Many of us dream of a leisurely cruise and imagine ourselves lounging in deck chairs and relaxing for hours on end. Some of us, of course, feel that we have to be proactive, even when we are on holiday, and we thrill at the prospect of alighting at coastal towns and islands and exploring them.
Not being much of a water baby and convinced that I would sink like a stone even in the Dead Sea, a cruise was one of the furthest things from my mind all these years. I could do without the sight of nothing but waves around me … and thus I always flipped past the pages in travel brochures that announced Caribbean or Alaskan or closer-to-home cruises. Maybe because both shores are visible, my trepidation with regard to water did not extend to rivers and canals and lakes, however, and thus I was happy to cruise for a couple of hours along the Rhine and the Danube and the Nile, for example, and even venture a short distance out of sight of the shore during several lake cruises.
The prospect of a ten-day river and lake cruise in Russia therefore seemed ideal for a water wimp like me. Calm waters. The shore somewhere close by (not that I would ever be able to reach it in case of an actual calamity, life jacket and whistle and light and everything else notwithstanding). Many halts at small towns and villages along the route, so plenty of time to indulge my affinity for terra firma. And the biggest thrill of all: the mighty Volga river that was the stuff of legend and song and poetry.
So, off we went in our little group, eager for our first experience of a cruise.
“Imagine an entire trip where I do not have to pack up my belongings every day or two and move to the next place!” exulted the one who usually carried half his wardrobe wherever he went.
“We can lounge around in our pyjamas if we want,” said the least chic among us.
“We can opt out of getting off the ship and exploring the towns included on our itinerary — unlike when we are touring by coach and have no choice but to be on that bus because we are en route to the next place,” said the disinclined to gad about.
It suited each of us in some way — and thus all of us were happy.
And we were so busy enjoying the many delights of shipboard living that we did not realise that they could become addictive: every meal a banquet, tea and coffee almost always available (we did not have to wait until the next pit stop for it), our cabins done up immaculately with a little treat left on our pillows, on-board entertainment that let us drift into a state of expectation for the next — and the next — pleasurable item on the day’s agenda …
Even when there was stormy weather and we realised that the “lakes” were enormous — actually inland seas with no shores in sight and metres-high waves heading for us — we could count on some distraction to draw us away from the spray from those waves and the twinges of fear that struck the faint-hearted. (Let’s not mention who that could possibly be!)
And now that we are back home, we seem unable to get out of “cruise mode”. Our dining table looks bare — and unappetising — at mealtimes. Coffee and tea has to be prepared by us and does not fizz out, piping hot, from a machine. Settling up, neatening up, entertainment — it all has to be done by us.
I would get out those brochures and look for another cruise — but how does one avoid all that water, water everywhere?
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.