Texans Take a Tour

Old Jul 1st, 2015, 08:13 AM
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Texans Take a Tour

<b>Texans Take a Tour</b>

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, <i> noted in italics</i>

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:

<b>Arrival Day (RandMy 8th Day)</b>—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>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.</i>

<b>First Full Day (RandMy 9th Day)—London</b>

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 <i>Warhorse</i> 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.

<i>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!</i>

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>I really enjoyed the tour at the Tower, </i>except<i> 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!</i>

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>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. </i>

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.)

<i>Oh, dinner was fun. The girls were extremely silly and kept looking at some guy in an office in a building nearby. Poor man.</i>

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.

<i>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.</i>
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Old Jul 1st, 2015, 09:29 AM
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<b>Second Full Day (RandMy10th Day)—On to Paris</b>

We had to be on the bus by 6:15 (breakfast in boxes provided), and we got to St. Pancras in about an hour. I got Euros even though the rate was not great, I but wanted to have some, as the group leader. Kids had time to grab more food and coffee.

Soon it was time to go through passport and luggage check where all went smoothly except Ru said they completely unpacked his bag, even unrolling his secret socks. He said it was his German passport! Hmm. At 8:55 they posted boarding for our 9:17 train, so we all got on and it pulled out on time.

The kids-from-the-other-group on my car talked LOUDLY the entire way—a theme of the whole trip unfortunately. In my pre-trip instructions to my students, I had counseled them about European privacy on public transport being more about quiet than personal space, but the other group hadn’t been so instructed. I felt sorta embarrassed and sorry for the few non-American-teenagers on this car; I had hoped for a quiet couple hours to just chill, but not to be. And there was no “chilling” in Paris, either—it was actually pretty warm, and of course crazy busy!

Upon arrival we put our luggage on a bus, and then we went to the Louvre; at the Carousel Ru left us for a while so he could secure tickets while we grabbed lunch if we wanted and looked around (and many of mine used better-exchange-rate ATM’s). I had yummy grilled veggies and the best chocolate tart/mousse/flour-less dark chocolate thing for dessert!

Then we all had about 3 hours. Ru had figured out a way to get us in a bit faster than in a long line (we didn’t ask questions!). I gave out a 3-hour-tour I’d printed off; and they each had maps and instructions to stay with someone and a clear idea of where and when to meet back. So off we all scattered. It was HOT and CROWDED. Everybody reported later of getting a little lost at least once! A few followed my printed itinerary at least part of the time. Everybody saw the Mona Lisa and a couple other “must-sees.” They all saw amazing stuff, and all were impressed, but felt it was confusing. Yes. I saw some of the things I’d seen on my previous 2 visits, but also I made it to the Napoleon rooms, and I concentrated on statues and just the building itself more this time. So much so lovely. Just so much!

We all convened about 5 outside (a few had “fled” the heat and crowd much earlier and enjoyed the gardens and the arch there). One student had a nose bleed that was hard to stop, but with our combined wad of tissues, she was finally ok and it never recurred. One mom was hurting from a hip issue, plus sick with head cold, so she was dragging.

<i>I was struck in the Carousel at the Louvre by how expensive everything was! Even on vacation I am frugal, so I just had some of my own snacks.

The Louvre was super fun, as I had some great students with me. We did have trouble following the instructions mom had given us as the map from the museum also wasn’t that clear. Still, eventually it was just me and two other students (the others with us wanted a more leisure pace), and we were able to see so much. I was impressed by how many times the girls I was with said things like “I recognize that!” or “we learned about that!” I did feel super terrible once we met back up with everyone—I hadn’t realized that one student had wanted to go with us but got left behind and stood alone for an hour. Oops. Here’s an issue with not having cell phones that work in such a giant place with too many people! There were too many people in that museum.</i>

Off we trotted behind Ru to the Metro—ugh. I really don’t like it. It is smelly, more frantic than the Tube, older and dirtier it seems, less intuitive, and always feels more dangerous (like you even have to warn kids of not getting smashed by crashing doors!). But we had no incidents. Got off at the Republique area and had decent dinner of salad, pork, and potatoes.

<i>My dinner was just an egg omelet with nothing in it, so no great French cooking yet.</i>

Then we got picked up by a bus and taken to our hotel out near Disneyland by about 8:30 after hour ride. We had a very cool suite so lots of room and very comfy. No AC on til late June, which bothered some but I was ok.

<i>This second day taught me that I like London better than Paris. </i>

<b>Third Full Day (RandMy 11th Day)—Paris </b>

After breakfast (regular cold stuff plus very runny eggs and lots of Nutella packets!) we got on the bus at 8:15 (hurting mom stayed behind); we met Francoise at 9:30 and had a 3-hour bus tour which was I think the second best bus tour I’ve had out of all my ones with this tour group (so 2nd best of about 10).

<i>Oh, you’d better believe that we took many Nutella packets for snacks! Other note on the hotel: I loved having so much room! However, I was really missing my bed, as every bed was harder than mine. I felt like Goldilocks a bit and slept on a different bed both nights here.</i>

The tour began with the view of a fight going on in the market outside our windows with the police arriving to break it up, and then a girl on a motorbike riding illegally in the bike lane ran into the side of our bus or something. Not hurt. Tiny delay. Welcome to Paris! But in the end Francoise navigated us around so we saw lots of stuff, and wherever we were, stopped in traffic or not, she had much interesting and engaging to tell. She was wonderful.

We stopped at Invalides for a short photo break (and a toilet in café if we bought a drink—fair enough; some other-group guys ignored Francoise’s instructions about that—and their chaperones laughed—ok, that’s the way it was the whole time; I’m not going say much more about them.)

Then we stopped somewhere in the Champ de Mars for photos of the Eiffel Tower with kids; I’d mentioned stopping at Tracadero, but the bus driver and Francoise said the light this bright morning would be better if we were on the other side, and they were right. I think Tracadero has prettier aspect, but it would have been very glare-y this day. Kids had fun posing, of course.

