"E" from Aboard 2010 - 11

Pictures with this "E"

The time since our early return home from our beloved yacht has been nothing short of an extreme roller coaster ride.  Indications on Charlie’s health have swung from “as good as it can get” to “Oh my God, is this the end?” and then back again so many times we have lost count.  The medical teams, and there are two of them now, one dealing with the disease itself and the other with palliative care, have both been as wonderful as ever.  They knew of our planned trip to some German Christmas Markets and moved heaven and earth to ensure we got there.  Granted the all clear was not actually given until the day before we were due to leave when the last blood test results came in.  Sandra phoned up saying “the results are fine.  Go away and enjoy yourselves”.  We did.

With departure being on Thursday the 2nd of December the weather did its upmost to ensure we could not get to London let alone Cologne.  We awoke that morning to our first snow and with the temperatures the way they were that made the lane down to Bovey potentially impassable.  We may get down it but would never get back up again so do you leave or not?

Resorting to the Internet for detailed travel information suggested that First Great Western trains were running almost normally so we should reach London but Eurostar was on an emergency timetable and many services were being cancelled so we might not get any further.  We decided to chance it and made it to Vicky’s (Charlie’s eldest sister) as planned for the night.  The following morning we took the underground to St Pancras as the roads were close to impassable with ice, snow and grid-locked traffic.  Even that proved to be a bit of a drama with more cancelled trains than those left running, but we made it to St Pancras more or less on time to be told by our tour manager that our train to Brussels was cancelled and we had to rebook on a slightly later train and whilst that was only leaving 6 minutes later than our original train it would be up to two hours late at Brussels so we would miss our connection for Cologne.  We did but they held the boat at Cologne until we and the four other tour groups arrived.  In fact whilst we were scheduled as the last to leave St Pancras we were first to reach Cologne.  The journey was nonetheless a little stressful and Charlie struggled with the uncertainty which did little to help her persistent breathlessness.

Minus 10 @ Cochem & BoatOur SuiteThe ship, boat or whatever you call an elongated three-story hotel that floats on a river, MS Sonata, was almost brand new and had only been in service for three months or so (see Minu 10 photo).  Whilst somewhat ugly when viewed from outside, internally she was quite striking as was our cabin (see Our Suite photo).  As we sat down to dinner that had been delayed for an hour, she sailed and we immediately felt at home.  There is no doubt Charlie is at her happiest when on water and the twinkling lights of Cologne reflecting on the still waters of the Rhine she enjoyed from our table next to the panoramic restaurant windows brought a beaming smile to her face.  The five-course dinner that was served was superb as was every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner which we were to enjoy during our four night stay on board.  The standard of menu and presentation was as good as we would expect to find at most Michelin star restaurants.

The following morning we had our second surprise just before lunch.  They pushed the bows of this 135 metre vessel on to the shore of the Moselle.  You could hear the sound of metal grinding on gravel.  Then they swung the stern round, it only just clearing the opposite shore, and reversed the last few miles up the river to Cochem as the river further up was not wide enough for them to turn there.

Cochem TownCochem Christmas tentCochem Castle & Vineyard

We disembarked at 1pm with clear instructions to be back on board by 6.45pm or they would leave without us.  It didn’t take us that long to re-board as the temperature was -10°C and with a light breeze it felt a lot colder than that.  That, the climb up the steps to reach bridge level and the walk across to the town square (Chocem Town photo) took a long while.  We were beginning to appreciate just how limiting Charlie’s breathlessness was going to be.

Relief was found on reaching the other side, after a brief stop to admire the beautiful castle perched on a nearby hilltop and fronted by a vineyard (see Cochem castle photo), by diving into a large colourful tent that was kitted out as a bar and with several stalls around its perimeter and that was further warmed by a typically Bavarian brass band playing traditional Christmas music (see tent photo).

Koblenz marketOur next stop was at Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.  We don’t know why they bothered.  The walk passed ‘German Corner’ with its massive celebratory memorial and statue and on in to the centre was like walking a building site and Richard had stopped doing that eight years ago.  But our spirits were kept up in anticipation of the Christmas market.  It was shut (see Koblenz market photo).  Charlie was none too pleased as the walk was a strain and of no benefit other than a bit of exercise to work off the eating excesses on board.

