ON THE ROAD WITH FESTIVAL SINGERS
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Dear families and friends,
It has been a busy few days for our Colorado Festival Singers. It seems like we have been planning and waiting for this tour forever, and we are finally “on the road” with 33 intrepid travelers including recent graduates as well as current Tour Choir and Concert Choir members – a motley crew, to be sure!
Our ultimate destination is the 8th Annual Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in Vienna, Austria. But more about that later, as on the way we have songs to sing, people to see, castles to explore, and challenges to conquer in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. As I write this letter, we are on the bus traveling from Bratislava, Slovakia to Trebic, Czech Republic. The kids are working on their journals and though we are on only day three of the tour, they have so much to write about that they are already feeling behind, as am I!
We left Denver Sunday on a Lufthansa overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany. After the ultra-marathon journey to New Zealand last year, this eight hour and forty minute flight was nothing – hardly enough time to sleep between dinner and breakfast. Our layover in Frankfurt was just a little over an hour, just enough time for a nice walk from Z gates to A gates (the long way around!) and a bathroom stop. We were amazed at the Frankfurt Airport, the biggest and most luxurious shopping mall we’ve ever seen, including many very fancy cars. My travel group of wanna-be drivers (Zack, Harrison, Toby, James, Joey, Brennan) were VERY impressed. The flight from Frankfurt to Vienna was short, and only about half full, so we were able to stretch out a bit and catch a quick morning nap.
As has been the case for our last several years of international touring, we have an entourage of parents and fans following along – the 20 members of our companion tour. Executive Director Diane Newcom is leading this group, joined by Steve Strachan, president of our Board of Trustees and Carol Proffitt, our tour tutor, and her husband. Also along for the ride is Hayden’s mom, Leah’s mom and grandmother, Toby’s grandmother and a friend, Sara’s mom, sister and a friend, Kalleiopye and Promyse’s grandparents, Marinda’s mom and a friend, Lillian’s mom, Brennan’s mom, Charley’s mom and brother, and Xixi’s parents. Our companion tour friends were on both of our flights, as they will be on our return flights. They travel and stay independent of us, but we see them occasionally as we are out and about, and they show up faithfully at all concerts. It’s great to have a built-in audience, small, but mighty, everywhere we go!!
We were met in Vienna by our ACFEA (the tour company) courier, Gita. She is delightful, taking charge of everyone and everything. Remember her name, as you will hear much more about her in future letters. We quickly located all of our luggage, and Gita led us out of the airport to our coach, and driver Mirek. We were through and out of Vienna in less than an hour, ready to celebrate our first border crossing, into Slovakia – no different than crossing from Colorado into Wyoming. Along the way, Gita pointed out the hundreds of wind turbines, sometimes one for every house, covering the Austrian countryside. And, ironically, the huge letters on the side of each turbine read “Vestas,” a company in our own backyard at home in Colorado! Though it seemed to us to be an impressively “green” concept, as with many other progressive ideas, it is not without controversy. The turbines are evidently quite noisy to have in your backyard and they disturb the natural migration patterns of many birds. And perhaps the most difficult, it takes fifteen years to recoup the cost of the turbine, while the typical lifetime of each is eighteen years at best. Yikes.
We performed our usual border crossing ritual (it’s not the same without you, Mr. Branam!!) and started watching the signs for Bratislava, capitol of Slovakia, or the Slovak Republic, a small country beautifully situated in the heart of central Europe. The first sign of the city is the castle, with its distinctive red rooftop, far away on the rolling hills of the Carpathian mountain range. In Bratislava, we crossed the Danube River…which is not blue, by the way… and checked into Hotel Bratislava. The challenge for the remainder of the afternoon/evening was to STAY AWAKE!! Everyone was tired, but we knew if we slept we would not adjust to the 8-hour time difference from Colorado. The staff delivered kids to their rooms with strict instructions to settle in, clean up and DON’T LAY DOWN! And then we endeavored to do the same. It was tough to resist those comfy looking beds with their down comforters.
We re-assembled in the lobby of the hotel and Gita had a game prepared for the kids. As per usual, they jumped in with enthusiasm, finding out all kinds of interesting things about one another. For example, did you know that Hayden, Emily Keely and Leah would like to have both a tattoo and a piercing?! Siena is a circus performer, and Joey a sculptor. Emily R. knows a traditional Czech dance, and Marina showed us a traditional Greek dance. It turns out we all sing in the shower and, much to Gita’s surprise, we have all been to a mountain higher than 6000 feet above sea level. We took this opportunity to educate her about Colorado! After dinner and a quick walk through the neighborhood surrounding our hotel, we were happy to finally drop into our beds, which were every bit as comfortable as they looked.
Tuesday morning we awoke refreshed, ready to go, and in the correct time zone. After filling up on all the fresh bread, delicious cheese, a variety of meats, poached eggs, granola, yogurt and fruit we could eat, we set out on a tour of Bratislava. We started on the bus, with Merik expertly negotiating the windy, cobbled streets, and our guide, Linda, filling our heads with more facts than we could ever possibly remember. For example: over these hundreds of years, Bratislava has had many different names, including, for a period in 1918, Wilsonstadt, in honor of US president Woodrow Wilson and his commitment to small nations’ independence and self-determination. It is a small city, with a population of approximately 450,000, and is called the “city of young people,” with the average age of 37, partially due to seven universities educating 50,000 students. We drove past St. Martin’s Cathedral, the Bratislava Castle, and into the hills of the Small Carpathian Mountains where many wealthy people have homes, including the US ambassador, among others. The locals refer to this area as “Beverly Hills.” Towards the top we reached a stunning war memorial commemorating the end of WWII and the liberation of Slovakia. Some 7,000 soldiers are buried beneath this memorial.
Our next stop was the Primate’s Palace, housing the city hall and a museum. When they renovated the building, they discovered a series of six tapestries, woven in the 1630’s and beautifully preserved, depicting the legend of Hero and Leander and their tragic love story. We presented our first concert of the tour in the famous Hall of Mirrors, site of many historical events since it was built in 1780. I was especially impressed with our nine members brand new to touring – Jack, Melanie, Kalleiopye, Siena, Sarah K., Promyse, Sean, Sara M., and Paige. They have learned so much new music this past spring, and they handled this first performance like pros!
Following the performance, we walked through town, passing by quaint little squares, many vendors, fountains and statues. It is a nice little town, very European-feeling, not too touristy, and small, but large enough. If you know what I mean! It was easy to get oriented, and we were able to walk through town and right up to the castle where we enjoyed our lunch and played on the small playground there. The views from the castle were absolutely stunning. The city rolled out before us, from the old communist block houses on one side to the charming old town and the modern high-rises and expansion bridges in between, all with the river running through the middle. On our way back, we did a bit of shopping, gathering our first tour mementos.
Gita had a game prepared for us – a scavenger hunt that took us all over the old town, gathering photos and information, as well as a chance to interact with people throughout the city – the Bratislava City Challenge. We split into six teams and the competition was fierce. We had to match buildings with architectural details; find out the names and associated legends for several of the statues and memorials; barter or trade a chocolate egg; search out long-forgotten buildings; and either remember or find out many city facts; and each completed task received the appropriate points. It was a challenge, indeed, but we were up to the task. Well…some of us were more up to it than others! I will report the results in a subsequent letter.
We were starving after our city challenge and, after a short walk along the river, relieved to sit down to a very elegant dinner. Merik was right there with the bus, and we headed back to the hotel for another good night’s sleep.
Stay tuned for more adventures from the Czech Republic and this wonderful group of kids!