Sunday, 16 May 2010

Destination UK

Saturday 15th May

A relaxing start to our final day saw us all pack up our suitcases for one final time at our individual hosts homes before heading off to rendezvous at Tom's house. We all placed our bags on the scales and repacked and adjusted accordingly so that each bag would weigh under 50lbs, that's 23kg in European money.

Onwards to the airport courtesy of Margie, Charlie and young Dillon (very many thanks to you all) and the shenanigans started again. The automatic check in didn't work so we queued up and once again Steve wasn't on the ticket and seemingly not booked on the flight which was a little cause for concern. Meanwhile everyone else swapped more stuff from suite case to suitcase to make the weight according to the official scales. Eventually everyone including Steve got checked in and we all cleared security and settled down to wait for our flight.

Just prior to boarding, Andrea decided to do a bit of shopping (as is a woman's prerogative) and just managed to make the gate before it closed!!! Safely on board we ended up waiting around while the suite cases of a number of travellers were removed from the hold because they unfortunately arrived at the gate too late!!!

A detour around Irish air space due to the volcanic ash saw us delayed a little further and at approximately 09:30 we landed in 'chilly' Manchester and reunited with our families. Alec and Derek our guardian Rotarian's also greeted us and for the very final time we all stood in a line and posed in front of a lens.

Our American adventure was finally over, it's going to take some time for it all to sink in and it somehow seemed strange to be going our seperate ways after spending so much time together (without a single cross word may I add! just in case you were wondering) over the last month.

However, were only half way through our year long GSE experience so stay tuned for updates as we spread the word amongst the Rotarians of District 1050

Saturday, 15 May 2010


Friday 14th May

This was to be the team’s final full day in Georgia and we were let loose on Atlanta with our trusty guide Chris who just happened to appear out of nowhere; however he had a spring in his step and a look in his eye that said no one knows the drinking scene better in Atlanta than him!

We set off the big city just after 10am and our first point of call was to be the Martin Luther King memorial centre where we were able to learn a little more about one of Georgia’s most famous residents.

The heat was already starting to build up during the morning, so after our brief tour, it was suggested that we head over to an unusual shopping place called Underground Atlanta. Which is exactly as it sounds, underground – a subterranean shopping and entertainment centre.

On the drive over we were able to see a little more of the Atlanta street scene which we could see had quite a vibrant, cosmopolitan feel about the place.

Underground Atlanta was quite different, a long row of shops and stall holders, perhaps mainly aiming for the tourist market, however this gave some of us the chance to stock up on a few gifts for friends and family, whilst Steve and Chris searched out a local watering hole, where the only thing lower than the prices were the waitress tops! Needless to say that Roy had to be eventually dragged out kicking and screaming.

We made our final purchases all met together and decided that the next order of the day was to get some lunch. As this was our last full day in the USA, we decided we should do the sensible thing and have some good old fashioned American food.

The suggestion from friend turned City Guide Chris was a place named the Vortex, it sounded charming so we jumped in the bus and we were off.

On Arrival we realised that we were in the more bohemian part of town named Little five points. The restaurant itself was something a little different but the food was very tasty. We all had a variety of different burgers, we’re not sure how many cows died to make each one but they certainly left us full for the rest of day.

Later, Chris took us to his local Bar where he had his own place in the corner with a brass plaque with his name on it. Seems like he’s spent many an evening entertaining ladies and spending his hard earned here! Almost everyone knew him.

After too many Margarita’s we left Atlanta and headed back to Conyers old town once again where we sipped our drinks and reminisced about our time in Georgia and all the good friends we’ve made along the way.

Photo's to follow

Motorbikes, Trucks and Court

Thursday 13th May

Early doors felt like the previous nights freight trains were thundering through our heads on a constant loop as we made our way to Logansville to deliver our penultimate presentation. On arrival we discovered the place locked and nobody home although we were only waiting 10 minutes before the first of the Rotarians arrived. This was to be our smallest gig yet with only around Ten people in the audience however it was one of the most moving as a guest to the club Eva Smith told us the story of how she lost her husband to a drunk driver. Eva works closely with Mothers Against Drink Driving M.A.D.D.

