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Trip Report A Tale of Two Trips: Great Britain and France, June 2013--Part One

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While I do love the literary technique of beginning in media res, I will provide a bit of background for this two part trip and two part trip report—feel free to skip to the report itself (Part One below, Part Two a separate post with similar title) if you want:

(DISCLAIMER: This report is not about the relative merits or drawbacks of either traveling on a tour or traveling with students or traveling with a particular student-tour group. To enable my high school students to go on a European tour with me as their Group Leader but not Tour Director, I used a company that I had traveled with 3 times before and had had good to excellent experience with. For personal or family travel, I would probably never chose a tour group, but when taking a group, even a small one of terrific high school students, I am not comfortable with making all the travel arrangements. I chose a less expensive student tour group; even then, only a small percentage of my non-affluent, already-paying-for-private-school families could barely afford it. So this report will be about what we saw and did, not about the quality of or reasons for using or not using a tour group, particular or in general.)

In late 2011 I made arrangements to be a group leader for a student tour to Great Britain with a student tour company, planning to travel in June 2013. I made plans far ahead so that parents could have plenty of time to spread out payments. Our trip was to start in London, work northward for a few days, and end in Edinburgh, where we would take an extra two days in Scotland by purchasing an extension. This would be my 5th trip to England, but I’d not been to Scotland before.

However, when the itineraries came out for the 2013 tours, the Scotland extension was no longer offered, so our tour was reversed, and we would have 2 days in Paris at the end of our trip substituted for extra Scotland time. I was not glad, but everyone else was very happy, so I was satisfied.

This change made my husband and me think again about the possibility of using the “stay-behind” option, in which I would send my group back with one of the adults while DH flew to Paris to meet me. When in February we seriously considered it again, he discovered that the 24 Hours of Le Mans would be run while we’d be there. SOLD! As a race fan from childhood and someone privileged to have been to both Silverstone and Nurburing and to have attended WRC rallies in 3 countries, he just couldn’t pass this up!

He would meet me in Paris at the end of the student tour, and we decided to spend 9 more full days in France, beginning and ending in Paris, as I had to fly back from there to use my already-purchased ticket. We are NOT foodies, we DO pack in lots in a day, he DOES like to drive us around, we ARE willing to have less amenities in housing in order to save a bit, he has traveled abroad a lot with work, we don’t speak French (although I can read it un tout petite peu), I’m a literature and history teacher, we are in our late 50’s and fairly fit, and we take tons of photos.

That’s the bit of background that might help you understand some of the decisions/plans/itineraries in the Trip Reports to follow—one part about me in the UK and Paris with students and one about me with DH in France

Trip Report—Part One: Traveling with Students and Friends to Scotland, England and Paris

Day 0-1—Travel Day—Texas to Glasgow


There were 10 students and 3 other adults in my group. GH is a fellow teacher as well as a mom of one of the kids on tour. The students were half girls and half boys; 6 had just graduated and the other 4 were also high school age. Our Tour Director—C—had been my TD in 2011 and had agreed to guide my group again. When our itinerary was finalized, we learned we were to fly out of south Texas late afternoon Tuesday and arrive in Glasgow late afternoon Wednesday, meaning that we’d basically have nothing to do or see on what was to have been our actual first day in the UK. The company decided to compensate us for this late arrival by refunding each person about a day’s worth of fees as well as allowing us to go on one of the optional excursions for free (we’d not signed up for any.). I think this was a very satisfactory response to the later-than-normal arrival.

Our group of 14 would be combined with 4 other groups (from South Carolina and Texas) to make a total of 42 people on our coach. The others arrived at different times on Wednesday before us and had some free time in Glasgow with C’s help.

Our flights and passages through controls and securities from south Texas and then in DFW were pretty uneventful. (One young man learned the hard way about hanging on to boarding passes, and one young man, 17, was questioned closely at LHR about traveling alone without documentation until they realized he was with my group.) A long time was needed to get it all done in LHR, but we had plenty of layover.

Our flight out of LHR to Glasgow was then delayed over an hour; when we arrived, there was no C to meet us as arranged. I had some panic—my stupid phone wouldn’t work (a long boring story—basically I got it to have data services later that night and phone service the next day) and I knew she would have been trying to contact me. But one student had a phone that worked, so I called C—whew on both sides! We were to take taxis (she’d pay) to meet the group already eating at Wagamama’s. (This tour provides breakfast and dinner every day; we would be on our own for lunches.) So the travel was over and the actual tour began finally!

I was very relieved to be giving that “so good to see you again!” hug to C! Wagamama’s isn’t exactly Scottish cuisine but was totally satisfactory and filling. We had a bit of conversation with the other groups and then the bus took them to the hotel while we were dropped off near the cathedral for a not-too-long-walk with C in the absolutely lovely evening air. I don’t really remember much about this area—town square, cathedral, old city center—but then we went into the Necropolis for a great ramble. The kids, especially the photographers, enjoyed it thoroughly, as we had beautiful late light on the lanes and stones and crosses. The fresh air was perfect for all of us after our 24 hours of travel. Then the coach picked us up to take us to the hotel.

We stayed in the Ibis Budget on the south bank of the River Clyde. It was clean with good beds--but teeeennsssy. And the shower opened directly into the room (at least the WC was behind a door!). But we would barely be in the room except to collapse, so it was ok. And collapse we did! (And our hotels got increasingly bigger and nicer as this trip went on.)

Day 2—Edinburgh

After a very decent breakfast, we loaded up the coach at 7:30 on a spectacular blue-sky morning and drove about an hour to Edinburgh. There S, an Edinburgh tour guide, met us and guided us with commentary around a bit by coach. We went into Holyrood Park and stopped a couple times to take photos of the surrounding hillside scenery and the gorse, of Arthur’s Seat and the top of Holyrood Palace. Prince Charles and Camilla were in residence (about to leave, a motorcade standing by seemed to indicate) and some access was closed off. But we wound up and around and down and I fell in love in person (as I had done only through photos before) with the Scottish landscapes. And I was seeing them bathed in sunshine, not rain, which was unexpected!

Then a short crawl through the city streets, admiring the sights so different from what the kids are used to in our small modern Texas city, to arrive at Edinburgh Castle about 11. We walked up and up steep steps and onto the Esplanade, which was full of people and scaffolding for the Tattoo later this summer. We walked around with S for 3 informational stops (I guess tour-guiding-territory and rights are tightly regulated!?) before being left on our own for exploring. I took my group first to see the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Scone. I love the Stone’s history and seeing it in person was a highlight!

Then we scattered, to explore and meet back at the cannon for the 1 o’clock firing. We all loved our couple hours in this spectacular castle; none of us saw everything, but we got to see a good bit (some apartments, St. Margaret’s Chapel, a walk around the batteries), most of us did a little first souvenir shopping, and most of us grabbed a bite to eat. The 4 or 5 I was with enjoyed a pretty quick lunch with a lovely view at the Redcoat Café. When I got back to the area near the cannon about 12:55, it was quite packed and I couldn’t get close, but I peeked over a few with my camera just as it went off—I jumped! My group gathered itself pretty much on time and we continued our afternoon in Edinburgh.

I’d decided that this group wasn’t really ready to be let go to ramble by themselves in a city I’d never visited, so I was their tour guide for the afternoon. I’d had a plan, but a mom’s (JJ’s) request to look for some special chicory/coffee stuff she’d been given years ago from Scotland and a student’s request to find Adam Smith’s grave meant that we’d just basically meander down High Street to Cannongate and then over toward Calton Hill if we had time. We’d check shops as we went along and stop by the Cathedral.

So we walked down High Street with lots of stops. There were street performers and photo ops everywhere, like with a Woad Warrior (I fussed at a student for stopping to take a picture and not then leaving money, but he went back to do so, and GH also had a short amazing conversation about faith with the guy, so nice moment after all!) I let them make a 15-minute souvenir stop at one shop—which turned into over 30 minutes at several shops! Like chasing rabbits. It was very crowded, but a beautiful day still and they had fun.

We made a stop in St. Giles Cathedral where GH and I had a great visit with a gentleman in the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle—and found the bagpipe-playing angels! We continued on our way down Cannongate toward the church with Adam Smith’s grave, threading our way through the hordes and stopping to wait as people darted in and out of stores! I had instituted a “count-off” with everyone having a number, but it was too crowded to do that here, so I tried to keep count. We’d also agreed that if we got separated, we’d reconvene at the last place we’d all definitely been together.

We continued on about 10 minutes or so, and right past John Knox’s house, we discovered that AP was missing. He’d been with us when we left St. Giles. So we waited a couple minutes and then I set off UP hill all the way back to St. Giles. No AP. I was both miffed and concerned and re-playing instructions in my head and reassuring myself that he’d find his way to the bus at the end of the day or call C somehow—when he popped out in front of me! He said he’d been in a store with a couple kids and when he came out, we were gone, so he just ordered some lunch and waited on the sidewalk table for someone to come back! I wasn’t sure whom to be most irritated with—myself, mostly, for not counting more carefully. But all well so off we went.

