Fresh from a trip to Romania with students from the International School of London, Surrey, traveller Hilary Lester shares her thoughts on what she experienced.

I was registered blind in 2002 after three major eye operations in six months. Originally, I was able manage with support from my family and use of a symbol cane. After the death of my husband in 2007 I was devastated and found coming to terms with life on my own really hard to cope with.

In 2009, I did my first trip with Traveleyes to Cuba. I heard of Traveleyes through my local blind association, Sight Cymru, formerly Gwent Association for the blind. I mentioned it to a old friend who had also fairly recently lost her husband. She travelled with me and we had an amazing holiday taking in the sights and sounds of Havana and sipping mojitos on sun drenched beaches.

Hilary enjoying a horse drawn carriage ride with her guide, Serena, in a traditional Romanian village!

Hilary enjoying a carriage ride with her guide, Serena, in Romania!

I have done several more holidays with Traveleyes including one to Tuscany with students from a college in Hong Kong. The students were all under 18, and were so full of life and enthusiasm. It was an amazing experience! One student guided me up and down a spiral stone staircase with no problems, giving us a fantastic view of Florence.

Inspired by this experience, I had no hesitation in booking a trip to Romania at the end of March with students from the International School of London, Surrey. The students, led by their tutors Ms Sally and Ms Susan, were there to guide, giving them an insight into the challenges of living with sight loss.

Hilary and her guide dog Yalena walking alongside a canal, being guided by students from the International School of London, Surrey.

Hilary and Yalena walking with students from ISL, Surrey.

I had never been to Romania before and so was really looking forward to the trip. I was not to be disappointed!

Once again, the enthusiasm of the students could not be faulted, and it was refreshing to have a younger outlook on things. The group gelled really quickly and a good spirit developed; not just the schnapps!

The countryside was stunning and reminded me of Wales in many places. We visited citadels, castles, and historic towns, along with living the country life and turning our hands to egg collecting and cow milking.

It was eerily quiet at night, which took a little getting used to for a town-living girl! However, there were fabulously clear night skies and it was fantastic to be able to make out some stars on an after-dinner stroll.

All too soon the week was over and we were back at Heathrow airport. I loved it so much that I had said I would visit the school and was delighted when a date was arranged.

Once I arrived with my guide dog Yalena, we visited four classes were the children stroked Yalena and I talked to them about the work of Guide Dogs Cymru and the sense of independence that having Yalena has given me

We then took a break for lunch where I was reacquainted with Jenny and Steve who had been on the trip with me. I also met Amar’s sister, Sam.

We then were taken by minibus to start a walk by a canal. The students that had been on the trip joined us and it was like we had never been apart! The laughter and camaraderie was still very much there. Yalena was in her element, with water, new smells and several students holding her lead.

Like the Romania trip, the day was over all too soon, leaving the painful act of having to say goodbye.

A group photo of Hilary and Yalena with fellow VI travellers and students from the ISL!

Hilary and Yalena with fellow VI travellers and students from the ISL!

I had e-mails the following day from Ms Susan and Ms Sally saying that the school was still buzzing from our visit and that Yalena and I would be invited back in the next academic year.

We can’t wait!

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