Well, I'm still not caught up, but I the rate I'm going I never will be, so I'm going to go ahead and start my trip report. I'm going to have to do it piecemeal, but I will keep all the sections on this thread. (I forgot about doing that on my Leiden report; sorry.)
A few preliminaries: we were the first BOE tour of the year. Our guide was Dimitri Rigas, and Pam is right, he is great. Dimitri is Belgian, of Greek extraction, about 56 years old. He's been a RS guide for many years; he was a bus driver before switching. He is smart, funny, resourceful, and speaks six languages. Our bus driver was Richard, a Belgian who currently lives in the Netherlands. An amazing driver, he is also passionate about his bus, is an snappy dresser, and easily became part of our group.
This group had more people than any tour I've been on - 28. There were 9 couples and 10 singles, although two of the singles were a mother-daughter pair. Two of the singles were men in their 40s; the female singles ranged from late 40s to over 80. The age range of the group was from 45 to 81; two people (not the oldest) had mobility issues, but they knew to modify their activities to fit their abilities.
We did have a grump or two amongst us, and a couple of shoppers managed to sneak in, as well. Obviously a slip-up on the RS screening process! But we all got along just fine, and I know we made some good friends on the tour.
The bus was almost new, a Volvo, and very comfortable. There were, as usual, enough seats on the bus so everyone could have a double seat to him or herself. One problem we had, though: there was something scented, perhaps a cleaning solution?, that several of us reacted to: sneezing, sore throats, sinus. Dimitri asked Richard if he used something in the ventilation system, and he answered "No," which is why I suspect a cleaning product.
The hotels varied in quality, but all were fine. I'll try to note which had air conditioning and elevators, but I'm afraid I didn't always notice. Some people did complain about the size or quality of their rooms, but Stan and I were pleased with ours. A couple of the rooms we were assigned were small, but all were clean, with comfortable beds. The meals were all good, although of course there was a range in quality. Soft drinks were included in all meals; alcoholic beverages were included only in Italy, and at our final group meal in Paris.
I know people will ask about packing, so I'll insert that now. I carried my beloved Appenzell backpack, and a small shoulder bag that we received as a gift when we joined the Sierra Club. It's about half the size of the RS Euro Flight Bag. For clothing I took (including what I wore on the plane) three pair of slacks (one of which fell apart halfway through the trip!); five tops - three long sleeved and two short sleeved; two pair of shoes; three pair of socks, two bras, and 4 panties; one set of silk long underwear; one fairly heavy cardigan; one very light jacket; one windbreaker; one pair of gloves. All that except the windbreaker (and what I was wearing) fit in the Appenzell. It also held some paperwork, our toiletry kit, and one guidebook. Maybe two. Two baggies full of daily supplements. Oh, and comfy clothes: an oversized T-shirt and a pair of flannel pants. And two small bags: a Velocé guide bag I used as my day bag, and a tiny purse I used when I didn't need to carry more than a credit card and some cash.
My shoulder bag held our 3-1-1 bag, grooming supplies (hairbrush, comb, tweezers, nail file, tiny mirror, etc.), OTC medications - aspirin, acetaminophen, allergy and sinus pills. Also my journal, a small pair of binoculars, a compass, phrasebook, all the paperwork I thought I would need, my passport, checkbook, and many little odds and ends - tissues, tiny sewing kit, rubber bands and paper clips, wipes, a collapsible shopping bag...