as Cheapo Americano. So when the waiter in his Swiss waiter livery arrived to take our order, I asked for something not on the menu. I asked for a cheeseburger and a coke. The waiter did not blink, saying they made a great cheeseburger, so I asked… I couldn’t help it… I asked, “How much is the cheeseburger, by the way?” And he said 30 Swiss francs, or $25.80 US… what with French Fries and the coke, my bill would come to about $40 US. Walt did not go the sleazy old American way I chose, he said he was in the mood for caviar and schnapps and he and the waiter got into some spirited discussion about the type of caviar and then something about the brand schnapps or the color schnapps or something. His bill would also come to about $40 US. And the moral of this story is? I don’t know for sure, something to do with when in Rome, do like the Romans do or something. Or that if you’re country, like me, caviar and schnapps is never, ever a menus option.
$443.87 Price for dinner for four at the La Palais Oriental. We asked for a good restaurant within walking distance of the hotel and the concierge suggested this place… and once seated there we also went through sticker shock and ordered reasonably priced stuff – though what really gets you is the price is in Swiss Francs, and that somehow confused the real US money amount… plus this restaurant was crowded with people, all eating dishes much like we ordered. They could do it, we could do it. So let me review the cost of meals on 20 April during our two week European vacation. Breakfast on the boat was free, lunch was 213.01 and dinner was 443.87. That’s $328.44 a couple… and I remind you, breakfast was free.
5 Number of languages our Swiss guide, Sonja, spoke.
4 Of us walking along the Geneva Lake boardwalk Easter Sunday evening all enjoying a great sense of well-being. Posing by the famous statue of Freddie Mercury. What with the cool water from the lake and altitude and the lack of pollution, the smell of mountain trees, there is healthy freshness to Montreux that you could feel. Similar to the music at the Oom Pah Pa, there is a special something to this place that seeps into your bones and makes you smile. Switzerland is very easy to like.
5 Number of English speaking channels on the Hotel Le Montreux Palace TV in our room.
40 Number of Arabic speaking channels on the Hotel Le Montreux Palace TV in our room.
$168.50 Price in the Hotel Le Montreux Palace for a one hour Easter Monday facial for Brenda. And though she said she felt just wonderful… she didn’t look a damn bit better.
$26.40 Tip Brenda gave the girl who charged $168.50 an hour to put some mud on her face. And then wash it off. All done in a French/German Swiss accent… which is apparently where the cost comes from, ’cause I know mud’s cheap.
3 Number of other Americans we saw in Montreux, Switzerland during our three-day stay. Two were from Kansas, one from northern Virginia. Woops no. There were 6 incoming Viking Cruise people checking into the hotel for the Rhine River cruise going back the other way. But we only talked with them for 5 minutes so they don’t count. Like the 3 second rule
$6.00 For a US Coke in the Hotel Le Montreux Palace mini bar.
11 Number of kids age maybe 10 to 17 in Montreux out picking up trash on the Lake Geneva boardwalk early Easter Monday morning, all dressed in green nylon vests. I went up to the nearest kid and said, “In the states, you see kids doing this, you know they’ve done something bad and are doing ‘community service. What y’all done?’” The young Swiss girl said, “We do this because…we love our town and want it clean. It’s fun.” There were no tattoos, no ear piercings, no IPhones, no earplugs. They wished us well as we left them to their street cleaning.
$25.22 price for a 2 hour boat cruise around eastern end of Lake Geneva… crisp April afternoon… deep luster to the lake from melting snow on neighboring alps… green mountains all around… flowerful lake side homes and brick castles.
543,249 Number of times Walt and I discussed issues from days in Langley more than 20 years ago, as if they had happened yesterday and were still relevant.
$1,495.00 Viking River cruise price for United flight from Geneva to Las Vegas for Brenda and me.
$30.00 Cost of taxi from the airport to our condo, because we were charged late night taxi fees. Took us 26 hours to get home from Geneva. Our United flights were delayed at every stop.
0 number of photos taking during the excursion in which I look like I imagine I look, rather than some old slob with nose hair
priceless The people we met, the things we did on board the river boat and the sights on shore excursions…