Once Victoria and I had hammered out the itinerary for The Wellington Tour, we handed it over to Patty Suchy of Novel Explorations and asked her to work her travel agent magic as far as pricing and logistics were concerned. Before long, it was time for Victoria and I to call Patty and learn how she’d made out with the plans.
Victoria: Hey, Patty, it’s Kristine and Vicky.
Patty: Well hello! You’re together?
Victoria: Yes, we’re together and ready to hear how you made out.
Patty: I’ve got to tell you, this hasn’t been easy. You two picked several spots that are terribly difficult to get into.
Kristine: What do you mean, difficult to get into? Are you referring to Stratfield Saye, which seems as though it’s only open one day a year?
Patty: Yes, and Frogmore House, which is also rarely open. Not to mention Highclere Castle.
Victoria: What about Highclere Castle?
Patty: It seems that since the all the Downton Abbey hoopla reached a fever pitch, they’ve been inundated with visitor and tour requests. They’ve had to limit visiting times and then there’s having to work around the shooting schedule for the show itself. They’re having to restrict admissions and they’re already booked up for months ahead of time. It’s very difficult.
Kristine: Are you saying we can’t get in?
Patty: No. I’m telling you that I’m still working on getting all the stars to line up as far as opening days for several of the places you want to include. The rest of the tour is no problem, but these three places are tricky. I’m still waiting to hear back from the people at Highclere.
Kristine: I was thinking it might be nice to have tea while we’re there.
Patty: Tea? You can have all the tea you like. They have tea rooms on site. Tea shouldn’t be problem.
Victoria: No, we meant an afternoon tea in the house or gardens. You know, little sandwiches and cakes and things.
Patty: Well, I’ll ask when I speak to them, but a special, dedicated tea service for the tour group might be costly.
Kristine: We’ll just tack it on to the tour price. It’s something Vicky and I would like to do and I think everyone would really enjoy it. It’s one of those once in a lifetime things.
Patty: I agree, it would be fantastic. Alright then, I’ll ask when I speak to their representative. Do you have any idea on dates for the tour?
I looked at Victoria, who shrugged her shoulders in reply.
Kristine: Let’s try to shoot for sometime when it won’t be freezing cold.
Patty: I’ll keep that in mind, but remember that one of the tours you and I did together a few years ago was in June and we all froze.
Kristine: Who could forget? Why don’t you see how the opening times work out and we’ll talk again in a few days?
And so a few days went by, with Victoria and I waiting on pins and needles, before we called Patty again.
Kristine: Hey, it’s Kristine and Vicky.
Patty: Well, I have to tell you, I’ve had a rough few days trying to work all of this out. It’s been a struggle.
Victoria: I can appreciate that and we do appreciate all you’ve done, Patty.
Kristine: What’s the bottom line?
Patty: Bottom line is we keep Frogmore, Stratfield Saye and Highclere Castle on the itinerary.
Kristine: You’re a star!
Patty: But there isn’t going to be a Downton Abbey tea.
Victoria: There’s isn’t?
Patty: No. It’s just too expensive.
Kristine: How expensive?
Patty: Over a thousand dollars.
Kristine: So? What’s that, like fifty dollars added to the tour price per person?
Patty: That is the per person price.
Victoria: What’s the per person price?
Patty: Nearly a thousand dollars. Per person. Not in total.
Kristine: Are you telling me they’re charging at least twenty thousand dollars for afternoon tea? Who’s serving it, Bates and Mr. Carson themselves?
Patty: Mr. Bates can’t serve tea. He’s got a gimpy leg.
Victoria: For twenty thousand dollars, I’d better be seated next to Maggie Smith.
Patty: There are always the tea rooms.
Kristine: I suppose. More importantly, what did you hear from Stratfield Saye?
Victoria: Maybe we can have tea there with the Duke of Wellington. He’d probably charge less than twenty thousand dollars.
Patty: We can get into Stratfield Saye. Not a problem. However, in order to get into all of these places on the same tour, we’d have to schedule the Tour for September.”
Victoria and I looked at one another, trying to work out the pitfalls of a September Tour. We couldn’t come up with any.
Victoria: What’s wrong with September?
Patty: Nothing’s wrong with September. It’s really an excellent time to visit England. It just means that you two wouldn’t have a choice of the other months.
Kristine: You got anything planned for next September?
Victoria: Not that I can think of at the moment. And if I did, I’d rearrange it.
Kristine: We have no problem with September.
Patty: Good. I’ve blocked the tour out for the fourth through the fourteenth.
Victoria: Sounds good.
Patty: Okay. Now that we have our dates, I’ll work on firming up all the details.
We hung up and it wasn’t till much later that I realized the last day of the Tour would coincide with the last day of the Duke of Wellington’s life – September 14, 1852.