The Prior Lake Rotary Club is calling on interested residents to register for its first eight-country tour in eastern Europe this summer.
The May 2019 trip will run from Estonia to Hungary with one group and back the same route with a second group, stopping at Warsaw, Vienna and other cities along the way. Those on the second leg then have a chance to go the Rotary International convention in Germany in June, though that’s not part of the trip package.
The idea is to see the sights but also learn about countries that get left off of many tourists’ bucket lists, said Rick Olson, a Prior Lake Rotarian and organizer of the venture. He took a bicycle tour through the region last year and recently taught business and economics at a school in Lithuania.
“A lot of people have been to London, Paris, Rome, but a lot of people are looking — ‘Let’s go someplace we haven’t gone before,’” Olson said. He added the countries have geopolitical importance as well, being former Soviet bloc countries still trying to move past Russia’s influence.
“All of those countries are a bit nervous about what Russia is doing,” he said, pointing to Russia’s annexation of part of Ukraine, its attempts to manipulate elections around the world through social media and other events that have made international headlines in recent years.
So Olson hopes to impress that importance on his travel groups and take at least a small step to support those countries. The plan includes stops at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, which stands at a former Nazi death camp. But it’ll also include visits with local Rotary Clubs.
“It’s really the people you meet that’s really the fun part,” Olson said. “That is really what we’re going to showcase.”
Olson said the trip is a test-run for a travel nonprofit he hopes to set up with his entrepreneurship class in Lithuania.
Rotary International as a whole works around the world to support schools, end polio, fight human trafficking and other goals, said Sherry Hoffman, co-chairwoman of the Prior Lake club’s international committee. A group from the club is heading to India next week to help give out polio vaccines, for example.
Hoffman said the trip is Olson’s vision, but the club supports it because of the group’s international perspective and the meet-ups it includes with other clubs. The Prior Lake club’s sponsorship means any Rotary members who go can get some travel reimbursements.
“It really does take a certain kind of person,” not only to plan such a trip but to take it, Hoffman said. “You cover a lot of ground.”
Olson said he hopes for at least eight people sign up for each of the trip’s two legs, enough to break even on the hotel and transportation costs. But the vehicle he’ll use can hold twice as many.
Those interested can go to the trip’s website, freedomquesttours.org, for more information and to sign up. The cost is at least $1,200 per person, which Olson said is very reasonable for a week’s travel. Attendance isn’t limited to Rotary members.