As we near the end of our sailing with Abercrombie & Kent, one of the last stops on our itinerary that began in Munich was Cologne, Germany. While the journey is far from over, the day we spent in Cologne will serve as a vivid reminder of summertime life along the river for years to come. To me, memories are what travel is all about. Make those memories a shared experience with like-minded travelers and we get into the magical world of golden memories. That’s a place I was reminded of on the streets of Cologne.
We can read books, watch video, look at photos or hear the tales of others who have traveled to any given place and walk away with a good idea of what it is like to be there. But nothing is quite like going there ourselves, experiencing a destination first-hand.
Cologne’s Great Cathedral has to be one of the most photographed structures in Europe, dating back centuries but nearly destroyed in World War II. I too captured a number of images of the place on a previous visit… but had the camera pointed in the wrong direction.
Not that I was unaware of the massive structure that dominates the city center. That’s pretty hard to miss. The golden part of the story though is in the people who visit the place. They come from all over the world and right down the street; just as they have for centuries.
The kids we see at these places will be old some day and might return, recalling memories of when they stopped by while we were there. The enablers; the travel companies that bring us to see the magnificent structures, iconic landmarks and beautiful places along the way get it. They know that creating memories is what brings us back, makes for a rich travel experience and might let us walk away a bit changed; our world now bigger place.
Abercrombie & Kent has been doing that for quite some time, known worldwide for safari adventures as a top shelf service provider. I knew that but the information is absolutely of no interest when travel is in progress. That someone had a good time in Africa does me no good whatsoever and A&K knows that. They get it. Carefully crafting meaningful experiences for our small group of travelers, the takeaway from this river cruise is coming into focus. This series will end with details, comparisons, financial facts and figures and more, shortly. But already I know that if I see our A&K host again in the future, it will be a highlight of the day, no matter where I am.
That thought, that feeling was driven home in Cologne when I ran into Joey, a program director from Viking River Cruises who we sailed with last December. As a rule, I don’t mention one travel service provider while on location with another; doing so confuses the reader and takes the focus off what I am talking about. But this is different. Here we have two top shelf service providers that are totally different experiences. That what they do happens on a river is about all they have in common. Each is unique. Each goes about creating their golden memories differently, in their own way. They both get it.
They both do share one very important element though; they enable me to create those memories. It might be finding a little hole in the wall place for lunch in Cologne where Fritz and his wife Ellan serve up a great plate of wursts with a signature curry sauce. It might be orienting me to an area then turning me loose to discover on my own or holding my hand to be sure I get to see the critical places and people along the way that will add up to the golden memories I seek.
Maybe I give travel companies too much credit. Maybe the destinations are just so powerfully prone to producing great memories that anyone visiting would gain from the experience. Perhaps. But that these mind-expanding, culturally stimulating events have occurred speaks volumes. Surviving travel is one thing, living it is quite another. Its what attracted me to this business and what keeps me coming back for more.