Canada/Czech Scouting Exchange June 2004

"Strangers are only those people we have not had the pleasure to meet yet." This is one such story of peoples from two worlds coming together with a minimum of knowledge of each other. In fact, the exchange was arranged with only 3 emails between the exchange partners. A lot of faith and desire for testing the unknown is what Scouts Canada has "Challenged" Venturers to do while carrying out the theme of "Bring on the Adventure."

Venturers cheer on the Czech Scouts at a Square Dance demonstrationThe First Whitby Venturers left June 23rd, 2004 at 10pm and arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at around noon the next day.  A four-hour stop-over in Frankfurt allowed for ample time to head downtown for a hardy lunch of German food at a patio cafe and a little shopping. A few hours later, the Venturers reunited to go back to the airport for their flight to the Czech Republic. Czech Scouts demonstrate their skills with Square Dancing in the Western tradition

On arrival at Prague airport we were met by our Czech host Lubamir Vanak "Ester", and Arjan Becker a close friend of Ester's from Rotterdam Holland. A mini bus escorted the group through the centre of Prague to a scout reserve clubroom where they spent the next few nights. After they got their beds and stuff set up, they ate goulash and bread provided by our host.  About 9 pm, all left to go downtown Prague for an orientation and to visit Prague Castle at night. Following a brief visit to McDonald's we headed back to the scout reserve where Ester sang a wide variety of songs to serenade everyone to sleep.

The next morning the group woke up and took the subway to Prague to tour Prague Castle. The tour took them past a statue of St. George slaying a dragon. St. George is the patron saint of  Scouting.  The cathedral in the centre of the castle offered a glimpse of 1000 years of history with grave sites of the kings and queens of the Bohemian and Morovian territory.  Next was a visit to Prague Castle's activity centre and
where you could tried on armour, handle swords, play with the executioner and make chain mail. Amy and Selena participated in a fencing competition, dramatised by the actors on site. After the tour of the castle everyone hed down the mountain across the Charles Bridge and into the old City Square to go shopping. That night, they went to a pub to watch the World Cup football match between Czech Republic and Portugal. 

Ryan Mitchell dons armour at Prague CastleThe next day the group went back to the Prague castle to see the changing of the guard. Unfortunately the ceremony was scaled down to three soldiers. If nothing else, it was again a challenge to climb all those stairs to get one of the highest points in the city. The Venturers then split up into groups to go shopping around Prague and to find some place to eat lunch. The group then met up again at the City Hall clock tower in the centre of Prague. They watched the clock do its hourly ringing and climbed up into the tower to take pictures of teh breathtaking view. After, they went back to the scout reserve clubroom where Ester sang them to sleep again.Arjan from Holland, John from Stoney Creek Ontario, and Ester from Czech

The next day the group departed for Dub Nad Moravou, a small village about 250 km south east of Prague.  Along the way, they stopped and toured Karlstejn Castle – the gothic pearl of Czech Republic's castles. 

For the next few days the group stayed with host families, members of the Scouting community.  Two Venturers stayed together in the homes and wer provided with beds, meals, pack lunch and an opportunity to bridge the communications gap as they tried to understand each other. Since Dub Nad Morouva is so far from the tourist centre, most residents don't have an opportunity to speak another language, althought they have probably learned German and a little English in school. After everybody had been matched with a family they drove back to their houses and ate a welcoming dinner. Some had hot meals with soup, goulash stew, or roast meat and vegetables, others had rye bread with a variety of cold cuts, cheese and fresh vegetables.  That night, the Venturers met up at a local pub where they watched the semi-final round of the football match and played pool. It was quickly evident that price here were a fraction of the prices charged in Prague.

Over the next few days, the Venturers toured more castles and churches. The first day out on this leg of the journey took us to a centre for the largest caves in Central Europe. The first cave travelled deep underground to a natural spring called Karsen Abyse. At the half way point, the group got into motor boats to travel underground for about half an hour to the outcome of the cave system. The second cave hosted the largest underground dome, used frequently for symphonic performances.Stara Voda catherial, the only standing building in a Nazi destroyed community of 700 On the return trip the group stopped at the pilgrim place in Stara Voda, a ruined catholic church. The interior of the church, bombed and ravaged by Germans during occupation folllowing WWII, left an strong impression on the visitors about the political reality of the region. The church was surrounded once by 700 residents but all that remains today is a bit of scrub and grass gowing over mounds of rubble. While in the church, many of the Venturers climbed the bell tour for a view of the valley.

Members of the Czech Scouting families prepare half-pig on a spitThe Czech hosts provided a barbeque and entertainment that evening back at the local school yard and meeting place for the Scouts. A half pig was roasted on an open fire and the hosts brought a wide variety of savory and sweet local treats.  The Czech Scouts made a presentation of western style square dancing, then led the Venturers inside for a game called Ringo, played using a volleyball net.

The next day started with a visit to the City of Olomouc, second largest centre in Czech Republic. The group visited city hall and watched the clock as it chimed and the animation statues danced to the tune of the communist era, propegating the work ethic of the people.  This medieval centre also offered a visit to the market place, to climb up the city hall tower and to visit a typical gothic style cathedral.

The next few days were based at a campsite near Lipova, a very small community in the mountainous region. Here, the Czech Scouts recreated their impression of Dakota Indians including staying in tepees, and dressed in hand made costumes representing the clothing of the Plains Indians.  On arrival, the Venturers helped set up the tepees and build the campsite where they would be staying for the next three nights.

Czech Scouts dress as Dakota plains indians, sleep in authentic teepeesThroughout this time they toured more castles and churches and they went to a place where some of the Venturers went go-carting. They also visited an old western town re-creation where they walked around and looked through some of the shops. The amusement centre offered a rodeo show, cafes, and authentic false-front facades, just like you'd see in the movies. Actors were dressed in what can only be described as movie theme clothing.

Iain, Amanda, Sam and Ryan help build tepees to sleep in at the Czech camp LipovaOn the first night of camp, the group went to a local home nearby, an aquaintence of Arjan’s and watched the next game in the World Cup. On the second night at camp, the Canadians held a bonfire to celebrate Canada Day. Later, they then went to a nearby pub to watch the final football game. The final night at camp, the Czech's built a huge bonfire to celebrate the Venturers' last night in the Czech Republic. The Canadians were each presented with a T-shirt and a Dakota Troop necker in celebration of their visit.  Ester and Arjan were invested as honorary members of the Scouts Canada - 1st Whitby Venturers.

The next day was the Venturers last day in the Czech Republic as they drove 200 kms to Vienna, Austria. The morning stop in the mountain town of ?? offered an insite into the history of the region as interpreted by Czech's national artist Mucho Gustav. The mansion displayed 24 huge paintings and English translation of the descriptions. Next, the group stopped and toured a Morovian wine cellar just north of the border of Austria. A late lunch was taken at the border crossing to Austria. Accomodations in Vienna were offered by a local Scout group in the basement of a downtown church. The evening offered time to look around Vienna and find a place to eat dinner. After eating at the fanciest McDonald's restaurant in the world, the Venturers split up into groups. One group toured the cultural and historical centre of Vienna, while the other group went to a pub and played pool.

The next morning they left to go to the airport and flew back to Frankfurt, Germany, where they were given time to eat lunch. They then flew to Quebec where they went through customs and then flew back to Toronto where they found their families welcoming their return.

Trip Diary (written by everyone during the trip and presented to Ester)
Ringo game rulesRingo game rules
Program summary and cost

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Written by Karen Mitchell, edited and photos by Brian Wick, c.2004