Michael & Mary Hermida | USA

PTPI Enables us to connect with people around the globe

Wheels up as the plane leaves Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and Mary and I begin our 2+ week journey with PTPI in Europe.  Our first stop is Bern, Switzerland and what a delightful city. We are met by our host Ernst and Rolf (a great friend from Sweden), and Ernst walks us around the city pointing out its many highlights. Midway we have a Swiss beer at one of the local breweries, and then wrap up the evening with Ernst graciously treating us all to a terrific fondue dinner at a restaurant on the square.

We awake early the next day and take a train to the Lake of Bienne, where we meet up with a group of Swiss PTPI members and take a fun boat ride with about twenty-five people to Erlach. We enjoy seeing ‘old’ friends like Samantha, Daniel, Charlotte, Claudia, and Ulrich, and meeting many ‘new’ ones. On arrival, our tour guide Nathalie places wine glasses around our neck and we begin to stroll through the village and the winery sampling five wines of all colors. What a wonderful afternoon that has been arranged by Ernst and Annemarie, which concludes with a hot lunch in a forest retreat in Tschugg (and a bit more wine).

After our return to Bern the day concludes with a fantastic evening Summer party with over fifty people at a local hall arranged and carried out by Claudia, Ulrich, Simon, Franz, and Patricia (plus we’re sure others). More great conversation and PTPI families to meet; a hamburger bar with all the fixings; plus an ice cream sundae bar to prepare your own dessert concoction. We have only been here two days and the PTPI connections are as strong as ever, and getting stronger.

Sunday we are off on the train to Zurich where we are met by Samantha and shuttled to her parents, Rosemarie and George, who we will be staying with for a couple of nights. They have a gorgeous home overlooking Lake Zurich, which seems like a resort to us. Samantha and her family (Christian, Nico, and Noah – recently expanded with a beautiful daughter who we can’t wait to see) meet up for dinner and we have a great time exchanging family stories and lifestyle differences between Switzerland and the USA. Samantha picks us up the next morning and takes us to lower Lake Zurich where we enjoy additional gorgeous views of the Swiss mountains and lakes and enjoy a nice lunch on the Lake. Back to our home location and a nice brisk walk in the Swiss countryside to burn, rather than consume some calories. Off to another traditional Swiss dinner at Samantha’s house and more great conversation and interaction with her family. We then spend our last night seeing pictures, and playing billiards with Rosemarie and George at their ‘resort’.

Off again on train, this time to Hamburg, Germany.  It is our first trip to Germany and we get our first impressions of the beautiful German countryside from our train. We arrive in Hamburg in early evening and meet up with Christiane, who we are staying with for a few days. After showing us a few notable sites in the city we arrive at Christiane’s lovely home. We settle in and catch up on happenings since we last met in Albania, before enjoying a home cooked German dinner with Christiane and friends. We can’t help but notice the lovely gardens we see throughout Hamburg, including a lovely one at Christiane’s. The next day we tour around Hamburg, a beautiful and vibrant city, seeing many historical sights. Of course we take another boat ride (kind of a theme on this trip to Europe), capped off with a 3-hour dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the water with Christiane. The day ends with more great conversation and wine back at Christiane’s that continues well into the night.

Time has come to train to Berlin for the 2015 European Conference. This is our fifth conference in Europe and it does not disappoint. In 2010 when we went to Poland we knew very few people outside America. As we arrive in Berlin, we now have met hundreds of people from many countries, see many of them once or twice a year, and communicate via email or social media between conferences. Conferences often begin with dinners hosted by members of the local PTPI chapter. At our first dinner in Berlin we dine with a large group of good friends and ‘new’ friends including Lars (Berlin), Rolf (Sweden), Janusz (Poland), Anna and Olga (Ukraine), Gunild (Denmark), Fay and Mark (USA). We also meet a number of students at this dinner who we feel add a wonderful dimension to the PTPI conferences. Among the students were Patrycja, Maria, and Aleks from Poland, and Yoanna from Bulgaria (studying in the UK). As one can see, meals like this (that occur throughout the conference) provide great opportunities to meet, dine, and talk with interesting people from many countries with a common goal of better understanding and appreciating various cultures, traditions, and aspirations of our fellow man (woman).

The first full conference day included a city tour by bus covering many of the sights one would want to see in Berlin – Alexanderplatz, Berlin Cathedral, Avenue Unter den Linden, Brandenburg Gate, Holocaust Memorial, Palace Bellevue, Checkpoint Charlie, etc.  PTPI Trustees attended a business meeting in the afternoon that included a presentation by our interim CEO Bill Bland on plans for the coming few years. In parallel with this meeting for other PTPI members was a workshop entitled “Exceeding the Vision” led by Chalks Coriette who always does a great job motivating and entertaining a crowd. Workshops are normally held at conferences to discuss various topics from global issues to PTPI improvement ideas.  Dinner this night follows a boat cruise on the river Spree. The dinner was at a local restaurant with traditional German food, live music, and of course international diners and more interesting discussions. We dined with another group including Daniel and Charlotte (Switzerland), Arik and Maria (Berlin), Olga (Norway), Janusz, and Christiane.

