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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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 ”
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.