The group had waited near an ice cream store—and most had given in and gotten some! JJ got me some to revive me—it was a long walk up and back down. At Cannongate Kirk we found Smith’s tomb and had a short rest and made plans for the rest of our time we had before meeting the coach. I wanted to walk to Sir Walter Scott’s monument, and JJ had been told to look for her stuff at Jenner’s which was right across from the monument, so we headed in that direction. (JJ never did find her stuff—Jenner’s used to carry it, but no more.) After admiring the huge monument (reminded me of the Prince Albert Memorial, but without the glitz!), we split—about half went to shop and about half went with me to Calton Hill.

Calton Hill had been on my definitely-try-to-get-to list, if the weather was decent, and our weather this afternoon was amazing. We loved our walk up, scrambling on the monuments, gazing out over the land and ? is that the Firth of Forth? We could see for miles and miles. The wind was chilly but the sky still blue and we were having a blast. As we were about to come back down, we met the others for a minute, so some good group shot photos.

Then we went into the Old Calton Cemetery at the bottom of the hill, which was quite wonderful. Found David Hume’s grave and nice memorial to Abraham Lincoln. (My phone actually started totally working in every way here, and I about burst into tears to hear DH’s voice for a minute when I called him.)

The coach was to meet us here at the Cemetery and it was on time at 5:15. We were off to the extra option—a Scottish ceilidh. We were greeted at a hotel by a most skilled bagpiper and our host for the evening of dinner and song and haggis and dance. The dinner was quite good. The host was pleasant and sang a couple songs in “the mother tongue,” he said. A Robbie Burns expert, he also quoted some poetry. A bored-looking but highly skilled dancer performed a highland fling, and the piper played a solo also.

And then there was the presentation of, the cutting of, and the toasting of the haggis—followed by the eating of the haggis with tatties and neeps. I was determined to try it and encouraged the kids to—and it was actually delicious! I’ve tried blood pudding (ONCE) and think I expected something like that, but this presentation was moist and more like a meatball. Quite nice. Then the host taught some “volunteers” from among the students (I’m proud to say that 6 of the 8 were mine!) a few steps for a traditional dance. The whole evening was nice; not as lively (the piper and dancer looked bored to death, and after their most expert and skilled performances, they just sat apart, not interacting with the audience at all) or jovial or engaging as I’d been led to imagine. But (especially as this was free for my group) it was a good experience—and we got to try haggis! Most kids liked it pretty well, too. Back to the Glasgow Ibis for the night.

Day 3—To the Wall!

We left about 8 in a bit of drizzle and some clouds, but the sky was improving and the temperature mild. We had a long drive to Hadrian’s Wall; C arranged a potty/grab-some-snacks stop at Gretna Green about 90 minutes away. I was so pleasantly surprised to stop here, having heard of this little place from mainly Austen reading. There’s a little touristy area there—the Famous Blacksmith (who performed the weddings) still has a museum there, and there are several shops and places with food. We were to get something to eat as we would be on the Wall during lunch and might not want what was available there.

On the way GH mentioned to help her look for Kendall’s Mint Cakes which one of her daughters had requested. Neither of us knew what they were exactly, but I said I’d keep an eye out. When we stopped at Gretna Green, I went into a store and Bam! Right there in front of me was a big selection of huge slabs (think biggest Hershey’s chocolate bar) of Kendall’s Mint Cakes. So I rushed out to find GH, who was just finishing a purchase. I went back to wait on her, but when I went in, a gentleman came over and said, sorry, we are closed, there’s been a crime. Then I noticed all sorts of coffee-preparation-paraphernalia and maybe some glass on the floor; looked like maybe somebody had broken a window? Anyway, no mint cakes in other stores. Oh, well. It was a terrific fun little short break.

We journeyed on for 90 more minutes—with one wrong turn that took us through some really cute little lanes by great little cottages—in improving weather. No rain!! Then we got to Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. I was so excited. This most complete Roman fort on the wall is one of my favorite spots in all of the UK; I have terrific memories of a great day along the Wall, with the best of it at Housesteads, with DH and DD in 2010. And this day was shaping up to be just as spectacular weather-wise. I mean, the Wall in any weather is amazing, but sun and clear skies improves the experience immensely!

It wasn’t crowded. We parked at the bottom of the hill at the new visitor center (in 2010 it had been very busy and that lot was full, so we’d been redirected to unpaved parking which ended up being much much nearer the fort!). Today we had that long trek up the fairly steep hill, but it’s worth it. We spent a little time in the shop and little museum and then started in little groups to work our way toward the fort. SC tried to make friends with one of the grazing sheep. We climbed and gazed and stood and sat on this ancient wall. I don’t know what is the best—the fort itself with its obvious organization and stone foundations and gates and latrine remains OR the views all around OR the Wall itself as it serpentines down and up and away. The kids were having a blast too. And the ladies. We all loved it.

We reconvened at a corner for a group shot and some of us ate our snacks there, a bit out of the wind. It was rather blustery, but in the clear blue, nobody minded. We had over 2 hours and left before 2:30. (And at the gift shop, we found smaller bars of Kendall’s Mint Cakes—taken on the first successful expedition to the top of Mt. Everest! So we bought some; I tried mine later but found it rather too sweet for my taste. I imagine as a source of quick and easy energy, it would work well.)

Our next stop was Leeds, about 2.5 hours away through pretty rolling countryside, but most of the drive was on a highway. We got to our hotel about 4:30—another Ibis, but this one much nicer. We ate dinner in the hotel—shepherd’s pie and veggies. Quite decent.

Leeds was just a stop for the night, really, and nothing planned by the tour company for us to do or see here. But C had made a special effort to arrange a unique event for those interested; she has friends who are professional writers and writing teachers who were willing to conduct a little seminar on writing in which students (and adults) could get some ideas for getting their travel writing started. Half of my 10 kids and 2 more from the other 25 or so students (I do have good students!) elected to do this, plus a few adults. So after dinner we walked about a mile in some drizzle to a very new mall in the center of Leeds to a conference/meeting room area where C’s friend led us through some very interesting and creative exercises to get our travel stories (or any writing, really) started. As a writing teacher myself, I am always interested in seeing what others have to offer, and it was a good set of exercises. The kids were pretty worn out but were still engaged, and they all said they enjoyed it.

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    Hi Texasbookworm--Welcome back. A great start to your trip report. Loving it.

    Too bad you didn't get to go to Lady Stair's Close in Edinburgh where they have the writer's museum. You would have loved it. Hard to do everything though when in a big group. You will have to go back again for it. I am sure you loved what you did.

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    europeannovice--Yep, the Writer's Museum was the part of "my" plan I had to jettison as a sacrifice to my "peeps"--they were so gracious and cooperative that when they did have a quest, I tried to help them. Another reason to try to come back to Scotland!

    OK, next installment--thanks for encouragement!

    Day 4—York

    (Side-whine—I woke with the worst sore throat I’ve ever had and the beginning of congestion, so I felt bad, especially for about 2 days. GH had lots of treatments she brought from home, and I’d find more cold meds in town today. Haven’t had a cold in over 2 years!!)

    After an almost full English breakfast (no mushrooms), we left about 8:30 for an hour ride to York. I’d been here also in 2010 and fell in love with the walls and lanes and Minster. The weather was still wonderful—mostly clear skies and cool to slightly warm.

    We were let out near the train station and C took us on a short walk into town, past the old Abbey, through the Shambles to the Minster. She gave us maps and a bit of info about the town and we were on our own til 2. I’d decided not to keep us in a group today; with maps and commitments to stay in groups of at least 3, I trusted them to find their way. I told them my plan, which wouldn’t be very brisk today as I felt pretty bad, and they might want to stay away from my germs anyway! So we all entered the Minster together, but then they all went their ways in small groups and I wandered alone the rest of the day.

    I enjoyed the Minster’s beauty again; probably took a lot of the same pictures as before! After I left there, I don’t remember exactly what order I did things in, but I shambled around the Shambles, watched a couple marching bands go by and listened to the York Pipe band while eating a snack, got some meds, found some lovely nice china tea tidies (they have become my favorite souvenir—small so easy to pack and I use a different one every morning), got up on the walls for a short walk, and wandered into a couple churches.

    I really liked stumbling upon St. Martin-le-Grand; I noticed the lovely double-sided clock and then wandered into the door of this small church with a huge glass window reaching almost to the floor, so it’s easy to see. Never been that close to one of these massive works of art. The church, of Norman origin, was damaged in WWII and stood empty but for pigeons until 1968. Now it is a Shrine of Remembrance for those who died in the 2 world wars and is also a chapel of reconciliation, with an organ presented by the German government and German Evangelical Church. A wonderful spot of quiet and rest and remembrance.

