It was the Rev. Cook who started those tours

Published Oct. 31, 1993|Updated Oct. 10, 2005

Once upon a time there was a Baptist minister, first name of Thomas. He lived in England.

And although Baptist ministers have frequently been criticized for preaching against what the rest of us believe are the simple pleasures of life, this one wrought a change that still brings satisfaction to millions.

The Rev. Thomas _ last name, Cook _ invented group tours.

What he did in 1841 was rent an entire train to move his congregation from Leicester to Loughborough for a meeting.

That was the first Cook's Tour, and it was an idea that caught on.

Soon, the Rev. Cook _ to be perfectly correct, he was only a part-time minister _ was escorting paying customers across the channel to France and Germany and Italy. Understand that, for the first time, these travelers were just ordinary people eager to see something of foreign countries. They could afford the cheap group rates, but not the high cost of individual travel.

Before the Rev. Cook invented group travel, only educated and wealthy Brits vacationed abroad. They called their trips "the Grand Tour."

Cook's Tours made "the Grand Tour" obsolete, and the doing of it slowly withered away. Truth is, Grand Touring was never that much fun.

For one thing, "the Grand Tour" wasted a year or longer. Those wealthy wanderers moved about in horse-drawn carriages, which might have been okay from the estate to a London theater but which were jolting nightmares from LeHavre to Florence in 1800.

A guidebook of the period suggested that the traveler haul along a cot "so constructed that it may be transformed into a sofa-bed." Two leather sheets were needed and also a chamber lock, a pocketknife with which to eat, a medicine

chest and double-soled boots.

Other recommended items were a large club for beating off stray dogs and road agents, and oil of lavender, which killed fleas found in hotel beds.

Gangs of highwaymen swarmed the few roads leading from the English Channel to Paris. Some groups were so well-organized that they had agents in London who informed them when especially well-heeled travelers were on their way.

Money itself was a huge problem for grand tourists. Travel was cash and carry _ no traveler's checks yet. There was little organization to the matter of coining money, and places like Tuscany, in Italy, had four currencies, while Italy used three kinds of lira.

Hotels and inns were special problems. The French, at least according to the English, learned early how to cheat travelers. It was common, the English wrote, for a French innkeeper to overcharge a British traveler, then steal his purse during the night and toss him into the cold morning without breakfast because he could not pay.

Stay away from French sailors, one early British travel writer warned, because they have vermin. Don't sleep with your spurs on, the writer continued, because they will be stolen before you awaken.

A "Grand Tour" participant was expected to gain something other than an empty purse and carriage sores. It was assumed he would become learned and cultured. He was urged to "make an effort to perfect his mastery of the language and know all he can about the history, geography, trade, climate, crops, minerals, food, clothes, customs, fauna, flora, politics, laws, arts and military fortifications of the district."

Most of all, he was expected to rid himself of "brutishness."

You may credit _ or blame _ a part-time Baptist minister named Thomas Cook for making travel easier. He made it safe to sleep with your spurs on and hang around with sailors.