One Last Adventure by Emma Yardley
For years, whenever I’d visit home and settle in with my parents to watch some British costume drama on PBS, we’d inevitably see an ad for Viking River Cruises — and my mom would inevitably remark, “Wouldn’t it be a lark to go on one of those someday?”
Skip ahead to 2017, and here we finally are in Amsterdam, about to step onto the Viking Ve, part of the state-of-the-art Viking Longships fleet, for a comprehensive Grand European Tour through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary.
“Mom, we’re actually doing this!”
“I really can’t quite believe it,” she replies. “Let’s go see what our cabin looks like!”
For the next 15 days, we’ll be sharing a chic, modern cabin, with its own private balcony, ensuite and separated twin beds, onboard an award-winning, inclusive riverboat as it weaves its way along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.
My mother had always been an avid world traveller alongside my father, until he died of prostate cancer in early 2015. In an attempt to reignite her love of travel, I’d floated the idea of our long-awaited mother-daughter trip.
To my surprise, she said yes.
“You bring a certain youthful energy to the whole thing,” she explains, when I ask why she agreed to go on her first overseas trip since my dad’s passing.
“You have a different attitude toward things — you’re maybe interested in different things, things that I wouldn’t think about, that you’d point out to me. … Otherwise I might just sit in the corner and do my knitting or whatever.”
“Did you even bring your knitting?” I ask.
“Nope!” she says. “I wouldn’t waste my time on knitting when there’s so many wonderful things to see.”
We’re not the only mother-daughter team aboard the sleek, 135-metre-long ship (the Viking Ve accommodates a maximum of 190 guests) and before long, three more pairs — two from the U.S. and one from Australia — introduce themselves. We even arrange to have a special dinner together in the onboard fine-dining restaurant.
Deborah Kadlick and daughter Katharine Harper, from New York City, had never travelled together as adults before hopping on the Viking Ve.
“Katharine has always been busy at school,” says Kadlick “I said, ‘please take a break between this job and law school so we can go on a trip.’”
They chose this cruise because they could see many different places without schlepping luggage around or dealing with arrangements.
“I like it because I feel very secure — I’m with my mom,” adds Harper. “The one thing I would add [about inter-generational travel] is just to be patient with each other.”
Patience was a virtue in my own cabin, thanks to cohabitating issues such as snoring (solution: earplugs) and differing wakeup times (solution: eye masks) — but those took nothing away from the utter joy of experiencing Europe’s rivers together.
“I’ve been to some of these places before but not seen them from the river… it’s a totally different experience,” says my mom. “To go out on the balcony in the middle of the night and see the moonlit countryside going by — it’s kind of dreamlike, isn’t it?”
The days are filled with magical moments as we reach lifelong travel goals, such as visiting the Lipizzaner horses in Vienna (mom) and soaking in the hot pools in Budapest (me), and discover new, unexpected favourites (who knew Dutch windmills were so fascinating?)
Each port of call, we fill up on a delicious breakfast buffet, throw on our backpacks and join our appointed group for an expertly guided tour of yet another gorgeous medieval town.
Back onboard, it’s time for a four-course meal featuring local specialties with new friends and an evening of pub quizzes (the all-mother-daughter team won, of course) or relaxing watching Downton Abbey in our cabin.
“This will be fun to look back on,” says Mom on Day 12. “We could just carry on doing this, really, for the rest of my life.”
It’s incredible to hear the excitement and curiosity creep back into her voice. Speaking with another mother-daughter duo, I discover I’m not alone in my sentiments.
Deana Starkey, 79, from Prescott, Ariz., immediately invited daughter Sherri, 60, to come on the cruise after inheriting a bit of money.
“Do it, do it before it’s too late,” says Deana Starkey. “Before I’m limited or she’s limited because she’s trying to take care of me.”
Her daughter agrees: “Life’s short, you’ve got to do things while you can.”
They were more right than they knew. Three weeks after returning to Canada, my mom got her own cancer diagnosis and was given three months to live.
“Thank God we did that amazing trip when we did,” she said one day in hospital as I perched on her bed in between medications and meals.
“If I could spend eternity drifting down the Danube, that would be heaven … I can just close my eyes and be there.”
Now when I see ads for Viking River Cruises, I no longer feel envy or longing — I feel gratitude for the sites seen, meals eaten, friendships made and precious time shared. In my mom’s words, “We should all be so lucky.”