Gardens & Art inspire Jill’s trips

Grand Cascade

Spectacular grand cascade at Alnwick Castle, a highlight of a trip to Northumberland in 2012.

Jill Donnelly has put her enthusiasm for learning about art and gardens to good use by becoming Visit Secretary for Huntingdon DFAS. Val Baynton discovers more about her role.

Jill Eltham

Jill Donnelly
Jill became Visit Secretary for the Huntingdon branch of the DFAS in 2010 after working for 40 years in the NHS, 20 of them as a Consultant Paediatrician. She is also a non-executive director of the Hinchingbrooke Hospital Trust, and as part of the DFAS she has been working with the Young Arts subsidiary group. This group encourages young people to be involved with art and has led to a collaborative project between local schools and the hospital, with youngsters’ art decorating the otherwise blank corridor walls.

Jill Donnelly has been Visit Secretary for the Huntingdon DFAS, a branch of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies, based in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, since September 2010. (For information about NADFAS see panel below). To date, Jill has organised nearly 20 trips for her members, in groups of between 20 and 85 people.There are one or two more expeditions to come before she hands over to another member of the group, Valerie Gentry, as she only agreed to take on the role for a maximum of four years. Jill’s trips have comprised a mixture of day visits and longer breaks to explore the arts, architecture and gardens of England and she has enjoyed the challenge of creating interesting trips for her fellow DFAS members.

Jill was very much the ‘new girl’ when she became Visit Secretary as she had only just joined the Huntingdon DFAS group. Her introduction to NADFAS was an unusual lecture by Jonathan Hinden on Carmen, during which he played a piano and sang, and from this point Jill was hooked. ‘I realised how little I knew about the arts and I was impressed by the depth of knowledge displayed by Jonathan’ she says. At her first meetings a request was made for a new Visit Secretary and, gamely, she volunteered. Jill explains, ‘I knew it was a role I could do, as for over 20 years I had organised annual summer camps for 20 to 30 sick children. I was attracted by the thought that I could, to some extent, choose where we went and so include a number of places I wanted to visit personally.’ The then Visit Secretary, Elspeth Gibbon, also promised to help her with the first couple of trips.

Her first solo trip was to the New Hall collection of art by women held by Murray Edwards College in Cambridge, which is the largest collection of its kind in the UK, if not in Europe too. The impetus to view the collection was the imminent departure of the curator of the time. ‘The art was amazing,’ Jill says, ‘and it was a salient reminder of what is often on your doorstep and can be easily overlooked. In fact, the DFAS group may be returning for a ‘study day’ with the collection later this year.’

 

MARKETING AND PLANNING TRIPS

Of the 250 members of the Huntingdon DFAS, around 70 to 80 regularly support the trip programme, Jill estimates. She mixes local trips with ones further afield as this helps to vary the cost, and she usually books a 52-seater coach and plans on breaking even at 75% occupancy – so around 40 people. The visit programme is planned in advance of each season, and trips are advertised before lectures. Jill adds, ‘Trips that complement lectures and study days with a visit to the relevant collection are well supported, as members enjoy seeing the objects they’ve heard discussed in the lecture.’ One such trip in July 2012 to the Gold: Power and Allure exhibition at Goldsmith’s Hall followed a lecture by curator Helen Clifford.

Planning tips Jill has learnt during her time in office include, ‘be sure to follow up all expressions of interest and scrupulously manage any waiting list.’ Jill also uses an annual questionnaire to find out what worked well and to gather ideas for future trips.

Occasionally Jill has organised two coaches to cater for all who want to join the trip, but she says this is very much more hard work and it’s difficult to be sure the second coach will be full. She adds, ‘With two coaches I need more helpers to make sure nobody gets lost!

Huntingdon coach company, Dews Coaches, is used for each trip. Drivers are reliable and friendly. ‘Having a good coach company really adds to the success of a day out,’ Jill says. She recalls how one visit to London coincided with transport strikes and road closures, which made getting around the capital very difficult, ‘but the driver and the guide from City and Village Tours, (C&V) were amazing with their knowledge of how to avoid the congestion.’

