Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Journey to the Rhineland

Finally, a day free of duties, except packing for tomorrow's flight to Cologne to join the Rhine cruise. Both Clare and I visited our hairdressers, checked our belongings several times, and used up all the fresh food in meals for the day and breakfast sandwich packs. I'm taking the HX30 and HX300 cameras again, plus the Chromebook, and two phones. I have my Blackberry work phone operational again, as I've been asked to continue in an advisory role to the CBS Ltd directors for a while longer. I am happy to do this and take my time doing so. I'm not attuned to the pressures of office life these days. Besides, dealing with people pastorally as much as I do these days is what I do best, and seems most needed. 

With a taxi booked to take us for the six o'clock Heathrow coach, early bed seemed obligatory. We were both up and about before five, and at the coach station by twenty to six. The coach delivered us to Heathrow terminal five twenty minutes early for check-in and security clearance. The Dusseldorf flight was full, with a mix of business and domestic travellers, and couple of dozen people like ourselves from all over the country, headed for the Rhine cruise ship in Cologne. Our coach from airport to ship had to weave its way through 50km of rush hour traffic, nearly doubling our transit time.

On a quay one kilometer south and over the Rhine from Cologne's majestic mediaeval cathedral, the MV Emily Bronte our ship for the week, was moored. It's the newest of the Riviera line. Soon we met several of the team who looked after us on the Danube cruise last May, experienced staff transferred, presumably to help train a new team for a new ship.

Interesting to me, the ship has new generation hotel security technology to keep track of passengers comings and goings. The RFID room key card is registered with a photo of the key-holder, taken in situ, matching everyone on the passengers and crew database. A contactless scanner, like those used for card payments, is located on the reception desk, and everyone is required to scan themselves off and on the ship. Reception staff can check against misuse as the network displays a photo of the keyholder scanned. Passwordless WiFi logs one in to a web page which displays a custom QR code giving the device MAC address, presumably. Scanning the code clears it for internet attachment. Clever!

Our upper deck cabin is one of a handful of one room bed-sits with a small external balcony, so it's possible to sit outside during the day. We must have been among the last to book. There's a full complement of passengers, and this was the only one left. So luxurious, and more than I'd usually want to pay, but we both felt we didn't want to wait another year, after quite a busy and demanding six months of autumn and winter.

The standard of cuisine on these ships is very high and we enjoyed an excellent supper, chatting with a couple from Southampton, a retired mathematician who spent two years at CERN and his wife, a retired teacher. Clare was ready for bed after this, so I attended the safety briefing on my own. Being less tired, after dozing fitfully throughout much of the day's travel, I have time to collect my thoughts and ponder a little before turning in, delighted for a respite from British electioneering for a week.

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