In October 2019, we found we had been double booked at the venue where we have held our bi-monthly coffee mornings for the past ten years. The growing number of members wishing to attend but not being able to find a seat was also becoming a problem. We had to look, rather hurriedly, for somewhere else locally as November is a very important meeting for us –it is when we distribute our surplus funds to local charities. Luckily we have a Community Sports Club five minutes’ walk away on the estate. They have seating for 200 people and the date we needed was free. Amazingly 193 members turned up together with the eight charity representatives. The new place does have its challenges for the refreshment team as they have been used to having a professional dishwasher in the kitchen (three minutes to wash and dry all the tea and coffee mugs – which our club owns) and no plumbed in hot water boiler. Several meetings after the event, over cups of coffee, have hopefully ironed out all the glitches.
The entrance to one of Hamburg's many Christmas markets
It was suggested we use throw-away beakers instead of washing up but not only is that not environmentally friendly, in the long term they cost more and we do have quite a few volunteers to put on the ‘marigold’ gloves.
The last holiday of 2019 was a European Christmas Markets Cruise with Fred Olsen - only four of us but it was very enjoyable. My friend and I took two shore trips, one to the Hadeland glass factory near Oslo. It had snowed and the countryside looked magical, especially on the way back, with the sunset giving an orange glow to the snow-covered landscape. The other shore tour was from Warnemunde in Germany to Heiligendamm where we caught the ‘Molli’ narrow-gauge steam train to Bad Doberan. It was only a short coach journey then to the Minster Church which dates back to 1368. From there we went to the seaside resort of Kuhlungsborn and a welcome cup of coffee and cake. It had been a toss-up between this trip and the ‘Rostock by Nostalic Tram and Christmas Market’ trip but then that’s a reason to go back to this area another time.
We took ourselves round Bruges as we had purchased tickets for the train at a discounted rate only to find that the train schedules had been altered and we had an hour to wait. Instead the four of us decided to get a taxi in to the centre which was a good plan. It’s at least 30 minutes’ walk from the centre to either the coach or the train station.
In Copenhagen we caught the hop-on hop-off bus from where the ship docked having decided that we didn’t want to shop at their markets. Hamburg however was a delight and had several Christmas Markets with stalls within easy walking distance of each other that you really did want to buy from. It’s a place I would certainly revisit, in fact nearly all my Christmas shopping came from there and the quality of the shops on the main streets was very good. Gluwein, served in a decorated mug, which you can either keep as a souvenir, take around other stalls for a free refill, or hand back for a refund was almost compulsory. What we did find was that the markets in Oslo and Copenhagen are virtually cashless and prefer you to use cards. In Bruges and Hamburg either was accepted.
Talking about cashless venues, Warner’s policy at Studley Castle is one of cards only; no cash. Several local travel agents have told me they weren’t informed of this by Warner’s Groups department before their groups went, and it caused a lot of problems for some people. As we are going to Cricket St Thomas soon I made sure that this wouldn’t be the case there.
Due to the high numbers wanting to book for our annual Christmas lunch I decided to try the ‘Christmas Lunch with a Swing’ meal at The National Memorial Arboretum in the Aspects Conference Centre with views over the Arboretum. Food and Beverage Manager, Sue Smith, was extremely helpful with the dietary requirements of my group as I have one lady who is both dairy and gluten intolerant and another who is lactose intolerant.
The imposing minster church in Bad Doberan
The starter and main meal didn’t pose any problems but the dessert selection did for them both. An understanding chef came up with a dessert to suit - and not just the usual fresh fruit salad. The only drawback as far as our group was concerned, was the band. Excellent musicians who played two one hour sessions but it was so loud that people couldn’t hear themselves think let alone talk as they like to do on these occasions. Lesson learned that any other such event would be with entertainment after we have eaten.
The New Year got off to a good start with two coaches taking members to Symphony Hall in Birmingham to the CBSO Viennese New Year concert. We have booked a series of Friday Night Classical concerts there this year which have all had good ticket sales as well as the Raymond Gubby Spectacular Classics. This is the same as the December Royal Albert Hall concert, but less travelling time.
I am now into presentations by Tour Operators for 2021 holidays. Passports are my main concern with these bookings as they have been for the last 12 months.
No trip to Copenhagen is complete without a visit to The Little Mermaid
I have recommended that all members go onto the www.gov.uk website and input their passport details and when they are due to travel abroad if they have less than twelve months before it expires. This site will then tell them if they need to renew for that particular journey. The problem is that it is likely that the passport requirements will be for an exact ten years and the extra months added when people have renewed early will not count. I also had someone who was going to delay applying for their first passport as late as possible. As all details required by the airline need to be input before check in, and the whole group has to be done at the same time, it could have caused a very real problem. Luckily I found out in time and was able to insist that it was applied for and details available at least a month before we went away.
Hopefully in April when we travel from Holyhead to Dublin en-route to Belfast we won’t have problems but I am advising everyone to take passports rather than rely on photographic ID, especially as that is the advice on the ferry websites.
A potential August 2021 tour that had been planned had to be cancelled, not because it wasn’t popular - we had 80 people wanting to go. However the quoted cost of air and train transport during school holiday time for such a large group pushed the price beyond what people were prepared to pay. A possible solution of splitting the group between two airlines and airports I considered to be unworkable. Disappointing for all concerned
Cash is not king at Warner's Studley Castle Hotel