I have recently returned from a Central European Quartet tour. Such a lovely tour, I recommend it highly, it is one of my favourite tours (and not just in the four country/central Europe category). This particular tour was with a regular group I work with from Arizona. They requested me to do the trip and I was fortunate enough to be able to do it. On this occasion they were also fortunate to be consolidated with a group from Maui, Hawaii. For me this was a milestone. In over 250 tours I have never had a student group from Hawaii. My 50th state, the collection is complete. Also, it was a third tour with me for two of the students from Arizona, Hannah and Corinna are my first threepeaters, I even got to use the same jokes on each trip and they still smiled.
So, long flights all round, well, except me, I breezed in from London. Anyway, it all begins in Budapest and this is a great city to start a tour in. Suitably different, in terms of layout and language, from home to make it absolutely clear that things have changed. I like Budapest a great deal; it has an enjoyable mix of grand, intriguing and dull. There is plenty to see, many interesting stories to hear and just enough of the non-descript to make you question what is happening when a capital city becomes home to over 20% of a country’s population. Quiz question 1 – name another Hungarian city?
The tour moved along to Vienna and it is normally by this stage of a tour (days 4 and 5) that a group really starts to mix. On our tour there was a great relationship between the two groups, they got along well and that is always one of the most important things for me to see. One of the things I like to do during a bus transfer is a 5 question quiz. A simple format, I ask five questions then invite people to come up front and answer them. I tell the rest how many each person got correct, but not which ones. People need to work out which they think were answered correctly and add to their own answers. Eventually we get there. In a great bit of table-turning my Hawaiians asked me five questions about Hawaii. I did incredibly poorly (scoring a generous 1½). Who could possibly know about the state fish?
Vienna is a city of grandeur one which I find a touch intimidating, almost as if these buildings are too good for us in a ‘look but don’t touch’ sort of a way. Despite that, it has superb museums and we got there the day after a new Klimt exhibit had opened – good news for my art teachers. We left a rather cold Vienna and headed for the sunshine of Prague (seriously). I think for most people Prague is the highlight of any tour. It is such a wonderful city, a fascinating place to explore. The sun was shining, souvenir shops were well stocked and all was good. I always enjoy being in Prague, if you haven’t been then I recommend it highly.
Our tour ended in Munich. My Hawaiians also ventured down to Neuschwanstein where I got to walk them up a big hill to the castle and, when they had slalomed past the numerous souvenir shops on the way out, I walked them up another hill to see the castle again from the Marienbrücke. I got a photo of myself here (castle purely there as background, it’s a grand tradition) but cannot share it as I am unwittingly wearing a t-shirt that would offend the sensitivities of my two Cubs supporting friend (I honestly didn’t know).
Overall, a truly great tour with lovely people. I dare say we will be hooking up again next year on another trip. I have been to 39 states, Arizona and Hawaii are among the 11 left to visit – groups like this just make me want to go and visit a bit sooner.
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(Editor’s note: Paul Mattesini’s posts appear Tuesdays on Following the Equator. If you have a travel question for our resident expert tour director, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future posts.)