    Next I went to two other places I hadn’t been before. I visited the Abbey of St. Mary ruins—Yorkshire Museum Gardens-- for just a few minutes; the whole park and garden area around them are lovely and were full of people enjoying a band and the grass and the sun, but I didn’t feel like walking around much. I wanted to get to the Railroad Museum for a minute.

    So I walked (a bit further than I thought—but I was feeling pretty bad from my cold so it probably isn’t really far) to the Railroad Museum. I rested and ate an apple and looked around about 20 minutes. It’s free but they ask for a donation; I bought a guide book as I did appreciate being able to use the facilities and rest and I knew I didn’t have the strength to really look around much. It’s a very nice museum; lots and lots of kids enjoying themselves immensely. We were to be at the bus very near the museum by 2; I’d told mine 1:45 and bless them, they pretty much were all there by1:50. Then the male teacher kept us waiting until at least 2:15. He seemed to get a bit lost several times.

    We drove next to Rugby to another Ibis, even a bit nicer than the one in Leeds. We had chicken and veggies at the hotel. It was a good night to pack it in early; I dosed myself and crashed early. (GH had brought some cough med with codeine—I took some!)

    Day 5—Stratford, Oxford, and on to London

    The day outside was how I felt—drippy and gray! But it never got worse, and actually some sun did come out a few times, and I didn’t get worse which at this point meant I was improving.

    We left about 8:30 for hour drive to Stratford. We had about an hour at the Shakespeare Museum. This was my 3rd trip here, and I was rather out of it, so I just walked through quickly. Enjoyed the book store.

    Then my group and C walked about 15 minutes to Trinity Church. I knew, as it was Sunday morning, we wouldn’t be able to go inside to see Will’s grave, and I told all my “peeps” that. (Sometimes I’d call them all my “peeps” to get them to gather up or pose for group shot). But most wanted to go, too, so we had a nice walk and enjoyed the outside grounds anyway. The 11 AM service was just beginning as we were there. Back to town where I went into my favorite truffle shop in England—Truffles—across from Shakespeare’s house shop and bought a variety—to share and to maybe take home if they last!

    Next stop was Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. It was my 3rd visit here, too, but it is so much prettier and to me more interesting than Shakespeare’s house, that I enjoyed it again. Today our tour provided lunch instead of dinner, and we ate at a cute little restaurant right across from the Cottage. We had chicken and veggies and they were delicious. And a fresh apple tart.

    Next a longish drive to Oxford; this would be my 5th trip to this city, which is one of my favorite spots in England. I was extremely disappointed to have less than 2 hours to introduce my kids to this wonderful place, but traveling with a tour means you do what they plan. Upon arrival (and it was busy but honestly maybe the least packed of my 5 visits), C walked us past the main city-center sites—Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, University Church, Sheldonian Theatre—and into Brasenose College for a quick glimpse at the dining hall, quad, and chapel.

    In our little bit of free time, I hustled my crew down to Cornmarket; a couple of us needed a pharmacy; a most helpful pharmacist helped me pick out correct treatment for my symptoms. Then we headed on to St. Giles to the Eagle and the Child—every student on the tour is a Lewis and/or Tolkien fan to some degree (a couple to a very high degree!). So they loved that. Bit of souvenir shopping and back to the Martyrs’ Memorial for the obligatory group shot!

    And then it was—wow!—already time to go into London! Our hotel was at Wembley at the Premiere Inn, a modern box hotel. This turned out to be a pretty good place for our 3 night stay; the Tube stop was literally out the front door and across the street; the ride into the city was about 45 minutes; the rooms were nice and roomy and comfortable; breakfast was decent (not hot but plenty of food).

    Then our first Tube ride—either first of this trip or first ever! I could tell a couple kids were a bit overwhelmed and would need to be coached and watched carefully; one just got off the first time the door opened despite instructions beforehand and the fact that nobody with him was getting off, but I managed to jump out and grab him back in. Adrenalin! Others I could let go off by themselves (SH has been here with me before). We used our count-off silliness several times in London and the Tube rides!

    I was definitely feeling improved, at least in throat and aches department. Just a head cold now.

    We got off at Waterloo and the weather was unbelievably spectacular again—the whole Southbank area was hopping! We went off in small groups to find some food (I think folks with me grabbed stuff in an Eat—a couple kids found Cornish pastries) and people-watch in the Jubilee Gardens. I don’t feel IN London until I’ve stood on a bridge and seen the Thames, so “my” little group trailed me onto the Jubilee Bridge for a look around and a few pics.

    C had gone to get our tickets for the Eye, so we met her there and everybody but GH (NOT a fan of heights, even if it’s smooth-going to get there!) rode. I think we stood in line 15-20 minutes. My group was together and the only ones in a pod. The ride was about what I expected, but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought. It was nearly dusk at about 9 pm, so the light wasn’t great for pix, but the views were amazing anyway. The kids all loved it. Quite a memory. I’d never wanted to spend the money, and I might not ever do it again if I return, but I’m glad I did it once. It still doesn’t make my top 10 or 12 things to do in London, but it was good. Tube ride back and finally in bed!

    Day 6—Hampton Court, London Loop, and “Wicked”

    (I felt better. Bad head cold but treat-able with meds.)
    After a decent breakfast, the coach met us with Stuart, our day’s guide, and off we went for about an hour’s ride to Hampton Court Palace. We were supposed to go to Windsor Palace, which I was excited about because I’d never been. But it was to be closed one day all summer—which day? The day we were to be there! I’d been to HCP in 2008 with DD and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    The weather was not as beautiful as the last few days but not raining and not cold so no real complaint. Stuart was very entertaining on the ride, telling us some English history and commenting on things as they went past—traffic, architecture, white-van-men, the British obsession with royals, and their frequent use of “-ish” on all sorts of words. It was more than funny-ish!

    At HCP he led us around, mostly to garden areas, for about an hour. It was most—interesting (usually a damning-with-faint-praise word, said Stuart, but I mean it in a most positive way!). Then we had a couple hours to wander around by ourselves, so we again broke up into little groups and triads. GH and I were mostly together with different kids sometimes; we went inside to see some Henry VIII rooms and a bit more. We stopped to grab something to take away to eat from a tiny café but ended up sitting and resting a bit there. Spent some time in the souvenir shop of course! HCP is an amazing complex; I’m glad to have gotten to see a bit more of the gardens on this trip, and I enjoyed the things inside again, too. A definite two thumbs (or however many thumbs you have) up. Several of the kids made it to/through the maze, too.

    Stuart accompanied us back to London, telling more stories and trivia and talking about the British culture and history. He was a wonderful guide. I’ve had 4 BlueBadge guides in London and he was the best (the one in 2011 was close but barely beat out by Stuart). In London we did the all-over-the-place-and-without-a-map-I-don’t-know-what-we-did coach tour. We stopped at Buckingham Palace for just a few minutes.

    Then near St. Paul’s we stopped just long enough for me and few of my peeps to dash onto the Millennium Bridge for those great looks back at that wonderful Wren dome. And the phoenix. I love that view and the Thames from that Bridge.

    Then it was on to Winchester Cathedral and good-bye to Stuart. I’d never been in this cathedral, but this was as close to the Westminster area as we would be getting, so I knew I needed to take whoever wanted to go down to the river for pix. So most of my group set off with me as we walked past Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Big Ben, taking pics, and out halfway across Westminster Bridge. Then we came back through Parliament Square and met up with the group. A short walk to a nearby Wagamama where we had pork and noodles and edamame. Tasty.

    Next to last stop—Apollo Theatre for “Wicked” at 7:30. It was good again. I’d seen it in 2011 and I had appealed to C to attend something different, but this is what the tour chose. It’s a spectacular production with great costumes and staging and singing (although I think the 2 voices in 2011 were somehow more beautiful together). Tube—hotel about 11.

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    Wow--pretty packed days. The kids must have loved every minute. Sorry to hear you had a cold during your visit but glad you were still able to carry on and enjoy the trip. Personally, we enjoyed Hampton Court Palace a lot more than Windsor so I think your group did okay with that switch in itinerary.

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    janisj--OOOPS--yep! I've BEEN to Winchester Cathedral! Good catch--thanks for reading all my details.

    Thursdays---yes, not just shopping ops on the tours with this company that I've taken.

    OK here's the last 3 days with my group; I will start a separate thread with the France part with DH.

    Day 7—The Tower, a Museum, and Some Photo Ops in London
    This was our “free day” in London. I had planned the Tower, the British Museum, and the British Library with some other photo ops as time permitted, but my peeps were being a little draggy—several had also gotten some cold bug from somebody! So I cut out the Library. I wanted to leave at 7:30, knowing that we could encounter a line at the Tower if we arrived very much after 9. But there was some oversleeping issues and tensions among some roommates (drama!), so it was about 8.

