When my kids were growing up we tried fairly hard to give them a fully rounded life experience beyond the confines of Ogle County, Illinois. We traveled often, trekking across the country to National parks, up and down both coasts, Alaska, Central America, the Caribbean and across Europe. We've snorkeled the Caribbean, zip lined through the rainforest, skied the Austrian Alps, climbed mountains, rode trains and flown in small 4 seater planes over glaciers. In Europe we prided ourselves on navigating through the countries and their cities on our own. We'd see the big tour buses pulling up to the sites, the people stumbling off wearing headphones and following their guide who usually carried an umbrella or a flag high in the air as they lead the line through the locale. We would snicker as we took our time, ambling on our own, feeling pity for the people forced to arrive and leave on a schedule. "I can't IMAGINE EVER traveling like that," I said, smug and self righteous.
We traveled to China recently; it was a tour. We had a guide who carried a flag and we rode around on buses. We wore headsets that broadcast his running commentary on what we were seeing while we milled about the sites and we then we would get back on the bus. In short, we were "those" people that I once loathed. And you know what? I'm not ashamed.
How was it? I never had to purchase an admission ticket. I never had to stand in line to get in with the thousands of others who were visiting the same sights. I got detailed information on what I was seeing instead of having to stand at every sign and read the English translation. I didn't have to drive in the traffic nor navigate my way through a Chinese airport alone. And I never had to schlep my own luggage anywhere. It was picked up from my room and reappeared at my next location without a hiccup - even when one of the flights was delayed by 13 hours. That, alone, is worth its weight in rice. I can't imagine seeing all that we saw, flying around that country from city to city and cruising down the Yangtze without our guide. His name was John and because of him, my view of guided tours has changed completely. Well, it was him or I am just getting older. The company was Avalon Waterways and yep, I'd do another tour with them.
My next several blog entries are going to be about this trip. So, join me or not - it's up to you.