As a senior living off his wife’s fixed income, I just got back from seven-day Rhine River cruise. Marsha and I had a very nice time. 

For the uninitiated, cruising European rivers is quite the thing for Americans who are too lazy, confused or unresourceful to tour Europe on their own. There must be lots of us because the river was filled with a flotilla taking in the sights of “The Continent.”

About a hundred of us got on the boat in Brussels and we sailed up to Basel, Switzerland. We spent seven nights in a small cabin with a view of the river. We ate all our meals on the boat, and after a while the appetizers began to taste like the desserts. We visited Antwerp, Bruges, Cologne, Strasbourg, Heidelberg and some places I forgot. 

We drove through the Black Forest to visit a big cuckoo clock workshop. For some, the visit was a highlight of the trip. For me it confirmed that the collecting of decorative debris is not confined to the United States. We ate mussels in Brussels and fondue in Switzerland.

Travel is a good thing. It gets you outside your comfort zone and forces you to think about the world differently.

I was stunned by the size and grandeur of the cathedrals. They were the center of every place we visited. These magnificent, ornate structures bespoke a time when God and the afterlife dominated, well, everything. The power of the Church was made manifest. Today skyscrapers celebrate our idols of banking and industry. Surely, Trump Tower is a poor substitute for Cologne Cathedral.

I was struck by the pervasive influence of the Roman Empire. Almost every narrative began first with the Romans. For hundreds of years Roman hegemony stretched over four continents. By contrast, our “empire” began in 1945 and couldn’t impose its will on North Vietnam or Iraq. The Romans would laugh.

However, we do dominate European tourism. Almost everywhere we went, everyone spoke English and seemed pretty glad to see us. There was, of course, a price to be paid for that convenience and familiarity. The quaint medieval sections of all the towns were filled with Americans following around guides in batches of 25, walking down streets flush with shops selling souvenirs that would document that you were in a place where people actually lived and worked a long time ago. These old towns survived American bombing in World War II, but not the subsequent invasion of our tourist armies.

It was refreshing to get away from the endless loop of an election that won’t take place until November of 2016 and the bad behavior of Chicago athletic heroes. Floating down the Rhine lets one slip his electronic tethers for a week. That is a good thing. Being the only person on the panoramic deck watching the sun rise over a German forest is a good way to start one’s day.

Maybe I will do this again.

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John Hubbuch

John is an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976. He served on the District 97 school board, coached youth sports and, more recently, retired from the law. That left him time to become a Wednesday...