<i>The tower. Cool. It was interesting to learn it was originally red. Red?? The view from here was great, but I did think the view from the boat later was even better.</i>

At Pont Neuf we picked Ru back up (there’s something weird about Paris guides’rights/union—I think he had to be off the bus?) He led us along the Seine past the bridge losing its love-locks and then on to Notre Dame for a look at the exterior.

It was definitely past lunch time for my teenagers, so as our free time began, I asked him for directions to a crepe stand (and we’d come back to go in Notre Dame later). He pointed us down a street here in the Latin Quarter; I was looking for just a stand or stall, but the couple we passed R didn’t like the look of (hey, it’s street food!), so then we found a restaurant—Creperie de Cluny--and R and ST and I decided they maybe needed to sit for a while anyway. (I’d SAID be ready for all lunches to be take-away and fast, but this was an ok diversion from that directive!) The service here was incredibly nice, especially for Paris! They were quick and didn’t make big deal about separate checks—and the crepes—both sweet and savory ones—were quite fine. It cost more than crepes from a stand, but it was a good stop. It was actually almost hot, and sitting in the shade inside was welcome.

<i>The crepes weren’t wonderful, but it was nice to have waiters who knew English which made the whole process much easier for them and us!</i>

On the way back as we went quickly through the Latin Quarter, we passed a sweet shop Ru had pointed me to—Odettes—some of us stopped for little chocolate confections—not a simple macaroon but similar but better. Yum! It made my memory of the Latin Quarter even better.

<i>Odettes! I want more! Best dessert of the trip!</i>

Then we had a 15 minute stop at Shakespeare and Company. This is almost like a 30 minute British Museum stop—almost cruel! But the ones that were interested were glad for the stop!

When we got back to Notre Dame, we found the line was stretched all the way across the plaza! Nobody wanted to stand in the now-broiling sun for at least 30 minutes, so we didn’t get in. Oh, well. It wasn’t high priority on anybody’s list but mine FOR them, so it was ok.

<i>I was disappointed we didn’t get to go into Notre Dame.</i>

Our real destination today was the Musee D’Orsay; they’d paid me back in the States, and I had ordered and printed tickets. From the bookstore, we walked along the river (took a bit longer than I remembered); we arrived before 3 (going to the side entrance and getting in quickly with our tickets) and had almost 90 minutes. We annoyingly had to all leave our backpacks, which not everyone was being required to do and ours weren’t big, just student ones. Oh well. They all liked or loved this museum a lot, many of them liking it more than the Louvre. It was crowded but not hot or packed and is so much easier to get around in than the Louvre. So many beautiful things, and we could take photos which seems like I couldn’t in 2013.

<i>Mom failed to mention how long that walk was to the Musee D’Orsay! I felt bad how long it was; kids kept asking me if I knew where I was going! I actually didn’t like this museum better than the Louvre. I wanted to go here for the Van Gogh’s, and so I wasn’t that impressed with how few there were. Still, it was cool to see his portrait and some other paintings. There was still a crowd here, and some students and I found a quiet spot to sit toward the end of our time here.</i>

(Yeah, it is a longer walk than I had in my head, but it’s only 2 KM/25 minute walk from Notre Dame to Musee D’Orsay.)

Afterwards, we walked back to the Pont Neuf along the Seine under trees as much as possible, having time to browse or at least note the bouquinistes. At 5:15 we got to our meeting point on the Pont Neuf, so with the few minutes left some did bit of shopping across the street and some found ATM’s. We had a boat ride from here at 6; Ru sat with R and me and some of my kids and kept us laughing. It is a very nice way to end a visit (or maybe begin one?) to Paris. Took about an hour. Afterwards we caught the Metro to Chatelet area and at dinner at a Flam’s. This has pizza-like stuff and kids enjoyed it—they kinda keep it coming and there’s a dessert version on the crust, too. This Flam’s has a dining area in what looks like a crypt! It’s just the cellars but wow, cool to be eating in this medieval basement!

Then it was back to bus and ride to hotel by about 9, with a meeting for leaders at 9:30 to discuss the rest of the trip.

<i>The boat ride was my favorite thing. It was cool to wave to people sitting along the river, hear from Ru about fun little facts, get a better shot of the Tower, and feel the breeze.

Dinner was amazing. I would definitely recommend it.</i>
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Old Jul 1st, 2015, 11:44 AM
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just found this, but I'm reading the London segment first.

Back later.
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Old Jul 1st, 2015, 07:18 PM
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"Lidl was an interesting experience. We couldn’t find any good chocolate."

Can't possibly be true. What's almost certain, though, is that you couldn't see any brands you thought would be good.

Lidl, by and large, doesn't sell the kind of overpriced brand where the customer pays for some multinational to keep advertising agencies in the smoked salmon and champagne they believe they're entitled to. Most of what they sell is exclusive to them: in some categories it matches or exceeds the quality of rip-off brands - and much of it can even match the quality of Waitrose or Marks & Spencer own label.

Their huge (and to my mind incomprehensible) problem is that they don't brand them Lidl: they use doolally invented brands like Fincarre or Mister Choc - though they tell you they're involved on the rear label.

Tough to understand at first visit: Lidl's philosophy means they really don't care. Because they don't waste money on other silly fads - like interactive internet sites or home delivery - they're so much cheaper than most rivals customers beat a path to their door.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2015, 03:09 AM
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flanner--Guess by "good" we mean kind we wanted in quantity/form that worked for us. I've been in a couple other Lidls; this one seemed smaller and had very little candies except in larger packaging which we weren't looking for.

<b>Fourth Full Day (RandMy 12th Day)—Through the Alps</b>

(ST had a friend in Heidelberg he’d tried to arrange to meet. The final plan became that he would take a train from Paris, spend the night, and meet us the next day in Lucerne, so he left early to get to the station. His trip went great, and he actually met us earlier than expected the next day.)

