Hummersknott Badminton Club visit Italy and Greece

Monday 14th Jul 2014

In July 2014 Hummersknott Badminton Club set off on another International tour, to Italy (playing 5 matches), and to Thiva, Athens, (for 1 match). This was the latest in along sequence of trips and Italy was the 19th country we have played in over recent seasons. During this tour brief visits were made to San Marino and Vatican City - adding a couple of more states to the list, although neither were able to offer any badminton.

The tour began with a flight from Gatwick to Venice, where we stayed a couple of nights and enjoyed Waterbus and Gondola rides and a private tour of the glass factory on the island of Murano. Next was a drive to Senigallia and 3 hours in San Marino en route, to see the oldest republic in the world and a fascinating insight into this small state.

The first 2 matches were in Senigallia where the local team had booked us into a small bar beach pizzeria. Next day a guided tour of the town, followed by a reception in the Town Hall with a greeting letter left from the Mayor of Darlington to the Mayor of Senigallia. A reciprocal letter was brought back to Darlington for our current Mayor.  The badminton event was first class.

A long drive followed to Naples and some very busy days.. A guide took the team aroud Herculaneum, Pompeii and Vesuvius, adding excellent educational value to the tour. In the evening the local team from Cercola hosted another outstanding buffet meal for the teams. Next days match in Cercola was followed by a drive to Sorrento and then back to Naples for a meal in a city centre restaurant. The local Mayor attended and there was an exchange of Mayoral greetings. James Boyd (team captain) presented the Mayor of Cercola with a framed picture of Locomotion No. 1 and an outline (in Italian) of the history of Darlington Railways, in addition to a letter from the Mayor of Darlington. Again this was a positive experience all round and a great advert for international relations between the young people of both countries.

Next stop was Rome. Booked into our hotel and a quick famliarisation evening, and the travelling the next day to Bracciano - a small Italian town on its own lake, for a unique occasion on our badminton tours, before the first of 2 days of matches. The early contact was made with their badminton team manager in early 2013, and out of that early interest they expressed through their Mayor a desire for a Town Friendship link between Bracciano and Darlington. A formal agreement of Friendship and Co-operation had been drawn up before we left Darlington, and our Deputy Mayor, Tom Nutt, with his wife Deputy Mayoress Gill Nutt present, formally signed the Agreement. They were on holiday in Rome and joined us for this and a few other events. Presents were exchanged at a Reception, ours again detailing the railway history of Darlington. A boat trip on the lake and an excellent meal in a lakeside restaurant with our hosts rounded off a great day. It is surprising what hitting a few shuttlecocks can do!

The badminton was again excellent, introductions made between the two national flags and standing for the National Anthems added a significance to the occasion. This all took place before the boat trip above and two days later we returned again from Rome to Bracciano and widened the link between our towns by playing basketball and volleyball, as well as badminton. A location that is very likely to be visited by others as the link between the towns develops. For the badminton players the welcome and enjoyment of this venue was as good as anything we have enjoyed anywhere.

In the intervening day we had another local guide to take us to the Coliseum, Forum, many monuments and churches, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (currently without water and covered in scaffolding while undergoing restoration), and many streets with all sorts of interest. That evening we booked into some street side tables at another excellent restaurant in full view of the Pantheon, for Richard Smith to celebrate his birthday in that setting (with superb support from the Management who supplied a cake!), A birthday he will always remember.

Another day in Rome and the guide took us around the Vatican with its many facets. The sheer scale of the Museums and Basilica was striking. To pass through the Sistine Chapel with its amazing history was really significant. After leaving the Vatican we were generously given the opportunity to visit the UK Embassy in Rome, (which covers San Marino as well as Italy), and staff there were most hospitable giving us an outline of their work and answering lots of questions, about the roles of the Embassy, dealing with the Italian press, how they are able to help businesses, as well as diplomacies in International affairs. The Ambassador was away on business but we were able to look in his office. There were good photo opportunities afterwards outside. Greg Houston who is the Head of Political Section chaired the session and quoted to us: " If you want to understand the world be an academic. If you want to influence the world be a politician. If you want to do a bit of both be a diplomat!" We wrote to Solange Dilleto from the Press And Communications section, who had been with us throughout, and acknowledged the photos which she had sent immediately after we had left the Embassy. Her reply included, "Hope to seee a couple of them here as diplomats soon". It seems the group had created the right impression.


Italy completed, it was then a flight to Athens to cover that city in 3 nights. Another excellent hotel which was well placed  for local transport enabled the players to see so much in a short time. Within hours of arriving they climbed to the top of the Acropolis and took many photos beside the Parthenon. A local young lady, Anthi, who had helped on the last team visit to Athens in 2007 came and helped us. Next day it was off to Thiva - about 75 mins from Athens City - for the final badminton match, and the welcome again was as warm as the weather. Housed in a football stadium the 4 courts were positioned below the seating areas around the pitch. The building is quite narrow and the outer doubles side line also counted as the outer singles court side line. Managing match play with two doubles and two singles courts was tricky, but the courts were full for just about all of the 3 hours play.

Back to the hotel and the City the evening then included an hour or so of the new attraction "Athens Clue" which was interesting and enjoyed to various extent by the players. Then another evening meal in a different Greek Restaurant with Anthi accompanying us. Next day we went by coach to the Corinthian Canal - a feat of 19th century engineering, and then on to Ancient Corinth (of St. Paul's New Testament letters) and some time on the beach.

The following day it was back to Heathrow. The weather was extremely favourable throughout our trip. No rain and virtually wall to wall sunshine during every daylight hour which obviously helped.

The welcome given by all our hosts was exceptional and greatly appreciated and all the players proved to be great ambassadors for the UK. We are greatly indebted to all who made this trip possible and especially to the tens of thousands of customers who donated to bucket collections at bag packs in local stores.

Plans are developing for other tours in 2015 and beyond - likely to include Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava and Prague.

Report by Philip Boyle.

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