The words ‘mystery tour’ tend to have mixed connotations. On the one hand, they inspire excitement – where will it go? How long will it take? But on the other, it could be somewhere cheap, somewhere no one knows of, or else doesn’t bother going to. Generally, a mystery tour is code for a random bus to some quiet Irish club.
But what about when it goes European? It’s a whole different ball game.
How do you prepare for a holiday when you don’t know where you’re going? It’s not just the obvious things like what on earth do you pack, but also the subtler complexities.
I was lucky enough to get chosen to go on a European Mystery Tour with NUIG’s Engineering Society this January. Forty of us were granted a mystery ticket to a city in mainland Europe. I particularly appreciated my spot, because I was one of the few people who ended up going on the trip that didn’t actually study Engineering.
My initial reaction was bubbled excitement, but then the practicalities hit home. How many days did I need off work? I had no idea what time we would be flying out or flying in, only a general date. It’s an essential part of the mystery, so that people can’t narrow down the flights and guess where they’re taking us. But it made organising everything pretty difficult. More so than packing, which, thankfully, was automatically the warmest clothes possible, due to the cold snap that took over the whole of Europe.
I expected forty students to be a huge undertaking for a couple of guys to keep track of, but everything went smoothly. We all left together on a bus from campus, and went straight to the airport. Midway, our destination was announced as Hamburg. While the city sounded great, it was one most of us hadn’t heard a lot about. But the guys in charge had literally thought of it all, and mid-flight handed out itineraries. They explained our plan for each night out, so that we’d stay together, as well as listing all the different sights of interest – and their costs. They even added a list of budget restaurants, as well as slightly fancier but still affordable ones if you wanted to splash out for one special meal.
We turned out to be better prepared than I think any of us would have been if we’d known the location beforehand, and been left to our own devices to plan it out. The most memorable places that we visited were the Miniatur Wonderland, a Soviet submarine and an ice-skating rink that had a bar where you tossed a dice, and whatever number it landed on was the number of euros you paid for a cocktail (Mine landed on five and the next person got a one – absolutely sickened). All three were picked from the itinerary and were really affordable.
But it was more than just having someone else worry about planning your holiday – shout-out to not having to print boarding passes! – it was the overall atmosphere. Forty excited toddlers were let loose in unfamiliar, unchartered territory. Not knowing the location amped up everything that usually comes with a college trip, the partying and the craic. The phrase “Ich leben und party” definitely would not have had the same effect if we had been google-translating it beforehand.
Basically, this trip was the holiday of a lifetime. It was the best experience I’ve had all year (academic year, I realise it was two weeks into 2017) and I would go on another one in a heartbeat. Any drawbacks vanished as soon as we left on that plane, forgotten back in a locker in Ireland. If I can recommend anything, it’s a mystery tour with forty Engineering students.