by C of David & C.
I am still protesting RS's decision to use the fluffy new evaluation form instead of the older more informative form and send them only the italicized comments + a link to this post.
1) most impt factors in choosing tour
David wanted to "do" England before Brexit made life more difficult. I went along for the ride. Other tour buddies cited interest in history as chief reason and I think that might be the best reason to go. This would also be the tour for someone who likes expansive gardens or has an interest in architecture. There was less interaction with "locals" than on some of our other RS trips, which is a key reason for my traveling with RS.
2) favorite "wow" moment
- David - Bodnant gardens (on tour) and (off-tour), new Westminster Abbey Queen's Diamnond Jubilee galleries which opened shortly before the tour.
- C - On tour - Welsh sheep farm, Wells Cathedral. On own, hike to Castlehead near sunset (not Castlerigg stone circle) in Keswick and Westminster Abbey Queen's Diamond Jubilee galleries. Admission to Diamond Jubilee galleries is timed and limited - tickets available online beginning in August 2018 per the abbey website. If that's the case, would reserve in advance - ask your guide when the RS tour of Westminster is likely to end. When we went, tickets were available only in conjunction with visit to abbey (our tour visit counted) and cost £5 - staff said they were trying to determine demand before setting final price. The large print brochures on the walls were very helpful. There are not-too-obvious drawers concealing artifacts that I knew about only because the large print brochure made it obvious that I was missing something. Both our guide, visiting on his own for the first time, and David missed the drawers. Recommend that RS guide scout out the exhibition and point out must-sees to those interested.
3) hotels/meals/experiences - any especially good/bad
3a) all hotels fine - usual RS sort of basic, small but adequate rooms - not counting especially luxurious London hotel (we did get one of the bigger rooms). All but one had hot pots ("electric kettles") - yes! I've adopted our guide's strategy for dealing with hotel coffee (outside of Italy ;) ). Make your own coffee with the help of the hot pot and have tea at the hotel breakfast. (Our guide goes so far as to pack his own French press; I bring packets of Starbucks Via Instant). Only the luxury hotel in (Kensington) London had a working lift. In retrospect, rather than having one really heavy bag (for David) and one fairly light (for C), we should have distributed our stuff while on tour to make one that C could just lift with the balance going into the other bag. Only one or two hotels provided kleenex - seems to be a trend in European hotels these days. All had reasonably good wi-fi and we were able to get our VPN to work at all.
3b) meals on tour decent to good but not fabulous (cutting all restaurants slack for having to serve 25). Try an English beef dish once, but only once. Off-tour, we did what we usually do - look at TripAdvisor in the language of the country we're in (so TripAdvisor.co.uk, not TripAdvisor.com, in this case) and had very good to superb results. Some off-tour restaurants were even mentioned in RS book. Eat off-tour Welsh lamb at your own risk - you will never again be able to eat lamb from anywhere else and the export agreement covering Welsh lamb is now tied up in Trump's stupid trade war. Other things to try: Grasmere Gingerbread (you have only a few minutes to pick it up on the way back from Wordsworth's grave), cheese from a real cheese shop (not the supermarket) and pasties (our guide said try to find the old-fashioned ones made with more rutabaga than meat), but he said the only way to find out if you're getting an "old-fashioned one" is to ask.