Flying away on a package tour for the first time ever.

I’m wondering how many blogs out there in the Blog-O-Sphere have entries that begin with some groveling excuse about “Sorry, Dear Blog, that I’ve forsaken thee”?

Well, here is another one.

My standard excuse is something along the lines of “Luxembourg is so normal/charming/lovely, that you will be tired of my constant glowing descriptions of Michelin-rated restaurants and encounters with professional cyclists.”

In Moscow, you could always count on seeing someone pooping by the Lenin Library or stumbling home at dawn through the park in a suit jacket, dress shirt, tie, and dress shoes but no suit trousers or passed out across the hood of someone else’s Lada.

It was so colorful. Never boring. Every day another blog topic.

Here, I have to leave town in order to generate some material for my long-neglected blog. It is scanty, but I do have a few things to share.

First, is that I finally ventured into the world of Package Tours. I always do my own travel arrangements myself, armed only with Expedia, Trip Advisor, and the ability to spend hours googling. For once I thought I’d let the travel agent handle everything for me, and over all, I have to say it was a pleasant change of pace. Not something I want to do every time. But worth trying. Although I didn’t feel that way immediately.

I had certain criteria: someplace warm (the three-weeks of Russian-style cold weather had wreaked havoc with my diesel engine and my patience), not in North Africa (too dicey these days), and less than a whole week (since The Spouse had to stay behind and work). All of this = 4 days/3 nights in Gran Canaria at the Hotel Riu Papayas.

I will confess, I was expecting a Little Britain sort of trip.

And the drive from the airport was grim at best:

The island is known for its varied micro environments. But this was just plain "lunar."

The gene pool at the hotel was . . . shall we say “vintage”?

Honestly, *I* brought the average age down a good 20 years.

The weather was much colder than I anticipated (even though the forecasts were spot on accurate, predicting daily highs of 19-21C).

Day One: Chilling by the Pool

The hotel location was a bit . . . busy.

The Spanish do love their concrete.

And the nearest shopping center was an eyesore:

The Yumbo Center. Yuck.

But the skies could be dramatic:

The nearby sand dunes featured camel rides.

The natives were extremely welcoming:

Most of the stray/feral cats were fed and neutered by a local animal-friends group.

The notched ears meant the cats had been neutered. Most cats we met had a notched ear.

Even the hotel featured three resident garden cats who slept on the chair cushions and wandered through the hotel like honored guests, eschewing palm tree scratching pads for upholstered lobby lounge chairs.

And you thought the islands were famous for dogs.

In all seriousness, the hotel staff was extremely professional, kind, and helpful. Canarians in general were delighted at my feeble attempts to speak Spanish (I tended to produce French; they tended to initiate conversations with me in German). Everyone let me slog on through, spoke to me in slow, simple declarative sentences, and gently corrected my mistakes.

The girls discovered a hilarious Spanish game show called ¡Ahora caigo!

We went out on two dolphin searching trips and saw not only dolphins, but a pod of about nine pilot whales. With minimal seasickness. Okay, there was a little seasickness, but no actual puking. Not by us, anyhow.

I was too excited about the dolphins to even take any photos.

I didn't do a much better job with the pilot whales. Trust me: they were really cool.

Looking back on the trip from the comfort of my own bed (why DO all Spanish beds seem to be holdovers from the Inquisition?), I think of the Canaries with a lot more fondness than I did, say, on Day One. It was exactly what I was looking for in a short trip. Baboo got to practice speaking Spanish. Skittles translated a good amount of German for us (generally humorous observations of things she overheard other tourists saying). Everyone got to have some great garlic shrimp. And we all came home surprisingly sunburned for no warmer than it was.

So maybe it is worth another look.

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  1. Gullible says:

    What I like about packaged tours is that you have only two responsibilities: 1) Show up on time, and 2) Have fun. Sounds like you did.

    • The Expatresse says:

      That’s true–they really have the potential to be more relaxing that way. I did arrange all the outings myself. But I did two through the hotel and one through LuxTours–I didn’t have to use the Tourist Info Office (although I did go in to see what they had there).

  2. kate says:

    I have didn’t have a great experience with our package holiday. So glad yours was better! And soooo jealous of the whale sightings!

    (When I lived in Dayton–briefly–they had a HUGE feral cat problem. They notched the cats ears who were feral and spayed/neutered, too. The vet said it was to prevent people from bringing their pets in for a free spay, claiming they were strays.)

  3. kate says:

    i like your math proofs so much better than squinting at an illegible word or two to verify my humanity

    • The Expatresse says:

      That was a happy accident. I just picked the plug-in because I was tired of wading through all the spam. I didn’t realize it had the math thing until after. I sometimes can’t read the wonky word ones first try either.

  4. Katie says:

    Glad you had a good time, I have not done a package before, I like making arrangements myself too. My mom did a few and they were hit or miss. Cruises are the best packages.

    • The Expatresse says:

      Cruises are appealing (I have not yet done one), but they tend to be for at least a week and one kid and I have seasickness issues. I had sea bands for these outings–took the edge off for me, but kid went down to the glass-bottom part of the catamaran and that did it for her. I knew better from past experience. Sea bands got me through two pregnancies, too.

  5. Jennifer says:

    I was just thinking that I missed your posts so I’m glad to see an update from you!

    Funny coincidence: We also just got back from our very first package tour to — guess where? The Canary Islands! It seems to be a popular warm weather destination around these parts, though as you mentioned, it wasn’t all that warm. Still it was much better than here! I love the whale photos. Have always wanted to do that but have been too afraid of seasickness. Glad you had a good time!

  6. Kathy says:

    Some trips are more fun to look back on than they were when you were actually on them. But really, overall it sound pleasant and different, and sometimes a change is what you really need. Welcome back!

  7. Katie says:

    I am so glad to see you back! I have been checking often for an update and SO excited to see one today! On a side note: we may be moving to Moscow. My hubby has a call this week w/ the people over there (same company he works for now/global firm). I was hoping I could reach out to you and American Girls in Moscow if this actually happens. I am scared! We were there in 2006 w/ adoption of our son. Thought of moving there brings up some very anxiety ridden issues.

    Hope you are well rested and ready to welcome Spring!

    • The Expatresse says:

      Don’t be scared. It is an okay place to live. Yes, it has “big city” issues (traffic, pollution), but it also has a lot of very interesting things. I will be more than happy to share what I know and make introductions.

  8. anita says:

    Hilarious. And you are so right about the Spanish beds! When we were in Tenerife both of our hotels had dreadful mattresses that made you feel like you were sleeping on a diving board.

  9. Anita says:

    I’m glad to see you had a good time! I am also glad that we went down a bit farther to Cape Verde, since we were much, much warmer than you. 25+ every day with bright, strong sun. I can tell Will he made the right decision for us.

    I personally love LuxTours for my holiday. Now, for going somewhere to actually see something (instead of sitting poolside for 7 hours a day)…. we’re more self-guided. But for my sun holiday, I’m all about keeping it simple.

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