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Introduction. We had put off planning any trips for 2006 because Jane needed her second knee replacement, and we were waiting until we had a better idea of the date of the surgery and the length of her recuperation. Well, she had the surgery in January, and by May she was feeling great. We thought we were ready to book an easy trip for the fall where we would pretty much stay in one place for a week or two.

Then in late April we got an e-mail from Grand Circle Travel (GCT) offering a big discount (about 15%) on their Great Rivers of Europe tour for dates in late May. This was a trip Jane already wanted to take, though we thought we would be waiting another year or so for her to be up to it. Now she insisted she was ready, so we booked the trip for 30 May. With the cruise itself entirely in June, we figured the weather would be ideal, pleasant and mild.

Tuesday, 30 May. We left Massanutten around noon and drove to our son�s house in Culpeper, Virginia. It was the first really hot day of the year, with the temperature in the low 90s. Our daughter-in-law Julia drove us to Dulles Airport where we arrived before 14:30. Our tickets were for a Lufthansa flight, our favorite airline. But after a while waiting in the line at Lufthansa, we were informed that they had no such flight; it was really a United Airlines flight. So we went over to United and waited in line again. We had plenty of time because it was a 17:13 flight.

We finally boarded at 18:30. The scheduled departure time came and went. The plane, sitting in the hot sun with no air conditioning, got hotter and hotter. It was at least 120 degrees on board. The captain eventually informed us that three of the engines would not start. We expected the flight to be cancelled, but at 20:15 the engines finally roared to life. Half an hour later we were airborne; no apology; no complimentary drink. After dinner at 20:30, we tried to rest.

M.S. River Rhapsody

Wednesday, 31 May. We had a small snack for breakfast at 07:00 European time (01:00 EST) and landed in Frankfurt at 08:00. It was 45 degrees and overcast. We caught a 10:30 Lufthansa flight to Amsterdam, arriving at 11:30. The GCT representative was there with a bus and had us to the M.S. River Rhapsody by 12:50. The weather was misty and cool, no more than 50 degrees.

We went to the generous buffet lunch in the dining room, then unpacked. We rested in our cabin until time for the welcoming drink at 17:45. That was followed by dinner at 19:00. At 21:00 there was a one-hour walking tour of Amsterdam�s notorious red light district. �No cameras, please!�

At this point the 140 passengers from the Rhapsody were divided into three groups, each with its own Tour Director. We were delighted to find ourselves in the red group with Katy from Belgium. Unfortunately, we were no so delighted with the weather. It was in the mid-40s, raining, and with 30 m.p.h. winds. It was only about three blocks to the red light district where the narrow lanes provided some shelter from the wind.

We learned that the �girls� are not employees, but independent operators. They rent their space for a fixed fee and keep whatever they earn. There were usually two or more girls to a room with a large window facing the sidewalk. A curtain can be drawn across the window, and they probably have another room in the rear. Many of the girls were overweight and neither young nor attractive. I�m sure they didn�t appreciate a group of elderly tourists gawking at them. We were glad to get back to the ship and get to bed.

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