Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back from a Fantastic Trip

Oh what a month it’s been! The journey to England and Switzerland with my oldest daughter and her Girl Scout troop was fabulous. Not perfect or all smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination, but when traveling for so long with so many people (particularly a gaggle of teen girls) you learn there is a grading curve for how well the trip goes. So overall, yes, it was fabulous.

We started by staying in little villages outside Colchester in eastern England. Our leader, Anita, had met with some Guide and Scout leaders (Scouts are predominantly boys and Guides only girls for most of the world) several years ago who invited her/the troop over for the Centenary celebration the UK was throwing this summer. One hundred years of Girl Guides is a big deal, of course, and the history of how the girls back then essentially crashed a Boy Scout gathering and demanded something for themselves is a testament to the inner strength I admire in Girl Scouts and Guides.

The people of Feering and Kelvadon were incredibly warm and generous. They put us up in their homes, fed us, and transported us to various places when we couldn’t take local buses or trains. They even picked the 14 of us up at a bus stop when we missed the last bus back from the Colchester Zoo one evening. (We missed *that* bus because the earlier bus we should have been on totally blew past us while we were at the stop. Yeah. Not cool, Mr. Driver. Not cool at all.) We also attended their local Centenary celebration, a day-long fair of sorts with activities, entertainment, games, and a concert by a local band as well as the winner of their “Britain’s Got Talent” contest. A great day of fun surrounded by 3,000 local girls and many new friends.

Our next stop was London, where we stayed at Pax Lodge, one of the World Centers for Guides/Scouts. From Pax we set out on daily excursions to do the tourist thing. The Tower of London, Camden Market, the London Eye, Westminster and the Parliament, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace are some of the places we visited. Yes, *some*. We were a busy group. Some of us visited London Dungeon, an attraction that highlights London’s more horrific history like Jack the Ripper, the Plague, the Great Fire of 1660, and Newgate Prison’s “interrogation” techniques. Scary but fun. We also saw “Lion King” and “Sister Act” on stage. Amazing productions! By the time we returned to Pax each evening we were exhausted but thrilled with all we’d seen and done.

From there we headed to Switzerland to attend sessions at another World Center, Our Chalet in Adelboden. The journey there deserves its own post, so I won’t go into it now. Suffice it to say, it was fraught with anxiety and cost some of us time as well as money. But we all made it to Switzerland eventually and had a blast. What a beautiful country! There is not a bad view anywhere. The girls partook in activities ranging from abseiling (repelling) to visiting a castle, learning about Swiss chocolate from an elite chocolatier to swimming in a mountain lake, and then some as they learned about the global themes the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) would be focusing on this year. On our last day in Switzerland, we headed to Zermatt, the small town near the Matterhorn. We rode gondolas up to the Ice Palace and were rewarded with stunning views and clear shots of the unique mountain. At 2600+ meters, the altitude was a bit much, but we loved it.

The train ride from Zermatt to Geneva Airport was relaxing and, once again, filled with breath-taking scenery. I wondered if the people of Switzerland see the beauty of their country or if it’s just *there* for them. Here in AK, I think we sometimes take it for granted that we live in such an incredible place, and I’ve promised myself to be more aware of just how special it is.

A late night flight brought us into Liverpool, where we got to our hotel as quickly as we could and went to sleep. The next morning, a group of Guides from the area picked us up in the coach (big bus, not the kind with horses) they consigned and brought us to the UK’s giant Centenary celebration situated on the grounds of Harewood House , one of England’s stately manors in the Leeds/York area. The bus ride with the Liverpool girls was loads of fun as we compared sayings, TV shows and music. They were all so fun and friendly.

At the camp, we were among over 5,000 girls from around the world (mostly the UK). We were given tents that we brought back with us, and the girls attended a variety of activities from crafts to the heritage of Guides to rock climbing and SCUBA diving. Anita and I even chaperoned an afternoon at Diggerland, a heavy machinery theme park. No kidding. Our first stop was at a ride called Spindizzy, where we rode in the huge scoop of a real digger. As the name suggests, we were spun around and got very, very dizzy. Though it may appeal to mostly little boys, our teen-aged girls had a blast.

In the middle of the week, the organizers had put together a huge event called Fusion where there were more than a dozen venues of entertainment, food and activities for the girls and leaders from camp as well as another 13,000 Guides, leaders and their families. Over 18,000 people attended this incredible day of fun, but the camp and Fusion were more than the activities. It was a fantastic celebration of the 100 years of Girl Guides and Scouts.

Throughout the week, I heard few complaints, virtually no harsh words, and was inspired by the wonder and joy of most everyone I met, girls and leaders alike. The closing ceremony was a beautiful wrap-up of how we all had come together from around the world and shared so much not only in our involvement in Guiding or Scouts, but as women and girls (mostly) who are open to adventure and new experiences, who can achieve so much in this world as long as we are willing to try. During the mass renewal of the Girl Guide Promise, 5,000 voices strong, it was difficult not to be overcome by the feeling of belonging to a very special group.

The end of camp and the return to the States was bittersweet. We’d been away from home for weeks and missed our families, but we’d also had the time of our lives. We made many new friends that I’m sure we’ll keep in touch with for years to come.


At 7:31 AM, Blogger LVLM said...

Oh dang, I wrote a whole long comment and then just closed it out. It's Sunday morn and I'm not awake yet.

Sounds like you guys had a great time. What an experience! Getting to go all over like that and mix it up with all those other scout groups.

Switzerland is gorgeous. I live in Zurich for 2 years and traveled around Switzerland. You can't beat that view. Except of course in AK ;-) AK is right up there as well.

But even with a few glitches and the fact that it was a gaggle of teenage girls (my worst nightmare really. LOL) seems like you guys got a lot in in a short period of time and got on well.

What fun!

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Cathy in AK said...

How cool that you lived in Zurich! We didn't get to see much of the city, as we arrived later in the evening and had to run to catch a train south. I could spend a month traveling in Switzerland for the scenery alone. My ideal holiday would be about 3 months with a EuroRail pass and no particular itinerary to adhere to : )

Notice the above ideal holiday did not include any teenagers : ) Well, maybe my own would be allowed to come along. Overall, they were good kids, so I can't complain *too* much.

We did squeeze in a lot in a short time, tho it was longer than my last visit 11 years ago. I guess next time will have to be that 3 month trip ; )

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love that you were able to commemorate such a special event with such a special trip!

And 18 000 people? I *cannot* fathom how much organization that took. Incredible.

At 7:28 PM, Blogger Cathy in AK said...

It was amazing, Meretta. Until this trip, I was a half-hearted Girl Scout, attending local activities and helping out when they needed me. While I haven't become a zealot, I have a much greater understanding and respect for Guides/Scouting and what it can do for young women.

And yeah, the organization required for that camp and the one day event is mind boggling.


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