    The Tube was of course quite busy by this time, but we made it ok and got to the Tower of London ticket booths only a bit after 9 and the line wasn’t too bad. I marched them straight to the Crown Jewels, with which we were all done in 20-25 minutes. I had suggested we go on the Yeoman Warder tour; this was my 4th visit to the Tower but I’d never taken that tour. But it turned out only 1 student and a couple adults wanted to; the rest wanted to go on their own. So ok; I told them where to meet at 12:30 outside the Tower.

    The Tour—caught the 10 am one—was fantastic. I learned stuff about the moat and Yeoman Warders and some history of the construction I’d never heard before. The gentleman was hilarious (and loud enough!). Outside our visit to the Chapel, GH noticed a little memorial or something under one of the trees on the Tower Green; we asked and it turned out that young soldier who’d been murdered just a couple weeks earlier at an army base near London had actually been headquartered, as a fusilier, at the Tower. Sad.

    Afterwards we sorta split up; I wandered a bit, making sure I got up on the walls which I just love; I didn’t go anyplace new, but I enjoy the Tower immensely even if repeating. I did not actually go into the White Tower this trip. I exited and got a sandwich at the Eat across from the entrance and rested in the warm sitting on one of those big slabs with the great view of the Tower and the Tower Bridge; it was rather overcast but not raining. A bit of shopping and then waited on the group to reform, which they did not far off target time of 12:30. They were tired I could tell! They enjoyed the Tower though.

    A Tube ride and a walk brought us to the British Museum about 1:15. I gave them a fairly brief 30 minute overview/stroll by a few things—Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, some Assyrian things, the Great Court and the gift shops; and I gave them maps. I told them to meet back outside at 3:30. So they wandered around and most loved it immensely. The British Museum is a world wonder and after 5 times there, I haven’t seen a fourth of it even superficially probably! To me it—and the Tower—are musts for first time visitors, like most of my group.

    I had realized that there were a couple stops you “should” do your first trip to London that we hadn’t gone by, so these few stops were going to be our goals instead of the British Library. First Tube to Trafalgar Square for pictures—fountain, Gallery, Nelson, and of course the lions! Kids loved this. Every other trip to London has had this stop on day 1, so it felt a little funny for it to be near the end!

    Next we walked on to Picadilly Circus, which was of course a mad house. I really could skip this, but it turned out that JJ wanted to go to Waterstone’s near there to get a thank you cookbook present for C from us anyway, so it was a good stop. Most of us sat on the steps of Anteros’ statue (look it up—it’s NOT really Eros/Cupid!) while a few shopped.

    Then we rode Tube to Bayswater and shopped along Queensway Road about 5:30. From having stayed in this area in 2010, I knew there were several shops for those last minute trinkets the kids might want.

    At 6:15 we went to Mr. Fish around the corner and met up with the group, most of whom had gone to Bath and Stonehenge on a separately-paid-for excursion for the day. (Those are 2 of my favorite spots in England, and it was a tough decision, but most of my students had never been to London and I thought a second whole day in London was better for a first trip.) Fish and chips good. Afterwards people went into a couple different little grocers near there for stuff for the trip the next day, when we’d need to eat on the Eurostar. We got back about 9, packed up, and got ready for our early departure. Oh, I finally remembered to offer the kids some of those Stratford candies, so everybody came by to sample—yum!

    Day 8—Eurostar to Paris, Coach Tour, Notre Dame, and Montmartre/Sacre Coeur

    We had an early departure (6 or 6:30), for which a few were late. Traffic wasn’t too horrible and I think it was about a 30 minute ride. Said goodbye to our great coach driver and on we went into the lovely St. Pancras station—but no time for pix! The ticket and security process pretty quick. I think we were ready to go by 7:30 and had 8:30 departure. C said to get in line at 8, and they’d announce which platform at 8:20. While waiting most/all of us got some Euros. A nice airport-like waiting area.

    Major glitch—a student left his cell phone in the hotel. Eventually C got hold of hotel, they found phone, they would hold it, JJ and her daughter (who were staying behind in Paris to return to London to stay a few days with friends) would go get it when they were in London and bring it to Texas. Whew.

    The boys and GH and I were in a different car from the rest of the group. C said to try to be first in line as we would need access to the limited space for our luggage. So we were and we had plenty of room. We left on time for a smooth ride of about 2 ½ hours. We had seats around a table, which boys used as places to lay heads! I guess the tunnel part is about 30 minutes? (One awful thing—AK suddenly realized he’d unknowingly reformatted his card in the tablet he’d been using to take pix and his pix were all gone! He was understandably distraught. But end of story is, when he got home, he got some software to download that enabled him to recover all except the few he’d overwritten when he continued to take pix after the reformatting. So if anyone does this—don’t use the card anymore and there’s probably a way to recover pix. Whew!!!)

    Upon arrival it was a little damp—it had been raining when we emerged in France—and a lot busy! We had a long walk to our two awaiting vehicles—one took our luggage to deposit at our hotel, and one took us on a driving tour of the city. We drove into the city to Opera and picked up our guide (I’m sorry, I didn’t write down her name). We drove around Paris about 2.5 hours I think. We saw all kinds of stuff but it was all mixed up. With no map, and no actual experience in the city, and extreme tiredness, I don’t even know what all we saw! I think I nodded off a couple times.

    We stopped near the Trocadaro Gardens to jump out for a very quick look across the river at the Eiffel Tower.
    And here’s where my real first impressions of Paris begin.

    1. It was very, very crowded. Very. Lines for everything, everywhere. Traffic everywhere. Sidewalks jammed. Steps crowded. Lines to take pictures. To buy things. To use the WC. To buy tickets. To use tickets. To go through security. Very many people. I felt crowded.

    2. The Eiffel Tower is a cool thing and it was pretty amazing to be seeing it with our eyes, but we didn’t have time to get very near it, much less climb it, this day. Much of Paris for me was like that: Lots of stuff to see—but not a lot to experience closely because of lack of time or language barrier. Lots of pretty or ornate or awesome buildings, but I don’t know what they are or if they’re important. I felt a bit disconnected.

    3. The vigilance needed is fatiguing. As we were traveling to pick up the guide, C mentioned some things about watching out for pickpockets, avoiding getting stopped by people on the streets, walking past vendors, keeping your money and valuables under your clothes, etc. When the guide began, one of the first things she discussed was the need to be hyper-vigilant. This just served to corroborate all this stuff I’d read and already communicated to my students, so it was good to have them hear it again. Then sure enough we were approached by many street vendors. These weren’t especially pushy for the most part but something else to be on guard about. I have never felt this tense in any place in the UK, or in Germany running around by myself, in Rome even sorta lost, alone, and banged up from falling, or in Barcelona and the other parts of Spain. I didn’t like it. Most of this unease was for my kids’ safety I think--well, for the security of their stuff, not really their personal safety—not yet, anyway. I felt uneasy the entire time.

    Then we stopped at Notre Dame. C gave us a little orientation and said to be back at a certain time. There’s a line to go into Notre Dame, and after a potty-stop and bit of walk around the stunning outside and a glance at the pretty garden area behind it, we got in line, which actually moved very quickly. (Maybe they looked at bags? Don’t remember why there’s a line—no fee. C says lines may be in place because of big 850th anniversary celebrations and crowds.)

    To be honest after all the bright and beautiful and stunning cathedrals I’ve been in, I was a bit underwhelmed inside. I liked the outside better, but it is a most important historical spot; all such constructions with their windows and arches, pillars and traceries, statues and choirs, are actually almost unbelievably beautiful. I’m so glad I got to go in (and more about that in Part Two of this report!) I didn’t not like it or appreciate it; it just seemed not so different from many other amazing churches and cathedrals for all the hype it gets.

    After this, we took our first Metro ride to a restaurant in the Montmartre area. I find the Metro to be sorta like the Tube—underground, stiles, cars packed and hot and stuffy, get off and on from different platforms, connections. But I hate how it’s organized by end-of-line-stations. So instead of knowing whether you need to get on some line going east or west, you have to know the names of the end of the line and choose your direction based on that. For the first time visitor that is not easy; certainly not intuitive! I don’t think the signage is as prevalent or as clear as the Tube’s either. The only thing I liked better about the Metro is that lots of its entrances have marvelous Art Deco signs; way cool.

    We had dinner at Flam’s on Boulevard Montmartre—flatbread pizza-like things—kids mostly liked it; it was ok. Running beside the restaurant was Passage Panoramas and across the street Passage Jouffroy-- cute covered arcade-like shopping and hotel areas; very nice. As C led us down Passage Jouffroy, I saw some stuff I’d like to come back to see more closely! Hmmm—maybe tomorrow.

