After forty-two tumultuous days of tour guide training, I am officially a tour guide. I am fully qualified to take up to 51 eager young things around continental Europe and bestow words of wisdom on them wherever they may go.
Definite freak out time, I say. I’m currently writing this on the ultra-fast Thalys train which is taking me from Paris to my European home, Dordrecht, in a shade over three hours. I haven’t said a word for an hour – that must be some sort of record. For the past six weeks, the only time I’ve been silent is when I was sleeping. And there wasn’t too much of that happening.
Our last few days of the training trip were a bit of a reward, it felt, for getting through the… I can’t think of a good word to describe the training trip. It was certainly the hardest I’ve ever worked in a job, constantly absorbing new information, getting precious little sleep, and wiping yourself out by pounding the pavements of thirty-seven different cities. In some ways it was like a reality TV show, other times it felt like school camp on steroids.
Suddenly you became obsessed with drinking and peeing. You would get thirsty all the time, so you need water. But drink too much water and you need to pee. Not on a coach you’re not though, and finding a clean, free toilet in any European city can be a challenge to say the least. All of these little problems became huge when all other decision-making had been taken away from you. We were drip-fed when we could eat, sleep, spiel, be back at the coach, drink alcohol and what we were to see in cities. Big Brother always seemed to be watching.
In the last few days of the training trip, we were based in the Swiss Alps, in the tiny town of Lauterbrunnen. Here we caught the train to the ‘Top of Europe’, Jungfraujoch. We were given the royal treatment, having our own personal guide and fancy three-course meal at 3.4km up in the sky. The views outside were breathtaking, we were so high up that the train has to stop a couple of times for passengers to acclimatise to the altitude. The second part of the journey even takes you up the middle of the mountain, it just makes you look around and think, ‘how the hell did they do this all the way back in 1912?’ And we thought the Burnley Tunnel was hard.
Other than Jungfraujoch, we visited Trummelbach Falls (where twenty thousand litres of water fall every second), I successfully completed a high ropes and ziplines course, and we ate so much fondue and rosti that a couple of trainees made themselves physically ill from overeating.
It was a good end to a crazy month and a half, standing up on the top of Europe and taking it all in. In a few days I’m on my own from Munich to Paris, a thirteen-hour hard slog of a day. I literally am bouncing with excitement… here we go!