Rudesheim Town & MarketBut with an 11am departure we rapidly moved on to Rudesheim arriving at 5pm and disembarking to enjoy its charming little market tucked away in the backstreets through which you thread your way to find groups of stalls at every widening (see Rudeshiem photo).  But we bought nothing and returned quite early for dinner.  We sailed at bedtime for Frankfurt and woke up as we arrived the following morning.



A typical stallMainz marketFrankfurt marketThe market in Frankfurt was extensive, more interesting and with stalls holding some better quality goods (see Frankfurt market photo). After a brief stop there we departed for Mainz where the walk to find the markets was a little more challenging for Charlie, partly because it involved climbing a series of steps and partly because, at long last, the temperature had crept above zero for the first time, bring on a thaw that made the paths pretty treacherous.  The stalls, perhaps appropriately for the last stop, were undoubtedly the best of the trip.  Various beeswax items were bought as well two Stollen loaves and some other sweeties to share with friends and family over Christmas (see Mainz market and typical stall photos).

After a gala dinner to celebrate our last evening and whilst the boat sailed for Cologne we retired to bed feeling very satisfied and pleased with our five day trip.  It had been a total success.

The trip back from Cologne to St Pancras was almost incident free, just one unplanned change of trains due to a technical failure ten minutes out from Cologne, that, whilst delaying us, was easily absorbed by the planned wait in Brussels for our Eurostar train which subsequently pulled into St Pancras pretty well on time.

We stopped the night with Charlie’s middle sister having a lovely chin wag over supper before training it home the next day for a couple of days rest and recuperation.  We were booked to have a Christmas dinner and stay over with Richard’s ex-chairman who had invited two other ex-staff members as a surprise, one being Richard’s PA Delia on the following day but he had to cancel as he and his wife had gone down with a cold and they knew we would not be able to risk that infection.

It seemed as if our roller-coaster ride had come to an end.  Apart from the debilitating breathlessness Charlie was as well as she had been for a year or more and her drug regime seemed to be coping adequately with her various areas of discomfort.  But it hadn’t.  A phone call from Charlie’s Specialist Nurse early on Monday December 13th metaphorically cut us both off at the knees.  As Charlie was so well the team had decided to hold back one bit of information so that we could go away and enjoy our Christmas Markets trip.  They were right so to do though some might think otherwise and, on reflection over a few days, we are grateful that they did.

The final CT scan had focussed on two doubtful areas of its predecessor and had confirmed a new mass in the abdomen and, more worryingly, on the liver.  Charlie’s case was raised at the MDT (Multi Disciplinary Team) and it was decided that it would be wise to find out exactly what the mass is.  That means a biopsy that will keep Charlie in hospital all day in case internal bleeding occurs.

The mass could be benign.  It could be a return of the ’93 breast cancer or the ’84 cervical cancer; either of those are now readily treatable with hormone therapy.  Or it could be the thymoma; that would be very rare for Charlie’s type but is possible and nobody wishes to discuss what that means.  We are deeply upset and worried but must get on with life.  It is slightly over three years since the original diagnosis and that far exceeds their best survival estimates.  Liz Toy holds that this is probably because of Charlie’s fighting spirit and our joint positive attitude; that being so we must continue with it.  It is Christmas after all and there is lots to look forward to and enjoy.

Whilst we await the appointment arrangements our Christmas celebrations continue apace.  All presents are bought, most have arrived, some have been wrapped and a few already delivered.  The turkey is still alive and fattening nicely, we hope.  We shall pick it up on the eve of Christmas Eve, cook it in the Aga on Christmas Eve night and take it and the family tradition, sausage meat patties, over to our eldest Son’s home on Christmas morning where we shall dine in style with his family and our eldest daughter’s family who live but a mile down the road.  It is what they wanted and broadly what we have done for the past few Christmas’s.  We are very happy with that as we benefit greatly from their constant support.

A Merry Christmas everyone and a happy and prosperous New Year.