Before moving on with our tight-knit little traveling bands’ adventures, let me just get this out there: People are strange, and traveling with a big group of strangers is, to belabor a point, even stranger.
Before embarking on travel with EF Educational Tours, I’d taken groups of students to conventions with hundreds or thousands of other students and teachers, but we didn’t travel together.
The only group travel I’d ever done was in 2001, to Dublin with the Central Arkansas Arthritis Foundation Marathon group. We almost didn’t get to go after the events of Sept. 11, but our group voted that we weren’t scared, dammit!, so go we did.
(I walked the marathon, bent over in pain for about the last 20 miles, as it turned out – a long and winding story.)
We were all adults and though we did do some things together, we had no real enforced group time. And most of us had been training together at least occasionally for months, so if we weren’t friends, we at least knew each other.
Getting tossed in a mixed pot of people by random chance to spend nine days and nights together is something else entirely. For some people, I’m sure that it’s great. Instant friends, yada, yada.
We had a different experience in our group of 30. We were just a tiny band of six, five from Arkansas and Kitty from Washington state (but part of my family), cooped up with some nice, friendly if a bit distant (but, hey, so were we) people from Indiana (??), I’m thinking, and a big rowdy bunch from a small town in Texas. I’m thinking east Texas, but that’s my assumption.
Kind of “The Last Picture Show” Texas but not as hip. As in trying to refuse to enter Canterbury Cathedral because you can’t wear a baseball cap inside.
As in “Hey, we can get booze at this fancy hotel in Paris even though we’re kids, then puke all over the lovely lobby bar then run off laughing while our adult male chaperones laugh, too” – until Kitty thundered “Hold it right there, buster,” or some less southern version of the same, and insisted they help the poor bartender clean up their mess.
Please don’t think I’m a snob – Alli, Elizabeth, you can vouch for me. I’m just making observations about being forced into a – hmmm, what word to use? It never became a relationship. Maybe shared experience? – with people from different worlds.
The kids actually did form a bit of a loose friendliness with some of them the last night or two, but for the adults, the twain never met. We kept our distance, but those women made it quite clear from the beginning that they didn’t like us one bit.
I take that back – one did, and she was quite sweet, actually, even after we lost her child one night in Paris. (I can still see her beatific smile; she had an other-worldly lovingness. The others, not so much.)
Her daughter, at 12, wasn’t even legal to be along for the ride but was allowed to accompany her mom. Yes, we lost a small-town adolescent with a heart condition while her mother was trying to retrieve two kids from their group who’d run off deliberately. Our tour director Kathy promptly retrieved her and it worked out fine, though.
I’ll explain later. It was an accident and we felt awful. But it’s funny in retrospect. Many parts of the trip were.
Another thing that had never crossed my mind about group travel was all the waiting we’d have to do – people were blatantly late for designated meetings when we had time apart (the happiest times for our little group), so we spent lots of time waiting under the tree, on the steps, by the bus.
But we were late, too, once, at the Louvre, I think, toward the end of the trip when the only watch in our group had stopped. Oops. Pretty embarrassing considering how we’d grumbled about waiting.
Then there was the night Kim and I – well, that’s a story I’ll confess in full later. She agrees we can go public.