Please check out their website here –

We then headed back to Conyers Old Town (scene of the previous nights shenanigans) and met up once again with Gary Moore in his office. Gary took us to the local courthouse where we were introduced to the Georgia legal system and were witness to a number of civil divorce cases and criminal prosecutions. This was a fascinating experience for the whole team and one which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Next stop saw us deliver our final presentation to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County and the team cheekily decided to be ever so slightly economical with the truth regarding some of the facts and figures. For example, did you know that each year the local Eskimos visit the Chill Factor in Manchester to build the largest igloo north of the north pole? Or that Manchester was the location where the first scientist travelled faster than the speed of light? Yep all these things happened in Manchester according to the teams presentation this afternoon.

However unbeknown to the team there was an ex Georgia Tech graduate who had studied Einstein’s theory of relativity so we were rumbled during the Q & A that followed. Oh well, we tried!

The afternoon saw Steve dropped off at the local Harley Davidson Dealership for a test ride. ‘Take your pick from any machine in the shop’ said Malcolm the Kiwi salesman. ‘In fact, pick two’! Mmmmm If Carlsberg did test rides.............

A $20,000 V-Rod Muscle was the weapon of choice and Steve eagerly rode off towards the mountains with Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell ringing around in his head.

Meanwhile the rest of the team headed off to the Georgia Driving Academy where they specialise and heavy goods vehicle training and we were to be shown just what it takes to become an all American trucker.

We were given a tour of the facilities and found out that there is more to being a truck driver than you might think. We all had a go at the driving simulator to begin with, which is to allow the trainee to become familiar with gear changes of which there are many, in both ‘high and low’ ratios.

Anyway after we had proven that we were quite terrible on the simulator we were briskly moved on and introduced to one of the instructors who gave us a quick drive around on the open road so we could feel just what that was like.

Certainly one of the highlights of the drive was when we all were given the chance to pull the cord for the horn and yes it was loud!

After that we arrived back at the training centre where we all were given the chance to drive one of the articulated trucks. It was automatic and the plan was just to go forwards and then backwards. It sounds very simple, however there were cone fatalities a plenty, we were all quite happy with our effort, although based on his performance Roy has promised that from now on he won’t drive anything bigger than a shopping trolley.

In the evening we were taken out to Wales Barksdale’s farm, where dinner was to be provided courtesy of the very entertaining Gary Bridgewater of Jim & Nicks BBQ in Conyers. The food was some of the best BBQ food we’ve had throughout the trip and it was it in the beautiful surroundings of the farm land, complete with roaming cows and even a few mules, one of whom tried to crash the party!

Roy was missing this evening as he had an opportunity to do some football coaching, the rest of the team and all other Rotarians and non Rotarians who attended had yet another great evening, we really would like to thank the Conyers Rotary club for their hospitality, they really worked hard to offer us a more than pleasant stay and we really have enjoyed ourselves with the people and the place.

Photo’s to follow

Rockdale County

Wednesday 12th May

Bright and early we were once again reunited. This time, we gave our presentation to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County at the local hospital. This is the home club of our wonderful GSE coordinator Gary Moore and the dedicated early morning Rotarians numbered about 42.

We have been informed that Rockdale County is the second smallest county in Georgia and was so named because it was comprised of all of the unwanted rocky land from surrounding counties when it was originally founded. It is far from unwanted now however as the town of Conyers is lovely with some beautifully restored buildings and public spaces with independent and individual shops, restaurants and bars which the team is hell-bent on experiencing (just to support independent retailers and local economies you understand).

After our presentation (15 down, 2 to go...) we were sent out on individual vocational tours. Steve toured around Conyers Fire Department, Gareth visited City Hall, Roy enjoyed a tour of Rockdale Youth Soccer Association and Allison was met by Harriet who showed her the old Goal house, Railway Depot and historic district. Andrea also visited the Rockdale Cares and Medically Fragile Children Facility. Thanks to all who showed us around.

At 12.30pm lunch was served at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. This historic Cistercian monastery can be traced all the way back through time to 1944 and houses around 40 Trappist monks who come here to live a more spiritual lifestyle. To dedicate themselves to their cause they have restricted themselves to one hour per week of television and unlimited internet access. To finance the monastery they run a number of businesses from this site including a popular retreat for people and groups in search of peace, quiet and contemplation, a bonsai nursery, a ‘green’ burial ground (eco friendly), a stained glass manufactory and a bakery which produces some heavenly fudge! The meatloaf was pretty good too.

After lunch and the tour of the Monastery Steve and Allison went to update the blog whilst Andrea, Roy and Garth saddled up and rode off into the sunset (for an hour or two) at Linda’s Riding School.