We left via the bus around 8:15. About buses—we were blessed with two pleasant and extremely capable drivers; the buses don’t have much leg room, but the seats were fine and there were nice big windows, so it was ok. And also Ru was terrific as a TD, using some of the bus time to do little language lessons and add commentary along the way on culture and history while still allowing lots of time for people to nap if they wanted.

We rode for a couple hours through French countryside and had a bathroom break. I think it was here at a big gas/convenience store/ rest stop where we had one of our only “disasters” of the trip—one student got her ATM card eaten by the machine, despite Ru’s translations and help. Call to mom to cancel the card and plenty of us to help cover her expenses, so not really bad, but…I had thought to say in our pre-trip talks to only use ATM’s in places like stations or at banks, but I didn’t say it again and wasn’t in the store with her at the time. But it can happen; just glad it wasn’t much of a problem for her in the end.

<i>I was with the student, and we had seen a few of the boys from the group that was with us use it right before her, so it was completely random and annoying that it ate her card.</i>

Another couple of hours brought us to a stop not on our scheduled tour—Dijon, France. We had almost 2 hours here to get lunch and stretch our legs and get a look at this nice little town. After the bustle of Paris, the busy streets here and the full pedestrian areas seemed quite tranquil! We scattered into small groups; the ones with me followed me into a kabob place, and then we walked a little way to the cathedral with a cool colored tile roof. We then walked back to the town square where we were to meet, planning to head to a pretty Gothic church we could see. But looking the other direction, we could see an arch and garden, so we walked that way and found a pretty fountain and an arch perhaps commemorating friendship with America? Anyway, lovely pedestrian area and medieval houses and lanes. Nice, and gorgeous weather, too. I found a Magnum bar—espresso (and I’m not a coffee fan but these are scrumptious!) And all my folks back on time again! They are great.

<i>Ah, a cute little town with less people! It was a refreshing stop. When we had gotten back on the bus, I asked Ru what he had with him, and he said he’d share in a moment. I had been sitting up in the front most of the time, and today was the day it really paid off. It was someone’s birthday in the other group, and Ru had gotten him a little cake. Ru also got himself one, and shared with me and the other two students up front. Sweet! It’s imperative to get a tour guide who likes sweets.</i>

We rode some more; we met traffic snarls in Basel, then had to have a 25 minute stop for driver rest. We stopped at the Swiss border for him to get a vignette, too. But we were now entering the mountain regions and the scenery began to be aaahhh-and-oooohh—inspiring.. Finally about 90 minutes late, at after 8 pm, we arrived at Twing Hotel in Hasliberg, above Lucerne. What a charming place. A nice ski-lodge type place (lifts right across street). We were all sorta grumpy from not eating til nearly 9 pm, but the folks at this place were very nice, the rooms comfy with little balconies. (But this was the one place I had some issue with not enough plugs, and my adaptor that went from my 3-prong-grounded plug to the 2 prong Swiss one didn’t seem to fit—the 2 prongs were a tad big for the Swiss socket, but my other 2- prong American to 2-prong European DID fit in these sockets. Oh well). Oh and I had 6 girls in a big room with plenty of space—but one bathroom. They ended up using the baths in other folks’ rooms a bit to ease the congestion!

We were in bed by 11, but I was a little wired, concerned about a couple issues between my kids and the other group, and also my hurting mom was still hurting (being a trooper, but she was miserable). At 4 the phone rang once; it was DH; why would he call at 9 pm his time? Figured it was a boo boo but lay awake until I got an answering text that yep oops sorry didn’t mean to do that, he said! But my sleep was over. Oh well.

<i>This was my favorite hotel. The lady in charge was the best. I’d highly recommend the place. I felt extra special at our two meal times, as she was preparing special meals for me, and she would come and explain what they were each day. Delicious, that’s what! Plus, you can’t beat the view at this place. I wanted to stay forever. Despite loving the place, I didn’t sleep well; the accumulative lack of sleep began to take a toll on me.</i>

<b>Fifth Full Day (RandMy 13th Day)—The Alps and Lucerne</b>

Breakfast was quite nice, if still all cold items; the people I was concerned about were all pretty good, so despite short night, I was ready for the day, which had some clouds and rain but was generally looking better as day went on. We had a bus ride down the mountain about 8:45; wow, what views! There were a couple places where the vista opened up on a valley far, far below with green fields and tiny homes, and often there were glimpses of lakes with water that was actually truly jade-colored, from the minerals, Ru said. Ok, I’m out of synonyms for lovely, spectacular, awesome. Jagged peaks above still had snow on them, the blue sky had white clouds in it, the lakes had sparkling shimmer on them. Oh my. This is good!

On the way Ru also told us some of the myths and legends of Mt. Pilatus, to which we were headed. They involve the body of Pilate being somehow transported here (and causing cursed, awful storms) and the presence of a dragon (which also was blamed for storms). It had been raining with storms forecast, but now things were improving. By the time we got to the cable car to ride up the mountain, there was more blue than not above us.

Then we got a text from ST that he’d arrived early and was headed to us. Ru had our tickets already and passed out our souvenir hats; we waited for 10 minutes, but then Ru went on ahead with the group and I waited for ST, so we wouldn’t hold them all up. He arrived about 5 minutes later, having had a wonderful visit and no problems with his trains. The last of our kids were just getting on a car a bit ahead of us when we got in line. So we walked across the dragon on the floor of the station and got on a cable car—a smallish one, maybe 4-6 passenger—and rode up to the 2nd stop, part way up. There we met our group (the other-group had just gone on up ahead); at this level there’s a viewing platform and some other stuff, including an Alpine slide we’d love to have tried but not sure it was even open. (My aunt used to operate one in Tennessee, and R and I have fond memories of having ridden it a couple times; to have ridden a real Alpine slide would have been fun—but not on agenda).

