You don’t often see children on a river cruise so when a young girl boarded the boat it immediately caught my attention. Succumbing to stereotypes, I expected the worst; bad behavior, complaining about unfamiliar food, repeatedly hearing the ever familiar “I’m bored” and refusing to be exposed to anything that remotely resembled learning. She initially clung to the woman I assumed was her Mother and the other female travel companions who appeared to be friends of her Mom. As the trip progressed my opinion quickly changed. She was a well behaved, witty and talented young girl who could often be found sitting quietly reading a book or coloring with crayons, typical 10 year old things. Okay, maybe she wasn’t so typical. There were no head phones to be seen, not a single cell phone and no pre-teen pop star magazines. I and many others on board were soon charmed by this young traveler. I eventually complimented her “Mom” on her daughter’s behavior and learned that she was not her Mother. She was an Aunt. She was also a fellow Travel Agent who when travelling, always chose one niece or nephew to accompany her. It was considered to be both a learning and bonding experience for both of them. I was impressed that Anna, her niece, willingly and eagerly participated in most of the excursions with nary a “are we there yet?” or a single “do I have to?” The child was well mannered at the dinner table, sampling menu items that went well beyond franks and beans or macaroni and cheese. The attentive staff ensured that a child friendly treat such as ice cream and chocolate milk always accompanied the adult style coffee and Crepes Suzette or Rhubarb Ragout with Cream Chantilly. One evening, after dinner, Anna and her entourage were relaxing in the piano lounge. She had been taking piano lessons back home and when invited to give a performance she obliged. I happened to be sitting fairly close to the piano and watched the concentration on her face as she read from the sheet music. I admired her confidence and ability to move past the unplanned long pauses and incorrect notes. Reading sheet music could be described as deciphering a foreign language in mathematical increments. It’s challenging and consuming, requiring dedication that many adults don’t possess. But this was less about accuracy and more about courage and confidence and she nailed them both. The next day in the lounge I sat across from her. I watched her knit and I envied her varied talents and silently congratulated her parents for raising a well behaved and well-rounded preteen. Clearly, that’s no small feat in today’s world of out of control pop stars and ‘tween television divas. I shared several excursions with her family group and noticed that she proved to be a good sport even when the weather wasn’t on its best behavior. Upon arriving at the port call of Mainz, Germany, by chance, we chose the same excursion. The day’s visit was to the Gutenberg museum, famous for printing presses and creating the first printed Bible. I expected it to be a ho-hum experience and wondered how a 10 year old would bear the stolid presentation that reeked of history and learning. Our tour guide was accredited by the museum and would be taking us through the history of the printing press. But first, he needed an Assistant. Wisely choosing the young girl, she became engaged physically and mentally in the subject matter and her enthusiasm brought the audience along for the ride. They both donned rubber aprons and thick, elbow high rubber gloves as protection from ink splatters. The letter blocks that spelled out the first page of the Bible were already set in place. We watched as she gripped the roller and applied ink to the letters. The Tour Guide lent a hand to place the oversized sheet of paper in the correct position. However, it was she and she alone who pulled the rolling bar across the screen to recreate the first page of the Gutenberg Bible. Her reward for her participation was hearty applause and a fabulous souvenir. She was allowed to keep the piece she had just created. Imagine the story she was able to share with her classmates upon her return! The next day our journey continued on to Rudesheim. While riverboats tend to sail at night, we floated by day to allow us to see the most beautiful section of the Rhine. We passed the statue of the Lorelei whose allure was said to be so great and her song so seductive that myth has it she lured the mightiest of sailors to their deaths on the rocks. This was one of the most castle dense sections of the river, most in ruins but still impressive. In the land where fairy tales began, each castle had its own history and tale of woe. It would seem that owning a castle in the medieval days didn’t always work out so well for the occupants. As we approached the Burg Rheinstein Castle, our cruise director told us the history of the castle. More likely folklore than truth, but when you’re floating down the Rhine it’s easy to believe the local stories. Two children, Kuno and Gerba grew together as playmates and fell in love as young adults. As was tradition, Kuno of Reichenstein Castle sent his unsavory Uncle to the Rheinstein Castle on his behalf to ask for the woman’s hand in marriage. The Uncle, realizing the merits of the young woman, decided he wanted her for himself. Gerba had no choice and Kuno was heartbroken at the loss of his beloved. On the day of the Wedding the Uncle mounted his finest steed and raced to the Church. Along the way his horse became spooked and tossed the Uncle to his death, allowing Kuna and Gerba to finally marry and spend the rest of their lives happily together.
The ship grew quiet as we reflected upon the tragic story with the happy ending. However, eventually all children will be just that, children. Despite her maturity, patience and incredibly good behavior, apparently this child had finally reached her limit. Out of the contemplative silence a plaintive cry of “Not another castle!?!” could clearly be heard. It was the young girl. Those of us standing close enough to hear her disappointment chuckled. This was just one castle too many. No one could fault her. Despite her talents, good manners and best behavior she was, after all, still a child.