Despite health issues, enjoyed travel

By Wanda Bahde
This item appears on page 30 of the February 2020 issue.
Ray Bahde with <i>Himbeerkuchen</i> at <i>Café Stephan’s Dom</i> — Passau. Photos by Wanda Bahde

My husband, Ray, and I have always preferred active travel, but after April 2018, when Ray’s cancer erupted with complications, his oncology doctors advised us to cancel our forthcoming trip to Morocco. We weren’t ready to be grounded, however, so after Ray’s health stabilized, we explored the idea of taking an “easy” European river cruise.

His doctors approved visiting countries with good medical care but cautioned us to have trip insurance, carry his full medical records and pace ourselves. With that in mind, we chose to join Viking River Cruises (Los Angeles, CA; 877/668-4546, “Grand European Tour,” sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest, with two pre-cruise nights in Amsterdam, May 2-18, 2019.

While Viking River ships do not have onboard physicians, they keep an index of English-speaking physicians and hospitals along the route. Both of Ray’s oncologists advised us that, should Ray have developed an infection or other issue due to his weakened immune system, we should find not just any hospital but a “teaching hospital” and have the European doctor call their personal cell phones anytime.

In preparation for our departure, Ray’s oncologist scheduled a chemo holiday. Ray walked daily to rebuild stamina and purchased an Alex ( Tri Seat adjustable cane ($64.95) so he could sit when needed. During the trip, I monitored his temperature daily and carried antibiotics in labeled containers in my travel medical kit.

I carried medical records and our official marriage certificate, while Ray’s MedicAlert neck pendant had his account number and a phone number to reach MedicAlert’s file with his emergency contacts, medical records, medical power of attorney and even living will. In event of death, final arrangements would be handled through the Neptune Society. We purchased Travel Guard Gold insurance.

Lufthansa’s business class featured lay-down seats and less congestion. Ray’s compression socks helped prevent his legs from swelling during flights. Airport lounges added comfort between flights. We requested, but did not use, airport wheelchair assist. Transits went smoothly.

The Art Nouveau lounge in the Four Seasons Hotel Grisham Palace is a relaxing treat.

Even with abnormally chilly temperatures and intermittent showers, our pre-cruise visit to Amsterdam was magical. We stayed in a clean, compact room at the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel (Kattengat 1;, conveniently located only 10 minutes from Centraal Station.

The free Buiksloterweg ferry from Centraal Station took us to the NDSM Wharf and the A’Dam Lookout ( for an amazing 360-degree overview of the city (13.50 [near $15] per person). Almost better than the view was our intermingling with pedestrians and bicycles on the ferry!

We walked miles exploring Amsterdam. My highlight was the residential Jordaan District, with its canals and gabled houses. There, our lucky find was Café II Prinsen (Prinsenstraat 27; [in Dutch only]), a homey, wood-paneled café serving Dutch brew. Appeltaart met koffie for two cost 18.90.

Ray’s highlight was leisurely reviewing Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” while sitting on his cane stool in the Rijksmuseum. He fondly remembered studying it for hours decades ago while on military leave.

Ray Bahde enjoying <i>appeltaart met koffie</i> at <i>Café II Prinsen</i> in Amsterdam.

After two days in Amsterdam, we joined 190 other guests on the Viking Skadi. Our comfortable veranda suite featured separate sitting and sleeping rooms, allowing Ray to nap while I enjoyed the view. Cookies, fruit and drinks were replenished daily, and laundry service was included. Staff service exceeded expectations.

Although an elevator served decks 2 and 3, we opted to use the stairs instead. Deck 4, the Sundeck, was closed six days of our cruise for safety reasons, as the river was high and bridges were low.

The days blurred into scenic cruising past vineyards, quaint villages and occasional forts and castles. Viking rated the daily off-ship excursions by activity level: easy, moderate and demanding. Each had a “gentle” group. Ray opted to take easy and moderate excursions but not to join the “gentle” group, soldiering on with the understanding that if we couldn’t keep up, we’d find our own way back to the ship.

With “whispers” (earpieces wirelessly connected to the guide’s microphone), even though we weren’t always beside the guide, we nearly always heard the local guide, and when the group stopped to focus on specific details, we could catch up.

Unfortunately, both inclement weather and the ship’s schedules prevented us from people-watching at sidewalk cafés. Frequently, we were dependent upon buses between dock and city, or, while we were ashore, the ship would sail through locks and meet us elsewhere, thus sailing schedules forced Ray to comply with his oncologists’ directives to “pace yourself.”

In Amsterdam’s Jordaan District, Ray and Wanda Bahde saw canals, gabled houses and bicycles.

Here are some specific recommendations we have from our cruise.

In Cologne, visit the Panorama in the Kölntriangle. From the cathedral, cross the Hohenzollern Bridge, follow the road beyond the Marriott to Kölntriangle and pay 3 for the lift to the 28th floor. There are no toilets, chairs or beverages, just an outstanding 360-degree view of the city.

Near Koblenz, visit Marksburg Castle, if able. The walk up from the parking lot is demanding, and entry into the castle is on slippery rock, but the interior tour provides a glimpse into medieval castle life.

In Passau, enjoy a concert on Europe’s largest pipe organ in a church; it’s at the 17th-century St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Noon concert tickets cost 4 each and can be purchased at a kiosk in a side courtyard.

After the concert, sample decadent pastries at Café Stephan’s Dom, beside the cathedral, then wander through residential passageways to Schaiblingsturm, a walking path along the quiet Inn River, toward Conjunction Point, where the Inn and Danube rivers meet.

In Budapest, visit the opulent Four Seasons Hotel Grisham Palace for pricy drinks in the hotel’s Art Nouveau bar. We paid a total of $13.50 for coffee and cola.

The <i>Viking Skadi</i> and another Viking ship docked in Budapest, the Hotel Grisham Palace off to the left.

All in all, our experience was bittersweet. The cruise, with pre-trip, was pricy — $30,256 ($20,798 base, $1,198 pre-trip, $3,998 business air, $3,420 trip insurance and $842 other expenses). My biggest purchases were a stocking cap and gloves for Ray in Cologne.

We appreciated the pampering and comfort given us.

We were disappointed that limited time, deteriorating health and ugly weather prevented us from actively experiencing each locale in more depth. However, we’re grateful Ray saw and did more than anticipated.

We treasured the respite from daily medical routines and savored our time away.

Summerfield, FL

Editor’s note: Just before ITN went to press, Wanda Bahde emailed, “As an update, Ray passed away December 22nd; the cancer finally won. Up until his passing, we were so grateful for sharing our amazing planet together. We laughed about various adventures as we browsed our many photo diaries. We shared a good life.

“Ray wanted me to continue traveling. Before his passing, he sent me to the Galápagos for respite from caregiving, doctors and hospitals. In the foreseeable future, I plan to visit Morocco, a trip we had to cancel due to his illness, and Bhutan and Nepal. He will be with me in spirit.”

Visitors to Passau’s St. Stephan's Cathedral may hear an organ concert.