After such a long transatlantic journey and an introduction to so many new people, it was easy to forget that I was responsible for 12 students across the world from where we lived. We arrived at the Shannon hotel in the early morning hours and were given our rooms. Now, instead of being able to sleep for eons like we all desperately wanted (we were a scraggly looking crew after the long bus and plane rides, and it being early morning), we had a grand total of one hour to clean up and get ready for our first bus tour. I used the time to make sure I knew where all my travelers were bunking, to call the first person in the phone tree to let them know we were there safely, and of course to get clean.
Now, I had been to Europe before, on a trip to Ireland with my new wife for our honeymoon in 2003, so I had been introduced to the “shower culture”of the Emerald Isle, but it had been so long ago that I forgot what it had been all about… until I turned on that water in the hotel room in Shannon. Then it all came flooding back, no ironic pun intended. To say the water pressure was lacking would be putting it a bit accurately. If it had been dripping on me, drop by drop, I would have probably felt the exact same way I did standing under what was called a shower, and I had my doubts. But I didn’t have much time and had to keep moving, not at all feeling refreshed yet on the move anyway.
Then back to the huge bus, one of those that settled down before the door opened, and to our clearly Irish bus driver and clearly British tour director. But our group was clearly American so we started talking and we didn’t stop until we got to a roadside cafe in the Irish countryside, a charming little place that served “breakfast & lunch” on a regular basis, but I remember thinking they would make more money if they served dinner too. We were responsible for our own lunches, so each of my group members went into their previously concealed fanny packs (I made them wear those) to get out those new Euros that we all still didn’t quite understand the value of. Which brought us to one of the biggest debates I had with the parents and students before we even left for Europe. Alcohol control.
Now, one of the first things I did when preparing for the journey was to let the travelers and their parents know about the age limit for alcohol consumption in England and Ireland, which was 18 instead of the 21 it is in the United States. But several of the students had heard it was 16, which is technically true, but only when you have one drink with a meal, not when closing down the bar as a drunken lout. In fact, I had created a form that each parent and student had to sign saying that they would only be allowed one drink with a meal per day as a sort of compromise. That late morning in that countryside cafe was the first chance the kids would have to utilize that form and they were so excited to do so. You should have seen those bright and shiny faces that until a few minutes before were worn down and sleep-deprived. And the calculations began. Should they have a small glass of Guinness because they were in Ireland or try a wine or something other?
Yeah, I had water.
Remember when I said I made sure I had all “good kids” who wouldn’t cause me a problem? This was one of the situations where it made a world of difference. “All things in moderation,” was their motto, and not a one of them just sat there and drank. They all had a big meal so the effect of the alcohol was negligible, and they were all so grateful that I had gotten their parents to sign the form as it had been the first drink for most of them in their lives. Then we were on the move again, which would become the major theme of our adventures. If there was one constant it was that. And yes, the Irish countryside was beautiful, but we were so exhausted that all we could do was sit there somewhat comatose, getting to know people we probably would have never met before in our lives.
Now, I was our group leader, and all the other groups had leaders too who talked while the other travelers in our parties chatted as well. It was amazing how far some of them had gone, from Greece to Japan to Sydney, Australia. I was one of only two group leaders who had never led a trip before that point, so they were giving me pointers regarding how much and how often to tip, on staying on top of the wherabouts of the students, and on side trips during our days off in both Dublin and in London. The amount of information I received was staggering and also a little bit daunting, but I soaked it all in on that initial pass through Ireland on the large bus and it all served to help me after the fact.
At the end of the long day, after several stops to visit interesting views and take some photos, we arrived back at the hotel in Shannon thoroughly worn down and ready for a long night’s rest. I realized after the trip was over that as tired as we felt, that was the best we would get for the rest of the journey, and if I had known that I would have actually rested instead of hanging out in the hotel bar singing karaoke songs with the other leaders and our tour group guide. That next day would bring the first parent issue and a member of the group getting surprisingly lost, but I didn’t know any of that yet. All I was focused on as I finally eased into bed after 2 in the morning was how crappy that shower was going to be the next day.