On Touring by Bus

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My recent blog break (in May) centered around a vacation. I not only was a 2-week vacation visiting numerous national parks and monuments, the trip was our first-ever bus tour. My wife says she entered the venture with low expectations. For me, I started the journey with two angsts; people being late for departures and living out of a suitcase.

Although one tour is not a reliable sample, below is a list of positive and negatives about bus tours. Besides, I wanted to get this post out for Jo, ahead of her first bus tour.

Positive 1: Vacation planning is time-consuming – especially a two-week trip to a new area covering many miles. With bus tours, the tour company does all the planning. From all the hotels, numerous meals, special activities, setting the times, load/unloading luggage, and more, this long journey required little planning on our part.

The Downside: A bus tour resembles a forced march! Travellers are on the tour’s schedule – not theirs! “Instructions as the following are common: “Breakfast starts at 6, bags out by 7, and be on the bus by 8.” – “We are stopping for x minutes, so be back on the bus by 2:20.”

Positive 2: The tour guide provides the pertinent information of the area. Landmarks, history, people, culture, wildlife, geology, and more. A positive, knowledgeable tour guide makes a big difference. A major thumbs up to ours (which veteran bus tourists confirmed his excellence).

The Downside: Just like cruising, visitors are “in port” long enough for a taste – a sampling – not an immersion. All the major parks have much to offer, but we weren’t there long enough to take in everything. Like cruising, that is the nature of the beast. Given the available time, the tour director planned well so we could see, experience, and learn as much as possible.

Positive 3: Besides having a tour guide providing information, someone else is driving! Travelers now have the time to do as they please – read, sleep, watch, write, photograph, chat, or just relax.

The Downside: Although the tour company sets the schedule with the tour guide (who has some discretion) implementing the plan, travelers are at the mercy of fellow travelers. If one person is late, everyone is late because the rest are waiting. We were lucky because our group was very timely most of the time. However, our tour guide told me this is not always the case.

Positive 4: Our bus was more comfortable than we anticipated. A smooth ride. Ample leg room. Sufficient overhead storage area. Reclining seats. Although a toilet was present, the tour director encouraged us to only use it for necessities – so we stopped about every 90 minutes as off-the-bus breaks.

The Downside: When cruising, the ship travels in the evening and overnight to the next port while passengers are entertained and sleep in the same room. Bus tours travel during the day. Given our aggressive itinerary, we saw a lot of moving land.

Positive 5: We ate well – very well! It seems two of the differences in tour companies are the types of hotels and the number of included meals. The old saying “You get what you pay for” is very fitting. In our case, all breakfasts, several lunches, and about half the dinners were included.

The Downside: Yes, we ate well, but the breakfasts were very similar. While the hotels had more than the cheap continental breakfast, many in the group got tired of seeing scrambled eggs – but some breakfast offerings had greater variety than others. Plus, (it took me a while to figure out this one), adjusting one’s eating schedule each day is important. Breakfast time is relatively consistent, but lunch can vary from early, normal, or late, which will affect dinner. So some meal planning would be helpful.

Positive 6: Given that we had 14 different rooms in 13 hotels over 15 nights, we were happy with our accommodations. No – they were not a string of 5-star hotels – but the hotels weren’t budget-oriented either. In Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, we stay within the park (not in the surrounding area). The lodge at Custer State Park in South Dakota had an interesting history as the Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge. The Rustic Inn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming was my favorite. Their individual cabin concept was unique and the room are beautiful.

The Downside: Living out of a suitcase isn’t easy – well, until one learns a routine for themselves – which we did. Each of us had our toiletries bag in the overhead bin, then set out (and put away) clothes before going to bed.

The Bottom Line: Our first bus tour involved an aggressive agenda over 2800 miles (4500 km). Not only did it exceed our expectations, we were very pleased with the our company – Globus – and yes, because the positives of this experience outweigh the negatives, we would take another bus tour. Is bus touring for everyone? Absolutely not.

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On a Reflective Return

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Greetings! I hope this find you in good health and spirits – and thanks for returning after my late-spring/early summer blog break. Yes – I missed my interactions here! After taking some time away from my little corner of the world, I eased back to the blogs by visiting.

Vacationing was the reason for my time away – but I did draft and edit some future posts. After all, some readers anxiously await more beach walks. Also almost ready are a short story, several dance posts, a true story about food lines, and a challenging series about religion in the United States. I hope to unveil a new header with the next Opinions in the Shorts.

