International Travel News
My letter to the Editor
Group Travel in a Big Bus
Published June 2007 pages 36 -38
Many of us prefer to travel with a group since it is cost effective. This often means, especially during busy travel seasons, being tight packed (up to 48 people) in a big bus.
In the last six months we have taken three such tours.
Grand European, “Grand Tour of France” 17 days $3599 pp,
$180 optional tours pp. (September for us)
Grand Circle, “Dubrovnik & Beyond, From the Adriatic to the Alps” 15 days $2395 pp, $280 optional tours pp. (October)
Grand European, “Alpine Christmas Markets” 10 days $1959 pp, $200 optional tours pp. (December)
Each had a Professional guide with many tour experiences and different Discovery events. In each case the sights and sounds were fantastic. Such as:
Pont du Gard
Arena in Nimes
Arena in Pula
Accommodations were the usual hotels frequented by group tours, easily identified by the presence of a tour group from Japan. There were obvious differences. In Nice (Grand European) we were lodged in an “Equivalent” hotel, not on the itinerary, which had extremely small rooms and bathrooms, where it was difficult for both of us to stand at one time, whereas, in Opatija, Croatia (Grand Circle) we had a spacious two-room suite. Maybe, given to us because of our “Inner Circle” status.
Included meals ranged from sumptuous evening dinners to disasters. Our best included meal (Grand Circle) was in a small town in Slovenia The most unfortunate one, was when we arrived in Bordeaux (Grand European) to find that the promised hotel dinner, whose elegant menu we had been presented, had not been prepared. Rather than finding an alternate restaurant, we had to wait for the hotel restaurant to clear, and after a three hour wait served only a soup made from dry materials, and spaghetti. No apology or refund obtained from Grand European.
Breakfasts were included. The Buffets was extensive, but often after taking a portion, the “Dining Room Witch”, identified you as a “Groupie” and quickly moved you to a back room, so as not to mingle with the hotel’s preferred clientele.
Our favorite lunch was a baguette or brotchen filled with ham and cheese, and a piece of fruit from the breakfast buffet. With this in hand we choose some of the most delightful lunch places, such as the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, the shore of Lake Bled, Slovenia, and on the trail in the Black Forest, Germany. By limiting our choice to one big restaurant meal a day we not only cut down on our calorie count, but in my wife’s case helped control blood sugar, and in my case reduce sodium intake.
Many of the optional (extra cost) tours included a large lunch or dinner from a set menu. These were often reflective of regional specialties such as Kransky sausages in Slovenia, and the Cassollet in Carcassonne, France.
One of the drawbacks of large group tours (up to 48 on a fully packed bus) is that only a few people are able to hear the often soft-spoken required local guide. After trying to bunch in, many also give up because they cannot understand what the guide is saying. This is often less due to the guide’s poor English, than to the means of expression. “Let me give you informations” is often heard.
One notable exception was Nicky who guided us through Versailles Palace on the Grand European tour. He used a microphone and we each had a headset so we could hear from longer distances. This was especially good in the tourist packed Palace.
This is an example that should be followed in more large bus group tours. It allows all to be included, even those, like many of us, whose hearing tends to be impaired at older age.
So as one who enjoys the cost effectiveness of large group bus tours, I encourage my fellow travelers to endure the daily seat rotation, and find their seat, without making a daily fuss, so that we can all enjoy those travel delights which are on the list for the day. Note that European buses have a back door, so the seats on the back door side are closer together than on the other side. Seat rotation, thus insures that one is not always confined to those very cramped seats just behind that second door.
Best of all is the tour with fewer participants (more like 30 than the full 48), so that there is some extra space on the BIG BUS.
The World is a great place, full of “People and Places” to be seen. I love to photograph them all.
Galen R Frysinger
My photos of these and other trips can be seen at http://www.galenfrysinger.com
Senegal and the Gambia
submitted. but never published
When I called the office of my travel Physician and told the nurse of my intended visit, she asked “What country are they in?”. I explained that Senegal and the Gambia were independent countries on the continent of Africa. It became apparent that my destination is little known and not an often travel point.
My trip was arranged by Global Tours, 1308 Old Bayshore Highway, Burlingame, CA. Cost for an 11 day tour, in January to February 2008, was $1825 per person. Round trip air fare from Chicago to Dakar was $1113.32 per person by Delta Airlines through Atlanta.
Senegal has three World Heritage sites. The most impressive, to me, was the Djoudj National Park, a bird reserve. On the Senegal river it is one of the first places with permanent water South of the Sahara, making it a stop over for migrating birds. It is the home for thousands of White Pelicans. By boat we could come close to the Pelican rookery, where the chicks are raised to become the elegant adults.
A second World Heritage site is the island of Saint Louis which during the 18th century was the administrative capital of all French African territories. The governmental functions are now gone but the old colonial architecture remains. A colorful town when seen by the horse drawn carts, organized by the local tourist bureau. On an adjacent island is the home of thousands of fisher families, their boats, and the processing of the fish catch, by drying in the open air. It is from ports like this that Senegalese fleeing to Europe, try the treacherous trip in open wooden boats to the Canary Islands (often a ten day voyage). These attempts to get into the European Union are often in the news.
The third World Heritage site in Senegal is Goree Island. Reaching into the Atlantic off the coast of Dakar, Senegal’s capital, it was the point of contact with ships doing the European and Caribbean trade. At the “House of Slaves”, they are eager to tell the story of the slave trade, and show some of the quarters where slaves were held prior to boarding the boat for transport to the New World. The island is colorful, and a place where much local art work is shown.
Also of interest in Senegal is the “Pink Lake”. This lake of waist deep water has an extremely high salt content, due to the continual evaporation of water. It actually appears pink. People in small boats harvest salt caked on the bottom, bring it a shore and bag it for various uses. One can see many boats with hundreds of people employed in the harvesting and selling process.
Standing in the interior of Senegal, in the town of Kaolack, is the towering Grand Mosque, pride of the Tijaniya brotherhood. It has become larger and larger with gleaming marble additions. You have probably seen a member of this brotherhood, if ever on Fifth Avenue in New York City you have been approached to buy a fake Rolex watch. Most all of these street salesmen come from Senegal and send much of the proceeds back to the Grand Mosque.
The Gambia, the country, is the river. This river was claimed by the British, and also used in the slave trade. Traveling up this wide river, from Banjul, the administrative capital on a peninsular on the Atlantic, several hours, one comes to James Island. It is from this island that Kunta Kinteh, of “Roots” fame, was probably transported to America.
In the nearby village of Juffure, Alex Haley found his link to Africa. Even today, ancestral relatives of Kunta Kinteh exist, and can be visited.
In this town of Gambia, like on Goree Island, Senegal, the locals are eager to tell the story of slavery. There seems to be competition between these two places and at Elmira Castle, Ghana, as to the proper place to tell this important story.
I can recommend the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul, the Gambia. It is a delightful resort hotel in the town, frequented by Europeans. Nice surroundings in the hotel complex and a fine restaurant.
My photos from this trip can be viewed athttp://www.galenfrysinger.com/most_recent_adventures.htm
Dr. Galen R Frysinger
People and Places