Eugh it’s 4am and the alarm is going off – who thought this was a good idea? Surely a plane would’ve been a lot easier and that’s coming from someone who hates flying! An hour later I’ve arrived in Nottingham and seen the car in the flesh and I’ve already forgotten how early it is and how tired I am. Halfway down the country to Nottingham and Adam and I are in full swing chatting about the places we’ll visit and the people we meet and I fully realise what an amazing this adventure will be.
We collect our other adventurer Nahas and head into London to meet Ruta JCI London President for a send off brunch. All talks of eating healthily whilst we are away and resisting dessert have quickly gone out of the window as we tuck into full English breakfasts and eggs Benedict. We did on this occasion resist dessert. With a little time to spare before catching our ferry we went on a hunt for the best landmark photo in London with car. Of course it had to be London bridge.
After crossing a little of France and heading to Brussels we were met by members of all three chapters in Belgium for a lovely local dinner and of course some Belgium beer. No trip to Brussels would be complete without a HUGE nutella covered waffle and a tour of the sights.
After a long day for day 1 it was nice to start the day with a run around Brussels and taking in more of the sights. Admittedly I was alone for this as the others took advantage of a lie in and no one hogging the bathroom. We headed to the Atomium for a picture with the car and of course breakfast then headed off into Germany. Nahas was straight onto google and TripAdvisor and found us a fantastic restaurant in the centre of Hanover for lunch. You can definitely see a food theme appearing...
In Berlin we were met by members of the local chamber who chose an old dance school for dinner. There was plenty of dancing inside as well more food and a strange green beer. I was most looking forward to a more leisurely start in the morning and chance to explore Berlin more.
Our accommodation was along the river so perfect for a morning run and after a full day in the car and me nagging with no escape Adam agreed to come with me. It was the first time he’d run since school and did remarkably well. Of course still finding time for a selfie and possible even an Instagram story. One the way we did manage to find one healthy place for breakfast so at least 1 meal so far has been balanced.
Touring Berlin was a lot of fun, it had been a long time since my last visit and I couldn’t remember much. We walked around a lot of the sights getting out step count to well over 10k before lunchtime. Of course lunch was planned and we stopped near Poznan in Poland for some local Polish cuisine. We had misestimated the journey time to Warsaw so didn’t have much chance to explore. The one thing we all commented on was how beautiful and clean Poland it. Arriving just in time for more food and a night out in the city with the obligatory McDonalds in the early hours.
Another country, another morning run in a lovely local park with Adam joining me again. Warsaw was a tale of two cities. The built-up new side where we ate out and partied surrounding by high rise buildings and shop and the old town with its beautiful cobbled streets and landmarks. We made the most of the morning and toured the old town including taking a horse-drawn carriage around the streets. Naturally, we found a nice spot in the square to sit outside for lunch before heading to Lithuania.
Thank goodness for Google as there was a 4 hour delay on the motorway so we were re-routed through rural Poland and some breathtaking views. JCI Kaunas were very accommodating and came to meet us very late for dinner with us having been delayed. I was also over-excited that we had accommodation with a washing machine so I could wash my running clothes. JCI Kaunas had chosen an amazing local restaurant and I’m pretty sure we ordered almost everything off the menu between us to try as well as my absolute favourite of the trip – blackcurrant beer. 3 courses and several beers later and we’re merrily exploring Kaunas for photos opportunities and a few more drinks.
Another a great night out with JCI Kaunas it was no surprise that my morning run was alone and I found a lovely spot for breakfast in the sunshine ready my book whilst the others made the most of a lie in and some peace. Today was the shortest day for driving so we made the most of the extra time in Kaunas and met up with everyone again for lunch and more exploring. The size of the burgers at the restaurant was insane and I think everyone struggled to finish what was on their plate.
We were then lucky enough to join JCI challenge in north Lithuania for the evening. As we arrived they were busy doing a team building exercise and after a very warm welcome, we were invited to join in. A quick change later and we all headed into the local town for a tour of the sights and a tradition Lithuanian dinner. The dinner including traditional music and dancing and the chance for everyone to join in.
Onward to Riga! Overly a leisurely breakfast we planned our route back, taking in an extra day so we could tick 2 more countries of our list. The journey to Riga was through a lot of beautiful countrysides and coincidently I arrived at the UK delegate hotel just after everyone else. Luckily it was just in time for lunch.
I’ll not talk about European conference as there’s been blog posts about this already however it was great to experience such a well-organised conference as my first despite being a member for 8 years.
And so to the return...
Day 1 of the return
We knew we had an 800km drive ahead of us so the plan was to eat off early after the midsummer celebrations with me offering not to drink so I’d drive the first stint and let the other sleep. Somehow we were all awake so left at 3.30am!!! and hit the worst weather of our trip. The torrential rain my the roads extremely slippy and despite there being no traffic it was slow progress. Thanks to the early start we were in Vilnius before the shops opened for breakfast and despite being grey and miserable it was still beautiful. The early start meant we made it further than planned and stayed in Lodz in Poland for the evening. After exploring we found an amazing burger restaurant before heading into town. Unfortunately, Poland lost the football that evening but we didn’t see any trouble. I was the more excited about the prospect of a full night’s sleep then the beer surely a sign of too much fun over the last 12 days.
Day 2 of the return
Although tired we soldiered on for an early start to give us more time to explore in Prague later. The views through the South West of Poland were absolutely stunning so we made an impromptu stop at one of the ski villages to admire the views and of course have a meal by a lovely river.
In Prague, we were met by members of JCI Prague who showed us around and we’d never have seen as much without their help. It was a high step count day with 3 weary travellers by the time we had tea. The highlight had to be our beers being delivered by train and the views from the castle.
Day 3 of the return
Thanks to Nahas we were welcomed in Luxemburg by his JCI Friend Christine who very kindly opened up her house to us for the evening. We arrived in time to explore parts of Luxemburg and of course have lunch whilst watching the football. After exploring Luxemburg we headed out for the JCI Rally Gala Dinner to a local Italian restaurant chosen by Christine. The food was fantastic and we even had our own award ceremony.
Day 4 of the return
It was the final day and although we were all tired and looking forward to our own beds it seemed sad that the rally was over. It was a much quieter drive through Belgium and France to the ferry with obligatory stops for yet more food and a last chance to buy Belgium chocolates. On the ferry home we were already discussing routes for next year and where we’d like to visit. We were fortunate enough to be early for the ferry and allowed to depart an hour earlier than planned. This was much appreciated as it was 8pm when I arrived back in Sheffield and the 6am alarm clock the following morning was an unpleasant shock.
What an adventure, 9 countries in 15 days and such lovely welcomes from local chapter and many new friends. Bring on the rally to Lyon in 2019!
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