Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dear families and friends,

We are, indeed, on the road again.  We left Colmar this morning bright and early, after a very late night.  More about that later.  We had a four hour drive to Ehingen, which is east of Colmar, in Germany.  We did a joyous border crossing, over the Rhine River, as Johan described the European Union and what it means to the European people, most importantly the ability to move from country to country with ease.  It has been interesting to hear what people have to say about Brexit.  Most just shake their heads, and any Brits we encounter are fervently hoping a second referendum will be presented, and pass, reversing the decision. Anyway, politics aside, bus-driver-extraodinaire Stefan decided to take us on the scenic route through the Black Forest.  It was a lovely, peaceful drive through rolling hills dotted with colorful fields and pastures, as a picturesque little villages popped up around every curve, each with its patchwork of houses, gardens, and always a charming little church on the hill.  We attempted some journal writing until motion sickness set in, then just sat back and enjoyed the view.  The kids always manage to occupy themselves on long bus rides.  Some sing…the same song over and over…and over and over again.  Many notes get passed up and down the rows.  Games are invented, stories told.  The many little trinkets purchased over the past few days get inspected and re-inspected.  Hair gets braided.  Books are read.  And the occasional nap inadvertently happens.  Through all of this, we attempt to direct attention out the window.  WE’RE IN GERMANY!!

This morning’s technical stop was not as successful as Tuesday’s, with only three available bathrooms.  Ugh.  53 bodies divided by 3 bathrooms times ?? minutes each equals…well, you do the math.  We did take the opportunity to buy snacks.  Biscuits and chocolate all ‘round.  We arrived in Ehingen at the Johann-Vanotti-Gymnasium just in time for lunch, and it was a welcome sight.  A fully stocked salad bar followed by pasta and sausages, then yogurt for dessert.  Johann-Vanotti-Gymnasium is an arts school, and we met their 40-voice choir, exactly the same age as our Festival Singers.  We had sent them one of our songs, “Stand Upon the Rock,” and they shared a German folksong, “Wahre Freundschaft soll nicht wanken,” with us.  We were all a little embarrassed by our lack of proficiency in the German language, while they have all been studying English since they were young.  It is always quite humbling, and that fact was not lost on our young charges.  We rehearsed the two songs quickly, working hard to match their German.  They had done a wonderful job of learning “Stand Upon the Rock.”  We then taught them “Do Re Mi,” and had lots of fun teaching the choreography and the jumps.  They were eager participants.  Their director told us a story about Elvis Presley visiting back in the day, and they were thrilled when we could jump up and perform “C’mon Everybody,” one of Elvis’ signature songs.  The audience was composed of their parents and our companion tour participants, perfectly filling the little performance hall.  They started with a set of songs, including “Downtown” in German.  They were wonderful, singing with courage and spirit.  We did our set, and then the three we had rehearsed together.  The best part came at the end, when the kids had time to visit with one another.  It’s always fun to watch them go from 0 to 100 within a matter of seconds, easily making new friends and bridging the communication gap.  Our time ended all too quickly, and we were back on the road, now headed to Erding, outside of Munich, and our final destination of the tour.

Back to yesterday, which was Wednesday, if I am tracking correctly!  We drove from Colmar to Strasbourg, where we climbed off the bus with everything for the day, including our performance clothes.  As we wandered through the narrow cobbled streets, enjoying the bustle of the markets and looking forward to our afternoon shopping, we were completely unprepared for the Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg.  We rounded a corner and literally gasped, every single one of us.  The gothic cathedral rises dramatically out of the square, sharply piercing the sky, with no surface unadorned.  We quickly put backpacks into our assigned room, and met our guide for a city tour, which started right at the cathedral. We were just in time to see and hear the giant astronomical clock chime the hour.  The skeleton and angels hit their bells right on schedule!  We then wandered into the heart of the city, learning about the half-timbre Alsatian-style houses, and the scenic canals.  After our tour, then lunch, we were eager to return to the many little shops along the winding streets of Strasbourg.  We can hunt and gather like nobody’s business!  Jaxon, Iain, Mary, Mellany, and Emma have new key chains to hang on their backpacks; Bridget and Livi bought matching t-shirts, as did Audrey and Alyson, while Marina, Marinda, Genevieve, Margot Schmitz and Isabella bought sweatshirts, and Karina and Ava matching sweatshirts; Madeline has figurines from each of our stops; Beckett and Greta have new jewelry; Devin, a stein and Zoe, a porcelain doll; Kalleiopye and Morgan chose music boxes; Caleb bought a model of Strasbourg, Brennan a clay model of a half-timbre house, and Katy a tiny blue Strasbourg house; Natalie, Regan, Linna, and Adrian have mini Eiffel towers; Cooper, a turtle; purses for Hannah and Rachel, and a t-shirt for Margot Swetich; Noah and Zack have new caps, and Ava bought a cap for her brother; Blake bought a painting, Tallulah a mini soccer ball with all of the Paris monuments, and Conrad a flag; and Andrew has a new stuffed bunny buddy, Annisa a stuffed animal blanket, and Kieran opted for a penguin.  Whew!

