A few weeks later…

Hello, all.

I know the trip is over and the “final” reflections are supposed to be done. However, I think that an experience like this tour is one which we just keep on revisiting over time, with different things bubbling to the surface as we look again at photos and recall the moments they represent.

I realize that I did not do a particularly good job of writing about the last 36 hours of our visit to the Czech Republic. This was partly because it was so full of interesting and wonderful moments, partly because we were leaving so soon and I really wanted to savour it all, and partly because of sleep deprivation! But now, looking back, there are some things I would love to share.

Old Town, Prague.

Old Town, Prague.

Prague is a beautiful city, and I would happily spend MUCH more time there. On our last day, we enjoyed a walking tour from Prague Castle to the city’s Old Town across the St. Charles Bridge, a beautiful 700-year-old bridge spanning the Vltava River, complete with statuary and a “wishing” statue of John of Nepomuk. According to the legend, the wish must be possible, must not be harmful to another, and must be one more thing I cannot recall… 🙂 But if your wish is all of those things, and it comes true, you will visit Prague again.

Mrs. Charlton making her wish.

Mrs. Charlton making her wish.

The Old Town was truly lovely, and there were many amazing things to see. Two of the highlights for me were the Astronomical Clock – a working clock that recounts not only the time but the months and the positions of various astronomical features such as the sun and the moon, while simultaneously reminding people to live well and that (inevitably) death will come some day – and the Municipal House – a fabulous Art Nouveau building with spectacular mosaics and light fixtures inside and out.

The Astronomical Clock - at noon!

The Astronomical Clock – at noon!

Municipal House

Municipal House

After a morning of visiting the sites, shopping, and eating (of course there was eating!!!), we got back on the bus and travelled to our last concert of the tour. The band performed for a very enthusiastic audience of seniors at a senior’s centre. Our guide, Alena, provided translation for David’s and Jacqui’s patter (we suspect that, at times, she abbreviated a bit!) and the audience laughed in all the right places. They also clapped and sang enthusiastically during the march, and generally seemed to enjoy the presence of young people and the music and life they brought to the building.

Our concert at the seniors' centre - a VERY tiny stage!

Our concert at the seniors’ centre – a VERY tiny stage!

Part of the audience at the seniors' centre.

Part of the audience at the seniors’ centre.

One would think that a morning of walking and seeing the sites and an afternoon concert would be enough for one day, but we had one more event before our final stint of packing and saying goodbye. We were off to a fabulous dinner and evening of entertainment, Czech-style! This included a great deal of singing and dancing (oh, the dancing!!!) as well as some terrific bouts of audience participation. It was so fun to see the kids (and the adults!) throwing themselves into the spirit of the evening; there were no shrinking violets in this crowd!

Reynolds Senior Touring Band - 2013.

Reynolds Senior Touring Band – 2013.

As I write this last reflection, the 2013 Junior Band Trip is half-way done, and it, too, is going splendidly. As with the Senior Tour, there has been a lot of very positive feedback, but the one theme that keeps emerging is how wonderful it is to connect with the PEOPLE in each of the places our kids visit. On every trip I am a part of, we, the chaperones, hear all the time how wonderful the kids are – respectful, friendly, well-behaved, social – and we hear from our kids how terrific it is to connect with people, young and old, from other places through the universal language of music. In each of the five countries we visited in Europe last month, and in the three states the juniors have visited so far this week, the differences in language or culture or even age were bridged by the joy of sharing music.

Again, thank you all for reading!
Karen

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

And now we just try to get over the jet lag!

First of all, thank you, everyone, for the lovely comments about the blog. I was very happy to share the experiences as they happened (more or less); as a former “left-at-home band mom” I understand that there can be precious little information finding its way home during a trip. I recall a conversation with one of my sons…

“Hi, Mom.”
“Hi!!! How are you doing?!”
“Fine.”
“Great! So what did you do today?”
“Saw stuff…”
“Uh huh… Anything in particular?”
“Not really…”

This from a boy who was in China. And who had recently been to a fabulous temple and had seen the Terracotta soldiers. 🙂 To be fair, he did share a lot later, and he was very enthusiastic, but it was not much to go on day by day. So if I could help people feel part of the action, that is a good thing.

And so, back to our trip…

I always value the human relationships and the stories the most whenever I have an opportunity to travel and to experience cultures that are new to me. I loved getting to know the students a little better (as I hear a lot about them during the school year!) and sharing some amazing experiences on this dream European tour. Again, I want to commend them on being a great group – their performances, their patience during long travel days, and their enthusiasm for new things were wonderful.

I am sure that you have seen many photos taken by your children, and I know they will have many that I don’t have, but I promised some pictures of the things in the blog. And so, as promised, here are some photos of some things that you may not have seen. Enjoy!

Pretzel Sandwich in Kehl - this fed about 20 people!

Pretzel Sandwich in Kehl – this fed about 20 people!

