As I approach my 70th birthday next month, I fondly remember the many wonderful bus tours I’ve taken over the past 40 years. I have travelled through many European countries and up in the Baltic countries to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia and to St. Petersburg in Russia.
I know folks who have never been on an airplane and have never been on a tour of any kind. There are people who have never been out of Ontario or Quebec. It is so edifying to get out and see the world and to broaden your mind. I try to go somewhere every year.
A few years ago a woman sitting across the aisle from me in a tour bus was so excited about going on the four-day outing in Ontario. She was in her early 70s and a recent widow and had never in her married life traveled anywhere. Her husband didn’t like traveling and they didn’t go places — always stuck at home. Now she was like a teenager and so excited to be going on a trip with her sister-in-law.
My first big tour of European countries was in March of 1982 when I booked a United Grain Growers and Country Guide 15-day European Farm Tour. They had a travel service for Canadian farmers called Blue Shield Tours. Most of the 40 people on the tour were from western Canada but there were a few from Ontario. It didn’t matter as we were one big family. When you booked the tour they asked you to send a photo of yourself and a little biography. That was included in a Who’s Who booklet they sent out a few weeks before the tour started. There was no such thing back then as “privacy laws.” I’m sure everyone on the trip had studied the booklet to see who was going and what kind of folks they were. My roommate, whom the tour company picked, was also a bachelor farmer. He farmed in the Peace River area with his family and they had over 3,000 acres of grain.
It was a wonderful guided tour of Holland, England, France, Germany and Switzerland. We visited farms in each of the countries. The tour was scheduled so we’d be in Paris for the world-famous International Livestock and Machinery Show. It’s the world’s largest indoor farm show. What a show!
We did a tour of Paris and when we left in the deluxe motor coach for a ride through the fertile farmland noted for flax production, we made a detour to Vimy Ridge where we walked the grounds where so many lives were lost during WW1. Then at Calais we boarded a ship for the 90-minute crossing of the English Channel to Dover. I still have the Who’s Who tour booklet with the itinerary included.
On tours of the Baltic countries I saw the countryside, the capital cities, the people, and we visited farms that took in busloads of tourists. I’ve been through many American states and most Canadian provinces. I’ve been down the full length of the very scenic Pacific Coast highway in Oregon and California and crisscrossed California a number of times by car.
There are some things that might surprise you when you go on a bus tour. Those lovely happy-looking couples who look like they’ve been married for many, many years, and who share the same hotel bedroom, don’t assume they are a married couple. They might both have lost their partners and are “just friends” who enjoy traveling together. Times have changed!
I once commented to an elderly woman on a bus tour at a stop for supper, when the man she was with went to the washroom that “your husband really likes mashed potatoes and it must be his favourite food?”
She replied with a smile, “Yes he does, but he’s not my husband. We’re just friends. I lost my husband five years ago and he lost his wife . . .”
Now if the tour company had put out a Who’s Who booklet like they did in the “olden days” I would have known their names and whatever information they provided about themselves. But then not everyone is comfortable giving out personal information about themselves, especially if they, uh, share a room and their friends or grandkids find out.
Have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful 2019. Remember, travel when you still can. You’re not getting any younger.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and an agricultural writer.