The view from the window

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Sunday dawned bright and sparkly and not too hot. We’d finished our Seine cruise and sixty-four of us were off the ship early for our transfer to the railway station to take a high-speed train to Lyon where we would board the SS Catherine on the Rhone River. The Tour de France would be finishing today and we needed to avoid the road closures and heavy traffic. As a result we arrived at the station well ahead of time. It goes without saying that the organisation of the transfer was hardly clockwork precision, but we’d come to expect that. Ingrid gave us forty-five minutes to mooch around the station before gathering under this (pointing up at large circular object with a prominent ‘6‘ on the side).

OK, then. Peter and I and a whole phalanx of fellow passengers went to the nearby pharmacy to stock up on extra strepsils and paracetamol. As so often happens on these trips, quite a few people had developed coughs. In fact, I had used one of the rapid antigen tests (RATs) that we’d brought from home after we’d been to Versailles to make sure I was covid-free. We searched for somewhere to sit until the time came to gather under the six. It’s a busy railway station even on a Sunday. I was glad we weren’t doing this on a weekday; I’d say the chances of losing somebody were very high.

After a bit of confusion, we boarded the train and found our seats, the car and seat numbers scrawled on a piece of paper by the Chef de Mission. She, of course, had the real tickets. Then we were off, zipping through the French countryside at speed. Cars on the motorways were not in the race. We really should have a similar service between Melbourne and Sydney, at least. Smooth, fast, and you end up in the middle of town.

Ingrid had roped in a couple of helpers to keep track of her flock, scattered as they were over several carriages. The extra Uniworld lady on our carriage led us to the buses which would take us to the SS Catherine, moored on the Rhone. Our luggage was already aboard, taken by truck from Paris early in the morning.

She’s an older vessel, fitted out much the same as all the other river ships but with a different, southern France vibe. We ate lunch, registered into our cabin and went for drinks. Before dinner the captain did the usual five-minute safety briefing and the tour manager gave us an overview of our itinerary. She also mentioned that there was one case of covid on board.

All was well during dinner. We shared a table with a couple who had just arrived from Glasgow. But It ended up being a rough old night, with me in particular, coughing. In the morning we pulled out the box of RATs and tested ourselves. Peter was negative but I had a faint line in the test area.

Bugger. And we’d been so careful, too.

We reported to management. The last thing I wanted to do was mess up somebody else’s holiday. By this time we were docked in the small town of Mâcon. The hotel manager arranged to take us, and the other affected couple, to a medical testing centre for a PCR test. That done, she took us back to the ship and put us into separate cabins. The ship’s policy was that anyone with covid should isolate in their cabin for five days. If Peter remained covid-free he would be able to go on excursions even if I couldn’t.

Five days may seem a short time to isolate, but a study found that “The majority … who first tested positive were no longer positive after five days in isolation (in fact, most of them tested negative after three days of isolation). However, among 92 active participants in the study (all were fully vaccinated), 17 percent did still test positive after five days, which is why the second component to the CDC, and BU, guidelines—consistent mask-wearing for five additional days—remains vital.” [1]

When the PCR results came back we were positive for both the Omicron and the Delta variants. We weren’t particularly sick, nothing more than having a bit of a cold and feeling tired. We self-medicated as you would for a cold – soluble aspirin or paracetamol, a suck-lolly for the cough. We certainly didn’t need to see a doctor. But, for essentially the rest of the cruise we were confined to quarters. That meant our rooms were not serviced. If we wanted anything (eg a clean towel) we had to ring the desk to ask for it. Similarly, all meals were room service. There was a very limited all-day room service menu. We soon discovered that if you didn’t ask for something, you didn’t get it. Eg order the salad and you get the salad. But if you want bread rolls with that, ask for them. You want butter for the bread rolls? Ask for it. I tended to stick to simple – fruit, yoghurt, and muesli for breakfast, salads and cheese or a baguette for lunch and dinner. Several times I detected a bit of ‘that’s close enough’. The baguette on the menu was about 10cm, filled with brie, parma ham, and tomato. It sounds lovely, but the bread was soft and a bit soggy, and the baguette was tied up with a piece of string that had to be cut with a knife. On one occasion I ordered the charcuterie plate (on the room service menu) and some rolls so I could make my own sandwich. They sent the soggy baguette instead. Peter tried ordering hot meals but often they arrived lukewarm at best. On the second evening I’d waited nearly two hours for a meal. I rang Pete’s room and his hadn’t arrived, either. By this time, I just wanted to sleep. I wasn’t hungry, so I rang the desk to tell them not to bother, I was going to sleep. I was already in bed when the restaurant manager came and knocked on my door to apologise. I hope he enjoyed the sight of me in my sleep shirt (and mask). Pete’s order was delivered but everything was cold so he didn’t eat it.

Lunch. This time I got crackers with the cheese. Last time I didn’t. I ordered the bread rolls and butter.

After that evening, Peter asked to talk to the hotel manager to explain our point of view of room service and a couple of other things. I believe the staff thought we were a nuisance, and I suppose we were – but we’d paid a lot of money to stay in those cabins, and given covid was always a risk, the ship’s management should have been better prepared for such an event. From then on they gave us the lunch and dinner menus from the dining room to choose from and the desk staff gave us an estimate of how long it would take for the food to arrive.

While I’m complaining, I had a special effect in my room (which had been our room) that I could do without. We discovered after the first night that if you jiggled the headboard a bit (you, know, like sitting up) the room lights would come on/go off. We reported the fault but… covid. Since the best place to watch TV was from the bed, I had to be careful how I moved.

The all-day tea and coffee machine for guests was close to Peter’s room so when no one was around he’d go and make us both a cup of tea and come and visit me in my room. But we found that being in separate rooms had its benefits. We don’t have the same taste in TV shows and movies, so I got to watch Dune in my cabin while he watched Mission Impossible in his. That said, we both watched quite a few episodes of Midsomer Murders (subtitled in Dutch and with Dutch ads – that was fun) and Death in Paradise. I spent a lot of time playing on my computer, he read books. And, of course, we could take naps whenever we wanted and didn’t disturb each other if we had a coughing fit or such. Sometimes we rang each other up just for a chat. But at least we could get some fresh air. The cabins had French balconies which is a balcony when you’re not having a balcony. The top half of the window sinks into the bottom half so you can enjoy the view from the window and a bit of fresh air so we could gaze longingly at activity on the riverside.

Was this effectively the end of our holiday? Not necessarily…

If you’re new to this journey and want to find other parts of the trip, go to France 2022. That page has all the posts.

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