Our little traveling band within the larger group had a great overall experience; don’t get me wrong. But in case you don’t know, let me explain a bit how group travel works, at least with EF Tours. The company makes money by moving people in bulk, housing them in hotels that are off the popular path and feeding the masses in restaurants that offer good package deals.
The system makes money for them and gives students and teachers (and other accompanying adults) planning-free, fairly inexpensive travel experiences. When it works well, it works really well. When it works not so well, you suck it up as part of the package deal.
For example, we flew into Gatwick Airport, not Heathrow, much to future-pilot Andrew’s chagrin. But that was all right – just strange when we drove straight from Gatwick to Heathrow, where our very nice airport hotel was located. Our hotel was deluxe and quite close to Hatton Cross Tube Station, and since we so enjoyed the –”Mind the gap” – train rides, all was well.
But getting from airport to airport was bizarre; traffic was backed up for miles – our coach driver had to exit the freeway and use an access road, where traffic still stood still, for part of the almost-24 mile journey, so our “41-minute ride” took at least two hours. The group was already impatient from waiting on us by the time we got there. We just had time to put our luggage down before we left for the activities of the day.
Let me add one last thing about the group we were tossed into. My husband, my biggest fan and sometimes most astute critic, said I should not have taken out something I did from the last post, which put things a bit more into perspective. I mentioned that Kitty had just come through a bout with cancer – after surgery, she also had chemo, which took all her hair, followed by strenuous radiation treatments.
Our trip was a victory lap of sorts and her first public appearances without her wig. We all thought her cute spikey hair was cute spikey hair. The women in the ball-cap congregation seemed to find it an affront on a woman of a certain age and commented, pointed and generally did not behave charitably at all.
When ever-protective Kim got wind of that, she was livid and made it her job to set things straight. Can’t remember if it was on a public train ride or the charter tour-guided bus, but Kim parked herself close to the gossipers and loudly talked across the seats to Kitty and me.
“I just can’t believe you’ve just recovered from CANCER!” she said loudly. “You just don’t look like someone who’s BEEN SO SICK and had CHEMO and RADIATION. And your NEW HAIR IS SO PRECIOUS.”
At that the women looked mildly abashed, but they did not warm up to us.
(I can never say or hear “mildly abashed” without thinking of one of my favorite poems, “The Study in Aesthetics” by Ezra Pound. If you’ve never read it, please click here. It could change your life – or at least your perception. Which reminds me of Aldous Huxley, but I’ll move on. Sorry, English major, former teacher. We can’t help ourselves.)
You’ll have to trust me on this, but I am friendly and can usually talk to anyone. I did try – I even pulled up my pant-leg that night in Folkestone to show them my blackened leg and explain why I was wearing the weird shoes, but that just seemed to annoy one of the women more. So be it.
Back to the trip.
The first day we took a fabulous guided tour on a chartered bus – through which many of the other people slept or talked. I made my group sit up front (I’m a nerd and proud of it) and pay attention.
Our tour guide, a 6-foot-2ish American married to a Brit who’d acquired her own British accent turned out to be the our guide on our spooky night-time Jack the Ripper tour.
At some point we may have gone en masse to Windsor Palace. I know my group went there. And my bunch went to the Tower of London (maybe we all did), where, in open defiance of the “Absolutely no photography” sign, my girl Elizabeth took a great crotch shot of Henry the Eighth’s codpiece on his suit of armor, part of the special exhibit.
He was quite proud of himself. We died laughing.
We were on our own for most lunches, but dinner was a group affair. In London we had great Indian? Middle Eastern? food for one meal, hit a fish-and-chips joint for another and dined in the upstairs room at Ye Olde Cock Tavern for yet another. The atmosphere in that historic old place was fab.
But the food was bangers and mash, roughly weiners stuck in mashed potatoes. That, with the name of the place, well, you can imagine the jokes. My vegetarian ratatouille? Alfredo casserole? was actually delish and I was the envy of some of the adults.
Most of the kids thought the bangers were bang-up. Yuck.
Originally, our trip included traveling from London to Paris via the chunnel, which turned out to be broken or down for maintenance, so we got a side trip to Canterbury (English major heaven), Dover and the strangest hotel you can imagine in Folkestone, followed by a nice ferry ride across the English Channel and a chartered bus from Calais to Paris.
But my hubby awaits with an “Arrested Development” queued up on Netflix, so that leg of the journey will have to wait.