The Omens Were Ominous From The Start

I had to go to Germany last month for another corporate integration. I decided to add on a stay in London on my way home.

All by myself.

Eek.

I'm a huge extrovert but I'm also a scaredy cat so it was pretty brave of me to plan four days in a foreign country without a companion. A companion who might not know anything more than I do but will at least have a better sense of direction than I do. Which is to say, any sense of direction.

To make it easier and less scary, I decided to take some structured tours. I found a company online and was persuaded not only by the itineraries but by the fact that they picked up at hotels. Again, no sense of direction but getting to a lobby is doable. A very thorough search at Hotels.com to find a hotel on the list that had A/C, a lift and wouldn't cost a million dollars and I was set. It only cost me a half million dollars. London ain't cheap!

Here's the itinerary for my first day's tour:

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath. Includes traditional lunch in a 14th century pub.


Includes entrance to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge, plus traditional lunch in a 14th century pub - why not try the fish and chips?

 Highlights: 

  • Entrance to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge
  • Pub lunch in 14th century Inn included in Lacock
  • Panoramic tour of Bath
  • Luxury coach and professional guide

Windsor Castle - first group to enter in the morning
Over 900 years of royal history are waiting for you in Windsor Castle, which is perched high above the River Thames just outside of London. From William the Conqueror all the way through to our current Queen, successive monarchs have lived here and left their mark on what is now the largest continuously occupied castle in the world. We shall be amongst the first people to enter Windsor Castle, so you can see for yourself the splendor of St. Georges chapel and the sumptuous state apartments. Windsor itself is a pretty town full of traditional shops and historic pubs. Shakespeare is said to have written his play The Merry Wives of Windsor in one of them! 
 

Stonehenge
The most famous prehistoric monument in the world, and now a world heritage site, Stonehenge stands alone in the vast empty tract of Salisbury plain. Its origins date back nearly 5,000 years and it has been home to pagan religion and spiritual worship, not to be mention public debate ever since. What was this vast collection of stones intended for? Was it observatory of the moon, a temple to the sun, or an elaborate cemetery? Who were the people who carried and carved these 40 ton rocks? Come and unlock the secrets for yourself and marvel at this remarkable and mysterious feat of ancient engineering and design.
Lunch in a 14th century pub in Lacock
What better way to enjoy lunch than in a classic country pub? Relax and soak up the charming atmosphere while being served some delicious home cooked food. Why not try the fish and chips?


BathOur final stop is Bath, another world heritage site. Bath is a beautiful Georgian city with delightful crescents, terraces and architecture. Following our panoramic tour of the city, there will be time to visit Bath Abbey and Pulteney Bridge overlooking the river Avon cascading over the weir. And you can shop, explore or take afternoon tea in the Pump Rooms while listening to the string quartet.

Man, that sounded great!

I landed in London on Friday night and laid low because they were picking me up at 7:25 AM in the lobby come Saturday morning. Apparently, I was stressed because I woke up every hour starting at 2 AM even though my alarm was set for 6 AM.

Here's the rub. My phone was on vibrate and I didn't hear my alarm. I woke at 7 AM, felt pretty rested then looked at the time.

Holy shite!

I managed to take a shower, put my hair in a pony and pin my bangs up, throw on some clothes and make it downstairs at 7:23. No makeup, no jewelry, no breakfast, one quick glass of water while I was getting ready and that was my only sustenance. It was a little later that I noticed that the shirt I put on was one that I spilled something on in Germany, used hotel soap to clean but didn't rinse well enough so there were white spots across my chest. 

Fantastic. I must have looked like a homeless person.

I've looked better, fo sho!
(Shirt stains not in picture, thankfully.)
We got picked up on time then transported to the coach platforms at Victoria Station. What a cattle call that was! Fortunately, I found the right place to be and was waiting to get loaded when the first sign of trouble occurred. They started dividing up our group because there was a "problem with a coach". 

There had to be over 1,000 people waiting.
Our tour guide told us she was riding on the coach with half of our group and the rest of us were to go on another coach but she would meet up with us at Windsor Castle. That she did and our visit to Windsor was cool. 