<i>I rode with Ru and a couple of students up the mountain. One student played songs that Ru knew, and we enjoyed being serenaded by him as we went up (he wasn’t a good singer, but he loved singing, and would always start a song if you said something that was a lyric in some song). I really, really wish we could’ve done the Alpine slide part, if only for old time’s sake.</i>

Then we all got in the big gondola and headed up the mountain and then were engulfed by white. It was great; the ground, the mountain, the sky totally disappeared; it was just us and the cable above us all surrounded by a gray cloud. Definitely floating feeling. And then—bam! We emerged from the cloud and right there was the huge, hard, brown rockface of the top of the mountain! It was cool. The car “landed” in a few seconds, and we arrived at the viewing area with the most spectacular views I think I’ve ever seen. It’s not as high as I’ve been in Colorado (this was not even 7000 feet, and I’ve climbed a 14er), but it’s prettier here—greens and blues of the mountains with trees still and blue skies and white clouds—just beautiful. So green in all the areas with so many different plants. As countless have said, words nor pictures nor even video can really capture the experience. It was just wonderful. Most kids named this as high point—ha—favorite part of the tour.

We had a little over 2 hours, so we all took various short walks and enjoyed the views from different perspectives and high points. Most grabbed food from the “self-service” (cafeteria) and found souvenirs—and lots of photo ops! About money—Switzerland seems to take Euros everywhere we were—sometimes it may have been more, sometimes less. Not sure. And stuff was expensive. Lunch was €16 for little sandwich, chips, apple and coke (which was €5 by itself). Got another one of those espresso Magnum bars, too!

<i>Yes, nothing could top the Alps. Ha. Haha.

The student who was with me most of the trip and I went off together. She (Ca) is the one who is great with maps and was often in the front right by Ru or leading our group. She has asthma, and so I was grateful in a way when she needed to slow down, as I was having trouble breathing, too, and don’t even have asthma. She was a real trooper, though, and we climbed the three peaks very quickly and spent a lot of time on the last one. There was a little fence down one of the walls which I climbed down. The student told me not to, but there was what looked like a path down below, so I went down to investigate and took some amazing panoramas. By the time I got back, Ru had joined Ca. We had a nice chat and then saw one of the boys from the other group coming up the path I had been investigating. He was having a hard time, and we said something about him having less of an excuse to be out of breath than us, as we were from Texas! A couple overheard us, who were also from TX, and we had a lovely chat. They had both just quit their jobs and were in Europe for the entire summer (I’m jealous), so Ru offered them many suggestions. Before Ru, Ca, and I left, we also met a nice man and his dad from England who said that they always take for granted how easy and cheap it is to visit the Alps (I’m jealous). This was the only interaction I had with any other tourists or anyone from Europe besides ordering food or buying something, so I left feeling very good (maybe it was the lack of air).</i>

We descended on the cog railway—world’s steepest—for another fun ride with different perspectives. At the bottom right across the street we caught a 2pm boat for a 75 minute ride across the blue, still, lovely lake to Lucerne. It had gotten sunny and sorta hot out of the shade; the ride was rather long and slow for the active kids, but it was beautiful and really a good rest for weary legs. (Other minor disaster—one student knocked her prescription glasses off her head into the deep deep lake! She could manage, though.)

<i>This was S, who was there a week earlier like mom and I, and poor thing was very tired and really ready to go home!
Despite the lovely day so far, I was pretty exhausted, and I had given the rest of my water away, so the boat ride was not fun for me. The views were lovely, but I had missed the memo on how long the boat ride was, and it was actually hot. However, thankfully, once we got off the boat I was good to go again for a little bit.</i>

In Lucerne Ru took us to the Lion Memorial; I didn’t know the story behind it as a memorial to the 1000 Swiss Guards who had been killed protecting a French king. He said Mark Twain called it the most moving stone monument in the world. It is striking. Then Ru quick marched us to the city center and pointed out different possibilities and our meeting point for 2 hours later. A student had noticed a sweet shop, so some of us followed her to Bachmann’s where we got wonderful macaroons (first such for a couple kids), candies, and water.

Then we went different directions; 3 went with me for a short walk to the Chapel Bridge for a look, and then, after using toilet at a Starbucks, we found seats on the steps in shade by the lake and watched swans and ducks and birds and boats and people, along with dozens of others this fine Saturday evening. We all met up right across the street and got on bus for ride back up the mountain—views still gorgeous—to the hotel for dinner at 7 of burgers and potatoes and salad.

A bit before 9 some of the other-group headed to a very-nearby “lake” (pond-sized) for a swim—none of mine were interested, but one student and I took the 5 minute walk to see it. It had just been sundown and the sky was lovely over the mountains, and on our way back we had a rainbow! About this time in the trip everybody really is missing his own bed and sleep!

<i>I regret not seeing more of Lucerne, but my body and mind couldn’t go on this evening. Thus, after the best meal of the trip back at the hotel, I did not go swimming but did some yoga with Ca and her roommates (six girls with one bathroom!! Whhhaatt?? This was only negative of the stay, from my view) on the balcony and then went to bed early.</i>
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Old Jul 2nd, 2015, 05:37 AM
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I am enjoying this as much as your pretour report. I am glad that you put up with watching the horse guards for the sake of your students. I enjoy that bit of pomp even though I have seen it many times over the years. After all it was probably the first time to London for most, if not all, of your students.

You are a sport to take on that grueling pace of the tour while overseeing the "bumps" for your students. I have done the chaperone bit, and while there are stories that are funny afterwards, it certainly is no barrel of laughs at times.

Too bad you had to share your bus with another group. But isn't it grand to know that your students are well behaved? It is good to come home and know that you can be proud of them! sounds as if they were well able to roll with the punches!

Thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing the rest of the story!
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Old Jul 2nd, 2015, 06:18 AM
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thanks irish--Yep, while at the end of the trip I honestly had the thought, "Am I too old for this? Maybe I don't ever wanna do this again?" now that I've had a few nights' sleep and am reading stuff and looking at pics--yep, it's still worth my efforts and stress and discomfort to provide an experience that they wouldn't have had without such a tour. As wonderful as their parents are, for the most part even at my pretty-well-off school (but almost none are "rich" and some are on some financial support/scholarship to afford the tuition) my school's parents don't travel overseas much with teenagers. Travel anywhere, even to another city in Texas, is all educational, but there's something deeper and more broadening, in my experience, gained by traveling overseas, even if "only" to another English-speaking country!