 

COMBINING GARDENS AND ART

Jill was keen to include more visits to gardens in the trip programme since prior to retirement she studied for the RHS entry diploma and this made her aware of the large number of RHS, National Trust and other gardens that were available for visits. As one of the sub-groups within the DFAS is concerned with Garden Conservation, and is affiliated to the Cambridge Historic Gardens Trust, Jill knew other members would share her interest. One suggestion made by members for the visit programme was for longer and overnight trips, so Jill decided to combine both ideas.

For these longer trips, Jill realised she needed professional help in planning the itinerary, booking hotels and with overseeing other logistics. Having travelled with Brightwater Holidays on personal vacations – to the gardens of the Loire and to the Patio Garden Festival in Cordoba, Spain – and liking the way the tours were tailored to each group, were well organised, had full itineraries and were not over expensive, Jill was happy to recommend the company to the society. The benefit of working with such a tour operator is that there are insurances and protection in place for monies as well as support for last minute hitches. A guide leader from Brightwater Holidays can also be booked to join the group, meaning GTOs like Jill can enjoy the trip too. Jill worked closely with Brightwater Holidays staff, including groups’ manager, Ellen Walker, developing itineraries for each of the breaks; typically Jill proposes a selection of attractions but the final programme is a collaborative effort.

In 2012, 20 members plus Michael Gill, the holiday leader from Brightwater, enjoyed the three-night Northumberland Garden and Castle tour. They were based at the four-star Marriott Hotel in Durham and visits were made to the Cathedral and the quirky, historic Crook Hall Garden in the city, as well as to Alnwick Castle. ‘This was a feast for the senses,’ Jill recalls, ‘the guide regaled us with horror stories of poisoners from history in the castle’s Poison Garden.’ The group also visited the remarkable quarry garden at Bide-a-wee where plants grow on vertical rock faces.

The Lost Gardens

Enjoying the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.

Last year 32 members travelled to Cornwall to study the art and gardens of the south west, and this time they were led by Sara Hunter from Brightwater. Highlights included Hestercombe Garden near Taunton, a welcome stopover en-route to Newquay and the ocean view, Sands Resort hotel and spa, where the group was based for the four nights. The Newlyn school of artists, the work of potter Bernard Leech and the Tate Gallery in St Ives were all explored during the trip and visits were made to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, and the Eden Project. On the return journey the group called at the impressive 65-acre garden at RHS Rosemoor near Great Torrington.

Jill has much praise for Brightwater Holidays, she says, ‘they take the hassle out of organising longer trips, and ensure they run smoothly. Working with the friendly team at Brightwater has been personally enjoyable and has allowed the DFAS to be far more adventurous!’ In April, the DFAS will venture to Amsterdam, again with Brightwater Holidays. This, their first overseas trip for several years, will take in the refurbished Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House and the Hague as part of the five-night tour.

 

A VARIED PROGRAMME

Royal Opera House

Learning ‘Back Stage’ at the Royal Opera House, London.

Huntingdon DFAS regularly visit exhibitions in London’s national museums and art galleries such as ‘Pre Raphaelite Avant Garde’ at Tate Britain and ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ at the British Museum. For these, Jill usually arranges a special tour of the exhibition by the curator, especially if the subject has not been covered by a lecture to the group already.

Visits to more unusual attractions within the city include the London Law Courts. This was somewhere Jill had never been, but hearing a good report of a similar visit, when she saw a ‘Legal London’ walking tour advertised in the C&V brochure she thought she would offer it. Initially Jill was concerned how the logistics and meeting up with the C&V guide would work, but it all worked very easily, she says. The tour, in October 2011, included a walk through the Middle and Inner Temple courts and gardens, the Temple Church and Lincoln’s Inn. Jill booked through C&V again for another visit that year to the Olympic Park prior to the Olympics, followed by a Thames River Cruise from Westminster Pier to the O2 Arena. Other trips have taken in the Backstage Tour of the Royal Opera House and the Globe Theatre.

Middle Temple Courtyard

Fabulous vaulting in the Middle Temple Courtyard on the tour of Law Courts, London.

