Texans Take a Tour
In June 2105, I was the group leader (teacher/chaperone) for 18 of us (10 students, 2 college students, 3 moms, 3 faculty) joining a student-tour-group which went to London/Paris/the Alps/Munich. DD (R), who is also a teacher with me, and I had gone to London a week before the group—see the Trip Report athttp://www.fodors.com/community/europe/tales-of-the-texas-two-or-ladies-in-london.cfm Tales of the the Texas Two; or, Ladies in London.
Also, as she did in that TR, R will add a few comments in this TR, noted in italics
The group was to arrive by 7AM on a Monday (chaperoned by fellow faculty member ST), and we had a plan of how R and I would connect with them after they arrived at LHR, meeting the group as well as the group-provided-Tour Director (TD—Ru for this report), and then spend the day first at the British Museum on our own and then meet with the rest of the people on our tour/on the bus with us (a large group from –well, let’s just say a mid-western/northern state) for a walk and dinner before heading to the hotel, St. Giles in Feltham. BUT those plans went south when my group’s flight was 9 hours late—details on my other TR. But they did all arrive safely, just late, and their adventure began. This TR may be less detailed than ones about my personal travel; I will just recount what we did. This is NOT meant as a review of the tour company at all; there are pluses and minuses to traveling with any group or tour, and student tours are different in many ways--pace, food, and accommodations, etc.-- from the way most adult independent travelers go, but we had experiences worth recording:
Arrival Day (RandMy 8th Day)—After a 9-hour delay because of equipment issues, the group caught up with R and me at dinner, and then they had a very short walk around Embankment and across the Jubilee Bridge and on to Waterloo Station for a train ride to St. Giles Hotel in Feltham. This hotel is conveniently located near a train station and has nice staff, large enough rooms, and decent breakfast. I don’t like staying an hour away, but in some ways, the experience for my not-used-to-public-transport kids is good for them. All ready to collapse pretty early! (We would be traveling on a bus of about 48 people total for the rest of the tour, combining with a big group from another state, who had arrived on time mid-day and were also at dinner.)
I will just say here and repeat this often—I am super proud of our kids (students). They really kept positive attitudes even in the midst of lots of problems. As for me, I was excited to see other people I knew in a city of millions.
First Full Day (RandMy 9th Day)—London
The night before, fellow faculty member (ST) and I and Ru had discussed the possibilities of arranging for my group to see a play; it seemed the best option would be for ST to go to the box office for Warhorse and see if he could get tickets for 15 of the 18 (R and I had just seen it and one student didn’t want to go). This might mean we would have to arrange dinner on our own, but we agreed to pursue this plan.
The bus picked us up at 8:15 and we rode to the National History Museum to pick up our Blue Badge guide who led us on a 2.5 hour-ish bus tour (at this point ST went on alone to try to get tickets); a lot of this bus-tour time was of course spent sitting in traffic, but we drove around enough for kids to get a bit of overview of some of the major sites. Tuesday morning traffic was horrible, but when is it not? Taking a bus tour is a risk, but they did see a few things and got a taste of big city traffic and busy-ness! We stopped briefly at St. Paul’s for a closer look at the outside (and the crypt for those who wanted the toilets). We got out at St. James, and she walked us briskly to a vantage point beside Buckingham Palace at 12:15 in time for the guards to parade right past us. I could really do without this; kids enjoyed the pomp, though.
Our bus-tour lady was fine, but as a returner to London, I wasn’t that interested. Still, it is always good to re-hear things. Still, mom knows so much about London and we walk so fast ,we could’ve used this time for free time, especially since the kids missed their first day. Still, the kids were really jetlagged, and I was tired, so a bus ride was fine. I mean, after the changing of the guards, we had to walk a ways, and some people were already commenting on how much we were walking. We did warn them!