Most of the next day was the European region business meeting. It was an opportunity to see what regional chapters have been doing in the past year, elect regional Board members, discus the coming year(s), and select the location for the next European conference – Romania was chosen. There was a light lunch with yet another chance to meet and chat with other attendees. There was also a chapter fair with exhibits from some of the regional chapters. We had the opportunity to meet students (Ana Maria, Doru, Karina, Cojocaru) and their Adviser Andrei from the Roman, Romania Chapter in their traditional dress, and taste some Romanian delicacies.
 
As with all the conferences, the final event is a fabulous Saturday night party - a gala dinner dance and awards ceremony. Although you begin sitting at a table for your dinner, you are constantly up and down for dancing or just meeting and chatting with many of your fellow international PTPI members of all ages. Although it is hard to keep up with the exuberance and rhythm of the students, we all do our best and have such a great time. Many pictures are taken, stories told, and memories recalled or created.

After a conference concludes, there is an optional day trip planned by the host chapter. For this conference the trip was to see Wannsee and Potsdam in Germany. Each location’s role in World War II was on display with tours provided. We entered the house of the Wannsee Conference, a very sobering experience, the Palace Cecilienhof (venue of the Potsdam Conference), and the Sanssouci Palace. We had an opportunity to walk in a beautiful park and had lunch with the group. During this lunch we dined with Indra and Akur from Nepal, and had our names and address written out in Nepalese to bring home and practice – not an easy task for English speakersīŠ. At the end of the day the bus arrives back in Berlin and final “until we meet again” farewells are made to our old and new friends. Kudos to the Berlin Chapter and PTPI Admin for a job well done!

Most conferences also have an optional post-conference trip that we were fortunate to take. Before we begin our post-conference trip, we have breakfast in the Berlin hotel with Franklin and Grace, friends from Taiwan, and congratulated them on being expectant grandparents. Then we board the bus and head off for Dresden, our first stop. There are about twenty of us (from Germany, UK, USA, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Brazil) taking the six-day tour and it turns out to be a fun group, including our bus driver Leonardo. Hannelore and Dagmar are our PTPI Berlin tour guides for this trip and do such a great job planning and leading us in our travels.

Dresden is a beautiful, historic city. We arrive on the main square and take a city tour with a professional guide.  The Elbe River runs through the city and some of the group takes a boat ride, while others explore the city on their own. We find a fair going on just outside the main part of town and enjoy the crafts being sold and have a leisurely lunch eating the local food and some nice German Oktoberfest beer. We go to an incredible museum, the Green Vault, with gorgeous porcelain, gem-studded figurines, and paintings. Of course we enjoy a couple of dinners with good company and conversation, ending each evening with a cappuccino, or glass of wine, or fine German beer as we discuss our day’s highlights.

On the third day we head to Gorlitz, but not before visiting a mountain with beautiful rock formations and spectacular views. Arriving in Gorlitz, which borders Poland, we take the city tour with a professional guide. Gorlitz is a very charming, quaint town with a rich history.  After checking into the hotel, we walk to a local restaurant and enjoy a traditional German meal with the whole group.

Off again, this time to Wroclaw, Poland. We didn’t know what to expect, but this city should be on any itinerary through Poland. It is a fairly large city with a charming “Old Town” plaza surrounded by restaurants, churches, food and flower markets, and shops. There are gnomes placed throughout the city that are fun to locate and then figure out their significance.  We explored the city on our own when we arrived, but had a lengthy tour on the following day. The River Odra runs through the city and there are several bridges, some overloaded with ‘love locks’ from many bygone years.  Cathedral Isle was a highlight of the tour with churches and museums and gardens. Wroclaw has a University whose students add vibrancy to the city that is invigorating to the residents and tourists alike. Although Poland may not be known for its food, we had very tasty lunches and dinners at local restaurants, including a brewery serving traditional Polish food, and a nice lunch in “Little Italy”. The Polish people are very welcoming, and were very appreciative and helpful as we tried to learn and practice a few Polish language words and phrases.

The highlight of Wroclaw was a dinner with the local PTPI Chapter. We hosted this small group of students, artists, and professionals and had a wonderful evening discussing countries, lives, experiences, and aspirations. This type of interaction with PTPI members from different parts of the world makes PTPI such a valuable part of our lives.

We were sorry to end this wonderful trip as Saturday arrived, but Hannelore and Dagmar surprised us with a stop in Lubben, Germany, on our way back to Berlin. We took a 2-hour gondola ride on the River Spree that went past locations where residents have to take boats to go about their day-to-day living. The birds and flora were a sight to see in the quiet of this man-powered boat.

This ended our PTPI European travels in 2015, but we still have our fond memories and new and ‘old’ friends, and look forward to our 2016 travel planning and conference attendance in Romania.

The essence of this story is what PTPI means to us!
 

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