Sometimes Jill offers members different options for the day, this is complicated to manage but it means several tastes can be catered for, and the outing is more likely to be viable. After the visit to Goldsmith’s Hall members could choose a tour at the Bank of England or opt for an exhibition about Livery Companies at the Guildhall. A third choice to visit St Paul’s Cathedral was inspired by the voluntary work of the society’s President, Isobel Lattimore, a highly skilled embroider and leader of Huntingdon’s Textile Heritage Volunteer sub-group. Every week Isobel travels to St Paul’s where she helps to conserve the cathedral’s historic vestments, and so the tour included the Textile Heritage Workshop to see the work she was involved with. Jill says, ‘Numbers were restricted to 15, but I jumped at the chance to join this group. It was eye opening to see the skill of the embroiderers and also to understand the talents of fellow DFAS members.’ So that more members could see the important work of the Volunteers, a study day at St Paul’s took place earlier this year.

A trip to Eltham Palace and Gardens and the Rangers House in Greenwich Park last June was popular with members; the itinerary included a self-guided audio tour of the palace and a guided tour of the Ranger’s House. There was time to explore the gardens at both sites too and because both buildings are part of English Heritage’s portfolio, it was a good value day out for those who had membership. Jill adds, ‘It was fascinating because the two buildings presented such contrasting architectural styles.’ After studying the role of women in history as part of a Workers Educational Association course, for which she read a biography about Bess of Hardwick, Jill was inspired to arrange days out to Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire and to Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, which has links to Elizabeth I. For Jill, these two trips are her personal favourites of all the activity she has organised because of the history and connections with somewhat ‘determined’ female owners.

 

JILL’S FUTURE PLANS

Jill will remain a member of Huntingdon DFAS, and will provide whatever help she can to Visit Secretaries in the future; in the meantime she sees the trip to Amsterdam later this year as her swan-song. As part of Huntington DFAS Young Arts sub-group she is looking forward to developing the connections with the local hospital further and hopes it will lead to apprenticeships and other ideas that will further support and encourage young people to fulfil their potential and aspirations.

Giving Groups insight is Colin’s Calling

 

In this issue Val Baynton catches up with Leicestershire based Colin Crosby, a qualified Blue Badge guide with a difference!

 

 

Colin Crosby For 20 plus years Colin managed cinemas and theatres in his native county of Essex, in Kent, Hampshire and Leicester, where he now lives. Passionate about history, he decided to pursue his interest a little further by joining a course to train as a Blue Badge guide run by the former Heart of England Tourist Board. Qualifying in 1994, Colin now also organises tours all over the UK. He’s always looking out for new themes – and is excited that the recent discovery of the final resting place of Richard III has revived interest in this former King.

 

 

 

The Norman Castle in Colchester, Essex is often included in Colin’s tours around his native county (left) Jewry Wall, formerly part of Roman Leicester’s public baths (r­­­ight).

 

Detailed knowledge is one of the characteristics of many group organisers and is also a feature of Blue Badge Guides, but it’s not often that the two kinds of expertise come together to provide a particularly insightful and specialist type of group travel organising. Colin Crosby makes a speciality of taking people to areas he really understands, and digging out its distinctive features. He doesn’t have a membership as such but his customers very much enjoy his leadership and information driven approach, which comes from his experience and training as a Blue Badge Guide.

 

Learning the ropes­

Colin admits that when he joined the Blue Badge Guide course he was not intending to work as a guide. “I decided to study more as an intellectual exercise than anything else,” he says. “I wanted to learn about the history of Leicester and the surrounding area and I thought the course was as good a way as any of achieving this. But, by the time it finished ten months later, I realised that guiding and telling others about local heritage was something I really enjoyed, and something I wanted to do more of.”

Initially Colin guided in his spare time for a local civic society and for Leicester Shire Promotions. Gradually, however, Colin decided to take up guiding and organising tours on a full time basis so he developed his own programmes to reflect his interests and those of the groups who contacted him. Amongst Colin’s early schedule were two tours around Leicester city centre, themed walks including Richard III, and the routes of the former Roman and medieval walls, as well as churches, and pub names. He also added tours of nearby towns such as Oakham, Loughborough, Market Harborough and Melton Mowbray.

He now leads around 250 tours and walks a year around Leicester, the surrounding counties and further afield to North Wales, Yorkshire,­­­ Essex and London and all places in between! Typically he works with around 100 groups each year and he’s busy five days a week, including weekends.