Giant Easter Egg in the Demel Cafe Window (Vienna) - it was as tall as I am!

Giant Easter Egg in the Demel Cafe Window (Vienna) – it was as tall as I am!

One of the Lippizaner stallions in his stall

One of the Lippizaner stallions in his stall

The weather - snow and cold!

The weather – snow and cold!

Looking up at the fortress in Krakow, Poland.

Looking up at the fortress in Krakow, Poland.

A salt chandelier - 3700 salt crystals, 130 m below ground. (Krakow, Poland)

A salt chandelier – 3700 salt crystals, 130 m below ground. (Krakow, Poland)

The Last Supper - carved into the salt wall in the Grand Chamber, 101 m below ground.

The Last Supper – carved into the salt wall in the Grand Chamber, 101 m below ground.

Why Glyn and Gabe could never have been salt miners...

Why Glyn and Gabe could never have been salt miners…

Entrance to the cathedral in Krakow - note the dragon bones on the upper left!

Entrance to the cathedral in Krakow – note the dragon bones on the upper left!

The entertainment at our last dinner in the Czech Republic - so much fun!

The entertainment at our last dinner in the Czech Republic – so much fun!

Flying home over Greenland...

Flying home over Greenland…

In all, this was 12 wonderful days of music, culture, architecture, history and great food… Truly, there are so many memories, and I hope these few photos will spark some more conversations for you and your children.

Until next time!
Karen

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The final leg of the journey

It  is 6:15 p.m. German time, 10:15 a.m. Victoria time, we have been travelling since 3:15 a.m. German time (7:15 p.m. yesterday, Victoria time), and we are currently flying over the Arctic. We can see cracks in the ice in between the clouds, but really it is white below, blue above, and we are glad to be heading home.

I will do another “photo blog” or two, but I wanted to end the written part of this journey with a few highlights, some observations and some thank you’s.
Some highlights I will reflect upon and cherish as memories:
– the arrival in Frankfurt, and a student’s observation as we touched down: “Guys – we are in EUROPE!!!”;
– the history of what we saw – and the age of things! – in each of the cities;
– the fun of the first concert with the students in Kehl, and the impressive show put on by the Reynolds senior band and the choir;
– the excitement in the eyes and voices of the students as they described their individual adventures with their billet families, and the tears as they said goodbye after only a couple of days;
– the beauty of Salzburg and the fun of exploring the Old City;
– the concerts at the beer hall (!) and at the high school – their performances just kept getting better and better;
– the students interacting with the students at the high school near Vienna – (they wanted to know why the Reynolds kids wear white pants in the winter!!);
– the magical concert in Vienna, complete with Alison’s triangle solo (and the coffee and pastries…and chocolate… and more coffee and pastries – best Creme Caramel ever!);
– the awful and yet inspiring visit to Auschwitz and the compassion and respect shared by our students and chaperones afterward;
– the salt mine and the amazing choir performance in the grand chamber;
– the beautiful city centre of Krakow and the “best (fill in the blank) in Poland” (to be fair, the treats WERE amazing!);
– the fabulous view from the castle in Prague and the walk to St. Charles Bridge;
– coffee and warm apple strudel at the Cafe Giovanni off the square in Prague;
– the amazing architecture and decoration of many of the places we visited, but particularly the Municipal House in Prague – gorgeous;
– the final concert for a very appreciative group of senior citizens in Prague; and,
– the final fun night of eating and dancing to traditional Czech music.

Each of these experiences (and many more not mentioned here) combined to create a memorable trip that gave us all many opportunities to learn and grow. We had some dramas, as happens when people are in close quarters for a long period of time, but the overall sense of the chaperones and the people with whom our students interacted was that this is an outstanding group of young people who represented our country, our province, our city and, arguably most importantly, Reynolds in a stellar way. Our “European debut tour” was a great success, and we can be proud of the students and the ways in which they conducted themselves.

There are other observations I would like to make, and although I would not want to speak for all of the chaperones without discussing it first, I believe the feelings were pretty similar across the board:
– I was grateful (as were many others) that we could be flexible and tailor the tour to meet our needs once we got our bearings and could articulate those needs;
– I was impressed by the appreciation demonstrated by the students for the opportunity they had been given;
– I was thankful for the good behaviour demonstrated by the students (which was thrown into sharp relief last night by another group of students at our hotel who spent most of the night coming and going between rooms…);
– I was happy to spend time hearing stories of experiences shared by the students when we had free time and they were able to explore – talk about some interesting choices and cool things they saw and did; and,
– I was thrilled to be spending time with young people and seeing things through their eyes.

Again, these are just some of the observations; it will take time and conversation to recall all of the great things we did, but I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this great trip.