Amidst a combination of excitement, unknown, and low expectations, my wife and I embarked on a never-done-before journey – a bus-trip tour vacation.

We flew to Las Vegas a day early, then became part of 33 vacationers from eight different US states and 3 foreign countries for a 15-night tour of US National Parks and Monuments. Yes – Americans from Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas joined vacationers from Australia (6), New Zealand (4), and South Africa (2) to be led by a guide from Colorado and a bus driver from Arizona.

After a short, evening orientation and social gathering, the group boarded a bus that would log over 2800 miles (4500 km) over 2 weeks at about 7 miles per gallon. Except for one two-night stop, that meant a different hotel every night – yes – essentially living out of a suitcase for 2 weeks.

Given my wife and I had only previously visited Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, and Denver on this itinerary, we were excited to see the national treasures and the land connecting them. We were also apprehensive about a group tour on a bus – let alone the ambitious undertaking of the time and miles involved in our initiation into bus touring.

Four conceptual thoughts are prominent in my mind as I reflect about this trip.

(-) The US National Parks are special places. I combined two quotes by John Muir and Stephen Mather that express my feelings. Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike – and this can happen through the US National Parks – not only our best idea, but our best ideal.

(-) Whether the vast grassy plains of eastern Wyoming or the desert areas of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, the USA has a lot of land that remains wide open, Seeing miles and miles of land without a house in sight stimulates a variety of thoughts.

(-) The early history and struggles of the national parks still rings today. Same arguments – different players about federally protected land and land use for business development.

(-) But this point hit my the hardest: How little I know about the American Indians native to the land. Right here, right now I admit it – and I’m ashamed of it and unfortunately believe the same is true for the vast majority of Americans.

Meanwhile, it’s good to be back. Do you have one particular post I need to visit? Here’s a song to start northern hemisphere summer.

On Travels Tips for Iceland

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Since about 2012, vacation travellers to Iceland has drastically increased – and the trend seems to be continuing. Because one’s travel will probably involve Reykjavik, here are some tips that are worth knowing before arriving.

Consider flying KEF-based Icelandair or WOW airlines (discounter) as they may provide considerable savings. We used Icelandair for our entire trip to the UK, and we would fly them again.

The international airport for Reykjavik is not in Reykjavik, but actually in Keflavik (KEF) – which is about 45 minutes from Reykjavik.

Given the airport location, Flybus and Grayline provide bus transportation to Reykjavik. Visitors can purchase tickets in the baggage area at the airport.

The buses will not take passengers to their hotel – but will stop at designated bus stops within the city, so select a hotel close to one of the bus stops. We got lucky with our hotel as it was very close to two stops. Thumbs up to the Skuggi Hotel.

 

Reykjavik is a very walkable city – so select a hotel in the city center or in the old city/harbor area.

Tour companies are abundant, and also use the same bus stops are airport transportation.

We found hotels and food to be expensive. Before booking we expected $300+ per night for a hotel. Once we were there, you learn to accept the $30 for pizza or spaghetti.

We mistakenly thought restaurants would be mainly fish – Not true as there are a wide variety of culinary offering.

Previous posts about Iceland

Enjoy any or all of the videos about intriguing Iceland.

On Iceland: Reykjavik

We spent bits of four different days in Reykjavik. It is an easy city to walk, and there is enough to keep us busy. Interestingly, about a third of Iceland’s population is in Reykjavik.

Admiring the architectural pattern of basalt rocks of the Lutheran Cathedral

 

Smiling at the Sun Voyager metal sculpture saluting the Viking heritage

 

Engaging in the quaint building architecture

 

Strolling the main shopping street.

 

Loving the modern feel of the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

 

Marveling at the view across the water

 

Knowing how much Resa would enjoy the many murals (more in a future dedicated post).

 

Standing in amazement at the 10:45 pm sky

 

Enjoying the fireworks thanking us for visiting before leaving the next day

 

Reykjavik is the largest city in Iceland, but not expect the grandness of New York, Chicago, London, or Paris. It’s not even close to Cincinnati. However, at 110,000 people, it’s large enough to offer a wide variety of activities, yet quaint enough to be manageable and make one feel comfortable. Bottom line: we enjoyed it – Thumbs up!

On Iceland – Day 2: The South Coast Tour

We continued with Extreme Iceland for Day 2, but this time for a trip along the south coast. It was simply another day of the beauty providing sensory overloaded.

