Granada: The Group is a Trip

By David Cogswell

After two nights in Madrid and two nights in Seville, Trafalgarís Spanish Wonder tour had two one-night stands, one in Granada and one in Valencia, leading up to the tourís grand finale: two nights in Barcelona. Our tour director, Sandra Suffill, said that Trafalgar has learned from its customer surveys that one night for Granada is the most popular arrangement for a one-week trip in Spain. After seeing the Alhambra palace, probably the most popular tourist attraction in Spain, most customers are eager to move on to other cities known to have more lively night life.

So the main programmed activity in Granada was a tour of the Alhambra. Itís hard to find the appropriate noun for the Alhambra. It was the base for the Moors during the latter part of their 700-year domination of Spain, ending in 1492. Our local guide described the Alhambra as ďmore than a palace and less than a city.Ē Located on a mountainside with a panoramic view overlooking Granada, it consists of several grand and ornate palaces and grounds, still showing much of their former opulence, and some vast, colorful and well-cultivated gardens.

After the Moors were driven out of the Alhambra by King Fernando and Queen Isabel, the Catholic monarchs made it their own home for a while. Then it was abandoned by the roalty; for a while it was a prison; and then a headquarters for Napoleonís troops, who looted and wreaked destruction on it. The rediscovery and rehabilitation of the Alhambra was catalyzed by the American writer and diplomat Washington Irving, the originator of ďThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow.Ē Irving took up residence in a room at one of the abandoned palaces and wrote a book called Tales of the Alhambra, which is still one of the best sources of information on the subject. Discovering American connections like this one in Europe is such a treat, a fascinating value-added inclusion. They sold Irvingís book translated into several languages at the bookstore inside the Alhambra, and I added it to a pile of book recommendations I will bring back from this trip.

I acquired so many recommendations for good books and movies that it will take a year to follow up on them. And since this series of articles is meant to not only look at the specific features of Trafalgarís Spanish Wonder tour, but also to use it as an example for considering the advantages of escorted touring, it provides a good segue into a discussion of one of the most underrated advantages of escorted touring: the camaraderie of traveling in a group.

The movie ďIf itís Tuesday This Must Be BelgiumĒ has long stood as the definitive description of the worst aspects of escorted travel exaggerated into slapstick comedy. The image of being herded around with a crowd of clueless strangers is not one that is going to win over many travelers to escorted travel. But the fact is that most people who do take escorted tours find that the group is not a big bummer, but is actually an added benefit, almost like a second trip superimposed over the brochure itinerary.

As many times as I have experienced it, it still amazes me to see a group of people from all over the world, diverse in age, ethnicity, profession and so on, gather for the purpose of traveling through a destination, and within a few days start to behave as an extended family. By the time you say goodbye, you feel genuine affection and attachment for some people you never knew existed only a few days before. Because of the extra intensity of experience when traveling, one week seems like much longer and fuller a time than a typical week at home in the regular routines, and those new acquaintanceships deepen very quickly.

Of course there are inherent chemistries between people, and just like in families, some click and some donít. Everyone who takes escorted tours at some point runs into a grouch one would prefer not having to be around. But itís remarkable how well people can get along together in a traveling group. Over the decades, experienced tour operators learn how to minimize friction and keep the group traveling smoothly. On this particular Trafalgar Spain trip, even with every seat on the motorcoach occupied, I heard many comments on how congenial and fun the group was, and I was amazed at how well people got along. There were no bad eggs.

Besides the congeniality of the group, it was remarkable how efficiently it moved from place to place like a troupe. There was only one time when the schedule was thrown off by as much as half an hour because someone was late for boarding the coach for departure for the next city. And that was because of a stopped watch, not a lack of consideration. I may be accused of drawing too grand of conclusions from a mere sightseeing trip to Spain, but I find this capacity of people of diverse origins and experience to get along together one of the most encouraging things about our time, when any quick look at the news may convince you that the human race is hurtling toward certain catastrophe. The fact that we can get along and function so well when we are thrown together is one thing that gives me hope.

Some people in the travel industry say that itís more than just a lot of fun for travelers, and a way to make a living for those in the industry, but that it actually encourages world peace. I donít want to get too starry-eyed about it, but I believe it does. -- David Cogswell

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