After meeting up again at 5pm the team requested that rather than go back with their respective foster parents to rush around getting ready for the evening meal, they should be allowed to sample the delights of Conyers and relax in the sunshine. Our request was granted and the feeling of freedom rushed through our bodies as we rushed towards the nearest bar and immediately ordered a round of Tequilas on the rocks. Three or four rounds later we were happy in the haze of a drunken hour, pleasantly soaking up the beautiful, early evening ambiance of the Old Town.

Our hosts picked us up at 6.30 and led us to a wonderful art gallery which was opened up especially for us. We were then led just across the street where we were treated to a Mediterranean style restaurant run by an Asian fellow. Here we were introduced to a young man named Cory Ruth who was raising funds for his campaign to run for US Congress. Not quite sure what his policies were but he seemed a pleasant enough chap!

Onwards to a local bar saw the team slam a few more Tequila’s (as the freight trains thundered by horns honking) before receiving the news that they had to be on the road wheels turning by 6am the following morning. Deep joy!

Photo’s to follow

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Carpets, Guns, BBQ and Magic

Tuesday 11th May

Our final morning in Dalton saw us visit a factory that this city is famed for, who ever thought that carpet manufacturing could be so interesting? We were given a guided tour by Howard who has a Phd in Chemical engineering and has worked at the factory for 25 years. His knowledge of the carpet manufacturing process was second to none and he wasted no time at all in passing this on to the team during the tour. Andrea slipped away early to go and visit the North Star Educational and Therapeutic Service and was given a guided tour by Debbie Cook. This service provides education for children from kindergarten to 12th grade who have severe disabilities and behaviour problems and although it aims to be a short term treatment facility the students often end up staying for long periods as it is the most suitable placement for them. This was a fantastic opportunity for Andrea to exchange information about therapeutic interventions and Autism, she even managed to get involved and help resolve a (bad - Ed) behaviour incident. It seems that even the most challenging children like the sound of the English accent! Whilst all this was going on Roy took the opportunity to coach soccer skills to a group of young girls from Dalton High School.

Lunch time saw us once again deliver our presentation, this time to around 90 members of the Dalton Rotary Club where Steve managed to strike up a bet with an over confident Mark Marlowe.

Mark seems to think that the USA will beat England in the Football (soccer to our American friends) World cup on 12th June. The gauntlet was thrown down and the looser will donate $100 to Polio Plus.

We once again hit the road and headed back along the busy interstates that weave their way through Atlanta sometimes 8 lanes wide in both directions at the pace of a snail. We met Doug the USA team leader at Conyers, Rockdale County and he whisked us away to a law enforcement firing range where the team got the chance to fire a huge range of weapons including Swat team M16s, 12 gauge shot guns and a Colt 44 magnum the most powerful hand gun in the world which could blow your head clean off! We also had about as much fun posing for photos as we did shooting! So you you’ve got to ask yourself one question, “Do you feel lucky? Well do ya, Punk?!”


Joking aside for a moment, we (the team) felt it was important to mention a painful event which occurred last Saturday here in this town of Conyers. A young police officer was shot and killed in the line of duty. The funeral is today (Wednesday) and the town and fellow police officers turned out to honour and pay their respects to him and his family. This brought home to us just how dangerous and deadly those weapons we were ‘playing’ with yesterday are and we would like to offer our condolences during this sad time.

After our afternoon activities we headed to a magnificent house and a wonderful BBQ (Southern style).

We were once again treated to a fantastic reception and met many lovely people. Fellow Georgian GSE team members Doug, Melissa and her husband James were there...

......and guess who else? That’s right! Chris.

We had a good chat, some more magic tricks were displayed (move over Paul Daniels) and we discussed what we could expect and enjoy doing in Atlanta on Friday – our last day! Sob sob.

Finally, Doug whisked us off and we met our respective host families in Conyers and eventually drew the line on a very busy but fulfilling day.

By Steve and Allison

Carpet City, Burning Buildings and Bitzi's BBQ

Monday 10th May

The team were once again donning their presentation regalia for the morning meeting of Carpet City Rotary club.

From where we were taken around the local fire station and met the staff and fire fighters that serve the city. This was to be an exciting morning as Steve was to be taking part in one of the fire departments training exercises.

We were taken to a different location owned by the City of Dalton Fire Service in which they have facilities including building to simulate building fires and rescuing people who maybe hanging off the side of a structure, both demonstrations we were going to see today.

