A look back at Summer 2019

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Note: As a part of me being able to take so much time away from work, I agreed I would write an article on my return for the company newsletter. I got slightly overzealous while writing (there’s just so much to talk about), so agreed I would cut down the newsletter version and instead release the full version on our blog. Below is the uncut version.

It’s now been over 2 months since we returned from our epic Summer adventure. With the majority of the groups member’s returning to uni a few weeks back, I felt it would be a good time to finally write up some of our memories of the trip.

Let’s start from Day 1 – June 25th. I distinctly remember that morning. There was a sense of massive excitement, but also one of unease. I must have unpacked and repacked my bag 50 times checking I had everything.

I had been teasing the group that there was a big secret I would not be telling them until we got into our trip. When we got to Helsinki airport, I was ready to announce what the secret was. Another member of the group, Kyran, would actually be coming on the whole trip with us! He had travelled out to Finland by himself 6 hours earlier and was waiting in arrivals. The look on their faces when they saw him was priceless. The bewilderment with how we both managed to hide the fact he was coming was fantastic. To be fair, I’m amazed we didn’t let it slip either (we’d been telling the group he wasn’t able to come due to work commitments for over 6 months). Kyran wearing a suit certainly added to the moment, however bear in mind he had to then carry this around with him for a month, so I guess he probably regretted the idea!

With that out the way, the 6 of us spent the next few days in Helsinki, before ferrying over to Estonia. We arrived in Tallinn late in the evening and was immediately struck by how beautiful the city was. It was all very old architecture, with lots of fantastic churches and tiny streets, but completely lit up with huge amounts of lights. We got to stay right in the centre of the Old Town for under £10 each, which is unthinkable in most cities in the UK. There was also a great karaoke bar (The Funny Fox) just down the road from us. Of course, we had to share our renditions of “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” with the locals! Multiple members of the group, including myself, sighted Tallinn as the nicest city we went to and I would definitely encourage everyone to give it a try.

Another highlight was our stay in Sigulda, Latvia. Sigulda is home to the Latvian bobsleigh teams’ Olympic course, and you can book to get a go down the track in a Summer bobsleigh driven (should it be ridden?!) by a professional. We leapt at the chance and it was completely unbelievable. Traversing down a steep concrete track at 70-odd-mph in a small metal cart with essentially wheelbarrow tyres is terrifying, but absolutely exhilarating! Afterwards, we camped in a scenic resort for a few days to rest our nerves.

After Sigulda, we moved to the capital of Riga. Memories of Riga include Electric Go-Karting on the top floor of a shopping mall on an unbelievably twisty course. We also went just out of the city to have a go on some high ropes. These were the ‘clip yourself in’ fare which added to the nervousness. It didn’t help that these were by far the tallest high ropes any of us had ever seen. Completing the tallest of the courses has to be one of my proudest moments however, as I’ll openly admit I was pretty petrified!

A few days later, we got to visit ‘The Hill of Crosses’ in Lithuania. The story goes that when Lithuania was under Soviet control, the locals would regularly put up a cross for loved ones lost. The Soviets would tear them down and the process repeated. It’s a tradition that has carried on and the site now has over 50,000 crosses. It was a heart-breaking thing to witness, and we were lost for words when we got a chance to see it.

Something else that I can vividly remember was the city of Kraków , Poland. We went to a traditional Polish cuisine restaurant and thought it would be nice to have a cold beer in the scorching heat. We probably should have read the menu a bit better because turns out we had each ordered a ‘Large’ beer which was nearly 2 pints. A bit excessive for 12:00 lunch!

On one of the days in Kraków , I found that one of my racing friends happened to be in the city at the same time as me and so we organised to meet up at a pub. While I had a merry afternoon with my other friends, the rest of the group attempted to visit Schindler’s factory, but it was unfortunately full (something we’d already experienced only a few days prior when we found Auschwitz was fully booked for weeks). They went for a walk instead, and when we reformed later that evening, I was told how Kyran had successfully caught a Pigeon. Why? I have literally no clue! But he seemed pretty proud.

That same evening, we went on a horror-history tour of Kraków . I’ll openly admit, I don’t remember much from this… I’m told it was very good, but I think the afternoon of drinking had numbed my senses.

A personal highlight for me came a few days later. As planned, Dan flew back to England due to other commitments and we were joined by new member, Tom Clist. We decided we would need to invest Tom at some point in the trip and found the perfect time 2000m up in the gorgeous Tatra Mountains right between the Polish/Slovakian border. I think we may struggle to top that one!

Following our detour into the Tatra mountains, and after some torrential weather, we headed back to Kraków to catch a bus to Prague. Only a week prior, we’d experienced a painful 10-hour bus journey from Vilnius in Lithuania to Gdansk in Poland and we thought there was no way any journey could be worse. But we were very wrong.

That journey from Poland to Czech was so awful, it’s impossible to describe with just words. I think it was quite possibly the most uncomfortable I have ever been. Not only that but it was over 10 hours, the bus was packed, and it was insanely hot. I don’t think I could wish that experience on my enemies!

Regardless, we eventually recovered and had an awesome few days in the Czech capital. I had pre-conceptions that Prague was going to be a bit of a tourist trap, but I was completely wrong. I found it to be a very clean city with a lot of beautiful old architecture and some fantastic pubs/restaurants. We also got to visit Prague Zoo, which is rated one of the best in the world, and you can certainly see why. We spent nearly a whole day there and still hadn’t seen it all.

On our last evening in Prague, we went to the famous 5 story club, Karlovy Lazne, the biggest club in central Europe. It even had an ice-bar, which made for some fantastic photos.

Following on from this, by far the most breath-taking part of the trip was a little bit higher up – at 14000ft. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but early on in the planning we had decided to really put our group on the map, we would need to do something special – so we booked to go skydiving in Prague!

I vividly remember seeing the dread on everyone’s faces as we sat in the plane strapped to our professional skydivers. We had joked about it for months, but it was all suddenly very real. All within 1 minute, they open the side door, and then they sit you out the edge of the plane. You’re instructed to put your feet under the plane and put your head back and stay like that until they say. Within what feels like a blink of the eye, the plane has gone. The adrenaline as you realise you are essentially falling out the sky is insane and yet completely addictive. The first few seconds are undeniable terror, but then it is the most amazing thing ever. Looking back at it now, I think it’s the best thing I have ever done, and many of the member’s felt the same.

After the skydiving, we were on the final straight. With under a week to go, we had to make a fairly quick dash through Germany, with stops in Dresden and Berlin. We did get to spend a full day in Berlin to see Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, as well as see the Holocaust Memorial.

Our final big activity was in Northern Germany, where we booked a day at Heide Park (a theme park). We managed to get a go on most the rides until the Tsunami weather arrived!

Our final destination was meeting our Danish friends we had first met back in 2012 during an exchange. Thankfully we made it in time and got to spend our last few days catching up with the group as well as our sleep! It was also great to see Hemyock Scouts again, who were visiting the Danes for their Summer camp and were massively supportive to us as a group.

I’d love to ramble on about every little detail of our best bits and worst bits, but we’d no doubt end up with a small book. It was a life-changing experience and I can’t think of a better way to spend my Summer!

With that, I’d like to thank Dot-The-Eye for allowing me to take the extended time off work. Thank you to everyone across our travels that were so helpful, and of course thanks to the members who made the trip so unforgettable.

Better start planning the next one… -George.

Network, Scouts, travel

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