It has been a busy couple of months and I’ve let posting slip a bit, and that’s my bad, but I’ve been on the road, and water, a lot lately.
When I visited my friends Paul and Susan, you know, the high school sweethearts who remain as adorable now as they were then, in Florida in February, Paul was looking for some company driving home from Florida to Ontario in April, while his wife flew back. Since I had nothing planned, I jumped in and volunteered, because, well, I had the time and April seemed a long way off. So on April 19th I flew into Fort Myers and managed to sneak in a golf game, before we headed back to Canada on Saturday the 22th. A 13 and a half hour drive got us from Venice Florida to Beckley West Virginia on day one of the drive, and since Paul had tickets for the Leafs-Caps playoff game 6 on Sunday the 23rd, we were up and on the road at 5am and back in Toronto by 2 in the afternoon. I flew home Monday. The following Friday, the 28th, my step-daughter Jessie had a spring hockey tournament in Moncton, and since Heather was working, I took her to Moncton Friday morning. But first, I had to pack for my Scenic Canada Danube European River Cruise, because I would be going right from the tournament in Moncton on Saturday afternoon to Halifax to begin my cruising adventure.
Back before our show ended last June, I had entered into an arrangement with Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours to host a ‘Retirement’ River Cruise on the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland. There has always been a bit of confusion on this because the cruise was for late July of this year, which was over a year away from when it was first advertised. Many people I’ve run into thought the trip was last July. At the time I was a little apprehensive about putting my name out there, because, well, first, I was tremendously worried that a range from ‘no one to just a few’ would sign up, and secondly, knew the cost of these cruises is not suited to everyone. Much to my surprise, relief and delight, the cruise sold out within weeks. When this happened, Scenic contacted me about adding additional cruises, which I agreed to, and the first of these was a Danube River from Passau Germany to Budapest Hungary. The difference for me was that I knew the Rhine cruise coming up was sold out to fans of Canada AM. For the Danube cruise, I figured there would be ‘quite a few’ Canada AM fans along, but didn’t know just how many. There were 169 people on our Danube cruise from May 1st to the 8th, and 168 of them were Canada AM fans, the other person was me.
So I had to fly from Halifax to Montreal to catch a Lufthansa flight from Montreal to Munich. Again, going into this I really didn’t know what to fully expect, but by the time I got to the gate in Montreal, the 8 other people on my flight who were going cruising, were all with the program! I’m not sure why most flights from Canada to Europe depart anywhere from 6 to 9 at night. With the flight time and time change, you always get deposited at your hotel anywhere from 9am to noon the next day, and, after enduring a 30-60 minute wait, you find out your room won’t be ready for another three hours. Has anyone ever gotten off an overnight flight to Europe feeling and smelling fresh as a daisy? While I was standing in the lobby of our hotel in Munich, I did discover one thing. This was going to be a boatload of Canada AM fans, and each and every one couldn’t have been friendlier or nicer.
After a night in Munich, we took a two hour bus ride to our boarding point which was Passau Germany, where the Inn and Ilz Rivers join the Danube. For some odd and random reason, Passau has been a ‘sister city’ or ‘twinned’ to Hackensack New Jersey since 1952. That’s perhaps the least interesting thing about this Bavarian town. It’s not my intention to turn this blog into a travel guide, but one thing I didn’t realize about our cruise was just how many old and historic churches I would see over the course of the next 7 days. And castles…hey, anyone need ‘another’ castle? Centuries old castles and churches become so much the norm that by day four they seemed as commonplace to our group as your local Tim Hortons. By the way, if you do want to see photos of the trip, check out my back twitter posts (@jeffhutcheson) or my back Instagram posts. (jeff.hutcheson)
So I mentioned that the cruise was made up entirely of fans of Canada AM and boy, do they still have questions, and boy, do they miss the show! The love for Bev and Marci and the show in general was a major theme of the trip, if, again, you don’t count all those centuries old buildings we saw along the way, and forgot all about retracing Julie Andrews footsteps in Salzburg Austria where they filmed “The Sound of Music.”
On Day 6 I finally addressed the group as a whole, and did a question and answer session, but by then, I think I had already wined, dined, walked and talked with just about everyone on board.
One of the great Canadian moments of the trip came on the second night. A Scenic team member found out I had brought a Canadian flag with me. I did so because I wanted to get a photo of all the Canadian passengers with the flag and then post it on twitter with the #canada150 mark, as I am a Canada 150 Ambassador and wanted to show the Canadian spirit is alive and well no matter where you are in the world. Before I had a chance to get the photo, I was told that if I gave the flag to a crew member, our ship, the Scenic Jade would fly it from the mast with the Scenic Flag, and the traditional flag of the country in which you were cruising. I was beyond happy and excited about this, and that’s the photo at the top of the blog. Our Canadian flag flew from Day 2 to Day 8 of the cruise, announcing to all that this was a ship full of proud Canadians. I did get that shot of all hands on deck with the flag, which is below, and if things couldn’t get Canadian enough, seconds after we got this shot, everyone spontaneously broke into a great version of “Oh Canada” on the Bratislava waterfront. Awesome.
Over the course of the week, we traveled from Passau Germany, to Linz Austria, where we made the side trip to Salzburg, but I can report if the “hills were alive with the sound of music’ I must have missed it, then it was on to Melk Austria, where 21 of us, biked 35 kilometres to the next port which was Durnstein Austria. Saddle sores? You bet. Great ride? Oh yeah. I discovered anytime you can cycle along one of the most historic rivers in Europe, for any distance, it can never be a bad thing, throbbing muscles or not! From Durnstein it was on to Vienna, then Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and finally to Budapest Hungary, our fourth country and final stop.
As I mentioned I posted plenty of pictures on Twitter and Instagram, but it took until the last night to get, what I consider to be, the photo of the trip. Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and the Danube splits the historic old cities of Buda and Pest which joined in 1873 to become Budapest. They have the third largest Parliament building in the world. It sits right on the Danube, and like the rest of the city, looks completely different at night than it does during the day. To give all on board a look at Budapest at night, we took the Scenic Jade for a spin on the Danube to see the sites, and below, is a photo I took of the Hungarian Parliament buildings at night, from the middle of the Danube River.
On the morning of Monday May 8th, we ate on the ship and said our goodbyes, although 80 people would be on my flight from Budapest to Frankfurt and then on to Toronto.
At the end of it all, I had 168 new friends, and kind of looked at this trip as a dress rehearsal for my ‘Retirement’ Cruise on the Rhine in late July. Heather will be coming with me on that trip, and yes, we’ll have the Canadian flag ready to fly again.
From Toronto I flew to Halifax and arrived at 10.30 that night, but using Halifax time, I had been up since 1.30 that morning! I grabbed a hotel, and made it back to Charlottetown on Tuesday the 9th. Just in time to rest up for a day, then head to Quebec City with Jessie for 4 days for the final spring hockey tournament of the year..I hope!
To see the video of Canadians singing Oh Canada on the Scenic Jade
On twitter: @jeffhutcheson
Representation: Dan Champagne