Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 10 - Salt Mines, Krakow

Today was another travel day.  We left Levoca at 9 a.m. and drove off on a side trip to see Spiš Castle (Spišský hrad).  We didn't get to drive up to it but we drove around it and took pictures; we also stopped at Spišská Kapitula and looked around a bit.  Then we came back then way we'd come, and after a "Bio-Technical break" as Juraj calls them we were on the road to Krakow.

The road was a fairly narrow one through the Tatra mountains.  The mountains are just gorgeous -- really, really beautiful.  It wasn't long before crossed the border into Poland and after a bit more traveling (about 3 hours total) we arrived in the outskirts of Krakow at the Wielizcka Salt Mine.  We had 90 minutes for lunch, then we had our tour of the salt mine.

It's amazing.  A lot of walking ( we eventually walked down a total of 135m).  The carvings and large rooms and art that the miners created is just astonishingly beautiful.  Eventually we made it to the largest of the 3 chapels, where we sang:
  • Adoramus Te
  • Beati Quorum Via
  • Parce Domine
  • Cornerstone
  • Ain-a That Good News
The acoustics were pretty good, and those present seemed pleased.  Later on we came on a big open room (not a chapel) where we were permitted to sing one of our secular pieces, Yo m'Enamori d'un Aire.  The tour was about 3 hours total.  Pretty cool.

After the tour we loaded up the bus and drove about 25 minutes to our hotel and checked in. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 9 - Levoca

Today was a travel day.  We left the hotel at 8:30(ish) and made our way in the direction of Levoca. 

One of the appeals of this part of the journey for me was to come close to the village of Vráble in the Nitra district, where my grandmother was born in 1901.  Although we did not pass through it we did pass within a few kilometers of it so I got to see the area and landscape my grandmother knew as a little girl.  Neat!

Along the way we stopped first at the wooden church in Hronsek.  It's about 300 years old.  As it happens the caretaker was there so we got to go inside and look around and hear about the church; then we sang Non Nobis.

After that it was back on the bus with a stop at Banská Bystrica. We walked up to the Church of St. Mary which has an altar done by the famous sculptor Master Jan Pavol from Levoca.  We sang The Glory of the Father and Non Nobis there.  Afterward we had lunch ( a very nice central square, and it was a nice day) then we walked back to the bus with a stop to look at the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising.  Alas there was not time to go IN the museum but the grounds were pretty neat.

From there we drove straight to Levoca.  We checked into the Hotel Stela and had about 25 minutes to change into our formal gear and get over to St. James Church (right across the street, fortunately).  We got a quick tour of the church and then had about 35 minutes of warmup.  The priest had told us he would hold Mass until 7:15 p.m. (!) from 7 p.m. so we would have a better audience.  We sang our concert at 6:45:
  • Glory of the Father (split)
  • Verbum Caro Factum Est (split)
  • Aka Si Mi Krasna
  • Vita de la Mia Vita
  • Abendlied
  • Du Ser Meg i Auga
  • There Will Be Rest
  • Let Me Fly
  • I've Been In the Storm So Long (Sheryl solo)
  • Battle of Jericho
  • Praise to the Lord
The audience really, really loved "Krasna".. and you could have heard a pin drop during "There Will Be Rest.".  In general they were really appreciative.  After we were done we trooped up to the choir loft as the Mass started, and sang our Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei at the appropriate times.

I was really struck by how enthusiastically the congregation sang!  They sang the Creed!  It was pretty cool.  I had planned on going to communion and had extricated myself from the last row of the choir (we were jammed in pretty tight) -- but when I saw there were a lot of other folks up in the loft area I assumed they would send a minister of communion up there so I just stayed there and waited... and nope, they did not, so I missed my chance.  I was disappointed, but oh well.

During the last part of Mass it started to rain quite hard  so we all got fairly wet just in the block or so between the church and the hotel.  We all went upstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner... which was really really slow.  Like really slow.  We were there for about 2 hours and it took forever to get served.  The food was okay but not exciting.