And it's also "broadening" for my kids to have the contrast with the behavior/expectations exhibited by the other group. We can learn about how to act by watching how NOT to act, too. On tours like this you always have to "fill up the bus" so I know our small school will always be combined; my 3 previous experiences with the same set-up were all fine, so this was just the luck of this draw. Privately arranged tours may be cost-prohibitive, but it's something I'm gonna look into.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2015, 06:29 AM
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Following along. I am in awe of people who chaperone students on tours - there is no way! Real shame about the other group, though. I suppose the tour director has no control?

I liked Dijon too - well worth a stay.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2015, 06:51 AM
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Don't be in awe; we all have different talents and abilities; I have been so blessed to have traveled overseas with groups and with DH that I am pretty comfortable being a group leader(except for major travel glitches when I'm tired--read on!)and find that it is not really hard--for me. It's physically exhausting but... and I always have good kids to "herd" so that's not a problem. It's like teaching, sorta--if you have the "gift" and call and ability and some experience and training, it just seems natural. Hard, tiring, stressful, yes, but right and comfortable at the same time.

The TD has control over much and can step in if there's a real problem and did tell them to be quieter a couple times, but as long as they aren't illegal (no sign of that) or late (they really were good about time-lines), then the TD leaves rest up to expectations of chaperones/group leaders.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2015, 07:04 AM
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Being on time is certainly a major plus! I don't often take tours, and the few I do these days the leaders are very firm about being on time, but I did a Gate1 years ago where one couple was always late. I told the guide he should give them a different report time.
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<b>Sixth Full day (RandMy 14th day)—Liechtenstein and Neuschwanstein and into Munich</b>

<i>By this point in the trip, I was feeling very tired and not able to pay as much attention as I usually do. This makes me sad, as Germany seemed really cool, and I knew I was enjoying it. So I would like to go back to Germany one day to make up for these two days.</i>

Early start for long day—loaded bus by 7, came back in for breakfast, and left by 7:40. After a couple hours we stopped for break in Liechtenstein—just to say we did! It is a convenient stop on this itinerary. Ru showed us where to get Passports stamped if wanted (none of mine did), how to walk around couple old buildings or up to castle if wanted (a few of mine did), and where the toilets were.

R and I and a couple others were just going to walk around a little, then Ru passed us and said there was a grocery across the street if we wanted. After a moment, we decided to go look for fruit and maybe sweet; when we got there—a Coop—Ru was standing there with a stack of about a dozen Ragusa bars which he had told me were the best ever. He hadn’t steered us wrong yet, so we got some, too (3 kinds—milk, dark, and a light kind), as did several other of the group who wandered in. Maybe we cleared the shelves!? He said he can’t buy it in Germany, only here and Switzerland; it is creamy squares with hazelnut and is scrumptious. So we had our hands full and some apples—and I had left my bag safely on the bus with cash and cards—urgh. But Ru heard my woe and lent me € 20 til we got back on the bus, so we were able to enjoy the yummy treats! Try them!

<i>Oh boy, chocolate. Still, my favorite thing we got were the Duplo bars, which are basically like KitKats but with Nutella flavor. Oh my.</i>

Back on the bus it was a couple more hours to Neuschwantstein, for which we had strictly timed 2:40 tickets. As we traveled Ru pointed out as we crossed back and forth across borders, in and out of Austria and into Germany, and he continued his insightful commentary about economics, politics, and history of the areas. At a restaurant at the foot of the hill of the schloss, we had 30 minutes to eat from a set menu of many options for €10. They were extremely efficient and fast. My sandwich was ok, but R’s spatzle was quite good, she said. Some kids were out of cash and found an ATM across the street, too.

<i>The spätzle was very good, actually. </i>

So it was time to go, I think at 2. Ru said it was a 20 minute walk or people could wait for bus or carriage and off he and the vast majority of the group went. R and I and a couple moms and a few kids and a pregnant lady from the other-group stood around a bit confused; the signage wasn’t too clear and for the first and only time Ru had not been very clear, either—he probably didn’t expect anyone to not walk. After about 5 minutes, R and I just went up the hill.

It was unpleasant; it was warm (although shade helped), we were tired, it was steep, I was concerned about everyone making it and wondering if i should I have left any of my group at all, and R had had it with the noisy and rude folks. Anyway, we weren’t happy, but we made it; the group who rode said bus came about 5 minutes later.

<i>Yeah, I was not a happy camper climbing. Sorry, mom!</i>

Anyway, we were all reunited and in about 5 minutes we went toward the “gate” and watched the clock until it said 2:40—and then we went in and were met by an English-speaking guide. Wow, it is regimented. It took maybe 30 minutes. He had a speech memorized and didn’t add anything or really answer any questions. He had a creepy demeanor and voice. Kinda weird. You are escorted to a room, the door is shut, you listen for 5 minutes, you are escorted out. I am not impressed. I don’t remember it being like this when I was here about 1990. And we saw more parts then, too. I’m glad the kids got to see this famous place, and that we saw the sumptuous, splendid, sad inside, but it seems way overpriced for what you get to see and do. (It was part of our tour, but I looked at ticket prices.) And the outside is nicer than the inside, anyway. And not a smidgen of mention of the use of the castle to hide all those Nazi-stolen treasures and art at the end of WWII.