We got back to the cathedral early so that we could change into our performance clothes and get some photos before dinner.  This was also our chance to walk through the interior without the earlier crowds.  The rose window looks like intricate lace and carvings are magnificent.  We took our photo, then made our way across the square to dinner.  Have a mentioned the food?  Last night’s dinner followed the formula:  salad, then a plate of meat and potatoes bigger than our heads.  This time it was ham.  Wrapped in bread, of course, because we haven’t had enough bread!  It was delicious.  And we were full to capacity.  Again.

Back at the cathedral, we quickly walked through our placement for the concert, then raced to the two toilets before the adult chorus and the orchestra left the stage.  Yes, two toilets.  For over 150 people.  The toilet situation is probably our biggest tour challenge.  So many little bodies, so few toilets.  But, I digress.  The concert started at 8:30, and was every bit as wonderful as the Paris version.  A full house.  Soaring acoustics.  Beautiful music.  Perfect children, again.  I think I’ll keep them.

As I said earlier, our hotel in Colmar was about an hour outside of Strasbourg.  The concert ended at 9:40, and by the time we went to the bathroom…did I mention how long that can take??…it was 10:00 before we got back to the bus, and 11:00 before we returned to Colmar.

Okay…stay with me here… I am going back to the end of paragraph two, and jumping  ahead to our first night in Germany.  We checked in and found our rooms.  This is always a bit of a task in foreign hotels, which are often in two or more buildings, connected by odd hallways and stairs, and always uniquely numbered.  Rm. 452 is on the 3rd floor, in a totally different wing than Rm. 453.  Rm. 335 is on the 2nd floor, and NOT located above Rm. 235, which is on the first floor and down a different staircase.  Dropping bread crumbs is highly advised for all of the staff as we try to retrace our steps to the kids’ rooms.  Fortunately, by the 2nd time we take the kids, they have it figured out and they help us out.  We had dinner in the hotel, which was very nice.  The word of the day was “sausages,” of every variety, at every meal.  Sometimes with potatoes, sometimes with noodles, sometimes with sauerkraut, and always very tasty.  The German people clearly do not worry about their sodium intake!

As we left dinner, we noticed quite the party going on in the hotel bar, with lots screaming and cheering.  Germany was playing France in the soccer championships, and the game was everywhere.  As we were headed for lights out, the rest of the town was settling in for the game.  And by settling in, I mean drinking more beer and cheering ever louder.  There was also much excitement when we realized that many of our rooms faced an inside courtyard, and we could all hang out our windows and wave and chat back and forth.  And if lucky enough to be on the top floor – that’s Rm. 452, on the 3rd floor – you could actually stand up straight out of your window, sort of like riding in a parade standing up through the sun roof of the car.  Not quite as exciting, however, when Mrs. DeSantis can also stand in a window and look into said courtyard.  Drat.  Foiled again!!  We feared it was going to be a long, loud night with all of the partying.  Ms. Landauer and I had quite the belching party happening on the lawn below our window.

Sadly, Germany lost to France, and the night became suddenly quiet.


Friday, July 8, 2016

It is now Friday evening and today may have been everyone’s favorite so far.  We had another school exchange with a middle/high school.  They greeted us with a performance by their choir and band.  We had asked to learn some German folksongs, but it seems they are currently working on American pop music.  So the choir sang Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and “Barbara Ann,” and the band played Adele’s “Skyfall” from the James Bond movie.  And, again, they were talking about Elvis!  So, of course, we had to do “C’mon Everybody” and “Wings”!  We had a lot of time to visit today.  We all toured their brand new school.  It is very beautiful and they are extremely proud of it.  Our kids visited some of their classrooms.  There were many hand clapping games shared.  Language was no obstacle.  We then did a performance for the entire school, and we had the place rocking.  They gamely chimed in on “I Bought Me a Cat,” and threw out that batter in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with a lusty “eins, zwei, drei, aus!!”  We finished.  They asked for more.  And we gave it to them.  As we were getting ready to leave, a class came to tell us good-bye with “The Cup Song” from Pitch Perfect.  Our kids joined in with their “I’ll Think of You” for the perfect mash-up.  And with some tearful good-byes and many emails exchanged we climbed back on the bus.  I’m not sure who’s smiles were bigger – the kids, or all of the adults who witnessed this magic.

With an early dinner, and some journal writing time – which is hard to come by because we are always busy doing things that we want to write about in our journals – we dropped into bed tired but happy.

Debbie DeSantis

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