Sunday, July 6, 2014

Day 16 - The Voyage Home

Today we got up frightfully early for our trip home.  We assembled in the hotel lobby around 2:45 a.m.(-ish) and loaded up the bus.  The hotel had thoughtfully prepared snack bags for each of us upon checkout -- juice, an apple, and a couple of sandwiches. We were blocking the narrow street in front of the hotel but due to the hour it didn't become an issue until just before we were ready to leave.  We finally pulled out for the airport at 3:05.

We got to the airport about 3:40 a.m. and bid a last farewell to Juraj and Jaroslav, then went into the aiport and got our boarding passes.  We had a long wait before we were able to check our bags in (like, 4:30 a.m.) and the staff were being a lot more finicky about bags than we had experienced coming the other direction.  They asked to see our  carryon bags and weren't satisfied with some of them so there was some last minute rearranging or checking of bags which was frustrating.  Finally we were through, and then through security and got to the gate about half an hour before boarding our KLM flight to Amsterdam.

The flight was short and reasonably smooth. On arrival at Schiphol we had to basically retrace our steps from when we arrived there 15 days previous.  Our layover was much shorter, though, just a couple of hours.  After a trip through passport control and a Bio-Technical break (and some shopping for some of us) we went through security (again) and finally boarded the plane and headed back to PDX.

The flight was mostly uneventful other than a little bit of turbulence at one point and a very upset baby.  We arrived at PDX about half an hour early (wow!), went through customs etc. and collected our bags and then proceeded to do a lot of hugging and good-bying before we parted and went our separate ways.

For me this trip was a wonderful opportunity and so much fun.  The chance to sing with my friends again and to enjoy seeing such amazing sights with people I really like was terrific and something I will always treasure.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 15 - Prague/Wrapping Up

Today was a "free" day for us in Prague.  Juraj led a group of people over to the Jewish quarter and around a bit.  I slept late, then walked up to the Saint Nicolas church (amazing!) and then did some shopping.  The weather had been nice but broke for a downpour around 5:30 or so, then cleared up again.

We gathered around 6:45 to walk over to the Ambassador Hotel for our end-of-tour banquet.  This lasted about 3.5 hours (!) and included a yummy dinner, folk dancers and a trio of musicians, and a lot (a lot!) of fun.  Tim C and Colin had some "true or false" questions for the participants that were very funny, there were some songs, and Bernie had some fun observations for Juraj.  We also presented Juraj and Jaroslav (our driver) some gifts and of course our heartfelt thanks and best wishes.  We then walked back to the hotel to get some rest before our early morning departure.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Day 14 - Prague

Today started with a tour of Prague Castle, the Old Town and some other famous parts of Prague.  We left the hotel at 9 on our bus and after some driving around we were dropped off near Prague Castle.  We walked around the complex and visited the Cathedral of St. Vitus -- we sang Non Nobis.  From there we walked around the perimeter and saw the gardens, then headed down the hill.  We went by the American embassy (it was closed for the holiday, of course) and sang our nice arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner in front as an Independence Day tribute.  Locals came out and took pictures :-).  From there we walked through a small church near the river, then over the Charles Bridge and back eventually to Wenceslaus Square near our hotel.  We had free time for lunch.

At 3 p.m. we left the hotel and walked over to the square for a group photo, then on the bus and back up pretty much where we were dropped off this morning.  From the drop off we had to walk up a significant hill and through some grounds to get to the church.  My feet were not happy :-(.

The St. Laurence church is quite small.  It's an Old Catholic church, which was surprising to me since I hadn't realized that was the case (I thought it was a Catholic church).  We met up with the event coordinator and the bishop, then we started rehearsing for the Mass and concert.  Between the Chorale and our roadies we took up just over half the pews in the church!

Mass started at 5 p.m. and we were warmly welcomed by the priest who was concelebrating the Mass with the bishop (the priest was the only English speaker).  We sang our usual Mass parts (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei), though I'm pretty sure we sang the Kyrie as the opening hymn and the Gloria as the psalm (it seemed to me to be a daily mass, not a longer feast day (one reading only)).

After Mass we had about 10 minutes, then we started the concert.  We sang:
  • The Star-Spangled Banner (split)
  • Verbum Caro Factum Est (split)
  • Beati Quorum Via
  • Abendlied
  • Zahucaly Hori
  • Aka Si Mi Krasna
  • Hombe
  • Wasn't That A Wonder
  •  Cornerstone
  • I've Been In the Storm So Long (Ann solo)
  • Were You There?
  • Battle of Jericho
  • Praise to the Lord (split)
  • Ain'a That Good News (split) (encore)
The church was a delight to sing in.  It was very live, but since it was so small there was almost no reverb time.  Even very soft singing was clearly heard.  I especially thought that Were You There? was perhaps the best we've ever sung it.  Alas I had a small goof on Beati Quorum Via that kind of spoiled it for me a bit.  Oh well!

After the concert we took another group photo (everyone, not just the choir) and Cindy introduced us to her relatives that live in Prague.  Then the long walk back and we were on the bus back to the hotel.

Tomorrow is a free day for us, capped off with our group dinner.  Sunday we leave verrrry early for our 6:30 a.m. flight to Amsterdam and then home.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 13 - On To Prague!