 

“I very much enjoy working with each group and planning the itinerary.” COLIN CROSBY

 

Developing programmes

Colin finds that it’s good to refresh his tour programme frequently, “I added in a ghost tour of Leicester, which is now one of the most popular guided walks I do,” he says. Colin also reveals that he was initially reluctant to create the ghost walk, but realising how popular it was, he’s developed the theme and has devised several alternatives such as one for Midsummer’s Eve that starts at the 12th century Mary De Castro Church in the centre of Leicester as well as ‘Tales for Halloween’ running in October and ‘Haunted Leicester’ that runs throughout the year. Colin adds, “I’ve discovered that many age groups are interested in this type of tour and in February I guided about 20 scouts from the nearby village of Groby on the Haunted Leicester Tour. I had to tailor the route and my anecdotes to take into account their younger ages, although they do quite like the gory bits!” Guided walks usually last between one and two hours, and a full day coach tour – either to one destination or a three-stop tour – typically departs from Leicester at around 8.00am, returning for 9.00pm. Colin promotes his tours to groups in a variety of ways, including leaflets and posters in local shops and community noticeboards and, most importantly, he updates his website regularly. He finds enquiries for tours come from groups from all over the UK and from overseas too, he adds, “I very much enjoy working with each group and planning the itinerary to take into account each group’s interests.”

He recently led a walking tour for a group from Leicester City Council as part of Adult Learners Week. Aimed at extending the group’s local kno­­wledge, the walk took in the 14th centur­­y Guildhall, one of the oldest civic buildings in the country, the spot where Richard III spent his last night in a bed and the Jewry Wall. This is the largest freestanding wall of a civil nature surviving from Roman times in the UK. Colin included New Walk, a 200 year old footpath in the city centre that originally led to the racecourse, now Victoria Park. The route was once part of the Roman Road, Via Devana, which linked the cities of Chester and Colchester.

 

Research and planning

He uses his love of history as a starting point for each tour and before he visits somewhere new he reads as much as he can about the area tracing its development from Roman times to the present day. On his first visit to a town he walks around it, perhaps listening to a local guide, but primarily trying to get under its skin and discovering unusual stories. “I also consider restaurants, cafes, parks, gardens and shops, and try to build up an idea of what groups, with all their varied interests, will be able to do.” Colin takes advantage of familiarisation days that destinations and attractions hold for guides, such as one in May organised by Salisbury Cathedral to highlight recent developments such as a new display for the Magna Carta and historic artworks that are soon going on public display, as well as a visit to the stonemason’s yard and a climb half way up the cathedral’s tower. Colin adds, “I go to travel trade shows all around the country such as Excursions and BOBI too, and find these are great ways of finding out about what’s new for groups and meeting up with coach operators.” Colin also attends GTOA weekends and events to make and maintain contacts with other group organisers.

There are logistical arrangements Colin considers in his planning. Timing is vital and Colin generally works backwards from the time the tour ends, adding in visits, comfort stops and so on. Another consideration is coach parking, and Colin finds many towns are very welcoming providing free parking and other facilities for coach drivers, but, there are still towns that need educating into the needs of coaches and the importance of group tourism to the local economy.

On outward journeys, Colin plans a stop at an interesting town or village, where there are a variety of interesting things for the group to see or to do, whether it be a coffee or a look at a museum or castle or a stop at pretty riverside. “Sometimes I choose garden centres, as these also give choice for the members of the group,” he adds. On the way back it is different, however, and Colin has to use motorway services for a comfort stop because attractions are not usually open in the evening.

Once the itinerary is confirmed with the group, Colin books and pays deposits as necessary. He can invoice groups either for the whole amount of the day including coach hire, or groups can opt to pay this separately.

 

Flexibility is Essential

“Flexibility is an essential pre-requisite for my dual roles as Blue Badge guide and group organiser,” since you never know what will happen that might upset the most carefully laid plans!” Colin notes. He has to be ready to adapt tours to take account of traffic problems and the vagaries of English weather. For example, in March he organised a two-hour walking tour for 25 members of a Cambridge Walking Group around Market Harborough. The route included ancient coaching inns, the history of Thomas Cook, as well as the story of the Liberty Bodice and its connection with local corset makers R. & W. H. Symington. “It was a cold day,” Colin recalls, “and the group asked me if I could talk inside, so being always willing to oblige, I took them into the Sugar Loaf (a Wetherspoon`s pub), where I told them what they would have seen!”

