Gerry’s Journal: Our 40th Anniversary President’s Tour in Hungary & Slovakia

Guests have recently embarked on our 2011 President’s Tour to Hungary & Slovakia: The Best of the Danube. Travelers have been joined by special guests, Gregg Marston, VBT President, and John Freidin, VBT’s founder. Additionally, the group will be traveling with husband and wife, and two of VBT’s longest running associates, Gerry Slager and Janet Chill. Gerry has been kind enough to take some notes along the way, and to provide us with some insights into the trip. Part 1 of his experience is below.

My wife, Janet, and I have left our Vermont home to begin our VBT trip to Hungary & Slovakia: The Best of the Danube. It’s a gift given to us by VBT President, Gregg Marston, for our combined years of service to VBT—60 years total. We decided as long as we were going to travel that far from home, we would take advantage of the Pre- trip extension to Bratislava and the Post- trip extension, to stay longer in Budapest.

VBT arranged everything for us as usual, just like they do for all their guests. We had no worries. After reading the travel documents, sent to us by VBT, we set of for the airport on Friday afternoon. Everything went smoothly with our connecting flights and when we arrived in Vienna, our VBT representative was there waiting to take us to our first hotel on our Pre- Trip extension to Bratislava. All I can say is, “WOW!” about the Hotel Arcadia and the location is fantastic: right in the center of old town. We learned that it was the first 5 star hotel built in Bratislava, and it shows.

We happened to arrive in Bratislava in the midst of a National Folk Festival and crafts show. On just our first night in Slovakia, we were able to stay up and see a fabulous outdoor Folk Music and dance performance, with participants in their native costumes. With all our needs met for an excellent first day of travel, we found some dark beer and we went to sleep in our beautiful room.

Day Two of our vacation began after a great night sleep and a very satisfying buffet breakfast of yogurt, fresh fruits, cereals, meats and cheeses, eggs, pastries and excellent coffee! Janet and I met a few more folks from the tour and then we started out to explore more of the Bratislava Crafts and Folk Art Festival which was just minutes from our hotel.

Words can’t come close to explaining the wonderful crafts we saw in addition to the many demonstrations performed by the artists themselves. We saw everything from blacksmiths, pottery, and decorative eggs to woodworking, instrument making, leatherworking, jewelry-making, and weaving. We even saw an artist crafting bobbin lace. Janet spent some time learning about the process from the local artisan.

While exploring another part of the old city we stumbled upon a Thai massage studio which we could not resist. After a light dinner and our favorite local beer, Zlaty Bazant Dark, we watched another colorful performance by regional singers and dancers in traditional dress. To finish my day I relaxed in the Jacuzzi in the hotel’s Spa. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Day three began a bit ambiguously, with no specific plans in mind. After meeting a few fellow travelers this morning at breakfast, we decided to join them for a 3 hour barge trip on the Danube River to the Castle Devin. It left at 10 am and returned at 1 pm, so the timing was perfect to have lunch and still have time to explore the last of the old city.

On the way back to the hotel, we met a very interesting local who pointed out the house that the henchmen from centuries ago lived in. Also, we saw another dance and musical performance which was heavily influenced by Roma culture.

Later that evening, at Gregg’s welcome reception, we met the rest of the group that we will be traveling with. It was great fun meeting each other and finding out how many times we all have traveled with VBT. Guests’ experiences ranged from a couple of vacations to Frank, who has traveled with VBT 20 times. In fact, I have been his leader three times in the past and Janet and I both had him as a guest in Holland almost 20 years ago! It’s always good to see old friends.

After a glass of wine and few toasts from Gregg, we were introduced to John Freidin. John founded VBT back in 1971, and owned it for 12 years. His presence, along with Gregg’s, on this 40th Anniversary President’s tour made it even more of a special vacation. After all, John’s the reason that I began at VBT, and Gregg is one of the reasons that I’ve stayed these many years.