    Tonight C was taking us on a stroll to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. When we climbed up the street to the foot of the hill the church is on, she said we had about an hour and to meet back here.

    And here is what I actually remember most about my first day in Paris: At the foot of the steps were many young men, some approaching people and many just standing about. As we began climbing up, one began talking loudly and pointedly (in French of course) to one of my students, a tall and muscular young man, RL. We all just ignored the yeller, although RL did know the guy was addressing him. GH, who speaks French, got very tense and nervous and I could tell she wanted us all to just get on up the steps, which we did. When the kids were dispersed around the church area, she told me the lewd and awful thing he’d been yelling. It tainted my whole opinion especially of this area but in a way of my attitude toward Paris as a whole. I do NOT like having any threat or intimidation or situation even implied for my kids.

    Another student, AB, who has lived overseas and is pretty travel savvy, said later she’d felt a little weird when she realized she was away from our group up top behind the church and didn’t want to be alone up there! I would not go back to this area. (I know there are areas in many American cities and towns, some even where I live, where I wouldn’t go or I wouldn’t take students, either. I don’t mean to imply that Paris is the worst place. I just did not like the whole feel of many places when I was shepherding my “peeps,” and I’d never had this uncomfortableness in any other of my travels. Even in 2008 when in SoHo in London I KNOW my daughter and a small group were being followed by a potential pick-pocket, I didn’t feel threatened; we just walked quickly away and left the area and situation behind.)

    It was 275 steps up the left-hand straight-up stairs next to the furnicular (the main broad steps were closed off), and once on top the views were a bit hazy but nice. I peeked quickly into the church. It was fun to do a little shopping in the maze of streets around; JJ actually had time to get a very nice sketch done of her daughter for a nice memory. I got small posters of the Eiffel Tower for the kids to all sign as a souvenir of our trip together (idea from another teacher on the tour with us). I went back down and at the foot of the steps, I ran into some people from the other groups who recommended a chocolate shop, Le Petit Musee du Chocolat (on Rue Sevste?) down the way; in it was a chocolate Notre Dame, ship, and several other creations! Found some of my kids near there; bought my first assortment of macaroons and shared them with the kids. They were tasty; I prefer truffles and dark chocolate for my sweet treats, but it was fun to do that.

    When we were all back together, we walked a little way to wait on the coach due at 9—it was late, not arriving til 9:30. Over an hour drive to our hotel, so it was nearly midnight when we got to sleep.

    About this hotel: One way this tour gets affordable rooms is to not be in the center of expensive towns like London and Paris. But when I got this hotel’s location, I thought, good grief! Les Ducs de Chevreuse—26 miles from the center of Paris. http://www.lesducs.com/uk_flathotel_yvelines.php But it actually turned out to be cool. It has apartments, some split level, with big comfy rooms and kitchenettes; it’s in a national park area with quiet and beautiful woods and hills all around. Breakfast was delivered in a bag to your door, so you could eat in the room (in your pj’s if you wanted!). The manager was absolutely helpful and accommodating. It’s rather winding to get there, but it really was pretty. Just a bit far out.

    Day 9—Paris! And DH arrives!

    (Today DH was to arrive at CDG about 9:30am; he’d rent a car and drive to hotel east of Paris, park it and leave bags, and get into Paris somehow, probably a taxi, and meet us wherever we were, probably at the Musee d’Orsay. His plane was late and arrived at 11, it was pouring rain and took him 90 minutes to drive to the hotel through flooded tunnels, he had to navigate a “medieval-era” parking garage at the hotel that had carpet on the walls because turns and spaces so small, and he was pretty wiped out! But he was able to find us—details to follow.)

    Breakfast was to be delivered at 7 and we were to be ready to go at 7:45; GH had set an alarm, but it didn’t go off; I woke up with a jolt at 6:45 and got confused and thought we had to be on the bus in 15 minutes. Talk about adrenalin!! It took me about 5 minutes as I brushed my teeth to figure it out—oh I have an hour, not 15 minutes!--but my legs were still shaking when I got on the bus! GH thought she’d changed to Paris time, but it switched back or something. But it all turned out ok.

    GH wasn’t the only one whose alarm was wrong; for the first time several of my kids were just a few minutes late—but we weren’t the last ones on the bus thankfully! Also the girls (all in one room) discovered they’d left the only key in the room and 2 of them had for some inexplicable reason for the first time (well, first time I caught them) left their passports in the room—which they’d need to prove being under 18 for admissions today (plus they’d been told a hundred times to always have it—I think one truly did always except this time). I about lost it and was very curt with them and said they’d have a problem with admissions; then that nice manager showed up and let them in room and they got passports and we were on our way. Whew.

    Today instead of riding all the way in, we rode 5 km to the RER station and trained in. As Chevreuse is the first station, we all got seats. It was quite crowded by the time we arrived, of course. We got to the Louvre about 9:30—I know C’s goal had been much earlier and that’s why she was a bit tight-lipped with the tardy people. Her patience and organization are truly remarkable! But thankfully the line was really still pretty short, and after some instructions from C and a bit of orientation, we were in.

    I knew it would be overwhelming. Under the pyramid we got our maps and decided what we would do—we had until 4:45 to do whatever we planned. My plan had become this—Louvre for about 3 hours, walk across river to Musee d’Orsay (we’d planned this before we left home and I’d pre-purchased tickets for those 18 and up), then Metro back to that shopping area where we’d been the night before, then Metro to Hotel deVille to meet C and group. Sounds like a plan. So we all split up—“STAY WITH AT LEAST TWO PEOPLE!”—to meet back up at the Apple Store at 12:30ish—not sure why but a couple adults wanted to pick that as our destination. Maybe because a St. Arbucks (that’s a Stuart-ism) was near there.

    Anyway—and we’re off! The crowds were thick. I had printed out a three-hour tour of some highlights mentioned on a Fodor’s post-- http://www.gettingaway.com/directory/europe/france/paris/louvre.htm I told them this was my plan. Three students went with me. I knew that we could either wander aimlessly, have some specific goals and whiz around to some highlights, or pick one area; we 4 wanted to hit some highlights. We went pretty fast and actually did almost all of that itinerary with a couple other small detours in about 2 hours. Then we wandered around a little bit longer looking for something (I forget what) and got turned around in the Medieval part but enjoyed the cool down there anyway. Some of the museum seemed a bit warm. Anyway, we got back to under-pyramid area and got some lunch and rested until we were to meet at 12:30.

    My favorite things were watching the crowd search for the Mona Lisa, seeing DG enjoy the art and sculpture, practically touching Hammurabi’s Code stele, and the building itself. Wow! I did find it overwhelming and confusing and not especially well-signed, except for pointing to the Mona Lisa! We saw a bunch of most famous stuff which was a great intro.

    At 12:30 my peeps began trickling in but then would scatter back out to St. Arbucks and potty and such. And it was pouring down rain we could see on pyramid. I heard from DH about his delay and rough travel, but we still planned to meet up at Musee d’Orsay. Finally about 1 we were all regrouped AND it had practically stopped raining, so we set off and got to the MDO about 1:20. Quite a LOOONNGG line, but we just sailed right past all that and went in with our pre-purchased tickets. Good decision! “See you all back at entrance foyer at 3.” Lovely, lovely building! Lovely, lovely impressionist works! Extremely crowded. Loved this museum anyway. More than Louvre actually.

    About 2ish DH texted that he was on his way in a taxi, so I waited at the front, and a little before 3 he came in with his pre-purchased ticket. SO good to have him arrive safely!

    We were all ready to go by 3:30, and we caught the Metro to the Montmartre area and had about a half an hour to shop on and near Passage Jouffrey. I bought a pretty china cup with infuser and lid (a tisarine or something—I can’t find correct spelling) at La Maison de Charlotte and everybody, even the guys, enjoyed shopping. AA got chocolates for family and SC actually ducked in a Hard Rock Café near there for something for someone back home. And DH and I actually had time for a little sweet and cola as others shopped. It was pretty warm and humid out today, but it was cool in this shady passage. So a most successful stop.

    Then we rode Metro to meet C and folks. I think it was on this ride that we had an encounter with a pick-pocket episode. As we approached a stop we weren’t getting off at, there was a big commotion at the door, not involving any of us; much yelling, guy suddenly on the platform, door closed, jacket stuck through window, someone finally pushed/pulled the jacket out, much yelling. Well, what my two students nearest saw was a pickpocket get discovered, yelled at and pushed off at next stop and the almost-victims kept his jacket for a bit. DH thought, “Welcome to Paris! Traffic, flooding rain, Metro crowds and pickpockets!”