Steve got suited up in his protective clothing and was ready to fight fires UK style! Steve did his employers proud and managed to put the fire out swiftly and safely, it was poetry in motion.

From here the team travelled to Dalton High School for lunch with the rest of pupils followed by a tour of the school facilities. However after lunch, Steve returned back to the fire station as his afternoon was to be spent ‘brainstorming’ and sharing ideas between UK and US departments.

After our tour of the school the remaining group members split off for some vocational visits, Gareth went to Dalton City Hall for a meeting with the Finance Director, Cindy Jackson. Allison was taken to Crown Archives and Hamilton House, Andrea attended one of the classes for children with learning difficulties and Roy was able to find out that the following day he could participate in some football coaching.

When our various tours we’re over we were taken back to our host families for a quick change of clothes as the weather had turned a little cooler and wetter and the plan had been to have an outside BBQ at Stuart & Bitzi’s McFarland’s house.

There were over 60 guests expected and by the time many of them had arrived (including ourselves) the rain had stopped and we were able to take our food outside and dine al’ fresco with our Southern supper!

One highlight of the evening was a surprise visit from local cowboy and Georgia Power employee Waylon. He rode up to the house with two extra horses for any other potential cow girls and boys to have a canter around the lawn.

Stuart and Bitzi were fantastic hosts and really pulled out all the stops for everyone. We left that evening having had a good night. However because of the rain, the McFarlands cream carpet was left several shades darker than when we started, perhaps it could be a new style for the Carpet Capital of the World to embrace.

By Gareth
Photo's to follow

Mothers Day then on to Dalton

Sunday 9th May

Mothers Day in the USA saw team have a relaxing start to the morning before all but two of them headed off to the ‘Cracker Barrel’ for brunch. Unfortunately the rest of Georgia had the same plans for their ‘Moms’ and all of the local eateries were jam packed to the rafters! Where to go now? A local Waffle House of course where Gareth enjoyed and the res endured breakfast . Meanwhile Steve ‘Took one for the team’ this morning and missed out on the greasy artery clogging delights, choosing instead to grab the opportunity to update the blog whilst the valuable and rare opportunity of wifi access and free time afforded itself. On the other side of town, Andrea tucked into a healthy home cooked omelette courtesy of Capt Mike and Major Indira who were wise to the fact that every eating establishment would be full.

The team then settled down for a four hour drive to Dalton ‘The Carpet Capital of the World’, stopping off half way at our favourite healthy eating establishment ‘The Varsity’ where ex District Governor Gary More kindly introduced us to Atlanta’s finest restaurant. Here we met Stuart and Bitsy from the Dalton Rotary Club who kindly chaperoned us to our destination at the foothills of the mountains.

We were met at Bitsy’s house by Bill who is a local historian of the Civil War and a keen metal detector enthusiast. He took us hiking in the mountains and showed us where the Confederate Army held back the Yankee soldiers of William T Sherman who were trying to invade Georgia. Bill showed us his collection of bullets, buttons and other military memorabilia left over from the war which he had discovered in these hills.

Andrea poses as a Confederate Soldier

That evening the team split up once again and had dinner with their individual hosting families before turning in early in preparation for a breakfast club presentation the next day.

More Photo's to follow

Monday, 10 May 2010

Augusta Canal and Uncle Sam (He's watching you!)

Saturday 8th of May

Saturday morning began with an early start for Steve, Allison, Andrea and Roy as they went for a n adrenalin filled bike ride with local Rotarian Larry Lynn in an area designed for off road cycling. This gave a chance to blow out the cob webs and work off some of the fried food which has been consumed in copious amounts of late.

Gareth went with Rotarian Indira Donegan, (who is actually a Major in the US Army) to the local shopping Mall for the morning, as the team had arranged to meet after lunch, there was much gift buying and product browsing carried out with military precision.

Later on the team met at the visitors centre for the Savannah Canal and were taken around the museum which explains the history of the canal and how Augusta has developed around it, sharing some similarities with Manchester regarding the production of cotton and use of industrial canals.

After this the team took a leisurely boat ride along the canal to see some of the industrial remains and enjoying the some of the indigenous wildlife such as Yellow Bellied Turtles, Cranes and we were even informed that alligators do frequent these parts too!

