Annie Szczurek Davis, a recent graduate of Girl Scout Troop 70007 in Boulder, and her mom and Girl Scout leader, Theresa Szczurek, traveled to Iceland, Switzerland, France, Spain, and England this summer, spending time at two of the International Girl Scout centers.
This was my first trip to Europe and I got a sampling of many different countries. In fact, we started our trip with a 24-hour layover in Iceland. It doesn’t sound like much time, but we had a relaxing time at the Blue Lagoon Spa, a hot springs known for the healing silica in the water, and we walked around Reykjavik, the capital, trying the world-famous hot dogs.
The majority of our time was spent in Switzerland, at Our Chalet, the first of four International Girl Scout Centers sponsored by WAGGGS (the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts). Located in the small ski-town of Adelboden, about two hours by public transportation outside of Bern, Our Chalet offers various all-inclusive programs in addition to lodging and meals for those who want to explore on their own. My mom and I chose to participate in the eight-day Swiss Challenge program, which I highly recommend. Each day had exciting mountain activities ranging from hiking to a high ropes course to rappelling to visiting Swiss towns such as Interlaken. My mom conquered her fear of heights, reaching the top of a rock-climbing wall. There were nightly programs—Swiss night, International night, WAGGGS night, which exposed us to the cultures of the different guests and staff at the Chalet.
My personal favorite activity was climbing Bunderspitz Peak. We left the Chalet at 7 pm one night and hiked a few hours up to the Cheesemakers Hut, the house of a small family that operated a restaurant and cheese-making business. After a few hours of sleep in the barren attic, we awoke at 2am to summit the peak. After a steep hike in the dark, we reached the top at sunrise only to find ourselves surrounded by clouds. But never fear—one of the staff had brought an inflatable sun and she simulated a sunrise. The scenery was Sound-of-Music-esque as we walked through flowered meadows with steep, snowy mountains in the background. Cows, decorated with heavy bells and flowers, slowly meandered up the trail as they moved from the town up to their higher pasture for the summer.
Beyond the program and the sheer beauty of the location, it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know like-minded Scouts from all over the world. The group participating in our early-summer Swiss Challenge program was mostly from the US and Canada since school was still in at many international locations, but staff and interns at the Chalet came from the UK, Australia, Finland, Spain, and Chile, to name a few. After spending eight days with a small group of 20 other girls and leaders, we became very close; so close in fact that I plan on visiting a troop from Ohio that I met at the Chalet when I attend university in Ohio.
The next part of our adventure took my mom and me by train through France to Barcelona. Navigating from Adelboden through the French-speaking part of Switzerland, we discovered that all of the trains in France were on strike and thus, the train that we had tickets for wasn’t in operation. While I researched other options including flying, my mom went to the train office and luckily found a special train that was operational. We travelled a different route through Lyon, taking two hours to see the sites of the World Heritage UNESCO site in the city via taxi, and to Barcelona. In the end, we spent over 30 hours getting to Barcelona, but it was well worth-it.
My mom and I like to call our time in Barcelona the luxury part of our vacation because we stayed with a family friend in her four-bedroom apartment right on the beach. Our four days were whirlwind—visiting art museums, seeing the stunning architecture of Antoni Gaudi at Casa Batllo and Park Guell, biking along the coast, sampling traditional Spanish tapas and paella, taking the metro, and practicing my Spanish. In walking by the cathedral, we even happened upon a parade, including a human-pyramid, all in celebration of the San Joan holiday. Every person, every family it seemed was lighting off fireworks and the festivities continued on the beach well into the night. While in Barcelona, I even managed to find and buy part of my favorite Spanish telenovela, El Internado. I loved using the Spanish I had learned in school.
The last day of our trip was spent in London, where we had another 24-hour layover. My mom and I, ever the ambitious travellers, had a long list of things we hoped to see, first being Pax Lodge, the International Girl Scout center just outside of London. Although we weren’t able to stay at the Lodge because it was sold out, we got a tour, participated in an official British tea and received our Pax Lodge pins. I made a new friend and even got into a great conversation with the Girl Scout Commissioner from Taiwan. Later that night, we managed to catch a show, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, in London’s theater district.
What a trip of a life-time to culminate my 12 years as a Girl Scout so far! I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Europe with my mom after my high school graduation. I had been saving money for two years and really worked hard with the goal of travelling to an international WAGGGS center. Selling over 1,000 boxes of cookies, leading many “Outdoor Skills” fundraisers and receiving the Look Wider International Travel Scholarship made this trip possible. Thanks! Now as a Lifetime Girl Scout, I encourage scouts, young and old, to experience the wonderful world of international scouting.