    Made our way to Hotel deVille, which is a good meeting point; on the way I bought a carnet of 10 metro tickets as I’d given my last one to DH and we’d need them for when we came back. Easy using cash. I didn’t try my credit card. C was waiting, and she and DH got to meet. At 5ish we set off to a restaurant near Place D’Italie—Le Derniere Séance. We had absolutely delicious roast and potatoes and a salad and crepes for dessert. Last dinner with group—and last visit with C. Sad. We hope to stay in touch again, even if our paths don’t cross touring. Last photos. They were headed to a boat ride on the Seine after dinner and then coach back to hotel. Au revoir! I’d be retrieving my luggage from the room in Chevreuse with DH in the morning, but they’d most likely already be gone to the airport.

    And so ends Part One of this long trip report; GH chaperoned the group minus me, JJ and her daughter (those two headed back to London the next day with C via the Eurostar) glitchlessly back to Texas (couple late bags but no big problems). So many memories, almost all good ones, for us all!

    And now Part Two will be a different post and will be about DH’s and my travels in France.

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    janisj--OOOPS--yep! I've BEEN to Winchester Cathedral! Good catch--thanks for reading all my details.

    Thursdays---yes, not just shopping ops on the tours with this company that I've taken.

    OK here's the last 3 days with my group; I will start a separate thread with the France part with DH.

    Day 7—The Tower, a Museum, and Some Photo Ops in London
    This was our “free day” in London. I had planned the Tower, the British Museum, and the British Library with some other photo ops as time permitted, but my peeps were being a little draggy—several had also gotten some cold bug from somebody! So I cut out the Library. I wanted to leave at 7:30, knowing that we could encounter a line at the Tower if we arrived very much after 9. But there was some oversleeping issues and tensions among some roommates (drama!), so it was about 8.

    The Tube was of course quite busy by this time, but we made it ok and got to the Tower of London ticket booths only a bit after 9 and the line wasn’t too bad. I marched them straight to the Crown Jewels, with which we were all done in 20-25 minutes. I had suggested we go on the Yeoman Warder tour; this was my 4th visit to the Tower but I’d never taken that tour. But it turned out only 1 student and a couple adults wanted to; the rest wanted to go on their own. So ok; I told them where to meet at 12:30 outside the Tower.

    The Tour—caught the 10 am one—was fantastic. I learned stuff about the moat and Yeoman Warders and some history of the construction I’d never heard before. The gentleman was hilarious (and loud enough!). Outside our visit to the Chapel, GH noticed a little memorial or something under one of the trees on the Tower Green; we asked and it turned out that young soldier who’d been murdered just a couple weeks earlier at an army base near London had actually been headquartered, as a fusilier, at the Tower. Sad.

    Afterwards we sorta split up; I wandered a bit, making sure I got up on the walls which I just love; I didn’t go anyplace new, but I enjoy the Tower immensely even if repeating. I did not actually go into the White Tower this trip. I exited and got a sandwich at the Eat across from the entrance and rested in the warm sitting on one of those big slabs with the great view of the Tower and the Tower Bridge; it was rather overcast but not raining. A bit of shopping and then waited on the group to reform, which they did not far off target time of 12:30. They were tired I could tell! They enjoyed the Tower though.

    A Tube ride and a walk brought us to the British Museum about 1:15. I gave them a fairly brief 30 minute overview/stroll by a few things—Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, some Assyrian things, the Great Court and the gift shops; and I gave them maps. I told them to meet back outside at 3:30. So they wandered around and most loved it immensely. The British Museum is a world wonder and after 5 times there, I haven’t seen a fourth of it even superficially probably! To me it—and the Tower—are musts for first time visitors, like most of my group.

    I had realized that there were a couple stops you “should” do your first trip to London that we hadn’t gone by, so these few stops were going to be our goals instead of the British Library. First Tube to Trafalgar Square for pictures—fountain, Gallery, Nelson, and of course the lions! Kids loved this. Every other trip to London has had this stop on day 1, so it felt a little funny for it to be near the end!

    Next we walked on to Picadilly Circus, which was of course a mad house. I really could skip this, but it turned out that JJ wanted to go to Waterstone’s near there to get a thank you cookbook present for C from us anyway, so it was a good stop. Most of us sat on the steps of Anteros’ statue (look it up—it’s NOT really Eros/Cupid!) while a few shopped.

    Then we rode Tube to Bayswater and shopped along Queensway Road about 5:30. From having stayed in this area in 2010, I knew there were several shops for those last minute trinkets the kids might want.

    At 6:15 we went to Mr. Fish around the corner and met up with the group, most of whom had gone to Bath and Stonehenge on a separately-paid-for excursion for the day. (Those are 2 of my favorite spots in England, and it was a tough decision, but most of my students had never been to London and I thought a second whole day in London was better for a first trip.) Fish and chips good. Afterwards people went into a couple different little grocers near there for stuff for the trip the next day, when we’d need to eat on the Eurostar. We got back about 9, packed up, and got ready for our early departure. Oh, I finally remembered to offer the kids some of those Stratford candies, so everybody came by to sample—yum!

    Day 8—Eurostar to Paris, Coach Tour, Notre Dame, and Montmartre/Sacre Coeur

    We had an early departure (6 or 6:30), for which a few were late. Traffic wasn’t too horrible and I think it was about a 30 minute ride. Said goodbye to our great coach driver and on we went into the lovely St. Pancras station—but no time for pix! The ticket and security process pretty quick. I think we were ready to go by 7:30 and had 8:30 departure. C said to get in line at 8, and they’d announce which platform at 8:20. While waiting most/all of us got some Euros. A nice airport-like waiting area.

    Major glitch—a student left his cell phone in the hotel. Eventually C got hold of hotel, they found phone, they would hold it, JJ and her daughter (who were staying behind in Paris to return to London to stay a few days with friends) would go get it when they were in London and bring it to Texas. Whew.

    The boys and GH and I were in a different car from the rest of the group. C said to try to be first in line as we would need access to the limited space for our luggage. So we were and we had plenty of room. We left on time for a smooth ride of about 2 ½ hours. We had seats around a table, which boys used as places to lay heads! I guess the tunnel part is about 30 minutes? (One awful thing—AK suddenly realized he’d unknowingly reformatted his card in the tablet he’d been using to take pix and his pix were all gone! He was understandably distraught. But end of story is, when he got home, he got some software to download that enabled him to recover all except the few he’d overwritten when he continued to take pix after the reformatting. So if anyone does this—don’t use the card anymore and there’s probably a way to recover pix. Whew!!!)

    Upon arrival it was a little damp—it had been raining when we emerged in France—and a lot busy! We had a long walk to our two awaiting vehicles—one took our luggage to deposit at our hotel, and one took us on a driving tour of the city. We drove into the city to Opera and picked up our guide (I’m sorry, I didn’t write down her name). We drove around Paris about 2.5 hours I think. We saw all kinds of stuff but it was all mixed up. With no map, and no actual experience in the city, and extreme tiredness, I don’t even know what all we saw! I think I nodded off a couple times.

    We stopped near the Trocadaro Gardens to jump out for a very quick look across the river at the Eiffel Tower.
    And here’s where my real first impressions of Paris begin.

    1. It was very, very crowded. Very. Lines for everything, everywhere. Traffic everywhere. Sidewalks jammed. Steps crowded. Lines to take pictures. To buy things. To use the WC. To buy tickets. To use tickets. To go through security. Very many people. I felt crowded.

    2. The Eiffel Tower is a cool thing and it was pretty amazing to be seeing it with our eyes, but we didn’t have time to get very near it, much less climb it, this day. Much of Paris for me was like that: Lots of stuff to see—but not a lot to experience closely because of lack of time or language barrier. Lots of pretty or ornate or awesome buildings, but I don’t know what they are or if they’re important. I felt a bit disconnected.

    3. The vigilance needed is fatiguing. As we were traveling to pick up the guide, C mentioned some things about watching out for pickpockets, avoiding getting stopped by people on the streets, walking past vendors, keeping your money and valuables under your clothes, etc. When the guide began, one of the first things she discussed was the need to be hyper-vigilant. This just served to corroborate all this stuff I’d read and already communicated to my students, so it was good to have them hear it again. Then sure enough we were approached by many street vendors. These weren’t especially pushy for the most part but something else to be on guard about. I have never felt this tense in any place in the UK, or in Germany running around by myself, in Rome even sorta lost, alone, and banged up from falling, or in Barcelona and the other parts of Spain. I didn’t like it. Most of this unease was for my kids’ safety I think--well, for the security of their stuff, not really their personal safety—not yet, anyway. I felt uneasy the entire time.

    Then we stopped at Notre Dame. C gave us a little orientation and said to be back at a certain time. There’s a line to go into Notre Dame, and after a potty-stop and bit of walk around the stunning outside and a glance at the pretty garden area behind it, we got in line, which actually moved very quickly. (Maybe they looked at bags? Don’t remember why there’s a line—no fee. C says lines may be in place because of big 850th anniversary celebrations and crowds.)