The temperature was warm to say the least, that day it was hovering in the low 30C’s. After the boat ride the team enjoyed a little ‘down time’ which involved some of us retiring back to our host families for a short whilst the girls took back to the downtown area for another spot of shopping.

Later that evening the plan was to attend a local amatuer dramatics production which was actually on the Army base in Augusta called Fort Gordon, the purpose of this base is this is where much of the army’s and some government communications are managed from and on trying to access the local wifi we noticed it was aptly named ‘Big Brother is watching’.

This was a dinner and theatre venue in which we were served by a well stocked buffet with tasty deserts and excellent seats close to the stage along with many of our rotary friends.

The play was called The Dixie Swim Club and was what could be describe as a ‘chick flick’. A play about feminine friendship and we don’t mean the type you find on specialist websites!

We were impressed with the acting ability of the cast and we mostly managed to pick up on the southern humour and quips.

We’d spent some good leisure time in Augusta with good weather and to end our stay on a laugh with the play was a bonus which finished things nicely for us.

By Gareth

Martinez-Evans, Augusta home of James Brown

Friday 7th May

The girls took the opportunity whilst in a town that actually has sidewalks to run off some of those calories before being presented with another lovely breakfast. This morning it comprised of delicious fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and sausages and unavoidably the discussion around the breakfast table turned to politics despite this not being on the menu! - We appreciate any updates from folk back home as the hung parliament debates unfold.

Jane has been a wonderful hostess and the team said their farewells and hauled their ever growing suitcases and bags into the van. At this point the girls took off with Alan who had offered to escort them to the next destination in his car, but not without a quick stop off at a place suitably named ‘Shooters’ where they had their gun desires met and adrenaline pumped as they each had the opportunity to grip a 9mm Gloch pistol and ‘fire at will’ at the target! Yet another tick on our wish list, well for the girls anyway! Thanks Alan.
(So Alan, how come only the girls got invited ? Something we should know about ?)

The team all met up at the ‘Double Tree Inn’ and gave another professional presentation to a large audience which comprised of three rotary clubs in the area, Martinez Evans, Columbia County and Columbia County West.

Team members were introduced to the host families they would be staying with and for the first time in the trip everyone was to be separated. You would think by now we would all be sick of the sight of each other by now, especially the girls who hadn’t spent a night apart yet but to be honest it felt a bit like we were losing a limb!

Before splitting to go with families the team had a tour around one of the main attraction in the area, the national science centre ‘Fort Discovery’. This is a great interactive, educational facility with hands on activities, many based on training that is given to the tactical departments of the US army. This unique facility was set up by the US army and is run as a partnership between the army and a non-profit organisation. As well as the static venue that we toured there are also mobile units that are sent out to schools and events throughout America.

After freshening up at our host families homes, everyone met up in downtown Augusta where we were lucky to experience the monthly celebrations of ‘First Friday’ where local musicians take to the streets aiming to attract custom into the area and just have a great time! The multicultural atmosphere was electric and as we browsed the arty shops we were entertained by hip-hop artists and live bands playing on every street corner. We were treated to a feast at the Bees Knees and then strolled the streets and soaked up the downtown vibes and made sure not to forget one iconic feature of this town and gathered for a photo with the king of funk himself James Brown!

By Andrea

Photo's to follow

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Washington, Wilkes County - Step back in time

Thursday 6th May

The team were treated to a Historic walk this morning around the hometown of history and Legends. We stepped back in time and experienced the stirring days of Colonia America, the Confederacy and the Victorian Era. These time periods are still alive in the grand old homes, tree shaded streets and historic sites in Washington, Wilkes County, Georgia.

” If your born in Wilkes County your assured of a place in Heaven” our driver Randy informed us. “So you go up to the gates and que up under ‘W’ then” quipped Roy.

Washington has a small Rotary Club and lunch time saw us deliver our presentation to our smallest audience yet which comprised of just 18 Rotarians. The gig may have been small but the reception we received was wonderful and with ‘Yard Bird’ ? on the menu this truly would be a memorable event.

The afternoon saw the team spilt up between various activities (some more strenuous than others). Roy and Gareth went to check out the Washington, Wilkes County Middle and High School to look at their facilities. Steve was whisked away by Jerry the Deputy Sheriff / Volunteer Fire fighter and taken to a rural Fire House. The Fire Chief had taken time out from bailing hay in the adjacent field to proudly show Steve his shiny red fire trucks. Meanwhile the girls were busy putting their sun cream through its paces by the pool, basking in the 96 degree Fahrenheit sunshine.