It was when we got back to the coach park that it really fell apart. Apparently, we were supposed to have started with a double decker coach but it went out of service for some reason. They were bringing in another but it was a ways out. Some of us were shuttled to an entirely new coach and guide and I noticed our guide was getting on another coach with some of our group.

When I asked about it, I was told "They have lunch in Lacock so they have to leave."

Um, we all had lunch scheduled in Lacock.

Our new guide tried to smooth things over but our driver had more information than what was coming from corporate. It was 10:30 and corporate said a bus would be here within a half hour but our driver called the guy bringing the new coach and he was well over an hour away, perhaps even longer.

At this point, it was chaos and the ugly Americans came out. One guy was on his cell phone, literally yelling at the coach company. Other people were peppering our new guide (who just inherited us all) with questions. I hung out with some Australians until I decided it wasn't worth standing in the parking lot any more. I interrupted poor Hugh, our guide, and asked, "Is it safe to assume no one will be here until at least 12?" He confirmed my assumption so I flagged my Aussies down and told them we might as well go get something to eat or drink.

I managed to down two Diet Cokes and a snack then we were back to the coach park still without a new coach to move us all. Hugh said that the current coach held 53, we were 66 so if 13 people wanted to bail and ride back to London with the coach that was just doing the Windsor tour, we could move on. My Aussie friends had several weeks in London so they said sure. Most of us had only a few days so we were determined to ride it out. By all that I considered holy, I was determined to get to Stonehenge and I think most people felt the same so not enough folks bailed.

The replacement coach finally arrived, hurrah! But, we were well over two hours behind schedule. Lunch at Lacock was canceled completely. For us. I'm sure that other group had a delicious meal. Bummer, because it was in a pub used for filming some scenes from Harry Potter. 

As we were driving, someone suggested skipping Lacock completely and just going on to Bath since there was no lunch being offered. Hugh called the tour company and they said no dice. We still had to go there. If they understood that we would only have about 20 minutes, they didn't care.

We pulled into Lacock and Hugh offered to do a quick walking tour. What he had tried to tell the company was that people were going to need to take washroom breaks and get some food and 20 minutes may not be long enough but, again, they didn't seem to care. 

I did the quick tour with Hugh and towards the end there was a public washroom. Our gang lined up to use it. We were well past the 20 minutes at this point and our driver was getting antsy. Actually, he was irate about it all.

We finally got in to the coach and were driving down the main street when someone said, "Hey, we just passed two people who were in our group!" The driver reluctantly stopped and they got on but as we continued to drive away, someone else said, "We're missing one other person!" 

Our driver was willing to just abandon the person at this point but Hugh made him stop so he could jump off and track down our missing person. The driver was getting honked at for blocking the road so he took off. I don't know if it was possible to do a shorter turnaround but we ended up doing a huge circle on to the main road then back into town to pick up Hugh and our missing passenger. Our driver was livid, Hugh was resigned, "People have to use the washroom."

We were probably three hours behind schedule by the time we got to Bath. I was looking forward to seeing the Pump Room because we'd just read about it in a Jane Austen book but there was not time enough to visit, certainly no time for afternoon tour as promised in the itinerary. Hugh offered to do another quick walking tour so some folks headed off with him.

A beer never tasted so good!
Nor, was it ever needed more!
At this point, I said "Frak it", took a few pictures of the outside of some buildings then went to a pub and ordered lunch and beer. And, finally used the washroom. 

It was back on the bus with the fear of our driver leaving without us and we were finally on the way to "The Stones" as they all called Stonehenge. As we pulled into the coach parking lot, I saw our original guide with the lucky sods who got to do the full day as planned.

I tried to burn them all with my eyes to no avail.

I did manage to see The Stones but my worry about getting left behind made me spend less time there than I wanted to.

When I got back to the States, I sent an email to the tour company that started with "You've probably heard from many people..." I didn't tell them all the things they could have done to make the situation better because I wasn't sure they really wanted my advice. 

They did give me a partial refund. While that was good, it would have been much better if they had done that without me asking for it. Again, I chose not to advise them on their customer service issues.

As time has gone by, I've chosen to focus on what I did get to see and tried to appreciate that  at least I got a "good" story out of it all.




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