<i>I didn’t like the tour of the castle. If you’re claustrophobic, you won’t like this tour. There were some non-English speaking tourists with headsets on who kept running into us, despite several people (including the person guiding/leading them) asking them to leave a little space. So I hung in the back trying to avoid being stepped on and didn’t hear everything the tour guide said. Anyway, I wasn’t impressed with the castle. It wasn’t the kind of castle I’d like to visit, as you can’t walk around. Overrated. We did get little tea infusers shaped like a white swan even though Ru had told us not to stop at the shop because we didn’t have time. Shhh. Also, Ca fell down on some damp stone stairs after this (she was the same student who had her card eaten), so she was having some annoyances and pains, but she kept her excellent positive spirits up!</i>

After Ru took those of us that wanted—maybe half—on the steep maybe 10 minute-but-very-steep walk to the Marien Bridge for look back. The bridge was absolutely packed. I mean solidly packed. If I worried about such things, I’d have questioned the integrity of the narrow bridge over the deep gulch. It was not like this when I was here with DH. But I got a couple pics and down we went again. We were able to stop at a couple shops along the way—and I found a tea tidy! I collect them, but was not looking for them actively this trip, but I found one—the only one of the trip. So that was good. This was definitely not my favorite part of the tour—one of my least favorite—but it is a cool thing for the kids, so I’m glad to have a souvenir. I may have been the last on the bus for the only time, after a dash into the restaurant toilet, but I don’t think I was “late.”

On we went, perhaps stopping once, getting to the restaurant—Alter Wirt--in Munich about 6 where we had a good meal in a beer garden where it was quite pleasant in the shade of the evening. R had spatzle again (easy veggie meal!) so gave it away as wasn’t hungry. The restaurant was very old, with a plaque saying it was built in the late 1500’s . Ru had explained on the way about some of the beer culture in Munich, including a story about monks getting permission from the Pope to drink beer during Lent because the sample they sent him tasted so awful (after weeks in heat, cold, and jostling!) that the Pope said they must be desperate, and they could keep their beer! So the monks perfected their skills, and the master brewers in Germany are still Munich monks. Also as we left Ru pointed out a Maypole like I’d asked him about; this one honored agricultural businesses and farmers and thanked God for the blessing of farms and food. I knew the poles were “Maypoles,” but I didn’t know that the various signs and figures on them represent local businesses and concerns.

<i>Spatzle again; I thought it was made from potatoes, so while I wasn’t hungry, everyone encouraged me to eat some. It wasn’t as good as at the castle. Anyway, I found out when I get home that it’s actually wheat. I’m gluten intolerant, so two meals of lots of gluten was probably another reason why I felt so tired and out of sorts—“done”—the next day, too.</i>

On to the hotel, which was a hotel/hostel and so a bit different atmosphere. My kids were really tired, so not interested in Ru’s offer to take folks into the city by bus for a look and a train ride back (I think a handful from other-group did). The rooms had no AC of course and they were warm, but not surprised; however, my mom that had been sick and hurting wanted to leave and tried to find a hotel with AC but never did, so she ended up staying. I had clearly “warned” my group and the moms about no AC, but when the reality happened…

Now about our room—nice size, decent bath, 2 twins and a bunk-bed we wouldn’t need, plenty of plugs and 3 large window—which looked out on the train tracks and had NO CURTAINS and NO BLINDS. (And only gonna be dark from about 11 til about 4ish!) But they were able to change us with little trouble to room NOT overlooking tracks and with curtains AND blinds. So better!

<i>Yes, as our first room was right by the train track, I’m very glad we had some way to get out of there</i>.

<b>Seventh Full Day (RandMy 15th Day)—Dachau and Munich</b>

Wow, last day! As usual, I found it both hard to believe the time had gone by so fast and also really ready to be home soon; kids were all ready for own beds, to see their moms, and to have some favorite South Texas fast foods like burgers and burritos! As much as I’d tried to prepare them, the reality of the stress produced and energy required for a tour like this cannot be taught but only experienced. They were all in all great about everything.

We were to load up the bus after decent breakfast (cold continental) about 8ish; for the first time one of mine was not accounted for; I’d instructed kids to stay in at least pairs, but 4 girls had left their room together but then went different ways in the hotel and one of them got sorta lost—it was a little confusing. But we found her (she had also hit her head on the bunkbed, and had a knot—not having a happy morning!) We left about 8:20 for a 30 minute ride in the rain to Dachau.

On the way Ru gave an excellent overview of what they would see and also shared some of his personal family history. His great-grandfather had joined the National Socialist Party very early, in 1933, but a couple years later, as their policies and practices became clearer, he resigned. He even helped a Jewish community by, under cover of night, taking a cow to a butcher to be slaughtered according to kosher practices—and almost got caught. Ru had a few other stories and details to share; one really important one is that all German students are required to go to a concentration camp during their schooling. He says in general today’s generation (I think he meant like his age, late 20’s) acknowledge the mistakes of the past and want to not repeat them, not as an assumption of guilt but as a desire to do better. He thinks his parents’ generation and maybe older are still reluctant to discuss Nazism, but as a whole people do acknowledge and desire to move forward. He also said that in general, especially the young, don’t want a strong military anymore. His candor and knowledge made the kids (the ones that listened) well-prepared.

As we arrived, it was still pretty gray and drippy—it was the worst weather we had all week (even RandMy over 2 weeks) and wasn’t even that bad, so I won’t complain at all. We got into the Dachau Camp about 9:15, and he led us to a couple stops for more instruction/history and then pointed us to the building now a museum where he suggested we go for a 10 am film. As we walked along, I noticed a lady with a cart, looking pleasant and like she was on her way to work on the site somewhere. I commented to a student walking with me that I thought it might be hard to work here every day, to be in the midst of the memories of so much evil and terror; the student said she’d been thinking the same thing.

We all walked pretty briskly through the museum rooms, knowing we could come back later, and got seated for the about 20-minute film. As with all such documentaries, the images are disturbing, but I think it is important for our students to be aware. In 8th and 12th grade at our school, they study the Holocaust, both in history and literature classes, so this visit was an excellent way to make their studies more profound and powerful. The film was a good overview/introduction.

<i>I have done a lot of studying on the Holocaust, so the documentary didn’t have any images that surprised me, but I do hope it was shocking for others, because it should be. I thought the documentary was very well done and was glad we bought a version.