A quick trip to the local Library enabled Steve chance to upload the text from the previous three days Blog but not enough time for the pictures.

Roy and Gareth were also taken by Buddy to visit a local industrialist named Kerry who owned an extensive collection of classic cars and trucks. The vehicles were displayed in individual garages, which were decorated with retro lighting and furniture including some original juke boxes, still in working order.

He had a large collection of rifles and pistols, enough in hand just in case the Yankees were to re-invade!

Quentin Tarantino!
His home was situated on a site of over 400 acres, including his own stock of cattle, although Kerry was a very wealthy man, he was very down to earth with his attitudes and was very gracious to open up his private home.

The evening saw us all entertained at ‘Skeets’ house which was another wonderful building in this Idyllic town. The food we received was fantastic, who ever thought ‘Shrimp and Grits’ could taste so good.

More photo’s to follow

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Alps, Bullfrogs, Farm Animals and Granite

Wednesday 5th May

Awaking to another beautiful morning the team were reluctant to leave this idyllic location. We had spent such a short time in White County but really felt at home in the presence of our hosts. In particular we would like to thank Maria for her companionship at Lucille’s Mountaintop Inn and also the staff who not only prepared our meals but made us feel so welcome and at home.

At 9am Melissa and Mustang Jack arrived and ferried the team just a short distance away to the alpine village of Helen. This area had been built up as a Bavarian village tourist destination and you truly felt that you were in the European Alps, (well almost, as your average middle age tourist in Austria isn’t packing heat in the form of a 9mm semi automatic pistol, obviously needed due to the potential of a crime being committed at some point in this beautifully tranquil picturesque part of the world. Ed). The group enjoyed a spot of window shopping as most of the shops didn’t open until later.

Melissa and her husband James had very kindly invited us and some of our White County friends over to their home for brunch....and what a brunch they had prepared! On our arrival we were met by Bellamy (one of Melissa and James’s daughters) who was thrilled to show us around the grounds and all it’s inhabitants which included pot bellied pigs (Steve not included although he’s getting there!), goats, a pony and a highland cow.

Melissa and James are the owners of ‘Honeybrook Catering’ and had laid out a fine spread for brunch. It must be said they served up some of the best tasting shrimp grits yet and other eats and salad, followed by a deliciously gooey selection of cakes which were all appreciatively devoured to the sounds of ‘Jeremiah and the Bull Frogs’ entertaining us with a selection of chilled out guitar tunes from Eric Clapton to Bob Marley. The whole occasion was again so lovely and it was difficult to move on from the great company, not to mention the sun-drenched veranda!

To travel to our next destination, the team travelled in convoy with some (guess who) team members taking advantage of Mustang Jack’s al fresco option. We loitered around for a short while at a meeting point in a car park where we were met by Alan and his buddy, ‘Buddy’ who we had met what seems like such a long time ago now, at the district conference. Wishing fond farewells to Mellissa and Chris we continued on our journey to Washington through Elberton, the granite capital of the world (or at least of Georgia).

On our arrival we were met by Jane, the owner of the bed and breakfast where we will be staying for the next two nights. The house is the oldest we have stayed in so far dating back to 1775.

We had a little time to relax so most of the team headed out to check out the local area as for the first time we were informed that there were shops and a town square within walking distance, although everything closed at 5pm there was a certain presence felt from the stuffed animals in the taxidermists.

At 6:30 we headed out to the Fitzpatrick Hotel where we enjoyed another delicious meal after which a couple of the team had a game of non-competitive bowling on the Wii...which they won!

Back at the B&B we all enjoyed tea and cakes before retiring to bed.

By Andrea

Sheriff's and Shooting Star's - Welcome to White County

Tuesday 4th May

Despite feeling fragile Andrea managed to get out of bed early and visit the Challenged Child facility again. This time she was delighted to be able to get some real hands-on experience and work with some of the children in the class room. Steve also enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Long Street Restaurant with Fire Chief Jon Canada. Grits is the perfect cure to a hangover! Jon then took Steve on a quick tour a more run down area of the town, known locally as ‘Little Mexico’ where ‘illegal Aliens’ line the sidewalks early in the morning waiting to be picked up to work on the black market. With the economy in a bad way most of these unfortunate souls were waiting in vein. This was a side to America that we had been shielded from so far on our trip and was a true insight to the dirt behind the shine.

