ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR #1
April 22, 2015
Dear families and friends,
We’re cruising! No, really…we’re cruising!!! On a cruise ship; crossing the Baltic Sea from Stockholm to Tallinn, Estonia. It’s very exciting!! This is day three or perhaps four, depending on how you look at it, of our Baltic adventure.
We left DIA Sunday afternoon at 5:30pm, ate dinner, slept, ate breakfast, and before we knew it we were in Frankfurt, Germany just in time for lunch on Monday. We had quite a long, leisurely layover. As per usual, we made our way to our departing gate – from Concourse Z, through passport control and into Concourse A – and then found a quiet corner where we could spread out. There were a couple of other passengers sitting in the perfect spot, but we know how to clear a room!
We settled the kids in, playing card games, braiding hair, inspecting cameras, and eventually got our journals in order. Then it was out to seek and gather lunch, with sandwiches, pizza, and even a soft drink. Pretty exciting! A little caffeine was in order for this loooooong day.
Another uneventful flight from Frankfurt to Stockholm, a short drive from the airport to our hotel, then a walk across the street to dinner, and finally to bed, tired but almost too excited to sleep. But sleep we did, and quite soundly. Breakfast was the usual European array of cold meat, cheese, rolls, bread, hard-boiled eggs, and several varieties of cereal and fruit.
April 24, 2015
Obviously, I am already woefully behind in my letter writing. It has been a jam-packed few days, and I’m not just talking about the amount of jam we consume every morning at breakfast! Our Baltic Sea crossing was highly successful. There was a bit of a kerfluffle getting to our rooms, as we didn’t get our usual rooming list. Everyone received a boarding pass, which included the cabin number, as we checked in and immediately boarded. They knew their roommates – 3 or 4 to a cabin – but we didn’t know where the cabins were and had no time to figure it out. I am having an anxiety attack just thinking about it! Our normal routine when checking in to a hotel is to get the rooming list in order, noting each room number, who is in each room, and which staff member is assigned to each room. Staff then takes all of their assigned kids to their rooms and gets them settled in. We know where everyone is and they know how to reach us. Clearly we could not do this, but just had to send the kids to their rooms. We were able to determine that we were all located on the same deck and adjoining hallways, reducing my anxiety level just a smidge. We told them to go to their rooms and stand outside the door so we knew where they were. Fortunately, these are the most amazing young ladies and gentlemen you will ever meet. They quietly headed down the hall, amidst the chaos of the other passengers attempting to locate their rooms. Super-Grad Ky ran like the wind, filling out our room list with the appropriate cabin numbers, and before we knew it we had everything in order and the kids were in their rooms.
“Rooms” is perhaps not an appropriate term here. The cabin are appropriately tiny for a quick overnight, with two bunks on either side and just enough room to walk between them. And no room for a suitcase or four. We decided to worry about that later, as we had the 5:00 seating for dinner and it was 5:00. Two decks up from ours we found the Romantika Buffet, a gigantic assortment of every food offering you can imagine. Seafood, including salmon, shrimp and oysters; Street Food (taco bar!), warm dishes including chicken, roast beef, potatoes, root vegetables, and stir-fry; salad, fruit, bread, a variety of sweets and an ice cream bar. Plenty to keep us busy for several hours! Abbie started a “liver revolution,” successfully convincing Livi, Miranda, Paige, Marina, Lillian and Grace to enjoy what she described as a “meat cake.” Grace said, “It looks like mousse and tastes like steak and it’s gross and I can’t believe it’s in my body.” Martin and Jackson slurped down oysters on the half-shell and Josh tried the sushi. Our reserved tables were next to huge windows, so we were able to monitor our progress as we left Stockholm and wound our way through the archipelago, with its 30,000 islands appearing in every shape and size.
After dinner we headed to the Sun Deck on the top level and enjoyed the sea breeze and beautiful views. At bedtime we determined the best plan was to get totally ready for bed, close and stow the suitcases wherever we could, then pull down the bunks and climb in…literally. Not an easy task for those of us of an age! We were sharing the hallway with an excellent Swedish high school choir on its way to Estonia for a choir competition, so we went to bed to the sound of beautiful choral music.
Showering in a ship’s cabin is an adventure. The entire bathroom is the shower, so where the hand-held shower head is pointing is a critical issue. We warned the kids about this and didn’t look back, so I can only imagine how that went. They can soak an entire hotel bathroom when they shower is in a bathtub. Abigail and Emma devised a method whereby you hold the showerhead in your teeth as you apply shampoo and bath gel, then transfer it to your hands for rinsing. The breakfast buffet was every bit as delicious as the dinner, and we attacked it with our usual gusto. And with that, we were in Estonia!
But before I take you to our Estonian adventures (and before I forget!) I must return to Stockholm! Tuesday morning we did a short sightseeing tour around Stockholm, ending at the Kungsholms Gymnasium. This is a public high school, similarly structured to our charter schools. The students apply and/or audition, and are then accepted based on their abilities. There are 800 students, ages 16-19, with 250 in the choral department. As always, our young troupe is absolutely terrified to perform in front of high school students. The only thing worse is a school full of middle-schoolers! We talked through all of their feelings and fears and agreed that we could do this. The auditorium was beautiful, both visually and acoustically, with a perfect-sized stage for us. And they took that stage and conquered. They won over those scary high-schoolers with “Colorado Song,” and never looked back.
As it turned out, they had nothing to worry about. It was a perfectly delightful audience, alternately listening attentively and clapping and singing along. Just before we started, I asked their director if they would know Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” He shook his head, “definitely not.” And then he shook his head again when they all gasped with pleasure at the first notes and excitedly clapped and sang along. One of my favorite moments was when the entire auditorium stood to join us in the Swedish national anthem. We had lunch at the Gymnasium, again finding some new favorite foods – white fish in a delicious cream sauce for Rhys; olives and capers for William.
With our first performance out of the way, we very much enjoyed our afternoon visit to the Vasa Ship Museum. Vasa, built in 1626-28 to the specifications of the King, set sail on her maiden voyage on August 10, 1628. And sank in Stockholm harbor that very same day! It seems the King may have put more priority into what the ship looked like than its sailing capabilities. That, combined with an unusually windy day, spelled doom for Vasa. The museum is beautiful, with the beautifully restored Vasa reaching up six floors at the centerpiece. It took them until the 1950’s to recover the ship and many years after that to bring it to its present condition. The museum includes exhibits about how to sail a ship of that size; what life was (or would have been!) on board; how they salvaged it; and stories of the people on board, based on their skeletons and where they were found. Several of us tried our hand at designing a ship that would both please the King and be sea and battle worthy. Ms. Burke’s boat could only sail at very slow speeds, and the King would be displeased. Clara and Audrey’s boat was 0% viable, and the King was furious and it was recommended that they flee the country immediately!
And with that devastating news, I will sign off and send this letter on its way. We are off to Turku tomorrow with a long travel day, first by ferry to Helsinki, then by bus to Turku.
These children are amazing!