Monday, July 7, 2014
Dear families and friends,
Moving on…Czech Republic! Fortunately for us, Czech and Slovak are both Slavic languages and very similar, so our well-practiced “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” are working for both countries! Gita and Mirek are both very patient with us and eager to help along the way. Our first adventure in the Czech Republic is in the Moravian Karst (forest) just to the north of Brno. Here we explore the Macocha Abyss and the Punkva Caves. The abyss is the biggest gorge of its kind in the Czech Republic. Unlike our Royal Gorge, it is very narrow and beautifully forested and green all the way to the bottom. “Macocha” is the wicked stepmother, and legend has it that she threw her stepson into the abyss. He was rescued by lumberjacks, and angry villagers then threw the stepmother into the abyss… and no one rescued her!
We took a very short, but steep cable car ride to the bottom of the abyss, and then entered the Punkva Caves. The entrance is guarded by the largest stalactite column in the more than 30 km of underground passages. After a 30 minute trek through clay domes, the central dome, the crystal corridor, the stalagmite corridor and the rear dome, we reached the end of our journey at the dry walk and the bottom-most point of the gorge. From here, we looked down to the small lakes fed by the River Punkva, and up and out to the beautiful sky and the tiny specks of other tourists on the upper viewing platform. Of course, it was the perfect spot for a song, and what better place to sing “On TOP of the World!” Our voices floated beautifully out of the gorge and I was wishing I was at the top to hear it. We then charmed all of our guides with “Jede, Jede,” our Czech folksong. They giggled and clapped, and we had a moment of thinking it was because our Czech was not quite correct. But Gita assured us it was because they delighted at how perfect it was. Thank you to Emily R.’s Czech grandmother for your help!
For the next stage of our underground adventure we boarded pontoon-like boats for a 30-minute cruise on the River Punkva. Here we saw water domes created by thousands of years of flowing water, under pressure, looking for a way out. The walls are full of gutters and holes made by the vortex current. We had to pay close attention as the boat came close to the rock walls, often forcing us to hit the deck…or our buddy’s lap…so as not to lose our head! It was so quiet and breathtakingly beautiful. And we had no problem staying quiet, as it seemed the only appropriate way to enjoy our surroundings. You could literally hear a drip drop. And we heard, and felt, many. Mrs. Stylianou shared a legend that says if you get are dripped on by a drop in a cave, a “cave kiss,” you will have much good luck. Harrison received the biggest juiciest cave kiss, with multiple drops dripping down his back, so we are anxious to see what luck comes his way! In remembering this unique cave experience, we asked some of the kids for a one-word description and heard the following:
Xixi-lush; Sean -mysterious; Promyse-mystical; Austin-eerie; Marinda-breathtaking; Siena-pristine; James-tranquil; Joey—cool; Leah-ominous; Emily Kempsell-extraordinary; Brennan-breathtaking; Sara M.-stunning; Emily Keely-marvelous; Martin-supercalifragilisticexpialidocious; and Rhys-aaahh!
At the end of our cave journey, we took a short train ride back up to the top of the abyss, where the bus was waiting, and we continued on to Trebic and the Grand Hotel…or not-so-grand hotel… Just kidding! We were spoiled in Bratislava with the most comfortable beds ever, and while the Grand Hotel is more than adequate, it simply can’t compare to Hotel Bratislava.
We left Trebic first thing Thursday morning, after a quick rehearsal in the conference room of the hotel. We had two performances, both in the neighboring village of Jaromerice. The Jaromerice Chateau, considered by some to be one of the most significant pieces of baroque architecture in Europe, was home to a nobleman who lived there with two different wives and his twelve children. It is a beautifully ornate castle, with gardens modeled after the French Palace of Versailles. The families clearly loved music, with a music salon filled with the original instruments – a table piano, violin, bag pipes, bass trumpet, various woodwind instruments, and a travel harmonium to take with them on trips. There was coincidentally a flower exhibit going on this week, and each room was filled with the most beautiful fresh flower arrangements. It was amazing how this touch brought the rooms to life.
One of the many rooms in the Chateau, the Hall of Ancestors, is now used as an informal concert hall and this is where we performed. We had another small, but appreciative audience, including quite a few very surprised and delighted tourists. Following the performance, we continued our tour, moving to the other side of the Chateau and the dining rooms and kitchen. Again, the presentation was amazing, with each room set with the appropriate china, flatware, napkins and FOOD! Okay, it was fake food, but it was beautifully presented and looked delicious. The napkin-folding skills alone made it worth the visit. The kitchen, built in the 1700’s was still in use as late as 1997 when it was used to prepare food for the local primary school.
Next door to the Chateau is the Basilica of St. Margaret, the site of our second performance of the day. This was our first opportunity to experience the acoustics in one of these European churches. We enjoyed every note we sang…for a looooooong time! What a treat. I always love watching the kids’ faces when they sing, but this performance was especially moving. Emily H. is always a smiling anchor in the A’s, but she seemed especially enthralled in this space. Bridget is delightful to watch. Lillian’s sweet smile never fails to charm me – I have to smile right back.
We ate lunch and played in the gardens behind the chateau. Gita led the kids in some games – Knots, Bombs and Shields (which can probably be played, with this name, only in Europe!), Triangles, and finally a giant circle sit. We are quite loving Gita. She just takes over with the kids and we sit back and watch the fun.
