Tag Archive | group travel

Wild night 1

Kim's cool photo near the scene of the crime.

Kim’s cool photo near the scene of the crime.

After leaving the story hanging for many months, I’m finally ready – compelled – to tell the story of the wild nights my little traveling band of students, sister-in-law, Kitty, and friend Kim (mostly friend Kim and moi) had in Gay Paree on our EF Tour in 2009.

I hinted at what was to come in the post called “People Are Strange,” so if some things seem repetitive, forgive me, please. I mentioned that we accidentally lost a 12-year-old with a heart condition after her mother went in search of some goth lovebirds from their group of Texans who decided to disappear in the deliciously seedy area around Le Moulin Rouge.

That’s near Montmartre, where John and I are soon headed for our 10th anniversary, which is one reason it’s on my mind.

Kim caught me taking a photo of the Metropolitan sign. Can't wait to be back in that very spot.

Kim caught me taking a photo of the Metropolitain sign. Can’t wait to be back in that very spot.

Kids are pretty much all the same in how quickly they’ll fold if their friends are in danger – after the honeybuns missed roll call and their sponsors were mildly panicked (tour guide Kathy must have been, too, though she always seemed unflappable), it was no time before the rest of the Texas teens snitched them out.

At the gathering spot, just before head count and all hell breaking loose.

At the gathering spot, just before head count and all hell breaking loose.

They’d planned to run away in Paris. Oops. Their sponsors had other plans and said they’d comb the area until they found them. We should take our tired selves back to the suburbs, to our very nice but oddly out of the way hotel. All the mother of the young girl asked was that we take care of her daughter.

Of course, of course, I assured her and did all but hold her hand.

Let me interrupt to add that, a while back, while looking through photos from the trip, I noticed the future disappearance artists in the corner of a photo of our Little Rock group that Kim had taken. I’ve wavered on posting it, but what the hell.

EF Tour guide, British but fluent in French Kathy Pickus in bright green, gives instructions/directions of some sort to Andrew, Nick, me, Kitty and Ali – while the escape-plotters photobomb us before that was even a fad.

Our EF Tour guide, British but fluent in French Kathy Pickis (in bright green) gives instructions/directions of some sort to Andrew, Nick, me, Kitty and Ali – while the escape-plotters photobomb us at right before that was even a fad.

Anyway, we left en masse as it was getting dark and arrived at the packed-to-the-stretching-point Metro station. Kathy explained that getting on board would be tricky, with the lateness and the crowds, and that no matter what, we MUST STAY TOGETHER. When the car doors open, leap, she stressed. If you hesitate, all is lost.

We were ready. I had the little girl right beside me and had been coaching her, as she seemed mildly freaked out, about sticking with me and moving quickly. The train screeched to a stop, and the group leaped into the car as I said, “Now,” and jumped, too. I turned around to see the doors close, with the child still on the platform, eyes wide and beginning to fill with tears.

“KATHY!” we all screamed. “We lost her!”

As we all began forming retrieval plans/thinking what we’d say to her mother, Kathy told us to GO TO THE HOTEL – she’d hop off the car, run to a bridge across the track, go back the other direction, and, if the fates were with us, find the little girl still frozen to the spot.

She was. Kathy brought her back safely. Even though the Texans had been the bane of our trip, that night we joined hands and sang “We Are the World.” Well, no, but some of us were never so relieved to see a kid we didn’t know.

At a happier moment, beautiful mother and daughter duo, Kim and Ali, stand right in front of the darling girl we lost, albeit briefly. I'm so sorry, little darling.

At a happier moment, beautiful mother and daughter duo Kim and Ali stand right in front of the girl we lost, albeit briefly. I’m so sorry, little darling.

At some point in the night the sponsors returned, runaways in tow. Don’t remember details, don’t know if the police were involved.

But I do know the wild night Kim and I shared will have to wait a bit longer. Computer’s being clunky and I’m cooking dinner.

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Travelin’ band, part 2

Alli, Kim and Andrew – along with some of the larger group, got caught by the light at Buckingham Palace.

Alli, Kim and Andrew – along with some of the larger group, got caught by the light at Buckingham Palace.

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 kids loved the red phone booths.

The kids loved the red phone booths.

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.

Our talented and brilliant tour guide. Can't remember her name but we loved her.

Our talented and brilliant tour guide. Can’t remember her name but we loved her. Oh, that’s Buckingham Palace in the background.

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.

The Royal Guard made quite a commotion at Windsor Palace. Turns out they were yelling at me when they kept chantining, "Get out of the way!" At least I got the shot. Scary, though.

The Royal Guard made quite a commotion at Windsor Palace. Turns out they were yelling at me when they kept chanting, “Get out of the way!,” which I realized when they turned in my direction. Oops. At least I got the shot. Scary, though.

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.

What can I say? One of our favorite places.

What can I say? One of our favorite places.

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.