The rest of the team enjoyed a slow morning at the coffee house in the town square and at 10.15am Brian picked us up again and we went to pick up Andrea from the school. From the school we headed back to the highway and our next destination – White County.

After being dropped off at a bank car park (they have drive-thru cash machines here by the way) we were met by Rick and Mustang Jack. This is not to say Jack was a wild horse – but he did have a great deal of horse power under the bonnet of his 2008 Mustang convertible. A tidy 4.6 litre engine! The girls leapt at the opportunity to bask in the Georgian sun and get a ride in the car while the boys followed in convoy behind.

This already sounds pretty cool, does it not? Well, that is not the half of our entrance into that charming county! As we flew down the highway we were given a Sherriff’s escort. Road junctions were held up for us, cars pulled to the side of the road, flashing lights, sirens, the works! The girls took the events all in their stride however and treated the motorists to the ‘royal wave’ as we sped along.

We challenge any other rotary district to top that one – a fly by from the Air Force perhaps?

Too soon our journey was over however and we were met by a welcoming party at the doors to our next rendez-vous – the White County rotary meeting. Here we met more lovely people and president of the Rotary club of White County, Maria Flynn. We thanked Sherriff Neil for our spectacular entrance and tried to tame our windswept locks for the photos. We delivered our talk to the 50 strong crowd and enjoyed a lunch cooked by Melissa’s (American GSE team member) husband and staff.

After the lunch and laden with gifts from the Sherriff and Fire Chief and a signed copy of ‘In the Shadow of Yonah’ by local author Garrison Baker, we were taken to Blackstock Vineyard for a tour and wine tasting. Some of us may have treated ourselves to a bottle or two! The wine was lovely and thanks.

Feeling a little snoozy we then crawled back into the van (which is not looking too tidy now, as you can imagine) and were driven to our evening destination – Lucille’s Mountain top Inn. What a place! Stunning views of the wood covered mountains, a huge bedroom each with en-suite, enormous veranda complete with porch swing and rocking chairs.

The team with Maria Flynn at Lucille's Mountain Top Inn

The team had some ‘down time’ in the afternoon and at 6.30pm a select few arrived to enjoy the delicious food prepared for dinner.

After having been spoilt rotten again and each given a hamper of White County produce, we sat on the porch and watched shooting stars go by, sipped on wine and rocked (in more ways than one).

If only Gareth had agreed to be spread in meat juices and hover near the woods, we could have topped off a perfect day with a bear sighting. Sometimes that boy can be so selfish!

By Allison

Monkey around in Gainsville

Monday 3rd May

Bright and early Brian from Gainsville rotary took over the driving duties and we arrived at our next club. As we were a tad early (1hr 30mins!) we decided to check into our motel and collect our thoughts before returning to the church to give our talk.

After our presentation to a 130 strong crowd we were divided up for our vocational visits. Allison went to visit INK (Interactive Neighbourhood for Kids) which is a mini town with shops and businesses and various other kid sized attractions aimed at giving them a fun, interactive and educative experience. Phillippa Lewis Moss who is on the board of directors and an active volunteer was the guide but it was also lovely to meet the staff and find out how passionate and dedicated they were. Gainsville is rightly proud of this innovative place.

Gareth was whisked off to the city hall to meet the finance director Melody N. Marlowe. He enjoyed a good chit chat and they compared revenue streams and local funding issues. Steve had a whistle stop tour of the whole of the fire department and got to drive a big fire truck. Roy visited a trailer manufacturing plant specialising in car transporters. Although the plant was very old the quality of production was excellent with good metal blasting and spray finishes. It was a very well planned tour.

Andrea visited the Challenged Child and Friends which is an integrated school taking 50% main stream kids and 50% special education students. It was impressive to see the two mix so well. The 6 therapy rooms offered the children physio therapy, occupational health and speech and language therapy. Andrea also visited a day care facility for the elderly offering services to senior citizens. She also signed a confidentiality agreement so she could work in the school the next day.

At four o’clock we met at a wonderful museum which had an original log cabin dating from around the 1820s. It also had a memorial garden for the men and women of Gainsville serving in the armed forces and displays inside which told the story of Gainsville through the history, industry and people of the area.

That evening we were sadly denied the opportunity to go onto lake Lanier but instead were rewarded with a wonderful dinner at Rotarian president Rick’s house with his family and several invited guests, and Chris. The fish was delicious (another entry for the recipe book) and company even better. We were sad to leave.

