This morning I woke up to the sound of bells. I looked out my window and there was a small hamlet, complete with church. Being a week day, I took the sound as a summons to breakfast.
Where I stay when travelling adds – or take away – so much to a trip. I love being able to walk out the door into a place of local colour. The view from window or balcony is yet another dimension. Just being able to open the window to hear and smell, and so often taste, this new world unfolding around me – or better still, being able to walk onto however a small balcony to drink it all in.
I remember in Barcelona walking past a hotel way above my pay grade, where a gentlemen sat in the window, drink in hand, watching us through a thick pane of insulating glass. He looked like a caged animal, but one paying a fortune to tick a place of his to-do list without ever venturing from the safety of his sterile bubble. I was dripping in sweat from a Spanish summer, about to enjoy some tapas at a local bar before continuing on my way.
In Florence I have looked over flower gardens; in Venice, across the rooftops into someone’s kitchen. (At any time of the day I could see Grandma, naturally bedecked in black, busy cooking, and the aromas which wafted out of that window and into mine were mouth watering.) In Paris, I lay in bed and stared at the towers of Notre Dame.
This trip is only half done, but already the views have been amazing. Prague was a but window, but I could open it to see the skyline of the city. The air was still nippy, and grey clouds filled the sky. Trams rattled past until late at night, and I woke each morning to the sounds of a city bustling into life.
Now as I cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam, my balcony view is always changing. As I write, the boat sits waiting in a lock beside some houses. What sounds like a kindergarten gone wild is nearby. Wild flowers run along the verge, and blossoms from the chestnut trees fill the air.
In Budapest, I fell asleep after staring for ages at the lights of the Parliament Building. It is as spectacular as the photos in all the brochures promise. I see so many spectacular images of places on Pinterest and blogs that I wonder if they have been photoshopped beyond belief; they had not.
At Dürnheim, the town spread over the water, and vineyards ran up into the hills. In many places we pull in a few minutes away from the centre of town, and the boat sits surrounded by a medieval idyll. One lock we sailed through was over 24m, guarded by a huge iron gate – for a moment I wondered if we were entering Mordor.
What I like most, however, are the quiet stretches with only forest and fields on either side. Birdsong is all around us, even at night. (The only birds of a night I here at home are owls. Last night I even heard a cuckoo.) Swans and ducks drift by on the current, as trees overhang the water. Some have golden branches. Occasionally little villages can be seen in the distance, along with the steeples of churches and occasional ruins against the skyline. Vineyards are everywhere, as well as golden fields of canola. I support the local economy by trying their different types of wine.
At night I open my balcony door and fall asleep to the sounds of the river. There is the occasional splash of a leaping fish, or what sounds like a sudden downpour as the boat passes through another lock and water gushes from one reservoir to another. Then comes the soporific lap of the water against the hull to lull me to sleep, ready for tomorrow and a new idyllic view.