The World is a Book

My husband and I just returned from an excellent Danube River cruise. (This is a picture of us when we saw our free minibar in Amsterdam, stocked with beer and wine, perhaps some other stuff, too.) free minibar??

We started out with a few days in Budapest, then sailed to Vienna, Durnstein, Passau, Regensburg, and Nuremberg, where we disembarked and headed to Prague for a few days. At that point the cruise ended and my husband and I left for a few days on our own in Amsterdam.

It was a long, extravagant adventure for us with 5-star accommodations, haute cuisine, amazing wine and beer, and many, many people attending to our every need with extraordinary good cheer.

Despite that, we were happy to get home. Overseas travel is exhausting, even when you stick a crowbar in your wallet and upgrade to business class for those 10+ hour flights. And I’ll tell you what … always upgrade to business class. You board the plane through a separate door from the hoi polloi flying coach. You’re greeted with a very civilized glass of wine, business classa travel kit with all kinds of things you don’t need, and a menu. You snuggle into your plush, oversized seat, which, at the push of a button, transforms into a recliner, and later, after you’ve had more wine and a delicious dinner, into a comfy bed, complete with pillow and blanket. You arrive at your destination fed, watered, and relaxed, albeit with messy hair.

But I digress.


Travel gets you out of your routine and opens your eyes to other people and their habits, customs, and history. I hadn’t planned to do any real writing while I was gone, but did keep a journal of the trip.

The most fun for me in Eastern Europe, as everywhere, was watching people and tucking away their traits for my future characters.

akosAkos, our handsome cruise director from Hungary, who was absolutely unflappable, no matter what. Not when he had to adjust the schedule at the last minute. Not when one of the buses broke down halfway to Prague. Not when people asked him the same question he’d probably answered a thousand times before. Not even when I tried to speak Hungarian.

The women on the cruise with us who could never work the headset and transmitter. They’d forget to plug it in, or have it on the wrong channel, or turn the volume down too low. Or all of the above. It was never the same woman, mind you, so my husband and I studied the faces of who was touring with us that day and played the game, Who Can’t Work the Machine Today? It amused us and we almost always got it right.

The concierge in our Budapest hotel who, no matter what you asked, would answer with a very serious, “Is no problem,” even if it might be. I was tempted to ratchet up the questions until, defeated, he had to admit, “Is quite large problem.” But I didn’t.

The sausage-and-beer-stand guy in Bavaria who seemed baffled and a little bit angry that all the people sitting outside at his tables wanted sausages and beer.

The staff on the ship, all of whom clearly loved their jobs. Kitty and Hery were a couple of our favorites, dressed here for Bavarian Lunch Day. Hery and KittyShe was from Latvia and told me she was getting some time off soon. I asked her if she was going home. Horrified, she said, “No! I’ve been to Latvia.”

The waiter at our fancy farewell dinner on board who served me this in the middle of my dinner plate. pate

When I asked him what I was supposed to do with it, he mimed popping the spoon in his mouth, opened his eyes wide, rubbed his belly, then rolled his eyes back in his head. (He was right. It was a delicious pate.)

Helena, one of our tour guides in Prague who marveled at the sheer number of Asian tourists coming to Prague, each with so much camera equipment she wondered if they were opening stores. “We do not know what to do with this.”

Nicoletta, our housekeeper on the ship, who left this on our bed one night and giggled the next day when I asked her about it.nicoletta

This guy who was a locally famous dissident, friends with Vaclav Havel and our tour guide Marguerite. vaclav havel benchHe just happened to be sitting at this cafe near the Vaclav Havel chairs when we came by. (Vaclav Havel was known for sitting down with friend and foe to discuss issues. He believed problems could always be resolved this way.) Marguerite was speaking to us in English, but we were all glancing over at him so he knew she was talking about him. Finally he broke into a huge grin and waggled his fingers at us before turning back to his coffee, suddenly shy and embarrassed by the attention.

The clean-cut 20-something kid from Texas waiting in line with us for the Heineken Experience Museum who always called me Ma’am and told us he’d been freezing for two weeks because all he’d brought to Amsterdam were shorts and t-shirts.

This lovely waitress in a small cafe off the beaten path in Amsterdam who took good care of us when we were looking for authentic Dutch krokettes.waitress

We sat in the window of that cafe on the last day of our trip, watching the world around us. A gorgeous lesbian couple nuzzling over espresso and strudel. The leather-clad bikers who carried in their helmets, drank quick cappuccinos, then left. The impossibly young Asian travelers with enormous backpacks having a grand adventure of their own. New parents going through all the gyrations to get their toddler into his sweater and then his bicycle seat before pedaling away over the bridge.

I wonder if any of them studied me as I nursed my dark beer by the window in the cafe in Amsterdam, making mental notes about characters for their books.


39 thoughts on “The World is a Book

    1. I’m always amazed when I hear people complain about having to be at airports. That’s the best place to study people in all ranges of emotions AND to steal conversations!