The hotel was quite old and not very modern; they had an elevator but it was not much help since the hotel is on multiple levels.  I wound up lugging all my stuff up two flights of stairs.   There was no wifi in our room but apparently there was some access elsewhere.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 8 - Vienna

Today we had a day trip to Vienna.  We left at 9 and arrived in the city a bit after 10.  We walked up to the StephenPlatz and checked out St.Stephen's Cathedral -- amazing.  Then we had some free time for lunch, and then (most of us) went to the Schonbrunn Palace tour.  It was truly stunning.  Unfortunately we only had time to tour the palace, but we didn't get to really look at the gardens and grounds which are ridiculously extensive.  The glimpses that I saw were just amazing.

After that we went back to the city center and walked around the Hofburg palace and stopped in several churches -- the Augustinian Church, St. Peter's (we sang Non Nobis there) and then St. Michael's.  After that we were back on the bus and headed out toward Bratislava again.  We took the back roads and stopped in Hainburg for a leisurely and yummy dinner followed by a quick look around the town (it has some pretty awesome medieval fortifications).  Eventually we were all herded back on the bus (really, it's like herding cats!) and headed back to the hotel in Bratislava.  We arrived back about 9.

I have to say a quick word about our guide, Juraj.  He is amazing.  He is from Bratislava.  We met him in Budapest and he will be with us until we leave from Prague.  He speaks 5 languages (English, German, Slovak, Czech, and Russian) and has a Ph.D in architecture.  He's incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the region, and of course he gives us a lot of information about the architecture of the various things we see.  In addition he has a wonderful sense of humor, he's very very patient (important with this group) and he's VERY TALL (which makes him easy to spot in a crowd :-) ).  We are very lucky to have such an excellent guide!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 7 - Bratislava; St. Martin Cathedral Concert

Today started off (after a hearty and rather impressive breakfast) with a tour of some of the high points (literally) of Bratislava.  We visited the War Memorial (commemorates the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Bratislava from the Nazis), then the Castle (now seat of the Slovak Parliament) and then walked around the old city center looking at buildings, followed by lunch.  Bratislava's original castle and fortifications were quite impressive (somewhat reminiscent of Budapest though not as large).  The War Memorial gave me mixed feelings -- I wouldn't want to slight the bravery of the Russians soldiers who fought the Nazis, but at the same time 20 years later Russian soldiers rolled into Prague to liberate it from... the Czechoslovakian people.   So.. a little mixed there.

After lunch most of us went off to a pottery demonstration/cultural thing and wine tasting.  I did not attend so I can't comment on that.

At 5 p.m. we were back on the bus to go to St. Martin's Cathedral for our 6:30 p.m. concert.  This church is... amazing.  I'm kicking myself because when I was changing into my formal gear I left my camera behind so I didn't get any pictures.  It's a beautiful, beautiful church -- the coronation church for Hungarian kings and queens for many many years.  We had about 35 minutes to warmup and get used to the space.

Tonight's concert:
  • Verbum  Caro Factum Est (split)
  • Kyrie (from Mass in G Minor) (split) (Shawn, Sheryl, Josh, Terry for quartet)
  • Pater Noster
  • Beati Quorum Via
  • Wasn't That a Wonder
  • Aka Si Mi Krasna
  • You Are the New Day
  • Hombe
  • Abide With Me
  • I've Been In the Storm So Long
  • Cornerstone
  • Were You There?
  • Battle of Jericho
  • Praise to The Lord (split)
  • Ain'a That Good News (encore)
We had a small audience, maybe 30 or 40 including our "groupies".  Cindy Uecker's family that lives in Bratislava were there and were very enthusiastic.  Afterward they thanked us and seemed very impressed.  For myself, this was the first time I'd actually sung "Storm" since it was handed out last week and I'd never done it before.  I was pleased that my practice paid off and I did pretty well.

After the concert we returned to the hotel and went our several ways for dinner, etc.  Tomorrow we are off to spend the day in Vienna, which is about an hour and a half drive from Bratislava.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day 6 - Esztergom, Bratislava

Today was mostly a travel day for us.  I got up early enough to attend 8 a.m. Mass at Szent Roch church down the street from our hotel.  Of course I didn't understand a word, but the Mass is the Mass and it was nice to go.  Then mailed a couple of postcards and zipped back to the hotel in time for our 9 a.m. departure.