Back in Trebic, we took a quiet walk through the Jewish Quarter which, together with the Jewish Cemetery, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. It is a tangled web of 123 historical buildings including two synagogues, the Jewish town hall, a Rabbi’s house, almshouse, hospital and two schools. The cemetery has over 11,000 grave and almost 3,000 tombstones dating back to the 1630’s. There are tombs of some of the most famous Jewish families, as well as memorials to WWI victims and the victims of Nazi genocide. It sits on a hill, is lushly forested and crawling with ivy and undergrowth.
All of our young explorers were appropriately respectful and thoughtful as we wandered and pondered what life may have been like in this corner of the world.
We attempted some shopping back in the main square of Trebic, but were sorely disappointed in their touristy gee-gaws. They have none. Literally. Mrs. Stylianou finally went into the information office to see where we might find some, and found out…there are no tourist shops. Too bad for them, ‘cuz we were ready to spend! Fortunately, for us and the very nice lady at the information office, she had some key chains, post cards, magnets, and bells. We completely cleaned her out in less than 30 minutes. She probably made her budget goal for the month and will now have to close so she can get in some new stock.
We enjoyed dinner at the Coq Pit, just on the edge of the Jewish Quarter. It was delicious. We are quite enjoying the three courses – an appetizer, usually soup, the main course, and finally dessert. The appetizer at the Coq Pit was a beautiful and delicious serving of three very thin beet raviolis, filled with goat cheese, accompanied by some sort of nut, and all drizzled with honey. Yum! That was followed by chicken stuffed with prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes, then cheesecake. More yum!
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!!!
We seem to be the only ones celebrating! Friday took us back to Vienna, with ample opportunity for me to annoy everyone on the bus with “Name That Tune, the Patriotic Edition.” Not one child on the bus knew “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” They do now! Mrs. Wright thrilled us with her piccolo interludes on “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and we sang a rousing version of “Of Thee I Sing America,” to name a few.
Mirek, our bus driver extraordinaire, knew of a rest stop on the border of Czech Republic and Austria. Excalibur!! Quite the amazing place. A dragon/King Arthur-themed amusement park/mall/duty free shop/restaurant/restroom kind of place. And shopping heaven for our money-burning-a-hole-in-our-pocket little crew. We attacked with gusto and finally did our duty contributing to the Czech economy.
Our new home-away-from-home in Vienna is the Jufa Wien City. The entire hotel is filled with participants in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival – which is why we are here. The hotel reminds us of a youth hostel…or an IKEA store…except that each room has its own bathroom. Yaaaaay!! We are among the youngest “youth” here, as throughout the choral community, children’s and youth choirs can encompass ages 5-22. As we checked into the hotel, there were many groups not quite as disciplined as our young ladies and gentlemen. Okay, “not quite as disciplined” is an understatement. They were literally running through the hallways, pounding on doors and screaming back and forth to one another. You need your key to get on to your floor, and they issued only one key per room. Most of the rooms have 3-4 people, which meant that, at any given time, someone was trying to get onto a floor, either to their room or to visit a friend, without a key. And pounding on the hall doors. It was not pleasant, and was putting our kids right over the edge. And our 9:00 bedtime was not quite jiving with anyone else’s bedtime. Once we got through that initial excitement, however, everything settled down and it has actually been quite quiet every night. And the beds are almost as comfortable as Hotel Bratislava’s.
Speaking of beds, we have been a bit challenged by the comforters. They are always folded nicely on our beds, laying cross-ways and folded under on both sides. The first night, after explaining that no, there is not supposed to be a top sheet, you just cover up with the comforter, everyone…including Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Crile…climbed into their comforter bed roll…and couldn’t figure out why their feet were sticking out. We then explained to everyone…including Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Crile…that you needed to turn the comforter around so it fits on your bed. And your body. Some do continue to climb in sideways. Martin and Cameron refer to themselves as a “pig in a blanket.” Others become burritos for the night.
In other news from the hotel rooms:
Kira and Xixi can’t not laugh for more than two minutes. Mrs. Stylianou pulled the key out of the light-switch-key-holder-thingy…the way the power goes on in your room…while Emily R. was in the shower. In the bathroom with no window. Oops. In the same room, Mrs. Crile pulled the door knob right out of the door. Fortunately, in IKEA world, the doorknob snaps right back in the door. James, talking in his sleep, told Zack he was going to wrap up Ms. Smith in a TV. Paige and Hannah are sleeping in the bunks in their room, with Paige on the top. Paige seems to regularly lose things over the side – her arm, her teddy bear, her blanket – and Hannah faithfully returns it. Or pokes her until she wakes up!
The opening ceremony of the festival was very special. It was held in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the city center of Vienna. The Chairman and the Artistic Director of the festival both greeted us with a short welcome. We heard the Vienna Youth Choir sing, in the amazing acoustic of the cathedral, and we all joined together to sing the SCL Anthem. With over 1300 participants from 16 nations, it was quite moving. Each choir was introduced by one of their own members, and Kira made us all proud as she took the microphone and introduced the Colorado Children’s Chorale Festival Singers! Following the opening ceremony, Mrs. Crile and I went to a conductor’s dinner at Restaurant Schubert, and the rest of the staff took the kids back to dinner at the hotel.
And with another day behind us, we settled in for the night. Stay tuned for more adventures to come!
Wish you were here,