Side Note: While we were sitting down to see the movie, I noticed this ginger guy and his friend sitting down a row behind us. Now, I had been counting gingers in England, so perhaps I was just noticing his hair. But here’s why it was really weird: I had seen these two before a week ago. When mom and I had been at Windsor castle, they had been on the train going out there and then had been in the castle when mom and I were. I found this extremely odd. </i>

Afterwards, we had until 11:30 to explore. I went back through the museum a bit; I’d been to Dachau with DH in the late 1980’s, and the images had stayed with me; I didn’t have any specific goal this day (and it was raining a bit too much to take pictures outside much). I happened upon a bookshop run by an organization that benefits the survivors—not directly related to the Dachau site but obviously allowed and sanctioned. The proceeds go to this survivor organization. The lady at the shop who greeted me very warmly (in good English) began to give me the specifics about the shop, some of the materials, what the survivor organization did, etc.—then I realized this was the lady I’d seen earlier on her way to work. So after I bought a few things (with lots of primary documents and dvd’s—for R to use in classroom), I asked her if it was difficult to work here. She seemed glad to share her answer, the short version of which is that no, as she is focused on her responsibility to the future, to educate people, especially the young, so that the future does not repeat the bad of the past, working here is a good thing for her. I’m glad I met her, and I relayed that answer to a couple of my students.

<i>Ca and I walked slowly around the grounds, mostly silently. We had a good talk about should or shouldn’t people take pictures here. We both felt a weight upon our hearts and even weren’t sure how we felt about entering some of the rooms. We met up with another student and went into the museum for awhile. I wish I had had more time and more energy to look through here, as it seemed very informative and well-done. I found the rain pretty appropriate for the day.</i>

As we re-grouped before getting back on the bus, my students conveyed that were soberly “glad” (difficult to use that word) to have been here and that they “liked” (again not exactly the word they groped for) seeing Dachau. It had a powerful impact on them that I know will be important long after they’ve forgotten how tired they were.

Then it was on to BMW World; on the way we passed by the Olympic Village, Tower, and Stadium, including the apartments where the 1972 tragedy happened—now all rented to students. BMW World is a big showroom/museum across from the BMW manufacturing complex. We had maybe 90 minutes here to look around and get lunch if we wanted. There were Rolls and Minis and tons of Bimmers; I got DH a BMW hat (we’d owned one when first married). My girls not so much “into” cars, but it was a fun stop. There’s a cafeteria inside, but Ru also pointed us to crepe and hot dog stands outside. That’s where I and several others headed. The crepes are named for race tracks, like Le Mans; one was named Silverstone—to which I’ve been—and it was ham and cheese, exactly what I wanted. Kinda funny. It was pretty good and quite satisfactory.

<i>I’m really not into cars, so this wasn’t that great of a stop for me. So I mostly did some people watching and rode the elevator a couple of times. Shhh.</i>

After our lunches and looks around the cars, we were met by Colette who would give us a bus tour of Munich. The tour was ok; it was still rainy, traffic was somewhat heavy, and as with many bus tours we just drove by buildings pretty fast, most of which I have no memory of now. She did point out where Hitler ate at a café and some damage from shells on some buildings and some pretty parks.

We stopped at Nymphenberg Palace for a quick look; the other-group kids only went into the souvenir shop where they proceeded to pick up and handle ceramics and glasses and scarves, despite the attendants’ directions to stop, and were told to leave. I know this because a couple of my kids hung back and tried to help and apologize; the lady said she knew it wasn’t these girls but “that other group of rude Americans.” Ouch.

<i>I was appalled when one came back after that stop and told me about the other-group getting kicked out of the gift shop and laughing about it. </i>

(Let me just say that teenagers on a tour like this are traveling for various reasons, all of them valid—to learn something, to see things, to experience new cultures, to have fun, to make or deepen friendships, to shop. My group was mostly NOT there to shop or just have fun; the other group seemed to be mostly ONLY there to shop and have fun. I had instructed my students about how to be respectful and polite in various cultures while still enjoying themselves; the other group did not seem to have been. My kids wanted to learn and listen to Ru while still having a blast; the other group not so much. So there was pretty much not a meshing of our two groups, to put it delicately. It’s a chance you take when you join with any strangers, so this experience doesn’t put me totally off such tours.)

We were let out at the Opera House, from which Ru led us to the Marienplatz, with a couple stops. He pointed out where to go for shopping (expensive and cheap), a food market, an expensive sweet shop, cafes for sitting, and where we were to meet in a couple hours. He offered to take people on a quick tour of several churches. It was still gray and had some sprinkles but not bad. I and 5 of my group elected to follow him; the rest did various things as he suggested.

<i>I and some others who didn’t really want to walk around, shop, or see much more this day did visit a market and did a lot of people watching and bonding and found some pastries. Guess who came into the pastry shop? You guessed it: The ginger and his friend. Yes. From Dachau earlier. I was so surprised and distracted that I didn’t get up and go introduce myself. I mean, come on, R! You saw them 3 times in a sea of millions of people! It was fate! So I missed that opportunity. </i>

So off we went, seeing the inside of 3 churches and walking past a couple more. I enjoyed this, as did the others. We saw St. Peter’s, Asam Haus (a private chapel that had crammed into it the most elaborate Baroque stuff I’ve ever seen in such small space), and St. Michael’s with its 2nd largest vault in the world. After this church, our group scattered; the girls went on to a market and got yummy desserts. I just walked back through the busy but not packed streets, caught a 5 pm glockenspiel performance at the Marienplatz, found a pay-toilet at the city hall (which is a really marvelous building), and found a souvenir bag with the Munich monks on it! I’d love to go back to Munich with more time for more leisurely looking. I know much/most of it is re-constructed, as is true in so much of Germany, but I liked the city in my quick look.

We all made it back one last time to meet Ru on time; I remembered finally to pose a group picture with Ru! Then back on the bus and on to a restaurant; our chicken and potatoes were fine, while R’s veggie dinner of roasted eggplant and other veggies was really good.