We left Budapest (which takes a while... Budapest is really a huge city) and drove into the hilly area north to Esztergom.  We were on fairly narrow roads which was interesting at times, and some of it was a bit torturous with switchbacks etc.  We got into Esztergom and went to the Basilica there, at about 10:30.  We were there for about an hour.  It  is SO BEAUTIFUL!  It's huuuuge.  And just amazing.  We all took a bazillion pictures.  We got permission to sing, so we sang:
  • Agnus Dei  (Lotti)
  • Glory of the Father
  • Parce  Domine
The acoustics were astonishing... quite bright but a lonnng reverb time, like 6+ seconds (we were in the middle of the nave).  Nice.  Afterward we took a group picture on the steps.

From there we drove on to Komárno where we stopped for lunch.  Then it was on to Bratislava where we checked in to our hotel.  For some reason they insisted on getting our passport #s and looking at our passports when we checked in -- something that didn't happen in either Bucharest or Budapest.  Odd.

We are free for the rest of the evening; tomorrow is a city tour in the morning and then some opportunities for side tours.  We have a concert at St. Martin's Cathedral at 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 5 - Puszta, St. Michael's Concert

Today was a busy day!  We set off at 9 a.m. for an excursion to Puszta, south of Budapest.  We went to Tanyacsarda, a stables and horse breeding area.  We went on a hayride, saw an exhibition of the various horses there (Arabian, Hungarian halfbloods, and Lipizzaner), then an opportunity for a quick horseride, followed by a walk through the stables, a look at some farm animals and a light lunch with some wonderful musical entertainment.  We were back at the hotel around 2 p.m.

We were scheduled to leave for the concert at 3:30 p.m. but there was a snafu -- the church had a 4 p.m. Mass scheduled so we couldn't be in until after that.  As it happened, we got to the church about 4:40 or so and had just enough time to warmup briefly before singing our concert at 5 p.m.  We sang:
  • Verbum Caro Factum Est (Hassler)
  • Adoramus Te (Gasparini)
  • Tambur 
  • Wasn't That a Wonder
  • Abendlied (Rheinberger)
  • Hiney Ma Tov
  • Wana Baraka
  • Glory to God in the Highest (Thompson)
  • Sanctus (Courtney)
  • Beati Quorum Via (Stanford)
  • Let Me Fly (DeCormier)
  • Were You There (Bob King III)
  • Battle of Jericho (Hogan)
  • Praise to the Lord (Christiansen)
Our encore was Dawson's Ain'-a That Good News.  We had a good audience, actually.  The church was small, and between our "groupies" and the audience that wandered in the church was almost full.

After the concert we took the bus back to the hotel and had an evening to ourselves.  Tomorrow morning we are off to Bratislava!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 0/1 -- Heading Out

The tour group met at the Delta counter at PDX on Friday June 20th at 10:30 a.m. (ish). After checking our bags we proceeded through security, then split up to grab some lunch before the flight.  I made the most of the opportunity to hit the PDX Burgerville franchise conveniently located in Concourse D, and others made other choices.  We met at our gate approximately 1 hour before our flight, and then had a  bit of a wait before we finally boarded our plane (an Airbus 330) for the long flight to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

The flight was uneventful --I was not able to sleep so I took advantage of the opportunity to watch a couple of movies on the inflight entertainment system.  Unfortunately I was further back in the plane than most of the tour group so I couldn't readily converse with them.

We arrived pretty much on time at 8:30 a.m. (maybe a little earlier), and found ourselves with more than 4 hours to kill.  We had a bite to eat, and a lot of conversation.  We were amused by the frequent warnings over the PA that particular passengers were delaying their flights and needed to show up ASAP or their baggage would be offloaded!

Finally we were able to go through (yet another) security screening and board our flight to Bucharest (this time, a KLM Boeing 737).  After a roughly 2 hour flight we were landing at the Henri Coanda airport (a.k.a. Otopeni) near Bucharest.  We proceeded through customs and collected our baggage, then went on to meet up with our tour guide, the delightful Alina.  Alina collected us and directed us to our tour bus, ably driven by Christian.  We departed the airport and drove to our hotel in the middle of Bucharest, with a short tour of some of the city sights along the way.

By the time we arrived at our hotel and checked in it was late and we were all seriously zonked, so most of us grabbed a quick bite and headed to bed.  It had been an absurdly long day.

Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 Tour

Hi readers!

We are off on our 2014 tour to Central Europe!  We will be hitting 6 countries in 16 days, starting in Romania, then Hungary, Slovakia, a day trip to Vienna (Austria), then Poland and finishing up in the Czech Republic.