London and the Continent: Spring 1988

It has taken me several years to be able to look back on the 1988 student trip objectively.  In hindsight, I think that -- even though we used the student travel agencies one more time -- it was this trip that convinced me that we could do at least as well as they do administrativiely and provide more service and more fun for less money by making all the arrangements ourselves.  As for this particular trip, the best things that I can say are (1) the plane was not hijacked, and (2) the students and adults who traveled with us accepted the disasters with good humor, made the best of each bad situation, never complained at all, and told us afterward how much they enjoyed the trip.  The story begins in London.
Across Westminster Bridge
Line at the Tower
In all fairness, other than leaving us stranded at the airport for four hours before meeting us, the tour company made most of our time in England enjoyable, even with some dreary weather.  The line at the Tower (left) was really discouraging, but I discovered that it moves really fast, and the Beefeater's Tour was excellent as usual.  The hotel in London was decent and located in a safe area.  We were able to spend a couple of hours at the British Museum with our part of the group, and no one complained that the Changing of the Guard-- on alternate days in off-season-- was not scheduled for our day there.  Dinner at an Indian restaurant was good, and everyone was excited about the planned visit to Stratford the next day.
In Stratford, Brenda decided that she probably has close connections to Harvard University through her Rogers relatives.  The trip to Stratford was enjoyed by everyone.  Our courier (trip manager) who had seemed to be preoccupied the day before was lively and interesting.  We were able to visit several of the Shakespeare sites, walk around the town on our own for a while, and do some souvenir shopping.  However, it was after our return to London that the real bombshell was dropped!    When we got back to the hotel, the courier called the three lead teachers (we were mixed with schools from Tennessee and Georgia) together and announced to us that he had just quit the company.  After we recovered, we asked him what we were supposed to do.  His answer, in effect, was "That's not my concern. You will do fine on your own."  Knowing nothing about the ferry schedule nor the coach company that was to meet us in Belgium, we didn't quite agree!  Frantically, we were all on the phone to the main office, and soon a replacement had been sent to the hotel to meet with us.  Looking back on all of it now, I think that we might have done better on our own.
Stratford relative?
Courier II-- John
I will try to be as fair as possible to the replacement.  First of all, we'll refer to him only as Mr. X.  He was thrown into a difficult situation on the spur of the moment and had little time to prepare for the particulars of this trip.  At first, we thought that the tour company had given us one of their top people to soothe our ruffled nerves, but later we decided that we had gotten the only one who was crazy enough to take on the job without preparation.  He spent far too much of his time telling us how good he was and far too little telling us about the places we were seeing.  He loved to extend his break time at every stop by joining any other couriers he could spot, smoking and drinking and telling exaggerated stories about which one had the most horrible group.  He managed to work his "gratuity" into almost every conversation at least once. His worst characteristic, however, was telling us how much we were going to enjoy the next place we'd visit rather than apologizing for how we'd been disappointed  at the place we were now.  Luckily, the students and adults in our group found ways to find enjoyment no matter how much the company tried to disappoint us.
On our first morning with Mr. X, we left London very early so that we could stop at Canterbury on the way to catch the ferry.  We made a quick stop at the Cathedral and then we had a few minutes to buy souvenirs before being hustled back to the bus for the trip to Dover for the ferry.  Canterbury is really a pleasant town, and our students always enjoyed it because it is so much more relaxed than London.  However, Mr. X wanted to make sure we had plenty of time at the ferry terminal in case a "rumored" strike took place.  So, all our students had a good opportunity to see British and Continental truckers for a few hours while Mr. X had more time for his extended smoke break with drivers and guides that he knew from past trips.
Canterbury Street
After only a short delay for the ferry crossing, we had a long drive from Belgium to Amsterdam.  I had looked up our Amsterdam hotel prior to leaving home and knew that it was near the Rijksmuseum, but Mr. X "knew" better.  We drove around Amsterdam for a couple of hours looking for his location, before he finally gave in and had the driver take us to the right spot, 100 yards from the museum.  The next morning was rainy and foggy, a perfect morning to take the group into the museum for at least a quick look at the "Night Watch."  But instead, Mr. X took us on a tour on the Canal boat so that we could look at the fog on the windows.  Many of the students braved the cold outside to see the city.  Then, it was off to Volendam (left),  a small town that most of us really did like.
We were in a real hurry to reach Volendam, but not so much in a hurry that we didn't have time for one of the "required' demonstration/sales stops that some tours thrive on.  As a result, we arrived at Cologne pretty late.  We had already learned that recent floods on the Rhine meant that one of the listed highlights of the tour-- the Rhine cruise -- had to be cancelled, but no one can fault the company or Mr. X for that.  Our hotel was very a very nice one, but far from the center of the city.  Several of our group took a taxi as far into town as they could, then waded through the floodwaters to visit the Cathedral.  They were a great group of travelers and found the best in everything.
Cologne Cathedral in distance
Lion of Lucerne
According to the original schedule, our "Rhine Cruise" was to be followed by a visit to the Black Forest.  But Mr. X decided that we'd be much better off staying on the autobahn and heading straight to Lucerne (he had "connections" with the people at Bucherer's, he said).  I tried to convince him that everything would be closed by the time we reached Lucerne, but he assured us they'd open for him.  They didn't, of course, but we still enjoyed walking around the town.  Before bedtime, Mr. X told us what a great time we'd have the next day going up the mountain.  But, when a light snow began to fall during breakfast, he decided to cancel the mountain and push on to Paris.  At this point, I asked what had happened to our "night train to Paris" following this day in Lucerne.  His answer was simple and to the point: "That's been changed!"  I got this photo of the Lion of Lucerne only because our hotel was close enough for me to run up there while the bus was being loaded.
A lost passport, complicated by the fact that this was the only year that France required a VISA, gave us a bit of a scare at the border crossing, but to Mr. X's credit, he managed to smuggle the student across.  We got to Paris late and didn't get to do much except dinner, and on our final day, I got to stand around for half a day at the U.S. consulate with our student while the passport was replaced.  It was only a small lie to say that it had been lost in France, because in fact he'd lost it with his carry bag at a truck stop in Basel only a few miles from the French border.  Finally, to make my trip even worse, I lost  my last roll of film and have no pictures from Paris (thus the graphic to the right)!  This is a perfect time to say "Thank You" to all our Travelers whose joy of travel helped me survive all the disasters, and another Thank You to this student travel company for helping me to realize that there are better options!
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