After a year of high tension thanks to the twin plagues of presidential politics and the pandemic, BoomerCafé wants to do its part to tone things down, which is why for a few weeks, in addition to fresh stories, we’re going to run some of our “best of” pieces from the past, stories that will remind you that Yes, Virginia, there was some tranquility before the tension.
In this one, which we first ran in mid-2019, Bellingham Washington’s Silvana Clark and her husband found a new way to explore the world.
I fondly remember my European backpacking days in the 70s, clutching a secondhand copy of Europe on $5.00 a Day. My husband and I schlepped cheap cotton backpacks while staying in youth hostels requiring us to do a “chore” each morning.
But while the memories are great, there’s no way I want to repeat those travel experiences. However, I’m not quite ready to take a standard group tour, walking behind an energetic tour leader holding a multicolored umbrella high in the air. What if some of the group members are annoying, or walk slow? (My husband has pointed out that I have the ability to walk fast and be annoying at the same time.)
Luckily we just discovered the perfect hybrid of sightseeing, independence, structure, and exercise! It was an eight day northern Italy bike and barge tour, from Montova to Venice. It let us ditch the backpacks and stay on a comfortable barge. I worried the barge would be covered in grime and rust, belching out smoke from an ancient coal engine.
Not at all. It’s called the Ave Maria, and it’s a renovated river barge complete with sundecks and clean cabins and large windows. I’m a non-foodie and dislike going to restaurants, so having breakfast and dinner onboard was just my style. They served regional food, which meant we ate well without the hassle of looking for restaurants every day. Each morning, the crew set our bikes on shore as we packed our lunches from the assorted supplies. All we had to do was hop on our bikes and enjoy a day of pedaling through the Po River Valley.
My husband and I have traveled around the world and know what it’s like to spend hours searching the internet and guidebooks to plan a trip. But on this trip, two good guides gave us the option of following them or heading off on our own with detailed maps and directions. Suddenly I was telling myself, “Having someone point out the best gelato shop isn’t so bad after all.”
Knowing we could leave the group and ride at our own pace gave a feeling of independence, although we quickly discovered that staying with the guides had some benefits too. They offered us the chance to watch glass blowers at work or to ride through a nature preserve. If I had been riding independently, I’d have never seen the dozens of flamingos close to shore.
They organized a visit to a Grana Padano cheese factory, where I learned that Grana Padano cheese is an arch rival to Parmesan. Who knew there was cheese rivalry?
At the end of each day, after biking roughly 20 to 30 miles, we relaxed and enjoyed snacks on the Ave Maria’s sundeck. I quickly found out that other group members weren’t annoying at all. The combination of never having to pack and repack, delicious food. and freedom to explore, proved to be my new favorite way to travel. Best of all, unlike the youth hostel, no one asked us to do any chores!
Silvana’s newest book is “Millennials vs. Boomers: Listen, Learn, and Succeed Together.”