    To be honest after all the bright and beautiful and stunning cathedrals I’ve been in, I was a bit underwhelmed inside. I liked the outside better, but it is a most important historical spot; all such constructions with their windows and arches, pillars and traceries, statues and choirs, are actually almost unbelievably beautiful. I’m so glad I got to go in (and more about that in Part Two of this report!) I didn’t not like it or appreciate it; it just seemed not so different from many other amazing churches and cathedrals for all the hype it gets.

    After this, we took our first Metro ride to a restaurant in the Montmartre area. I find the Metro to be sorta like the Tube—underground, stiles, cars packed and hot and stuffy, get off and on from different platforms, connections. But I hate how it’s organized by end-of-line-stations. So instead of knowing whether you need to get on some line going east or west, you have to know the names of the end of the line and choose your direction based on that. For the first time visitor that is not easy; certainly not intuitive! I don’t think the signage is as prevalent or as clear as the Tube’s either. The only thing I liked better about the Metro is that lots of its entrances have marvelous Art Deco signs; way cool.

    We had dinner at Flam’s on Boulevard Montmartre—flatbread pizza-like things—kids mostly liked it; it was ok. Running beside the restaurant was Passage Panoramas and across the street Passage Jouffroy-- cute covered arcade-like shopping and hotel areas; very nice. As C led us down Passage Jouffroy, I saw some stuff I’d like to come back to see more closely! Hmmm—maybe tomorrow.

    Tonight C was taking us on a stroll to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. When we climbed up the street to the foot of the hill the church is on, she said we had about an hour and to meet back here.

    And here is what I actually remember most about my first day in Paris: At the foot of the steps were many young men, some approaching people and many just standing about. As we began climbing up, one began talking loudly and pointedly (in French of course) to one of my students, a tall and muscular young man, RL. We all just ignored the yeller, although RL did know the guy was addressing him. GH, who speaks French, got very tense and nervous and I could tell she wanted us all to just get on up the steps, which we did. When the kids were dispersed around the church area, she told me the lewd and awful thing he’d been yelling. It tainted my whole opinion especially of this area but in a way of my attitude toward Paris as a whole. I do NOT like having any threat or intimidation or situation even implied for my kids.

    Another student, AB, who has lived overseas and is pretty travel savvy, said later she’d felt a little weird when she realized she was away from our group up top behind the church and didn’t want to be alone up there! I would not go back to this area. (I know there are areas in many American cities and towns, some even where I live, where I wouldn’t go or I wouldn’t take students, either. I don’t mean to imply that Paris is the worst place. I just did not like the whole feel of many places when I was shepherding my “peeps,” and I’d never had this uncomfortableness in any other of my travels. Even in 2008 when in SoHo in London I KNOW my daughter and a small group were being followed by a potential pick-pocket, I didn’t feel threatened; we just walked quickly away and left the area and situation behind.)

    It was 275 steps up the left-hand straight-up stairs next to the furnicular (the main broad steps were closed off), and once on top the views were a bit hazy but nice. I peeked quickly into the church. It was fun to do a little shopping in the maze of streets around; JJ actually had time to get a very nice sketch done of her daughter for a nice memory. I got small posters of the Eiffel Tower for the kids to all sign as a souvenir of our trip together (idea from another teacher on the tour with us). I went back down and at the foot of the steps, I ran into some people from the other groups who recommended a chocolate shop, Le Petit Musee du Chocolat (on Rue Sevste?) down the way; in it was a chocolate Notre Dame, ship, and several other creations! Found some of my kids near there; bought my first assortment of macaroons and shared them with the kids. They were tasty; I prefer truffles and dark chocolate for my sweet treats, but it was fun to do that.

    When we were all back together, we walked a little way to wait on the coach due at 9—it was late, not arriving til 9:30. Over an hour drive to our hotel, so it was nearly midnight when we got to sleep.

    About this hotel: One way this tour gets affordable rooms is to not be in the center of expensive towns like London and Paris. But when I got this hotel’s location, I thought, good grief! Les Ducs de Chevreuse—26 miles from the center of Paris. http://www.lesducs.com/uk_flathotel_yvelines.php But it actually turned out to be cool. It has apartments, some split level, with big comfy rooms and kitchenettes; it’s in a national park area with quiet and beautiful woods and hills all around. Breakfast was delivered in a bag to your door, so you could eat in the room (in your pj’s if you wanted!). The manager was absolutely helpful and accommodating. It’s rather winding to get there, but it really was pretty. Just a bit far out.

    Day 9—Paris! And DH arrives!

    (Today DH was to arrive at CDG about 9:30am; he’d rent a car and drive to hotel east of Paris, park it and leave bags, and get into Paris somehow, probably a taxi, and meet us wherever we were, probably at the Musee d’Orsay. His plane was late and arrived at 11, it was pouring rain and took him 90 minutes to drive to the hotel through flooded tunnels, he had to navigate a “medieval-era” parking garage at the hotel that had carpet on the walls because turns and spaces so small, and he was pretty wiped out! But he was able to find us—details to follow.)

    Breakfast was to be delivered at 7 and we were to be ready to go at 7:45; GH had set an alarm, but it didn’t go off; I woke up with a jolt at 6:45 and got confused and thought we had to be on the bus in 15 minutes. Talk about adrenalin!! It took me about 5 minutes as I brushed my teeth to figure it out—oh I have an hour, not 15 minutes!--but my legs were still shaking when I got on the bus! GH thought she’d changed to Paris time, but it switched back or something. But it all turned out ok.

    GH wasn’t the only one whose alarm was wrong; for the first time several of my kids were just a few minutes late—but we weren’t the last ones on the bus thankfully! Also the girls (all in one room) discovered they’d left the only key in the room and 2 of them had for some inexplicable reason for the first time (well, first time I caught them) left their passports in the room—which they’d need to prove being under 18 for admissions today (plus they’d been told a hundred times to always have it—I think one truly did always except this time). I about lost it and was very curt with them and said they’d have a problem with admissions; then that nice manager showed up and let them in room and they got passports and we were on our way. Whew.

    Today instead of riding all the way in, we rode 5 km to the RER station and trained in. As Chevreuse is the first station, we all got seats. It was quite crowded by the time we arrived, of course. We got to the Louvre about 9:30—I know C’s goal had been much earlier and that’s why she was a bit tight-lipped with the tardy people. Her patience and organization are truly remarkable! But thankfully the line was really still pretty short, and after some instructions from C and a bit of orientation, we were in.

    I knew it would be overwhelming. Under the pyramid we got our maps and decided what we would do—we had until 4:45 to do whatever we planned. My plan had become this—Louvre for about 3 hours, walk across river to Musee d’Orsay (we’d planned this before we left home and I’d pre-purchased tickets for those 18 and up), then Metro back to that shopping area where we’d been the night before, then Metro to Hotel deVille to meet C and group. Sounds like a plan. So we all split up—“STAY WITH AT LEAST TWO PEOPLE!”—to meet back up at the Apple Store at 12:30ish—not sure why but a couple adults wanted to pick that as our destination. Maybe because a St. Arbucks (that’s a Stuart-ism) was near there.

    Anyway—and we’re off! The crowds were thick. I had printed out a three-hour tour of some highlights mentioned on a Fodor’s post-- http://www.gettingaway.com/directory/europe/france/paris/louvre.htm I told them this was my plan. Three students went with me. I knew that we could either wander aimlessly, have some specific goals and whiz around to some highlights, or pick one area; we 4 wanted to hit some highlights. We went pretty fast and actually did almost all of that itinerary with a couple other small detours in about 2 hours. Then we wandered around a little bit longer looking for something (I forget what) and got turned around in the Medieval part but enjoyed the cool down there anyway. Some of the museum seemed a bit warm. Anyway, we got back to under-pyramid area and got some lunch and rested until we were to meet at 12:30.

    My favorite things were watching the crowd search for the Mona Lisa, seeing DG enjoy the art and sculpture, practically touching Hammurabi’s Code stele, and the building itself. Wow! I did find it overwhelming and confusing and not especially well-signed, except for pointing to the Mona Lisa! We saw a bunch of most famous stuff which was a great intro.

    At 12:30 my peeps began trickling in but then would scatter back out to St. Arbucks and potty and such. And it was pouring down rain we could see on pyramid. I heard from DH about his delay and rough travel, but we still planned to meet up at Musee d’Orsay. Finally about 1 we were all regrouped AND it had practically stopped raining, so we set off and got to the MDO about 1:20. Quite a LOOONNGG line, but we just sailed right past all that and went in with our pre-purchased tickets. Good decision! “See you all back at entrance foyer at 3.” Lovely, lovely building! Lovely, lovely impressionist works! Extremely crowded. Loved this museum anyway. More than Louvre actually.