  1. Ah, business class… the closest thing to a spa in the sky. (I don’t believe first class actually exists)

    Sounds like an amazing trip. Welcome back!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Right?? We actually had a first-class section on one of our flights, but I can’t imagine how they could have been any more pampered than we were. We even got the warm towel!


  2. Sounds like your trip was a wonderful “book.” We love to travel, meet new people and try new experiences. We’re heading to a cruise on the other side of the world soon. Can’t wait for our fun and exciting experiences. Don’t relish the long flight, though

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah, it’s hard. We had some delays coming home and while we were waiting in Dallas we saw a girl I knew was on our flight from Amsterdam, and she was not in business class with us. I could only imagine how exhausted she was!


  3. What a marvelous trip! Sounds lovely. Great recounting here, too. Delta has a class that’s between business and cattle. I think it’s called premium economy, or something like that, and it worked well for a European trip last summer. My brother, who went with me (and his wife) is 6’4″ so it was impossible to book economy for him. BTW, I saw a mention of this blog in Ellery Queen by Kristopher, that guy who does Blog Bytes now. Kudos!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yep … when you get a mention in Ellery Queen Magazine, you know you’ve arrived!

      We had a flight from Prague to Amsterdam that only cost us $49, so you KNOW it was high class. I’m not huge but I was still uncomfortable and felt really bad for the enormously tall guy who could barely fold himself into his seat. Thank goodness that flight was short!


  4. What a lovely piece, Becky! One of the reasons I love foreign travel is that it makes us see with new eyes. We become so accustomed to our usual surroundings that we tend to go through life on automatic pilot. But when abroad, everything seems so fresh, and new, and ALIVE! Looking forward to seeing some of these characters in your future books!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Leslie. Since I’m one of those ugly Americans who only knows English, I loved being able to talk to our tour guides about stuff. Our guide in Prague was probably 60yo and lived her whole life there so she bridged the communism gap into democracy. Fascinating to hear what that was like for her.


  5. My husband and I did that trip last year and have missed the lovely people, sights and foods ever since! It was so much fun to relive it through your pictures and this post! And you are so right about foreign travel. It opens up so much in you, that it’s hard to explain. But it’s an experience every one should have at least once in their life–although once bitten by the travel bug, one may never stop traveling! Glad you’re home safe and sound and returning with such great memories!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I’m longing to get to travel again, and your piece made it even worse. Not looking good think year with starting a new job, but I’m hoping for next year.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sorry, Mark! Of course, I didn’t mention the dark side of travel … huge expense, achy back from even the most comfortable bed, weight gain, so many tourists, pickpockets, having to pay to pee, travel delays. It’s not all Bavarian pretzels and beer!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know if I told you, but the reason we went on this trip in the first place was because I was doing some research for a book and stumbled on a similar itinerary. My agent didn’t like the idea of a “cozy thriller” but I might write it anyway, especially since now I have a better sense of those telling details that make a book so realistic. Fingers crossed!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. DO IT. I’m a big believer in the cozy thriller so I’d be first in line to read. And so true about those telling details! When the hubs and I did our Mediterranean cruise last fall, the first thing I told my Dan Brown-reading son was, “I saw the tower that guy jumped off in Inferno!” I say we do a bookish tour through Europe. You know…for RESEARCH.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Vickie. I’ll confess I put those pics on facebook not just so my mom, kids, and dogsitter knew where we were, but also so that they pop up in my memories every year. It might be awhile before I get them all into some kind of format for easy viewing, so fb is the easiest choice.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Kids in college is excitement enough. Almost like when we had all three kids in braces at the same time. Hubs called it the Orthodontist Full Employment Act. Soon enough you’ll get to spend your money on yourselves!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So glad the trip turned out well. A few years ago, I went on a walking holiday in western Ireland. Our host was the handsome young Nathan. The other old ladies and I would ask Nathan to pose next to things because he was tall and we wanted to show everyone back home how big something was compared to him. He went along.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. LOL! Tour guides are the BEST! And a walking tour in Ireland sounds fantastic!

      All my worry about water levels seemed to work because we didn’t have any trouble. Although, we did have to travel on overnight once because the water was rising upstream and they were worried we’d get caught in a traffic jam. River travel is weird.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Becky, thanks for sharing your trip with us! I was glued to your FB travelogue as well. I wonder what people-watching tourists here in the US think of us. Probably that we are always busy WORKING! And maybe someday I’ll try biz class. Though, of course, I always have to stay awake and ever-vigilant, even on long flights, in case the pilot needs my expertise in any disaster.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We wonder that, too. The weird things we take for granted must blow their minds. Free restrooms everywhere! Tipping! Bottomless coffee and soda! Free water you don’t even need to ask for! (The water, btw, was almost always twice as expensive as beer, wine, or soda.)

      The best reason for you to fly biz class is because it puts you right up front with the pilot. You can be ready to take over in mere seconds!

      Liked by 1 person

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