We were back at the hotel before 8 and all had to finish packing up and try to be in bed early for our early rise. Some girls came to my room and shared some of their yummy Dallmayr chocolate dessert (gotta go there myself if ever back in Munich!)

And so to bed one last time far from home—or so we thought!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2015, 08:55 AM
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<b>Eighth Day (RandMy 16th Day)—Departure Day</b>

We were up at 5ish, boarded at 6:15; got breakfast bags (but don’t eat on the bus!!); and despite some traffic delays, got to the airport a little after 7. Ru led us to where we would enter security and we had to say good-bye. He had been a most excellent Tour Director.

<i>We had attempted to go to bed early the night before. But, there was a group of hooligans parading around the halls shouting and knocking on peoples’ doors. Boy, I sound like a grumpy person writing this up. I promise I reserved my grumpiness for when I got back to my room—so, sorry mom!—and writing this report, apparently. I really had a wonderful time!)</i>

(Yes, R and I did a pretty good job, I think, of being good role models of patience and energy in front of the kids, but we did rant and grump to each other in the rooms some. And the unsupervised kids in this hotel who were doing “pranks” of knocking on random doors and running were truly aggravating—but it didn’t last too late.)

We proceeded to Lufthansa desks to get our boarding passes; many of us were not allowed to carry-on our carry-ons which had all been carried-on on our flight over on exactly the same sized plane. I protested and shoved my bag into the “bag must fit” thing; agent said it was a bit overweight (nothing on United about weight of carry-on I’d ever seen) but to go ahead and keep it. I was really reluctant to let it out of my sight—Tropical Storm Bill was playing havoc already with flights, according to DH, and I fully expected to have issues when we landed, even if we were allowed to leave Munich this morning. So this agent was sympathetic, and R and I kept our bags.

Our plane left on time; looonng over-12 hour flight, but it was ok. Watched a bunch of movies, had better food than before, plenty of attention to needs for water, and the pilot was extremely communicative about what was happening. We landed on time—to be met with news our flight was cancelled.

<i>This day was so, so stressful. I thought that flight would never end. And they just kept feeding us! By this point, I had lost all sense of time and just ate whenever they appeared. The ice cream was really good.</i>

Ok, the rest of this day was a very confused saga that I won’t bore anyone with trying to get all the details straight. Suffice it to say that trying to keep 18 people together in a huge and unfamiliar airport when flight details and arrangements and such kept changing even as we stood in lines or waited—well, it was not fun. I kinda lost my patience and composure several times. In general, upon arrival, we had gotten separated into 3 groups which became 2 groups, and by the time we all figured out how to meet each other, several plans had been made.

In the end ST (my faculty member) had stood in line with the United help desk and had been able to rebook only 5 of us for late that night, and 13 of us had 7:30 flights the next morning, which meant we had to find a hotel. R called a couple while we were trying to decide what to do; the tour company representative had also called me and was working on stuff; DH was feeding me info about storm and flights and such; it was all a bit overwhelming.

Anyway, in the end we all got home. Five did make it home that night around midnight, 6 hours late. A mom and daughter stayed in a hotel but rebooked for a later flight (not the 7:30 one) the next day, which was then cancelled, so she ended up renting a car and driving home in some of the storm remnants. Eleven of us got 4 of the last rooms in the Marriott at the airport and spent the night.

<i>If you’re with a group, don’t split up with that group. Pretty simple. Also, communicate with your group. If you are going one direction, make sure everyone hears you. I feel like so much stress this day could’ve been avoided if everyone had followed these simple rules. We were beyond tired, so I get it, but still.</i>.

<b>Ninth Day (RandMy 17th)—ACTUAL Departure—and home!</b>

The next morning we 11 had a scrumptious breakfast at 6 (only rooms left were concierge, so we had snacks and dessert the night before and breakfast this morning), caught the tram at 6:20 for 5 minute ride, and got to the airport in plenty of time for 7:25 boarding. Except our boarding passes wouldn’t work at security—had to go get reprinted. I went to the United “privileged-passenger” desk and begged for help quickly, which she gave and off we trotted again. To find our flight delayed. Eventually, despite all sorts of delays and cancellations all around us, due to Bill, we boarded 3 hours late and had decent flight.

<i>Oh, my. Hot breakfast with eggs and bacon! The kids were, needless to say, so happy to be back in America, and I was too. A hot breakfast, even in a hot state, does wonders.</i>

Home. Finally. Poor kids had 9-hour delay going and most had an 18-hour delay coming. (And now I’m dealing with trip insurance, but do expect to get reimbursed for the 4 hotel rooms). But except for the flight-issues, the trip was jam-packed with great stuff. The kids were very positive, even in their fatigue, about the things they saw and places they went and fun they’d had. Now to re-connect with friends and family, sort and edit pictures, sleep in our own beds, and write up our journal notes.

<i>Once we got home, I had to retrieve my car at my parents’ and then I actually couldn’t go back to my apartment for hours, as Bill was still causing extremely bad weather and lots of street flooding. Plus, I came home to an apartment with mold on 80% of my possessions, furniture, etc., which necessitated drastic cleaning and actually an unscheduled move to a different unit! Nevertheless, I do wish to return to Europe ASAP, as it is hot here in Texas, and I miss walking in the mountains. So, until next time!</i>

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page,” said St. Augustine; my students certainly got to read a bunch of new pages on this trip, and the world is both bigger and smaller to them!
texasbookworm is offline  
Old Jul 3rd, 2015, 06:40 PM
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What a trip! Thanks for sharing all of your ups and downs. I am sure that your students will remember it always and learned a lot. Wasn't it a good feeling to see how well your kids behaved? Especially compared to the other wild ones!
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Old Jul 4th, 2015, 04:03 AM
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Thanks, irishface and others who went along on our ride.

(Wish I'd correctly tagged this with more than just the UK. Oh well.)

Probably no trip should be evaluated until some time has passed once home! I'd rate this one another success, especially concerning amount and variety of lessons, intended and not, for my fellow travelers, students and adults.
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