Travelling the country

A selection of walks and coach trips on specified days is described on his website ranging from walking tours in Leicestershire taking place during the day, evening or at weekends, to all day coach trips. Groups can book into any of these, but usually, having contacted Colin, he develops a more bespoke and exclusive tour to suit their specific needs. To inspire GTOs, and revealing the breadth of Colin’s programmes, from Conwy in North Wales to Portsmouth, and from Aberdeen to Canterbury, the website gives an index of over 1000 villages, towns and cities each with a brief synopsis of its main attractions.

Colin regularly works with Woods Coaches of Leicester for his coach tours that depart from the city. He says, “Over nearly 20 years, I have built up an excellent relationship with Woods, they are reliable, flexible in approach and friendly. I know many of the coach drivers and nothing is ever too much trouble for them. The coaches are of a high quality and the service is excellent giving me real peace of mind.”

His relationship with Woods began in 1995 when Colin wanted to take part in the International Tourist Guide Day, which takes place every February. The aim of the day is to lead a free tour or walk so that groups can experience the added value of visiting an attraction or town with a professionally trained guide. Colin decided to run a coach tour instead and wrote to local coach businesses to see if any would sponsor the coach for the day. Woods were the only one to get back in touch, and Colin organised a very successful day out in partnership with them. For the next year or so, Colin concentrated on guided walks of Leicester, but as soon as he started to organise coach tours he contacted Woods and has used them ever since.

 

Blue Badge Guides: a continuing tradition

Colin guiding a group ­­
of his ‘facebook friends’ on an evening tour of Leicester
including the Mary De Castro Church, Leicester. 

 

Colin’s training to become a Blue Badge guide was thorough. He explains, “Although I had much experience in addressing people, through my ‘day job’, it was interesting to learn specific tips, such as where best to stand to talk to a group taking into account the direction of the sun, and the level of traffic noise and how to plan a tour to keep people’s attention for over an hour or more.” The examinations at the end of the course involved both theoretical and practical stages, with the practical exam involving four different tours around the area – a guided walk in Leicester, a coach tour visiting neighbouring towns, villages and countryside, a museum tour in Oakham, and finally a tour around Melton Mowbray’s Parish Church.

“For each exam we all had to learn the whole tour, because at any point during the test we could be selected to act as the guide, and we then had to demonstrate that we knew the history or significance of the feature we were standing in front of.” Colin recalls.

The Blue Badge is the internationally recognised benchmark of excellence in tourist guiding, which is accredited by the Institute of Tourist Guiding (ITG). This body sets standards, provides examinations and accredits courses for the tourist guiding sector.

The first Blue Badges were awarded to guides at the Festival of Britain in 1951, and there are now some 2000 nationally – with a large proportion of these in London. Throughout the country recruits undergo the rigorous training annually, and in Liverpool, after a gap of some 16 years, 22 new guides received their Blue Badges in May. Joining the city’s existing guides – who number some 90 individuals – the new guides are focusing on specific areas of Liverpool’s varied attractions such as the developing Waterfront, comedy tours, culture and architecture.

 

GUIDING WITH GREATDAYS

“WI’s, Rotary and social groups regularly contact me and my Taste of Leicestershire trip is very popular with them,” Colin says. He often liaises with other group operators for such incoming groups, and he finds Greatdays Travel Group is a good partner. They manage the transport arrangements and logistics of picking the group up in their home town, leaving Colin to plan the tour itself. One recent group was Derrington WI, and for this mixed party of 48 people from Staffordshire, Colin started the tour in the village of Hallaton, famed for its ‘Hare Pie Scramble’ and ‘Bottle Kicking’ competitions that take place every Easter Day before progressing to the elegant Scalford Hall, for lunch.­­

Melton Mowbray was the next port of call, where Colin explained about the town’s tradition of pork pie making and its links with Stilton cheese, with a visit to the Dickinson and Morris Shop to learn about pork pie making. Back on the coach, the group returned to Leicester via Oakham in Rutland, where Colin recounted anecdotes related to the quaint market town such as the story of Titus Oates and the fictitious Popish plot of 1678-1681, and there was time for a stroll and a cup of tea.

