This past weekend I embarked on my first major work-related leisure trip. It ended up going much, much better than I had anticipated. I had a great time getting to know my colleagues better, joking around and taking pictures.
Half of the work trip weekend was spent sitting in a 20-seater mini-bus, while the other half was spent drinking, eating and enjoying the Czech-Polish borderland countryside. At least as much as was possible. We left Riga late Thursday night and got to the location Friday afternoon. I ended up being recruited to do all of the communication with the owner of the manor and property, as the man spoke Czech and German, but no other languages. I traveled to the Czech Republic with a group of Latvians, only to speak German. It was interesting being the lingual saviour until the Czech-speaking branch offices showed up.
Initially we were supposed to stay in 4-person cabins, which was a great idea, until we saw the cabins, which were damp, had little insulation and sported flimsy foam mattresses 2′ thick. Call me spoiled, but at Latvian camp our mattresses were at least exceptionally thick and tolerable, despite being 20 years old and stained. Luckily for us, I was able to figure out that the owner of the property was a very laid-back guy, just wanted everyone to have fun and, since there was a mix-up in the roomming or attendee count anyway, was find with us setting up shop in one of the first-level attic rooms. The room had 12 beds, we were 12 people, it worked out famously.
For the first night our group was on its own, so we barbecued and relaxed and just enjoyed Latvia group time. The next morning we headed into the nearest town and walked around a bit, checked out the stuff market, picked up some more groceries and headed back to the campsite. The other groups didn’t arrive until 1 p.m. and even after they did people mainly stayed in their own groups. This is something I wasn’t really expecting, considering everyone present is definitely 23 and over. 30-year olds grouping up in cliques? UNFATHOMABLE! And yet, it happened. Even the Czech coordinator who told us “Come, join the others! They don’t even know you’re here!” returned to her group and did little socialising outside of it the rest of the weekend.
I was also surprised at the complete lack of the English language. English was only spoken if you had to ask someone you didn’t know for something. I had assumed it would be an international event and that everyone would make an effort to communicate with one another. On the plus side, I freaking HATE ice breakers and “get to know each other” games, so my complaining can only go so far.
Saturday our Latvia group climbed the mini-hill behind the property, probably strayed into Poland a few times (the border was roughly 300 metres from the property), balanced on precarious rocks and took many pictures. It was an intense climb that no one was prepared for, but did anyway. At the top we realised we had to get down somehow, too – getting up to the top always seems to be the easy part. Once we got to the bottom and back to the manor there was a quick bathroom and beer break before heading out to the football (soccer) field to first watch others play then start a game of our own. Not something I think many of us were prepared to do after scaling the mini-mountain, but HEY! THIS IS VACATION(-ish)! I also jumped in on the action, kind of surprising my colleagues, I think, with my ability to TAKE PEOPLE DOWN. (On the last work trip I was openly labelled “the quiet one”.) I applied the phrase “no blood, no foul”, and I believe that they now take that seriously. I took down our IT guy and kicked my direct superior in the shin. Overall I think it was a productive game.
First to arrive, first to leave. Sunday morning after showering and eating breakfast we packed our gear up and left the cosy 12-bed attic and returned to our mini-bus. If the trip TO the Czech Republic was eventful because of a leaky tire that was fixed somewhere in the Polish suburbian boonies, the trip BACK home was eventful because the cardan joint busted. We were just outside of Warsaw, across the road from IKEA and a mall with an H&M store in it. TORTURE.
However we did make it back to Riga in time for most people to run home, take showers or sleep for an hour or so before returning to the office. Oh yes. Monday was NOT a free day.
We’re hard core.
Other than that I led an English language lesson today for 14 high schoolers from Daugavpils. The students had won a UNESCO competition and were awarded a 90-minute English language lesson by our office. As a result, I was chosen to lead the activity. I will now also be teaching conversation groups for high schoolers on Friday evenings, as well as making a public appearance at one of Riga’s many malls one weekend to… to basically “be American”. When finding out this was my assignment, I held back from telling the coordinator that I don’t know HOW to act American. Get drunk and openly grope people? While I down some hamburgers? Hopefully this question will be answered no later than one hour before the event.
Lots of rain in Riga. I’ve been essentially eating nothing but vegetables since getting back from down south. There was just too much bread (something I thought I’d NEVER say) and too much meat. No fruit. No veg. But lots and lots of Czech beer. The country has a clear set of priorities. On a related note, the Czech and Polish country sides are amazing. Very vast and very colourful. Driving through Poland was also a great experience. Well, the idea of it more than the act, since all we did was sleep most of the way. It also makes the idea of driving around Europe less daunting than I had previously decided it was. This makes me look forward to November with more gusto.
In other news, I’ve gone pro: now even more on Flickr.
I’ve also had “Tightrope” by Yeasayer on loop for most of the day. Minnesota Public Radio has a live studio performance on their YouTube channel here.