As per the notes we made on the exit survey for EF Tours, the only real problem with the tour was the older people who would not or could not keep up with the walking and thus complained loud and long (even though it says in several places in the tour literature that this is a fast-paced, lots-of-walking type tour and that you should be sure to wear comfortable shoes). Elaine just stopped touring, and was a non-problem mostly. Laurie, Vivian and John were less graceful and much more vocal. Phyllis and John were just annoying, loudly complaining but taking few active steps to alleviate their problems, like stepping closer when they couldn't hear.
The smoking everywhere, including by several tour participants, was really annoying. We're used to smoking bans, or at least segregation at home. Even John of the second Peggy & John's pipe smoke was annoying.
Rita was extremely good at diffusing people's irritation by putting a humorous slant on any divergences from plan or expectation. Sylvana was quite nice as well, and led a lovely tour of Rome by night. Rita and Sylvana are both in touch with the important issues of people and the history (recent as well as distant) of Italy.
The friendliness of the tour directors to one another, within the company as well as with local guides and with other companies' guides, was helpful in several instances as well. Riding the bus with Giuseppe was much nicer than taking a train or a taxi most places. Giuseppe is also a very careful and attentive driver, so we felt quite safe with him.
The other tour participants, were in sum, more republican and more moneyed than our usual social circle. That's probably necesary for international travel, but it was still a little disheartening. Even Maria, the divorcee whose husband abandoned her for a 20 year old, has enough money to live comfortably and travel as she wishes. Dom, who works six 12+ hour days a week, is the most "working class" of the lot, but he's still an entrepreneur with multiple businesses and is a self-described Republican.
Steve, from Denver, is probably the only person not old enough to be my parent, though he could just be young-looking like Maria. The age disparity was bridged by our ability to act mature, but it was still quite freaky at times.
Virgil seems to have lost some motor control in his limbs, as well as in speech, which is likely why he's so quiet. Several of the ladies were unable to walk because their ankles swelled up tremendously (due to their insistance on wearing impractical shoes). The older men were a little stoop-shouldered, but none had pronounced difficulty walking.
Maria, Steve, Karen & ?, and Beverly hung together a lot as younger people who were more brave about exploration and walking on the level and up stairs. John & Peggy Gilbert and Al & Pat Zangara were traveling together as family friends, from their time working in the Ann Arbor hospital where uncle Larry worked. Phyllis & John and Virgil & Arlys were both travelling as buddies, though they didn't seem to be married. This was speculated to be for Social Security reasons, as older women are often dependant on dead husbands' Social Security benefits since they were less likely to have worked.
What we learned from this tour:
- Wear walking shoes with good socks and comfortable, layered clothes (actually, we knew that already, but this trip reinforced the concept).
- Included meals on tours are edible but entirely avoidable, since the cuisine is usually more cafeteria-like when they have pre-booked mobs. Avoid tours which offer more included meals in countries with good food on every corner.
- Be prepared for potable but bad tasting water (except in Rome where it is both delicious and drinkable).
- There will also be unusual food under familiar names (better yet, ask your spouse, who has read the phrase book's menu section, what it is before you order it -- and if it sounds weird, order it anyhow -- you are on this trip to expand your horizons aren't you?).
- Stock up on good chocolate whenever you run across it.
- Drink house wine in Italy, it's usually really good, since the regions like to show off and prove the superiority of their wineries.
- Go for walks away from the tour group.
- Read up ahead of time from a guide book on the areas you plan to visit -- but don't be a slave to the book.
- Don't try to squeeze in everything -- you'll be back again before too long.
- Don't pack more than you can carry yourself for a mile or two while walking briskly (for Jane this was 15 pounds, for Allan, about 20 pounds).