    About 2ish DH texted that he was on his way in a taxi, so I waited at the front, and a little before 3 he came in with his pre-purchased ticket. SO good to have him arrive safely!

    We were all ready to go by 3:30, and we caught the Metro to the Montmartre area and had about a half an hour to shop on and near Passage Jouffrey. I bought a pretty china cup with infuser and lid (a tisarine or something—I can’t find correct spelling) at La Maison de Charlotte and everybody, even the guys, enjoyed shopping. AA got chocolates for family and SC actually ducked in a Hard Rock Café near there for something for someone back home. And DH and I actually had time for a little sweet and cola as others shopped. It was pretty warm and humid out today, but it was cool in this shady passage. So a most successful stop.

    Then we rode Metro to meet C and folks. I think it was on this ride that we had an encounter with a pick-pocket episode. As we approached a stop we weren’t getting off at, there was a big commotion at the door, not involving any of us; much yelling, guy suddenly on the platform, door closed, jacket stuck through window, someone finally pushed/pulled the jacket out, much yelling. Well, what my two students nearest saw was a pickpocket get discovered, yelled at and pushed off at next stop and the almost-victims kept his jacket for a bit. DH thought, “Welcome to Paris! Traffic, flooding rain, Metro crowds and pickpockets!”

    Made our way to Hotel deVille, which is a good meeting point; on the way I bought a carnet of 10 metro tickets as I’d given my last one to DH and we’d need them for when we came back. Easy using cash. I didn’t try my credit card. C was waiting, and she and DH got to meet. At 5ish we set off to a restaurant near Place D’Italie—Le Derniere Séance. We had absolutely delicious roast and potatoes and a salad and crepes for dessert. Last dinner with group—and last visit with C. Sad. We hope to stay in touch again, even if our paths don’t cross touring. Last photos. They were headed to a boat ride on the Seine after dinner and then coach back to hotel. Au revoir! I’d be retrieving my luggage from the room in Chevreuse with DH in the morning, but they’d most likely already be gone to the airport.

    And so ends Part One of this long trip report; GH chaperoned the group minus me, JJ and her daughter (those two headed back to London the next day with C via the Eurostar) glitchlessly back to Texas (couple late bags but no big problems). So many memories, almost all good ones, for us all!

    And now Part Two will be a different post and will be about DH’s and my travels in France.

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    Glad you had a good time overall and everything went smoothly more or less for your entire group.

    Interesting that your view of Paris was similar to ours.

    We encountered many lines or queues everywhere. We even had to wait in line at Napoleon's tomb just to get a zero ticket for my son even though we had the museum pass on us that allowed us adult entry and kids under a certain age were free. If they needed to do a count of visitors they could have thought of a different method (maybe a hand counter at the door) rather than forcing you to wait on line for a "free" ticket", especially when we already had entry tickets on hand.

    We also didn't appreciate Versailles as much as other palaces we saw during our trip due to the crowds hovering everywhere and no where to stop to admire the rooms without being pushed and shoved. We were also approached by gypsy ladies right by the entrance of Notre Dame who wanted to hand us a magazine and then ask for money. We just said no and moved along. The line to climb to the top was about 2 hours that day so we just saw the inside of the Cathedral and didn't climb to the top. We weren't as impressed with Notre Dame either. Saint Chappelle, on the other hand, with the stained glass windows not too far from Notre Dame was spectacular.

    Shame that the pick pockets are out in force all over Paris it seems from the posts we have been reading lately.

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    great to read your trip report - I have traveled alone with my kids - I can't imagine being in charge of a group like you did!

    I thought your explanation of the crowds in Paris was spot on. We were just there, and I couldn't put my finger on it, but I felt sad. It felt different. I think it was the hyper-vigilance that I had to have - at some level, I think it tired me out. We (fortunately) didn't have any problems, but I saw more scammers, beggars, than I ever have. The constant "survey takers" were overwhelming. The crowds were overwhelming (we were there the week leading up to Easter). It just lost some of the "magic".

    thanks for sharing~

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    Wonderful report - I know how you feel about Paris. I love the city but am much less 'comfortable' there than in London or Edinburgh. And it isn't just the language difference. Just can be more chaotic. I'm going solo to Paris for a few days in October between two stays in London and it will be fun but I know I'll be hyper-vigilant.

    >>young soldier who’d been murdered just a couple weeks earlier at an army base near London<<

    That was Lee Rigby - the soldier beheaded by Islamic terrorists in the street in Woolwich. An utter tragedy.

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    The Paris thing is not just a language change jansj as you say but it must be dis-orientating for the first timer as these kids were.

    Paris around the tourist hotspots has got worse though. I would love to know how Kerouac sees it?

    flatbread pizza-like things. could they have been http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarte_flamb%C3%A9e
    ?

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    Thanks all above; I know so many people here love Paris so much I was a tad reluctant to put down my negative thoughts. So rather reassuring to know it wasn't just me. Iis sad that such a place has lost some of its charm, although it obviously hasn't lost much of its appeal, as the crowds attest!

    Yes bilboburgler--those were flambs at Flams!

    surfmom--This is about as many kids in a group I'd want to manage. Plus having other adults, even though they weren't officially "in charge" most of the time, is necessary. When I spoke with a few other group leaders who had 10's or dozens in their group, I thought, "no way!"

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    A great report. Sorry to hear about your time in Paris. To be honest, it doesn't sound like your tour was that good. I don't find a lot of the touristy places that interesting and of course they are always crowded (not just with visitors, but also with people trying to rip you off or pickpocket you). I prefer the Musée d'Orsay and the Orangerie to the Louvre too. I've worked in Paris for 5 years and can certainly encourage you to visit again to see more interesting and authentic bits of the city. However, I know you stayed a bit longer with your husband, so off to see that bit of your trip report now :)

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    Thanks for taking the time to write this up. My first Paris visit as an adult (accompanying a work-sponsored tour) was just okay, but I experienced that same disorientation every time the bus drove around.

    I knew though that I wanted to go back my way. So we've been a few times since on our own, and it just gets more fabulous and comfortable each time.

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    bdsbeautyblog--I think this tour, as it is for STUDENTS, really does a pretty good job--kids expect to go to the main tourists spots they've seen in photos. So for the kids, I will still say it was a good introduction. That's what many of these student tours are, really; mostly just an introduction both to the highlights of a particular place and to international travel at all. And as such, they have worked for the vast majority of the kids I've taken on such. When not ministering to students, though, yeah, I'll go on my own.

    Again thanks to all for your encouragement; those who have done TR's know that they do take some work to be any good (and they are also a great way to force me to write up my journal notes before I forget anymore!)

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    Bravo to you for taking a group of kids on a trip like this! I love kids and have worked in schools for more than 20 years, but whenever I see teen tour groups in Europe, I am always thankful I am not their leader. Sounds like you did a wonderful job, and that you really care about your kids. Your students are lucky to have you!

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    up until our last trip to Paris, DH loved it and couldn't get enough.

    However on our last trip he felt much like you, and came away wondering if he'd ever want to go back. I OTOH still love it, and would go back any time I could. ditto Rome about which he feels the same.

    sadly I can see some solo trips coming on!

    thanks for the TR - a really good job done.

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    janisj--Thank you.

    To you above who have left me feedback--also thank you. My Fodor's community has been valuable beyond calculation when planning the few trips I've been able to make over the last 5 years, and I'm privileged (and feel obligated!) to give back a little with my experiences. A report on a tour may not be quite as helpful when planning independent travel, but all travel experiences can inform at least a bit.

    (And to you who praise me for traveling with students--Well, for one, as my teaching is not just a job but a calling/ministry/gift, working with them is....well, it's just life, and good, and right. Two, I do chose to work not in the public school community and that road less traveled has made all the difference! And three--well, I do get to travel for practically free when there are 6 other travelers!)

    As an interesting follow up to my comments on the Scottish ceilidh, as well as on the integrity and responsiveness of the tour company I used, in a follow up conversation with my consultant, I learned that others, from my TG C on down through the others on tour, had had similar responses, so the tour company refunded other people's money (we had gone free as compensation for missed first day time) and will not be using that vendor anymore.

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    I enjoyed your trip. Kids can be wonderful on a trip, but I am glad my days of leading high school trips are long over. (Forty five years ago I was as excited as the kids to see so many places and too dumb (naïve?) to think of the potential problems of such excursions.)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing!

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    Re your comments about working in the private sector: I chose the public sector after a brief "tour" in the private school venue, and for me that was the right choice "which made all the difference." But I too found teaching a calling/art/ministry and feel so fortunate to have been able to spend over forty years in the field.

    When I listen to my former colleagues talk about the paperwork (increasing exponentially) and state demands (made up by people who have never been in a classroom), I might choose the private sector if I were beginning today.

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