Read more: Sue's journey continues in part two of her fabulous story of a secret trip of a lifetime:
Having enjoyed my solo travelling adventure so far, my heart was set racing thanks to a nail-biting taxi ride from my accommodation in Amsterdam to the pier to join my Rhine river cruise.
I met some lovely people on the cruise, one of whom was Dick, an 84-year-old from Lockport in New York State. He was travelling with two of his five daughters and their partners. As we were both smokers I became his 'partner in crime'. Dick was an interesting man and despite circulation issues in his legs, he ran rings around me when getting about offshore. It was during one of our many conversations that I discovered I could have saved myself some money – a couple of hundred dollars in fact – by opting to share my cabin, which is what Dick had been doing.
There were only 169 passengers on board and most had come from either Canada or the United States. There were around 20 Australians, some of whom were quite loud – a bit brash – and held up the bar until the wee small hours. English, Scottish and a couple from Brazil celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary made up the rest of the guests.
By contrast the 43 staff on board were from Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia and Indonesia. They were a wonderful group of people who worked tirelessly. Even the sailors would help out.
With so much walking involved in the offshore activities, I felt a bit restricted. I did however, go into Cologne and met a beautiful German family who asked if they could share my table in the cafe across from the Cathedral. It was a Bank Holiday weekend and they had travelled from their village of a thousand people, just outside Dusseldorf. They had two daughters – Caroline who was 12, and Rebecca who was seven. Rebecca had had a lung transplant and they had come to meet up with one of the doctors who had counselled them during her illness. She was a delightful little girl and spoke excellent English; she asked me lots of questions and even shared one of her Gummy Bears with me. I had the best hour or so with them.
I enjoyed most of the wonderful scenery on offer from the sundeck onboard the ship. I found travelling through the locks to be amazing. To think that the technology had been developed centuries ago was mind-boggling.
We docked at a place called Rüdesheim am Rhein, a small town bordering the Rhine. I was in my position on the sundeck, wearing my nightie and a dressing gown, having my first cigarette of the day – it was around 7am – and it was chilly. Bordering the docking spot was an Olympic-sized, open-air swimming pool. Lo and behold, out came a half a dozen people, somewhat older than me, for their morning dip. Perhaps 'chilly' was an understatement – it was freezing! – and I thought to myself 'You're better men and women than I am, Gunga Din'.
We travelled to Mannheim in the south-west of Germany, then Strasburg in France. We continued on to what should have been Basel, Switzerland, however there was a problem with the locks so our captain decided we would dock rather than attempt to sail through, thus avoiding passengers missing their ongoing flights, rail connections etc.
At 6:30am the following day, my luggage had to be outside the cabin and at 8am I boarded the coach that would take me to Zurich airport, roughly an hour and 45 minutes away. I arrived in good time to catch my 1:30pm flight back to Australia.
Once again, the airport assistance at Zurich was excellent, and before I knew it I was on the plane and taking off on the first leg of my flight – roughly 10 hours to Bangkok. I'd stopover in Bangkok for a few hours and then travel the remaining nine hours to Brisbane.
My youngest son James, my grandson Heath (who was sound asleep in the car) and my canary 'Simpson' were all there to greet me at the airport. Back at home, after my luggage had been taken inside, my grandson woke up and came to see me in his pyjamas. He gave me a hug, but the best part was when he turned his head and planted the biggest kiss on my cheek. It was good to be home.
I'm glad I took the trip. Sure, travelling alone, especially when one is somewhat 'infirm' had its challenges, but I survived. There's that song that goes 'You can do it if you really want' – and I really did!