Today was a travel day for us.  We checked out of the hotel in Krakow and were on the road at 9 (ish).  We stopped for a "Bio-Technical Break" just after crossing the Czech border, and then once again for a quick lunch stop in Brno around 2.  We got into Prague about 5 (there was construction that slowed us down).  It was a kind of a long day on the bus.

After checking in we mostly hung out or walked around the immediate vicinity.  Our hotel is close to the Opera House and National Museum and not too far from Old Town.

The plan for tomorrow is a city tour in the a.m., then we will leave a little early for our 5 p.m. Mass and concert --- before we get to the church we are going to stop for a group photo in some to-be-determined picturesque spot.

I think for a lot of us there's a feeling of.... turning the corner and heading for home.  We've been gone for 2 weeks tomorrow and while we are having a great time, it will be nice to be sleeping in our own beds in a few days.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Day 12 - Auschwitz

This morning we had our tour of Auschwitz.  Only 19 of us chose to go.  Auschwitz is about 70 km from Krakow.  We visited the museum which is at the main camp ("Auschwitz 1") and then briefly drove by the camp where most of the killing was done ("Auschwitz 2 - Birkenau") as most of what's there is a reconstruction; the Nazis destroyed most of the evidence before the Russians liberated the camp.

It's a sad and sobering experience. I think pretty much everyone cried at least a little, at one point or another.  The section that got to me the most was in the area where they displayed personal effects that had been taken from the victims -- there was a display of thousands of children's shoes.  It was just too much.

After our visit we returned to Krakow and we have the rest of the day free.  Tomorrow we have a long drive to Prague.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Day 11 - City tour & St. Catherine's Concert

This morning we left the hotel and had a tour of the city.  We set off by bus and briefly saw the old Jewish Quarter, then went across the Vistula and saw where the Ghetto had been and got to drive by briefly and see Oskar Schindler's factory.  Then back across the river again and we drove to Wawel Castle.  Wow!  I'm comparing it to the castle in Budapest.  Not as large, but in some ways more impressive.  Very cool.  After the tour of the grounds and a brief peek inside the Cathedral, we went back to the bus where some of us returned to the hotel and others (including me) went on a walking tour of the old town area.  We looked at several churches including the Corpus Christi Church, St. Mary's Basilica and a couple of others that are not coming to mind.  We had time for a leisurely lunch, then walked back to the hotel via the Florian Gate.

Krakow is definitely a city of churches, more so than any other city we've seen here.  It's a great tribute to the faith of the Polish people.  Often churches would be very close together (we saw a Franciscan church right next to the church of Ss.Peter and Paul, for example).  We also spotted a number of religious (men and women both) walking around the street in full habit (Franciscan monks and secular priests alike).  Not surprisingly we saw statues and pictures of Pope St. John Paul the Great all over!  The Poles are rightly proud of their former Cardinal-Archbishop, especially here in his former diocese.

After we returned to the hotel we had about 90 minutes to relax and change before leaving for the concert venue at 4:45.  Traffic was horrible so it took us a while to get to St. Catherine's.  We finally got there about 5:25 (?) and got our concert order and then spent about 45 minutes running through some of the stuff we had not done.  Unlike our previous church venues, St. Catherine's allowed us to sing secular as well as sacred music. After our rehearsal we adjourned to a nearby room, then started the concert at 7.  We sang:
  • Kyrie (Mass in G Minor) (split) (Shawn, Sheryl, Josh, Terry)
  • Sanctus
  • Parce Domine
  • S'Andasse Amor a Caccia
  • Si Ch'io Vorrei Morire
  • Yo m'Enamori d'un Aire
  • Hiney Ma Tov
  • She Moved Through the Fair (Paul, Ann)
  • Bring Me Little Water, Silvy (Diane, Karen, Kristi, Cindy)
  • Abide With Me
  • Let Me Fly
  • You Are the New Day
  • Praise To The Lord (split)
  • Ain'-a That Good News (split) (encore)
We had a pretty good sized audience -- The church was probably half full.  They were enthusiastic and gave us a standing ovation, which was really nice.  Afterward we looked around the church a bit and had some brief words from Jacek, the event coordinator for the church.

I have to say some words about St.Catherine's.  Wow!  What a joy to sing in.  This church is about 650 years old (!).  They do a lot of concerts there and they have created a small stage on the nave end of the church.  This worked really well for us and for them as well; no issues with having to remove the Blessed Sacrament or having people wandering around the altar.  The church has no pews anyway (pews are a Protestant invention and churches of that time and for centuries after didn't have them), just chairs, and so while the chairs close to the altar faced the altar, the ones further back faced the stage at the rear.  The church is comparatively plain (compared, that is, to some of the churches we've seen in Krakow) but has a huge, amazingly beautiful mostly gilded retablo over/behind the high altar.  It's probably 60 feet tall and just stunning.  Other than that, though, the church is not gilded and decorated to the extant many of the other churches we've seen are.  I'm not sure why that is.

The acoustics in this church were just AMAZING.  I'd guess the reverb was around 5 seconds.  It was very live, and very easy to sing in.  I'd go back in a heartbeat!

Tomorrow we are going to see Auschwitz  (well, many of us) and then we'll have free time.

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.