Planning a march through Britain and IrelandWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A few weeks ago, we received a letter from Napoleon asking about travel to the UK and Ireland!
Now, this is not the “Little Corporal” Napoleon we’re talking about, the one who met his Waterloo, so to speak, on a bloody battlefield 20 miles south of Brussels in 1815 and found himself incarcerated on St. Helena in the South Atlantic, where he spent the last six years of his life.
No, this letter came from a recently retired couple from Napoleon (the Ohio town), advising us they had finally managed to put a little something aside for a long dreamed-of visit to Britain and Ireland, and were wondering about the best way of going about it.
They do, however, have a couple of minor problems.
The distaff side — more impulsive apparently — says, “Let’s just get passports, book a cruise and go,” whereas her more cautious husband thinks they should probably seek the assistance of an experienced travel agent. Do some reading and research. And ask Holliday/Fischer.
How very sensible is that!
The “cruise” thing came about because, unfortunately, “Mrs. Napoleon” has a serious fear of flying.
Well, the bad news is that cruising Britain is hardly an option. We have heard of a small ship that tools slowly and expensively around the Scottish Islands, and a double-crossing of the Atlantic on the Queen Mary is time consuming (12 days round trip) and costly.
Much better and cheaper would be to get some sleeping tablets from the local Dr. Feelgood and snooze the seven hours across the pond.
Once there, our correspondents have three realistic touring options: Car, train, coach. Or some combination thereof.
For these “travel virgins” however, we’d forget any idea of renting a car because driving on the other side of the road, in an unfamiliar vehicle, navigating through cities on heavily congested highways — and then paying $6 or more for a gallon of petrol — will almost certainly cause more trouble and strife than it’s worth.
Our personal preference would be to use trains with an occasional rental car whenever the public transportation runs out. But here again, getting used to the rail system, locating the right stations (there are nine in London alone), making the reservations, determining the best train pass options and then getting to and from hotels could also be too much for first timers.
Which leaves us only with the package tour — something we don’t generally encourage unless approached with great deliberation.
A friend who recently visited the UK for the first time and signed up for a no-frills, seven-day round Britain coach tour with one of the well-known operators totally confirms our reasoning.
She liked everything she saw and loved Great Britain. But what she didn’t enjoy at all was the coach experience.
“It was so regimented and so frustrating to arrive somewhere and be told to be back at the bus in two hours or less!”
She did admit that the tour took her to places outside the cities that she’d never would have seen otherwise, and that she’d never have the courage to rent a car and drive on the “wrong” side of the road.
“I might take another tour for the sake of convenience,” she said, “but it will certainly not be one that moves at such a frenzied pace!”
The good news is that there are literally dozens of excellent guided tours of the UK and Ireland that are small, relaxed, use centrally-located, family run hotels or inns and may even be arranged around a particular theme. They’ll be a bit more expensive than the standard package tours, but in our view, well worth it.
The services of a good travel agent can be helpful, but it’s essential to also study a couple of guidebooks and to do some online research before making a final decision. Even the cheapest tour is not inexpensive and it will be well worth our readers’ time to find one that perfectly suits their interests, stamina and budget.
An excellent “insider” source is International Travel News, a publication written primarily by travelers that contains details on scores of tours that would suit these Napoleons to a “tea”! (www.intltravelnews.com).
E-mail Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer at email@example.com.