 

     Richard III – a new dimension 

 

Leicester has sprung to fame recently with the discovery of the final resting place of Richard III, but Colin has been giving guided walks about the King and his connections with Leicester for nearly 20 years. From his own research Colin was certain that Richard III’s burial place was within the city pointing to factors such as in the 17th century visitors to the town were still being shown the spot where he was buried – and he is delighted that his views have been confirmed.

Colin’s walk tells the story of the rise and fall of this tragic and much-maligned king, while visiting the many sites with which he is associated, such as the Bow Bridge and the White Boar Inn – where Richard III spent his last night before dying at the Battle of Bosworth. His body was brought back to Leicester, where he lay in state for three days at the Newarke Church, giving ample time for local townspeople to believe that he was dead, before being buried at the Greyfriars. The walk includes a visit to a temporary exhibition about Richard in the Guildhall, and next year will also take in a visit to Leicester Cathedral, where the King’s remains will be re-interred in May 2014. Colin now leads his Richard III guided walk monthly, (up till last year it was once a year!) and there has been much interest from groups both in the walking tour and Colin’s longer half day coach tour visiting the main sites in surrounding villages.

Leicester is fortunate in having several accredited Blue Badge Guides and variations of the Richard III walk are available with some options specifically for groups, contact the groups team at Leicester Shire Promotions for more information and see our guided tour feature on p32­­.

 

On tour with the Rotarians

The Rotary Club on tour in the Czech Republic in 2008.

 

Wenche Georgiadis is the enthusiastic and passionate organiser of short breaks and one day trips for Hastings Rotary Club. Val Baynt­­­on discovers more about how she delivers these adventures, and adds her own special touches to enhance the experience.

 

Wenche Georgiadis

Travel has always been an important aspect of Wenche’s life. Born in Norway she has lived in England for over four decades. She worked for Icelandic Air before she had children, and whilst her sons were growing up she was a sales advisor in an independent travel agent in Dulwich.

 

 

 

“I like to plan visits to cities that people are unlikely to go to by themselves.” Wenche Georgiadis

Wenche Georgiadis loves to travel, and the benefits of her natural curiosity and enthusiasm for learning about other cultures and places are now being shared by others as she organises short breaks and one day trips for fellow members of her local Rotary Club. She initially developed itineraries for the Forest Hill and Sydenham Rotary Club when she lived in south London, but for the last seven years has been creating tours for members of the Hastings Rotary Club in East Sussex.

 

How it all began
Wenche started to organise holidays for others on a non-professional basis after she and her husband, Peter, travelled to Prague in the Czech Republic several times in the 1980s. Initially their trips were purely as leisure to catch up with friends, but then the focus changed. During their trips Wenche and Peter realised that funds were needed to build a home for elderly people in Mnizek pod Brdy, a small village outside of Prague, with which they had become connected. In common with much of the country in the Communist era, if people had no one to look after them when they were old, they were housed in ancient palaces or large houses, which though imposing to look at, were unsuitable for providing the care and facilities they needed.

Learning the history of Budapest from guide Zsofia Csortos

 

 

In keeping with the wider Rotary charitable mission of serving communities  their London based club became involved in fundraising and supporting this project, and Wenche organised several visits for members to go to the area to see how the home was progressing.  Building on the success of this involvement, Wenche’s role as travel and tours co-ordinator for Rotary Clubs has been assured and she now regularly organises one overseas four-night break a year as well as several shorter day trips to locations in England’s South East or just over the channel into France.

 

 

Designing a short break
For the Hastings members, Wenche has so far organised trips to Pilsen in the Czech Republic; Tallinn, in Estonia; Krakow in Poland; Budapest in Hungary and to Malta. She is currently working on this year’s European holiday – to Ljubljana in Slovenia. Wenche tends to favour travelling in May, which as she explains, “is a temperate month. Earlier can be too cold and later is too hot.” This means she starts planning her trips the previous September.  “I like to plan visits to cities that people are unlikely to go to by themselves,” she says, “and for this reason I have often selected destinations in the former Eastern Bloc countries. Other members do make suggestions too, which I will follow up, but I don’t want to go to France or Spain because people very often holiday themselves in these countries.”  Once Wenche has settled on the city, she starts to do a lot of research to find out all she can about the hotels and what there is to see. “I use the internet, look at what’s been reported on TripAdvisor and also find out what other British companies are offering in their standard city break packages – either for groups or individual travellers.” Wenche explains.

