Some of you have asked me how I won a weeklong free trip to Belgium. Here is the answer...
Enter a contest sponsored by Porterra Travel
The swimming pool at Rodale Aquatic Center was an unlikely setting for two swim friends to talk about travel plans. But my friend Jill and I gabbed happily about her recent trips to Belgium and Prague through Porterra Travel in between swim sets, while watching the time clock for our rest period and gulping down water during our Mid -Morning Masters Swim class. Jill’s experience with her fellow travelers inspired me to look up and subscribe to the Porterra Travel website, Instagram and Facebook. I read through the upcoming trips and noticed to my dismay that the December 2017 trip to Belgium was filled. “If only there was a way for me to go to Belgium”, I thought. The architecture, culture, intimate roads, canals and chocolate were calling me. I wanted to explore the pubs, breweries and cuisine that Jill told me about as we caught our breath in between laps at the pool under our coach’s watchful eye. A few weeks later I answered a post on the Porterra Facebook page calling for contestants to enter their “What’s Your Adventure?” contest. I was interested and hooked.
Take a chance
“Share with us a photo and a story of one of your travel adventures for a chance to win a free trip to Belgium, “the Porterra Travel site said. My prayers had been answered. “What travel adventure could I post about?” I thought. My husband Wayne and I went on a trip to Germany. A favorite picture of mine was one of us standing in front of an ancient castle in Heidelberg, Germany overlooking the Rhine River. I thought this picture would be great since Wayne and I are both of German ancestry AND love beer. Imagine that! The city of Heidelberg is one hour away from a small town called Friedelhausen where my grandmother’s family hails from. The picture of us in Germany held a special place in my heart as I lost my grandmother at a young age.
Every vote counts
I selected my favorite picture and wrote a brief description of my favorite travel adventure to Heidelberg and submitted it to the “What’s Your Adventure?” contest. Now I had to watch and wait. I wasn’t sure if I had written enough of a story to go with my picture. Was my post colorful and exciting? How did I compare with the other contestants’ posts? What would the judges think of me as I seemed older than a lot of the contestants? Days went by and I watched more and more people enter the contest lured in by the prospect of winning a free trip to Belgium. I hoped that the other contestants were beer lovers as well. To win a trip to Belgium and not like beer would be such a shame. Belgium is a beer lover’s paradise. Jill told me that people often brought beer from the U.S. with them as a means of bartering for Belgium beer. That idea sounded interesting to me. Next, I had to get family and friends to vote for my entry via Facebook. The contest allowed me to post my entry on Facebook so that I could tell friends to vote for my entry. I had to make it to be one of the top ten contestants. There were 50 contestants…The contest said that the top ten contestants would have to go through an interview process. I was nervous. What if I made it to the top ten? What would they ask me? To my surprise I was tie for 7th place when the date closed to determine who would be in the final top ten. I was anxious and excited. I told my three daughters that their votes and the votes my friends casted had helped me make it into the top ten entries for the contest. They were excited for me and were like “Way to go Mom!” At the next swim class, I told Jill that I made it in to the top ten as our swim coach Nancy counted down “three, two, one” to signal that we had to start our next swim set. I gave Jill a “thumbs up” under water. Every vote counted towards the final selection. Now it was time for the interview.
The young inquisitors
Anyone who made it in to the top ten finalists had to be available for an interview. The interview date and time was set up via email. We met at the Easton Public Market. I had not been to Easton much in my life. My Mom was from Harmony Township, New Jersey but had moved to Easton in her twenties. She studied Cosmetology at the Easton Beauty Academy and owned a hair salon in the 500 block of Northampton St. in the 1950s. My parents lived on 2nd St. in Easton in an apartment after they were married at St. Michael’s Church in 1954. My Dad had recounted how they had helped people out of boats on the Delaware River when Hurricane Diane had hit Easton in 1955 and water flowed over the free bridge between Easton and Phillipsburg. I was rambling on about all of this when the three young inquisitors asked me how I came to know about the contest and Porterra Travel. I also mentioned the role my friend Jill played in my curiosity about her travel experiences with Porterra Travel. The interview with Larry Porter, Matthew Praetzel (Marketing guru for the contest) and Amend Wun (friend of Larry Porter and owner of Connexions Art Gallery in Easton) was relatively short and uncomplicated. Yet I was nervous. They asked me why I wanted to go to Belgium. I told them about my love for European beers and my longing to go to Belgium as the monks have been brewing beer there for hundreds of years and have it down to a science. I told them that I was surprised that they didn’t ask me what I was going to bring home in my suitcase. When asked, I told them that I was going to bring home beer of course!
Risk taking and the Finale
After participating in the interview, the top ten finalists were required to attend Belgium Night at the Easton Public Market. The event offered complimentary Belgian styled beer, snacks, music and trivia interspersed with final pitches from each candidate as to why he or she should be picked as winner for the trip. I was nervous as I sported a German dirndl. A dirndl is a woman’s dress in the style of an Alpine peasant costume, with a full skirt and close-fitting bodice. It is worn by women in Bavaria. I had picked up pieces of the Dirndl on that trip to Germany – a shirt in a regular clothing store and an apron in a resale shop. To make my outfit complete I found a beer stein made in Heidelberg in an Allentown thrift shop of all places! I left the price tag of $1.97 on the stein and considered it as a good luck find. I had seen the same stein in a shop in Heidelberg last year. I nervously rehearsed my 60 second pitch at home and in the car on our way to the event. I looked up how to sing “Ein Prosit” as part of my spiel. My best friend Karen came to support me along with my husband Wayne. Other contestants brought family and friends to cheer them on. I have fond memories from that night as Karen called for me to spot her on the street as she drove around several times in search of parking for the venue. I literally was running up and down Northampton St. in my dirndl flagging her down amidst traffic. Wayne came out and called me in. He said I was going to be on soon. I ran in breathless like Maria von Trapp from the sound of music as she runs into the Chapel just in time for prayers as a young novitiate in the Sound of Music. I waited anxiously and tried to hear everyone’s testimony. It was all a blur. Next it was my turn. I got up to the front of the venue in my dirndl and said “Where do German girls go to drink beer when Oktoberfest is over?” “They go to Belgium!” Then I began a heart rendering edition of “Ein Prosit” (a German beer drinking song) that only a Mother could love. In my nervousness I mispronounced a few of the words. I guess that we never covered words like “Gemutlichkeit” in Frau Ellis’ German class in college. The song means “a toast to cheer and good times.” Even though it was not written by a German it has been a staple in German beer halls during Oktoberfest since 1912. I anxiously awaited my fate after my 60 seconds of fame and misfortune was over. I was more than surprised when my name was called as the winner. My husband gave me a hug and a kiss as I went up to the front to say a word of thanks and to receive my box of fine Belgian Chocolates made by Chocodiem and gift certificate from Graze in the Easton Public Market. It was truly a wonderful night and I am so thankful for the opportunity to go to Belgium! Now all I have to do is pack my bags! The trip runs from December 13-20th, 2017. It is during the time when all of the Christmas markets are open in Belgium. What a great way to enjoy the holiday season!
Thanks to Roberta and all the contestants for participating. The whole process was loads of fun! I especially enjoyed the interview process and learning what motivates people to travel. For me, it's a passion and almost a compulsion! Hope to see you on a trip. - Larry.
Learn more about how to join our 2018 trip to Belgium!