So sad in fact that we felt obliged to drown our sorrows until around 1am in the morning at a local bar called The Monkey Barrel. We now know why the Rotarians have been unwilling to leave us to our own devices and we suspect that someone behind the bar served us a ‘bad pint’ at one point.

Some of us definitely felt a little fragile the next morning.

By Allison

Photo's to follow

Monday, 3 May 2010

12 Stone Church

Sunday 2nd May

As it was a Sunday and as is tradition in these parts, the team headed off to Church this morning, unbeknowing what they were about to encounter.

The south east of the USA is known as the Bible belt and there are subtle reminders everywhere you look.

We have experienced lots of cutural differences since our arrival and have become accustomed to holding hands whilst seated around the dinner table as our host blesses us and the food we are about to receive but I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for what we experienced today.

Our destination was ’12 Stone Church’ and as we approached, the roads were coned off and traffic marshals in bright orange hi viz jackets guided us to one of the few remaining spaces at the rear of a huge car park.

A small section of the carpark

Police control the traffic on the way into the church

Naively some amongst us were looking for a traditional looking building with a spire and bell tower however what we had before us was more in line with Manchester Central Convention Centre on a larger scale.

12 Stone Church

12 Stone Church is quite large but by no means the biggest of dozens in South Gwinnett. Seating capacity is a mere 2,500 for the main hall and it’s first up best dressed.

However if you don’t manage to get in all is not lost as there are two overflow theatres complete with state of the art extra large widescreen video, enhanced with digital audio for your viewing pleasure, which brings the total capacity to around 3000.

Our guide informed us that due to the limited capacity of the building and such a large demand of followers, they hold not one but three services at full capacity, one after the other every Sunday.

You do the Math!

On entering this impressive holy building a warm familiar scent caressed our nostrils, what could it be? A quick glace over one’s right shoulder revealed the source, a Starbucks Coffee shop, of course. A Cappuccino, Blueberry Muffin and a quick check of your emails over the free wifi service. What better way to relax before the up and coming service.

Sarbucks Coffee Shop

As special guests we were given a tour behind the scenes and first stop was the ‘green room’ where we got the chance to meet the rock band who were chillin’ before the gig.

Behind the scenes control room

We then had special access to the prayer room which was the most holy place in the entire building with a great view of the stage. Here the holy men and women of the church would kneel and pray that the performance would go well and also pray for everyone inside.

Goodwill messages in the prayer room

The church caters for all people of all ages from kindergarten through to pensioners. Separate special services are held for children who can sing, dance and have fun whilst having the importance of Jesus Christ and the love of God embedded at an early age.

Kindergarten Area

Kids Studios

We knew that we were in for something quite special as we entered the main air conditioned hall. The atmosphere was quite electric as we parked our bums in the comforting cinema style seats complete with drinks holders for our oversized Starbucks coffee cups.

The Main Worship Hall

The Rock group took to the stage and every one danced the morning away in the stalls and were positively encouraged to great everyone around.

The guest speaker was a gentleman named John C Maxwell who is a well known motivational speaker in the USA, a New York Times best selling author who has sold over 18 million books worldwide. He told us a story of how he was once flying high at the top of his game and appeared on the front cover of ‘Success’ magazine. However the main theme of his teaching was that ‘Were all just one step away from stupid’ and as such he then showed us a mugshot of him in the county jail just after he had been arrested for trying to take a loaded gun in his briefcase through an international airport. The gun was given to him as a present for his wife and the silly fellow had forgotten it was in there!

‘Well I guess stupid is as stupid does’ said Mr Maxwell and he explained how he used to be judgemental of others and this was God’s way of correcting him. Mr Maxwell truly had a rough time however he also explained that in times of crisis, previous credibility goes a long way and it certainly did in his case. On the positive side, due to all the publicity he received, his book sales hit record highs.

The service ended with the Rock band and everybody got the chance of more singing and dancing after which we were told we could get copies of three of Mr Maxwell’s book which he would be signing in the lobby.

We rushed out excitedly to receive our free copies only to discover that they were $20 a pop and going like hot cakes. Praise the Lord!

The remainding day was spent with Rob Pomder and his family at their beautiful lakeside property. The team would like to thank Rob for allowing us to relax at his home and wish his parents well after their home was flooded during heavy rainfall in Nashville