CUSCLB Summer Trip

The London Branch organise an annual summer trip, this year they headed off to Gdansk, read about what Dave Brown got up to below.

Maggie and I head up to Luton on the capital connect from Sutton. We meet up for a drink with Tony, Sally, Mike, Kim and a little while later Ken - Jims late and getting searched by security when Ken rescues him. On Wizzair, £3 for a warm Heineken - Jim and I lace it with ice to improve the temperature and the flavour.

I thought that Gdansk may be full of cranes (later on the galleon cruise I find it is) but our hotel is lovely situated on the side of the canal and in the heart of the old medieval town (carefully re-constructed after the devastation of the 2nd World War). Bump into Jimmy Blue - Jonathan McLoughlin's minstrel mate. He is heading down to meet Jon and party on a boat bar. Meet up with Peter and Carolyn and see fleeting glimpses of Jonathan McLoughlin and Linda, mum and dad and friends. We head off to Kubicki the best restaurant in Gdansk but it is full. Mike, Kim, Jimmy, Tony and Sally disappear into Fellini's before we meet up again with Jon and party in the only restaurant that has seats.

Great breakfast although I am obviously conservative preferring sausage, egg, bacon and fruit to the several different types of herring that Peter piles his plate with. I do succumb to a slice or two of cheese and cooked meats. The diet will have to wait. Sopot today - a few stops along the train line and we arrive in a seaside resort that could have been in the South of France rather than the Baltic coast. Beautiful white beaches, a fine pier ending in a marina and luxurious hotels on the sea front under blue skies and 22 degrees. Only the grey sea gives the game away that you could die of hypothermia by falling in.

We walk along the pier, stop for a drink at the bar and restaurant at the end and chat... and happen to stay there for the next 2-3 hours. My squid was probably the best I have ever tasted - what happened to heavy potato stews - someone lied about Polish cuisine. Back to the station for the return journey and I get a sample of what life pre Glasnost (or maybe current UK) may have been - I needed to buy a ticket - there are three windows to buy from - one has a woman lightly snoring - she is selling express tickets for which there isn't a train for several hours; the second contains a woman doing her nails with a huge amount of concentration, she is selling inter city tickets for which there isn't a train for several hours. Meanwhile I am at the back of 20 people in a queue for the local train which arrives in 5 minutes. A man leaves the queue, politely asks if he can buy a local ticket of the snoring woman and gets a nasty tirade as response. All weekend we find the people of Gdansk are warm and friendly apart from public officials - who are officious, overbearing and downright rude. There are also too many of them for what the job entails.

Back to the room for a warm down and a soak in the large and well appointed bathroom before reading my book, sipping my drink from the far from exorbitant minibar and gazing over the canal.

Downstairs to meet Mike to check arrangements for tonight's meal. We are still pretty nervous having first starting organising this trip back in November and after the meal tonight and the guided walk tomorrow our job is done. We didn't have any great expectations of the meal with the key purpose being to get all 28 of us together but we were staggered - the food was superb and the service extraordinary. The manager checked the names of all the people and where they were sitting so the meals that had been chosen a couple of weeks earlier were delivered quickly and without any fuss to the right people. My beef cheeks sautéed in white vegetables, red mullet on a bed of saffron risotto and almond tart with lime cream were delightful. Even the Uruguayan wine was very drinkable. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying their meal too. We finished off with coffee and Jimmy Blue strumming his guitar and singing a few favourites. The night before in Fellini's Restaurant he had been doing the same and the proprietor was so pleased she kept delivering free vodkas to his party.

We headed off to the main square for a nightcap although the next 2 hours is a bit of a blur although I have a vague recollection of vodkas, beers, goldwasser - (a better version of sambuca with real gold leaf) and, at one point, photos being taken of me with a purple blanket wrapped around my head. The evening finished with Ken and I not quite getting to the end of whether the monarchy should be beheaded or whether they perform a useful function. Halfway through the walk next day he decided that an elected monarchy would be acceptable and that David Beckham wouldn't be too bad - after all he probably still has his purple throne from his wedding so that is one cost less.

After breakfast, we did the obligatory team and flag photo on the steps of the hotel beside the Carlisle. Julia Whitehead refused to take part although while talking to her friends from Hamburg I did get a pic - more bum than face but delightful all the same and a rare photo.

Anna, our guide, then collected us to take us on our tour of the old town. At my advanced years I have been on a fair number of guided walks ranging from the monotones that enable you to sleep standing up to a delightful nonagenarian that impassioned me about York Minster. Anna is near the top of my list - interesting, articulate and with a sense of humour she kept our motley crew together although we were missing two of our number - Sally due to a knee operation a few weeks earlier and Dickie due to an emergency transfusion of alcohol a few hours earlier. Later in the day we were all getting concerned about Dickie's failure to communicate, after all a lack of words has never been his previous form, but it turned out to be a mobile failure.

Towards the end of the walk, I was grabbed by a young guy who had leapt out of a nearby bar "are you from Carlisle?". The fact that I was wearing our blue home shirt from two seasons ago may have been a giveaway. He was from Leeds (I think) but with a girlfriend from Carlisle and all her family season ticket holders. We took a couple of pics but he refused to join the branch but Mike left him a card so that he could join later. Lunchtime in the square an excellent goulash soup for me and a rare Orangina which caused huge mirth among my mates - after last night's excesses I really couldn't face a beer. It didn't seem to stop Peter, Mike or Tony who got stuck into the beers on offer.

