Village Books owners Chuck and Dee Robinson (back, center) with part of the group that accompanied them abroad.
Avid travelers Chuck and Dee Robinson, the owners of Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, have returned from a successful trip abroad with 14 customers, who joined them for five nights in London and six nights in Paris. The “Tale of Two Cities” itinerary included literature-themed events, as well as free time for travelers to explore other facets of the cities. The travel package covered the cost of several guided museum visits and other activities, lodging, and breakfast in both cities, as well as two day trips outside of each city.
“It was just terrific,” said Chuck Robinson. “We all had a wonderful time.”
The Robinsons hosted a welcome reception at the hotel on their first night in London.
In London, the group toured the National Gallery, the Globe Theatre, and the Tate Modern. They also went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the British Library and on an evening literary pub crawl in Bloomsbury. They also left the city for a day to visit Stratford on Avon.
On the tour’s first night in Paris, the Robinsons held a reception at Shakespeare and Company, the famed bookstore, where a staff member discussed the history of the store and the literary scene in Paris. The next day, a Paris guidebook travel writer led a walking tour. The group also visited the Musée Marmottan Monet and Monet’s garden.
The walking tour in Paris was led by Thirza Vallois, who has authored several Paris guidebooks.
Since the Robinsons have visited Paris often, and have led a group of booksellers in London in the past, they were comfortable making the travel arrangements themselves. Because they were leading a group of 16, they were able to receive group rates on lodging and tours.
“It certainly paid our way,” said Robinson. “And we made some money from it, too.”
The members of the group were responsible for getting themselves to London and home from Paris, which allowed those who wanted to extend their travels to do so.
The tour was marketed as a trip for independent travelers, since “they were not led around every minute,” Robinson said, and the itinerary included a few unscheduled days, so the travelers could do something on their own. The tour was planned and promoted almost a year in advance, exclusively through Village Books — in the store’s quarterly publication, The Chuckanut Reader, as well as on the Village Books website and in its newsletter.
Tour participants met a few times in the store before their departure to discuss details and to get to know each other. “It was such a great group,” said Robinson. “They all got along so well, and really just bonded. I don’t think that’s something you can necessarily count on.”
The Robinsons will most likely plan a similar trip for next year, but haven’t decided whether to return to the same cities or to put together a new package with different destinations. Either way, there remains some planning to be done, said Robinson, in terms of insurance and liabilities.
“This was very much done by the seat of the pants,” he said. “Before doing it next year, we will be a little more careful about dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s.” He also plans to be more explicit about what the days entail — there was a lot of walking, and a lot of stairs, he said. “At 64, we were the youngest on the trip,” said Robinson, “which also gave us a moment of pause.” Luckily no problems arose, and the trip as a whole was a great success, he said.
It was obvious that everyone had a great time, said Robinson, but the real success of the trip was measured by the customers’ feedback.
“As soon as we got back they all said ‘OK, where are we going next?’”