Wondering about the numerous lava field I expected, but observing ecological succession with lava field covered with moss was a surprise

 

Seeing wonderful scenery

 

Walking behind the waterfall (Seljalandsfoss)

 

Strolling black beach (Reynisfjara)

 

Marveling at rock formations

 

Enjoying the view from Dyrholaey of the black beach we just visited

 

Reflecting about the setting of a farm with its fertile land and the glacier above

 

Hearing the roar of Skogafoss in its gorge

 

Standing on the glacier (Solheimajokull)

 

Never tiring of the landscape and the views

 

Continually admiring the landscape

 

…. after all, how could anyone get bored with seeing places like this.

 

Hope you enjoyed the brief highlights of Iceland’s south coast. Here’s a 2+-minute video showing the sights in motion.

On Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh’s human roots date back to 8000 BC, the city along the Firth of Forth became chartered in 1125. Today, it is Scotland’s political, cultural, and commercial hub. We journeyed into Edinburgh twice – first on a bus trip from Greenock (on the west coast) for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (previous post) – then several days later after our ship set anchor in nearby South Queensferry for encountering more of this Scottish jewel.

To me, Edinburgh was the most captivating of the cities we visited on this trip. The grand old stone buildings, the charm of Old Town, the Georgian and Victorian architecture of New Town, and being a city bustling with activity; – let alone the highly visible Edinburgh Castle sitting high on a hill above it all.

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With 5 major festivals in progress during August, the streets were not quiet – plus two cruise ships in town. I wonder how many of the people we saw were Edinburghers? But cheers to the many street performers!

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The Royal Mile (High Street) is Old Town’s main street. It’s loaded not only physical charm, it’s a vibrant area filled with shops, eateries, and establishments featuring adult beverages. Taking the long walk up the hill from our bus to the castle was a great introduction into Edinburgh. The feast continues by wondering nearby streets.

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As usual, our fee touched Edinburgh’s pavement many times on this day. This city is a visual feast – let alone filled with history. Greyfriars Bobby is an interesting story – a dog who faithfully stayed at his master’s grave for 14 years. Various people took care of Bobby during this time, and yes – he is buried a short distance from his master.

We loved Edinburgh and would like to return during a less-crazy time. We missed going into Edinburgh Castle because we chose to forego the long lines. Atop Calton Hill provides outstanding 360-views of the city, but I’ve shown enough pictures in this post. Besides the video shows it. Enjoy this 2-minute drone video tour giving you a taste of this fabulous city.

For those wanting to see more of Edinburgh, click here for a longer tour.

Next stop: Normandy France

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On a Tattoo

No – This post is not about body art.

No – This post is not about Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize) proclaiming “De plane! De plane!” from the Fantasy Island tower.

Yes – This post is about an evening signal calling soldiers to their quarters.

Yes – This post is about an extravaganza of music, marching, and performance by military bands from across the globe as England, Scotland, France, India, and Japan providing precision and power.

Yes – A night including 11 pipes and drum bands from Scotland (5), Australia (3). Germany, Malta, and one composed of 45 players invited from at least Argentina, Chile, Mexico, USA, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia; all combining together (at least 300) to bring a layer of complexity through a national tradition.

Yes – A night when about 50 fiddlers from the Shetland Islands, a local children’s choir of at least 30, an international dance company, and The Queen’s Colour Squadron supplied elegance and poise to the instrumentation.

Yes – For us, a night of spectacle, exhilaration, and awe. Welcome to the 2017 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – the 68th edition of a 3-week celebration of music, culture, and tradition.

The castle quietly waits …

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The call is made.

They emerge from Edinburgh Castle.

They keep coming onto the Castle Esplanade …

… to entertain with music and theatrics

… with music and dance

… with music and fire

… with grace and majestic grandness

All in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle that also served as a beautiful backdrop

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Attending this event wasn’t on our radar, but for other cruisers this is the reason this took this itinerary. Two days before the event, we noticed tickets remained through a ship excursion, so we decided pay the price and go. Maybe because of my music and band experience, hte finale with over 600 musicians and others was so moving with moments of chills running through my spine. The video below is a high-quality edited version (2+ minutes). The full 5+minute fixed-camera version is linked below the video.

Full version link of the final dress rehearsal (5+ minutes)

Next stop: Edinburgh by day