“I like to use smaller 4* hotels that offer character, and reflect the culture of the country or city we are visiting,” Wenche continues. “A central location is also important because, as well as the guided tours I’ll include for the group, I allow for plenty of free time so people can go and explore the area for themselves or to investigate aspects of the city that are of more specialist appeal. Generally we travel as a party of 24 adults, I find this is an ideal number to manage and although the tour is only advertised to Rotary members, their friends and or family are welcome to join us. When I’ve an idea of costs and an outline itinerary I advertise the trip and once people have signed up I start confirming the details.”

Budapest Castle

Booking flights is one major challenge that Wenche experiences. Sometimes it is possible to use a tour operator and this is the easiest solution, she says, but if she does a group booking herself, then this is a quite complex process ensuring all personal details are correct and a financial outlay is often involved. This year, Wenche has chosen to ask people to make their own individual reservations for the Slovenia trip. “In the main,” she reports “this has worked, although there are eight people who are coming back a day later, because by the time they had made the booking the cost of the fare on the original date had risen.” Wenche adds, “Booking with airlines such as easyJet necessitates a quick response to get the best value fares.” Usually people organise their own transport to the UK departure airport, although Wenche will hire a mini bus if necessary.

Designing the itinerary is an enjoyable part of organising the tour, and Wenche explains how she goes about this aspect. “If possible I work with an incoming tour operator in the country we are visiting. They can then book a coach to collect us from the airport, liaise with the hotel I have selected and also arrange the private guided tours and excursions that we would like.” Travelling as a group Wenche can ensure some very exclusive options – such as private boat trips, or behind the scenes tours – that people would not be able to access if they went as individuals to these places, or, if they were able to do something similar they would not be able to experience it with their friends. “On a four night break I would normally organise two full day trips, plus a half day trip, and these would take in both the city itself and the surrounding countryside so we can see more of the culture of an area,” says Wenche. “I often have details of optional trips as well, that people can book into if they wish. And, we also meet up with the local Rotary club, perhaps attending a meeting to find out what projects they are themselves working on.” Rotary is a very international organisation with clubs in 200 countries and geographical areas around the world.

 

Wenche’s Tours

Flanders fields
Museum, Ypres

 

Fellow Rotarians in Hastings affectionately refer to the breaks for their club as ‘Wenche’s Tours’, and last May’s very successful trip was to Budapest. “The Hungarian capital is formed from the twin cities of Buda and Pest, and is divided by the River Danube. There is much to see in both parts. We stayed in the La Prima Fashion hotel, on the Pest side near to the centre in the pedestrian area. Our tours included a trip around the city, visiting the Citadel on Gellért Hill overlooking the city and river, and much more. We also travelled out of Budapest, to the Danube Bend, where there’s a great look out post, and the Visegrád historic castle, and on to a farm at Solt-Révbérpuszta.” The farm specialised in rearing grey oxen and the group watched a display of Hungarian horsemanship. “We had a fantastic lunch of local food before returning to the hotel,” recalls Wenche. “During our tours I try to ensure we have lots of chances to sample delicacies of the region, visiting local markets and restaurants and taking in wine tastings.” Another excursion was to the traditional Hungarian village of Szentendre with cobbled streets, museums and local craft shops. In their free time people visited the famous Budapest, turn of the century, baths – fed by the 100 and more hot springs that rise from beneath the city – and indulged in a little shopping.

The Hastings Club at the Danube River, Hungary.

