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Tales in Student Travel | A Spring Blizzard Changed Our Plans

April 15, 2013 Chris Relton No Comments
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How’s your command of old Scottish? The famed Scottish writer, Robert Burns, in putting nib to paper one day, wrote the following:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

(To a Mouse, 1786)

Maybe not your everyday subject matter, for sureto stem your curiousity, the inspiration in this case was the turning up of a mouse’s nest in the course of ploughing a field. Such rustic charm (if not guilt) was clearly sufficient for Rabbie (Burns). And the lines were ideal for one John Steinbeck, in the 1930’s, to take for the title of his novel Of Mice and Men.

Being a Sassenach, and one not wishing to risk offense to all good Scots, I’ll be cautious with my translation:

But Mousie, you aren’t alone
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Often go awry
And leave us nought but grief and pain
For promised joy.

Rustic charm, yes. But also lines that can be worth bearing in mind, on occasion, during student travel.


Never Forget a Sense of Adventure!


Here’s the thing, for all the planning, preparation and anticipation you invest in beforehand, when you set out on a trip you go from plans and theory to a world of many possibilities. You have your vision for your trip: how it’s likely to unfold; what you want to see; what you imagine you will experience. The vision brings expectation. But in the very act of embarking, bags packed and full of excitement, the unknown curve-ball is the world you will meet in all its infinite possibilities, in the full flow of daily life as you touch down in its midst.

It is this that makes travel the utterly invigorating experience it is. It is this that will help mould and form the trip you have planned, giving it, in part, the character that you will remember afterwards.

It is, for this reason that, in addition to packing your plans, your dreams and all you have chosen to take with you, it’s always worth packing a “sense of adventure”a reality check that, in spite of all your planning, there’s a chance that, here and there, bits of your Grand Plan might not turn out as you thought they would or had hoped for.

Of course, when things turn out differently; when local events happen to throw your plans awry; the initial reaction can be one of frustration and disappointment. That’s human nature. But it’s these events that make travel what it is: experiencing the world beyond our shores (and at times, beyond our comfort zone). How we react to them can mould us and make a trip. Accept that the “curve-balls” can happen, take them in your stride and they become something to laugh about, tell great tales about when you get back home. A “go with the flow” approach helps keep you engaged in enjoying your travels and the place you are in (on occasion “in spite of”!) rather than the “hiccup” becoming the all-consuming event that could spoil things for you.

Travelling through this spring has provided a timely reminder of this.


An Unexpected Snowstorm in Spring

In any of the trips we undertake as a tour manager, we know the work that goes into the planning and preparation of a trip. There’s always lots to get through, places to see, happy travellers who we hope will have the trip of a lifetime. We plan for success. However, for all our fabled powers, we are humble enough to know that certain things remain outside our controlweather, industrial action, volcanoes at the top of the world with unpronounceable names, transport…

In the case of the early months of this year here in northern Europe, weather has been the culprit and has served its curve-ball. It’s been down to icy blasts funnelling in from Siberia for the large part. All a bit brrrr.

With due prediction and unhelpful timing, the white stuff started falling just as I was leaving Paris for a couple of days in Normandie, intrepid travellers on board. As with many trips heading to Normandie, it was to be the highlight for many of the group: a chance to visit the area of D-Day; walk some of Omaha Beach; visit the US Cemetery of S. Laurent.

A damp chill in Rouen, wrapped up to the eyeballs doing our best to appreciate the city, even in the wintry conditions; a journey onwards to deepest Normandie for a date with some of the cutest goats you ever have seen (plus some tasty cheese), by now icy blasts bringing a touch of the Russian Steppes to the fields of Normandie and ultimately, arrival in Caen snow deepening all around and casting its blanket of whiteness across the city. All very picturesque, of course, with William the Conqueror’s mighty Chateau all snowed-up; streets disappearing under the tranquillity of snow fall.

Beautiful it may have been but as a tour manager, knowing the importance of the following day’s programme of visits along the D-Day coastline for those travelling and knowing the roads to be travelled, the snowy stuff was a right-royal curve ball! Would it be a 1-day wonder of snow, or more? Would roads be driveable or not? What would I face in the morning when I woke and looked out of the window? Let’s just say the 24hr news channels with their weather forecasters became my sleeping companions that night!


[Good morning snowy world!]

One look out of the hotel window in the morning together with the early news, confirmed what my sleepy eyes were telling me: any thought of aiming for the D-Day beaches would be futile, if not a tad silly. This was the heaviest snowfall Normandie had seen for some 20-30 years; roads were closed and the Normans, unused to snow, were finding it challenging dealing with it all. It was to wreak havoc with the days plans…

But here’s the thing: there was nothing any of us could do about it. We had a coach and driver that could cope with the road conditions and those roads that were passable within Caen. What better fallback plan than to head to the wonderful Memorial Museum on the outskirts of Caen. In my mind, this museum is one of the best out, with displays and AV charting the descent to the 2nd World War; the many aspects of that global conflict as well as D-Day and beyond. It is a real thought-provoker (and one to be recommended on any visit to Normandie). An ideal to fit with the intended subject of the originally-planned day.


[Intrepid to the last! Smiles on our faces…our snow adventures begin]

Through snowdrift to its door we headed (happily open in spite of the snow) and thus created an impromptu day, with the unique experience of having the museum pretty much to ourselves. It was more than a worthwhile substitute to the snow-drifted original plan.

And so became the story of this trip to Paris and Normandie. For those I was travelling with, sure it was a toughy knowing that there was to be no chance to visit somewhere that was to be such a highlight. But, out of that, sprang an enjoyable day that had not been planned; brought later “snow angels” beneath a chateau as well as medieval snowballs and a lesson in castle defence; for some, the first ever experience of snow; plus a few other tales to be shared over dinner tables the length of the US!


[Welcome to the Memorial museum, Caen. Now, I know somewhere here there’s a path to the front door…!]


[This is the nearest we’re going to get to Omaha but you know, that’s fine: it’s been a great day (and warm & dry!) And yes, the snow’s still falling outside…You’ve all got your skis ready for the trip back to Caen Centre?]

This is student travel. People, events, circumstance is what it’s all about as much as everything you plan for. The best way to enjoy it? Take it in your stride, have a laugh in the face of any misfortune and make every moment memorable. Often the unexpected will turn out fine & dandy; often unexpectedly memorable. Such moments can make a trip!

For the happy travellers of Rhode Island, Indiana and Florida, I’m sure there will be many a tale that has already been told of their snow adventures in the great snow of March 2013.


Chris Relton is an ACIS tour manager from the UK. His passion for travel has taken him through Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand, the Far East, North America and Africa. In 2012, Chris was chosen to work as a volunteer at the Olympic Stadium during the London Summer Olympics Games and the Paralympic Games.

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Chris Relton

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