We had a fairly gentle stroll in the town with Maggie and the others. We stood for a while in the town gateway while three violinists and a cellist exquisitely played Bach showing both their talent and that of the composer. It never fails to amaze me how much talent is on the streets outside of the concert halls whether it is opera, rock or folk. It's time for a cruise on the galleon that passes our hotel hourly. It's a bit busy and we fail to get a seat on the upper decks but we are looking forward to what promises to be a pleasant 1.5 hours looking at lovely old buildings and interesting sights. Unfortunately after we leave the old town (a few minutes) we hit the reality of crane, crane, crane, crane... small fort, crane, crane, crane. The strange thing is there are virtually no people and no ships - admittedly it is a Saturday but I thought that docks and shipyards worked 24/7. We arrived at Westerplatte where the first shots were fired in World War 2 - we had already decided we wouldn't be getting off the boat and when Jon McLoughlin and party got on board they confirmed we hadn't missed a lot.

Back to the hotel for another chill out prior to the evening's festivities before meeting up for a drink on the terrace before heading off to eat. We had booked Restaurant Barylka along the canal from our hotel. The menu looked good and the food was good but we had chosen to eat indoors and found that there were rooms all over the building. The 8 of us ended up in a heavily draped and overly warm room on our own while other people arriving were put in similar rooms elsewhere ensuring that we had to make sure we created our own ambience.

The food was good but the service was slow and we all thought that we had been drafted in as extras to an Agatha Christie film. True to form the chilling phone call arrived - Sally took a call from her lodger and we watched as her face drained. Her son had planned a party for a few mates but her lodger told her that there were already over 150 and it was 9.30pm in the UK. Sally's friend drove past the house and confirmed that a Facebook rave was happening. Tony took over and we could see why he is a project manager - incredibly calm he phoned the police and asked them to disperse the crowds. Tony and Sally disappeared back to the hotel to make sure they could handle any calls - those of us that had gone through teenage kids (paving stones heaved over the wall, car stolen a few days later, attempts to ride the horses in the horse sanctuary next door) empathised massively. Luckily it turns out their son was fine and no one was hurt other than a minor injury to a policewoman, the house was untouched, their visitors cars and a friends caravan were unmarked but there was enough cans and bottles to fill two skips. Still for the media view try googling "Linchens Riot".

Maggie, Kim and Carolyn returned to the hotel while Mike, Peter and I had a wander round and a last couple of beers - the last in a bar with a microbrewery where we were surprised to see a bridal couple across the road wrapping themselves around a tree while being photographed at midnight. I assume that it was a magazine photo shoot or the couple didn't like each other much.

Traditionally a free day and one that sometimes sees others leave. This time Peter and Carolyn continued their trans-Europe train journey moving onto Warsaw and Mike and Julia Whitehead left with their lovely German friends Ina and Monika. Mike and Kim, Maggie and I decide its time for the museums - they are all close by - the medieval crane, the maritime, the ship Soldek and the Gdansk history. We start with the crane and its fantastic - 100s of years ago people were walking in hamsters wheels pulling up 6 tons of goods. We moved onto the maritime museum - it is strange they have two people every floor to check your tickets although this lot seem fairly pleasant. We arrive on the interactive floor and have a lot of fun playing with stuff that is meant for kids - Mags dresses up in a sailors outfit for photos; Mike and I battle for the sailing ships challenge and Mike wins. There are about 6 of us in there but we were made to wait for 10 minutes to get in. The real museum weirdness happened when we arrived at the Gdansk Museum. I was first there. "We are closed" said the receptionist. I gave her my ticket at 3.35pm. "We are closed at 4pm." "We will get round in 25 minutes". We had a guard at our back every room. They shooed us out and then locked the doors. Gdansk town council has to get the idea that visitors are good. The rest of the town has - they are delightful. Bars, restaurants and shops are great, then people in publically funded museums and rail are shocking. Mags and I head back to the hotel; Kim and Mike go off to the town where they fetch back plums in chocolate - a delicious speciality of the town.

Tonight we have chosen the no 1 Trip advisor restaurant Kubicki overlooking the canal. We have tried to be in this restaurant every night but it has been full. It is again tonight shortly after we arrive. It deserves to be no 1 - I have a beetroot soup with meat dumplings that was as good a dish as any that Gordon Ramsay could create. The wild boar afterwards was just as good. Gdansk has wonderful cuisine although our guide the day before did say "Gdansk isn't Poland".

We headed back to the main square afterwards for a fairly gentle evening although there was a cheer from the bar behind us when the girls in the white macs arrived. On the first night I was standing on the square admiring the view. Two delightful young women in white macs asked me if I was having a good time and would I like a better time. When I pointed out that I was with friends they were keen to invite them as well until they noticed the women in our party. "Men only" was the response and they stalked off wondering why they had wasted their time. I never did find out what would have been better.

Today I finally persuaded the hotel to accept some money from us for the weekend - I had tried several times before to give them our balance of £2500 and they kept saying "later on will do". We all wandered off in separate directions and did some last minute shopping before meeting at the hotel to get the taxi to the airport. When we arrived there, some had gone through security when Simon noticed the flight was delayed by an hour an a half. "I am not going through, there won't be a bar". He was right but luckily, on his frequent walks to the loo, he noticed that the delay had suddenly disappeared and our flight was boarding - we ran like hell and ended up sweating profusely as the last passengers on the flight.

Another cracking branch weekend away. Where is next years? Mike and Julia Whiteheads friends are keen to welcome us to Hamburg, Dave Croxford has suggested Toronto and there have been suggestions of Bolognia and Montenegro. Where do you fancy? I know that I will be there because I haven't had a bad one yet.

Dave Brown