We just returned from a tour in Europe – Paris, Zurich, and various places in Italy. (yes, Italy – we drive right past the affected coronavirus spots in northern Italy, but that’s another subject)
The point of this post – what is good about a tour? what is difficult? How much pre-arrangement and caretaking on the trip do you want?
This is our first experience with a tour where everything was taken care of. We were met by a guide when we landed in Paris and stayed with her throughout the tour, right up to the moment when we checked in for our flight back. Other guides joined is for a few hours in Paris, Rome, and Pompei because they were experts in their areas but the rest of the time we were with Bergonia, our multilingual Spanish guide. She rode on the bus, walked with us, told us about the areas we visited, what’s interesting, particulars about the culture and daily life, and particulars about the hotels and areas where we spent the night. I definitely learned a lot from her, and she was very very professional in taking care of many details, and making sure everyone of the group of 44 was accounted for at all times.
I might not recommend a tour like this for relaxing. You are expected to be up and at breakfast by 6:30, or maybe earlier, depending on the day’s agenda, and on the bus at the appointed time. Days are spent with (sometime many) hours on the bus, and most of the rest of the time on foot exploring towns, museums, or whatever attraction is on the agenda. We had tours which were a nice taste of a city but not free time for taking pictures or studying a particular spot. We also had some free time and/or optional tours we could buy, but we didn’t always make good use of our limited free time because we were tired. Along with all the riding and walking, we were also dealing with a 6 hour time difference. But, maybe being that tired was ok since we were able to sleep fairly well most nights.
But, we definitely saw things and I think they did a great job of allowing us to experience so many places in such a short amount of time. And, all details were taken care of. You get a radio and earpiece to listen to the guide while you are walking, and she had a microphone to talk to everyone on the bus. If there is a boat ride or museum tour, for example, tickets are pre-arranged and handed out as you arrive. There were clear instructions on when to go to breakfast, when to get on the bus, and the agenda for the day or two ahead. There was information on the best places to find dinner, supermarkets or things to see in our hotel areas at the end of the days. Hotels were arranged and though not always fancy, they were clean and adequate.
I went to Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice) with my daughter about 10 years ago on a different tour arrangement. We had plane tickets, hotel reservations, and train tickets between cities but our time in cities was our own to arrange as we wished. It was our responsibility to figure out how to get around and make necessary arrangements for whatever we had in mind. For me, I think this was the best of both worlds. You do give up the expertise of the guides though, which I thought was a valuable part of this tour.
Oh, and I’m glad we went on this tour in the winter! There were plenty of tourists, and I can’t imagine how crowded everything must be in tourist season. Yes it was chilly but we were extremely lucky with the weather. We got rained on a couple nights, but the days when we were out were mostly sunny and beautiful, or at worst, cloudy but dry. It was funny though, my Panamanian friend who had never experienced cold weather – “how do people live in the cold? Do they still go out to work, and take care of their homes? How do they do anything in this cold?? I could not work, or take care of home in this cold!!” I don’t know if she believed me when I told her it was just cool, chilly, not really cold (it was in the 40’s-50’s, maybe 60’s in the midday sun). Cold is maybe the temperature of your chest freezer at home or colder, and yes people still live their daily lives.
So, now we are home again, looking back on everything we experienced, and trying to figure out what day it is, what time it is, and where we are. ha! I’m too tired to move (so I’m sitting at my computer instead, bugging you all), but too awake to sleep because it’s mid-afternoon in our recent European world. As I get time and energy I’ll sort through the many photos and memories, and try to do some research on the places and things we saw. I figure it’s going to take some time to readjust and recover, and I’m thankful we didn’t have to go to work today like most of the rest of the folks on the tour! (they were all Panamanians, almost all working age people from Panama City. Yes, I have had many days of total Spanish immersion along with the tour).
ummmmph…. getting up…. ok legs still work, more or less. Maybe it’s almost nap time?
PS I wrote this yesterday. and I managed to sleep better last night and didn’t get up until 6:30 am. I hope my friend did better too. She wasn’t too happy to have woken up at 2am yesterday!