“The highlight of the break was a gypsy evening river cruise down the Danube,” says Wenche, “it was a fairy tale combination of sight and sound, experiencing floodlit Budapest and hearing regional folk music! Afterwards we went by coach to the top of Buda to look down over the city at night – the view was breathtaking and it was great to share this experience with friends.”
In 2011 Wenche organised a visit to Malta. This was another excellent trip although Wenche is critical about some aspects, finding the Maltese rather relaxed attitude to life slightly disrupted the smooth organisation of the tour. Nevertheless, the trip revealed many little gems, including a restaurant in the middle of deserted Maltese countryside, where they were treated, Wenche recalls, “to a feast of a meal.” They also saw some amazing heritage in Malta’s main town, Valetta. For this trip Wenche worked with a company in London, Malta Direct, who organised the flight tickets and other aspects. “As organiser I clearly recognise when some details that I wanted to be included don’t work out,” says Wenche, “but generally these don’t affect the overall trip and most of my fellow travellers remain blissfully unaware that something hasn’t gone quite to plan!”

A trip to Ypres, Belgium, in 2008 was a three day tour taking in visits to local breweries and to the battlefields and cemeteries. Travelling, this time by coach, the party saw how beer was made and had opportunities to sample the products as well. “When I need a coach I use a local Hastings company, Rambler Coaches,” Wenche says. “They always offer a good service and the drivers are friendly and helpful. Above all they have a flexible approach.” For the Belgium trip the group stayed in the Ariane Hotel in Ypres. “My husband and I have stayed here several times and like the informal and cheerful approach of the young couple who own it,” says Wenche. “It’s central too, so it’s easy to explore both the town and the area. Although the brewery visits were fun, the Last Post at the Menin Gate was a moving experience, which allowed us all to reflect on the sacrifices others have made.”

 

Visiting the cemeteries in Flanders.

Amongst the shorter one day trips Wenche has organised for the Hastings Rotarians, one favourite was to Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker near Brentwood in Essex. “This is an amazing place,” Wenche says, “it’s on several floors and you need more than one visit to explore it all properly.” Members make their own way to the venue on outings such as this, but Wenche makes a point of organising a lunch. At Kelvedon the party were treated to a nostalgic repast of sausages and mash.

Wenche also arranges many visits to the theatre and to local restaurants – fundraising is a key part of these activities, but the members enjoy the social element of these occasions too. One recent trip was to the Fish Cafe in Rye, where the chef, Paul Webb, gave a food demonstration and talk, prior to a delicious three course meal. And the group went to see Midnight Tango at Eastbourne Theatre featuring performances by Vincent Simone and Flavis Cacace from BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing.

A little further afield, the Hastings Rotarians made a day outing to the underground bunker at La Coupole, France, around three miles from Saint-Omer. This gigantic bunker was designed by the Nazis to store V2 rockets that were to be used in the attack on England and is now a history and remembrance centre. “The visit was enjoyed by everyone but weather was an issue,” as Wenche remembers.  “Despite bad fog, which meant other planned expeditions, such as shopping and a lunch  had to be missed, the day turned out well with P & O Ferries providing, at short notice, a good replacement meal on the ferry back from Calais to Dover.”

Wenche’s energy and zeal for travel is one of the reasons Hastings Rotary Club’s tours are not only adventurous but successful, and very well attended.  Steve Cooper, The Club’s Treasurer says, “We are very fortunate to have Wenche organise a number of tours on our behalf. Wenche is committed to ensuring that all who attend the tours have a good time, with every minute filled with interesting activities. She arranges amazing tours and memorable experiences for us in our destination cities.  Nothing is too much trouble for her so, ‘thank you Wenche’, on behalf of all the club.”

 

 

”Service above self ”

Wenche Georgiadis

 

Rotary International is an organisation for professional and business men and, women. There are now more than 34,000 clubs worldwide, and the main objective is the idea of “service above self.” Originally a male only organisation, Rotary Clubs have for many years welcomed women. Many members volunteer in communities at home and abroad to support education and job training, and forge international links to provide clean water, combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, and eradicate diseases like polio.

Amongst the fund raising and charities that the Hasting Club has supported is the international charity for Hope and Homes for Children, aimed at creating homes for orphaned children, such as from Romanian institutions by supporting foster parents in building and providing a stable home life. They also support communities affected by natural disasters by sending ‘Aqua Boxes’ – these are filled with useful survival equipment and when emptied can be used as a container for water, with the integral filter enabling contaminated water to be cleaned. Along the same lines are ‘Shelter Boxes’, which contain a tent, and in recent years these have been sent to aid victims of the Japanese tsunami. The club also gives grants to assist local people.