From here we had time on our own until dinner—or even later for us. So we separated from the other folks on our tour, and we walked to Trafalgar Square. There we got lunch at one of the Pret a Mangers there and sat on the steps in very nice weather to eat and enjoy the Square. Several commented on how surprised they were at how much they liked their lunch. ST met us—he had been able to get tickets! But the tour dinner could not be changed to 6 pm, so we would find our own. We took pix, of course; and I showed them the marker marking the center of London. We went down Whitehall noting some of the monuments and horse guards and important buildings and such, and got to Westminster area for another look at Big Ben and Parliament, then caught Tube with our tour-provided day passes, and rode to Tower Hill.
At the Tower I bought group tickets (which they’d pre-paid me for) and in we went with no wait, and we saved a little with group rates. For a first time visitor, especially students, I think the Tower is a must-see. We were just in time for a 2:30 Yeoman Guard tour, so we waited in the moat for a few minutes for that. They enjoyed the tour, then I gave them an hour to explore; some made it to see the Crown Jewels, a few went into the White Tower, most got up on the walls—it was good.
I really enjoyed the tour at the Tower, except I couldn’t hear everything. They should put a cap on how many people are allowed on the tours, really, but I understand why they can’t. If we had more time, perhaps we could’ve gone on a less crowded tour, but I feel like that wouldn’t be an option for a summer day. I went into the Fusiliers Museum at the Tower, as it was a part I hadn’t gone into before, and skipped the Crown Jewels. The museum was really nice, but small. They just have a few artifacts and signs, but they are organized by time, which is really helpful. I was mostly interested in the WWI section, and it was fun to see how many German artifacts the soldiers had brought back. They have free guides there that you can donate to take, so I put in some change and took one. I only realized later I made a mistake and grabbed one with Spain’s flag on it. So check the upper right corner for a small flag to make sure you’re getting one you can read!
Then I had considered taking them to the Millennium Bridge, but we decided that a tiny taste of the British Museum (which they’d gotten “robbed” of yesterday) was better than none, so we rode to Holborn and walked toward the Museum. On the way we passed an Italian restaurant—Il Castelleto--and made reservations for an hour later. So into the Museum, and I quick-marched them past some things I KNOW they’ve encountered in my history and literature classes—the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, some of the Egyptian and Assyrian and Babylonian things. They were all properly impressed by the size and beauty of the building and plethora of things, and they were properly reluctant to leave! But I did warn them that it was literally just a tiny, tiny sip; I hope they all return one day.
I stayed outside with S (the student who had been in town an entire week like mom and me) when the others went into the British Museum. We had a good chat and got annoyed by a group of (let’s just say not American and not British!) non-supervised students who were kicking around a soda bottle and got it on us at one point.
Back to the restaurant for a good meal; they nicely gave us a lunch price deal, so even with a tip for separate checks, it was £12 for salad, choice of entrees, bread, and drink. So a good choice. We were done by 6:20 and were at the Gielgud before 6:30. R and I and one student said good-bye and headed back. They all enthusiastically loved the play, so R and I were glad we recommended it. They were back at the hotel before 11. (And an afternote—even though I am not reviewing the tour company and won’t say its name, when I returned and gave my overall good evaluation of the trip but with some comments, they made arrangements to reimburse us each for the meal this night.)
Oh, dinner was fun. The girls were extremely silly and kept looking at some guy in an office in a building nearby. Poor man.
Meanwhile the 3 of us went back to Holborn, where I remembered that Ru had warned us that our Tube passes were for groups of 10 or more, so I got in a line to buy tickets. But then R suggested we ask an agent standing near a stile (the ticket office line was long), and when I explained, he said just go on, we had tickets and it would be fine. I had to explain again at Waterloo, but they let us through.
R and I went to the Lidl next to the hotel for some snacks and breakfast stuff for gluten-avoiding/vegetarian R. We collapsed in bed about 9.
Lidl was an interesting experience. We couldn’t find any good chocolate. And the vending machines in the hotel needed exact change. Thankfully that problem wouldn’t last long.
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Texans Take a Tour