And finally, some thanks….
– to the parents who allowed us to take their kids and share this wonderful experience with them;
– to the students who were really a great group of kids to travel with and who did us all proud (most of the time!);
– to our guide, who supported our last-minute revisions to the schedule, translated in all of the languages we encountered, and made some fabulous restaurant recommendations;
– to my fellow chaperones who managed logistics and who gave of their time and their energy to allow this tour to happen and to give the students memories for a lifetime; and,
– to the program directors, David and Jacqui, who sought and found many opportunities for continued teaching and learning, who put together a great program that received more than one standing ovation, who supported the kids in all aspects, and who kept their wacky senses of humour throughout. (Don’t mention the war!)

This has been a privilege, and I am very grateful for all that I will take away from this trip… Except maybe for the extra five pounds from all the treats!

We will find ways to share photos soon and will let you know when we get that sorted. But for now, goodbye and thanks for reading.

Karen

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

From Vienna to Krakow

I am sorry for the delay and have a disclaimer for you. The Internet connections have been a little bit sketchy at times, and so I will add only one photo with this post… That explains my lack of info, but I do want to catch up on the writing part, so I will do a photo montage later. 🙂

Friday

We had an early start on Friday morning, which was a good thing because we traveled through three countries. 🙂 We had breakfast in Vienna (Austria), had lunch in a mall in the Czech Republic, ate dinner in Poland and finally settled down to sleep in Krakow (Poland). Yes,that was three countries in seven hours – what an adventure. Thankfully, we were not heading to Hungary, as we understand that the highways were closed to traffic due to blizzard conditions!

Country side of the Czech Republic, en route to Krakow.

Country side of the Czech Republic, en route to Krakow.

But in addition to the drive, we had another experience which was indescribable from many aspects, although I will try…

Before we completed our drive to Krakow, we stopped to visit the memorial at Auschwitz, the largest concentration/death camp established by the Nazis in Poland during World War II. The camp is very well preserved. As I write that, it seems an odd thing to say because of the horror it represents and the incredible impact it had on us all. We went through the camp in three groups, each with a different guide who shared the history of the camp with us, entreating us to please believe what they had to say. This also seemed odd, but they were clear that what we were witnessing was evidence of a time and place that some have tried to deny, but that we needed to believe and to understand, if understanding is possible. We were cold and tired, but this became insignificant as we absorbed the story of that place and came to understand, just a little, that the minor inconvenience we experienced of a little bit of cold was nothing compared to the cold and hardships the prisoners endured.

I personally found the stories terribly difficult to hear and the camp displays very, very difficult to witness, and so did everyone else on the tour, but I won’t go into details here. Please talk with your children about it – they learned so much. What I do want to share, though, is the profound respect and caring demonstrated by the amazing young people in the Reynolds Band and the chaperones who are privileged to be along for this journey. The kids were so respectful, and they demonstrated profound caring and sadness at what they were witnessing. They were absolutely silent as we walked through the blocks of rooms and observed the displays, and tears were common. They were also incredibly supportive of one another, taking care of those who were hurting with words and hugs and simple presence. These are aware young people, and even our guides were impressed by the respect the students demonstrated during the tour. But the adults supporting the group are also amazing – everyone took extra time to talk and support the students, and there were many explorations of the feelings that this tour evoked in all of us. And so I wish to acknowledge both the kids and the adults for what they brought to the experience; I hope, in time, we can process what we saw and find a way to learn from it all.

It was an emotional two days, to say the least… From the “best day ever” in Vienna to “how could anyone ever do that?” in Auschwitz. By the time we settled into the hotel last night, we were thoroughly drained. In general, though, everyone in the trip agreed that it was an important thing to have done, and it allowed us to learn something about this time in history and also about ourselves. Some of the conversations afterward really brought to light the notions of guilt and gratitude… We all agreed that we need to be more grateful for the immense good fortune with which we live.

Saturday

So, from the horrors of Auschwitz to a salt mine – boy, do we know how to have fun! Actually, all jokes aside, the salt mine tour was amazing, even if it did require us to be up and on the bus by 8:00 a.m. And it was a beautiful day, sunny and cold, with sparkling snow and a gorgeous blue sky – yes, I am Canadian, and weather matters!

Krakow was made wealthy by its salt (referred to as “white gold”), and the mine we saw was incredible. At the lowest point, we were about 130 meters below the surface of the ground. We saw a number of chambers, chapels and underground lakes, and a really cool set of sculptures. The sculptures were cool because they were created by miners, rather than artists, and they were done in the miners’ “spare time”. This is impressive because their “spare time” was after the hour-long trip down, six hours of work mining, and another hour return trip up. Two other features that are important to mention are the steps (over 480… Thankfully, there was a “lift” back up!) and the very low ceilings that were fine for me but a challenge for some. :-). Just wait until you see the photos!

The highlight was the underground church chamber st 101 meters below the surface – it features mass every Sunday, and weddings can be booked in! (Some parents may want to start saving their pennies – a few of our girls are planning to get married here!) The chamber featured five chandeliers made entirely of salt crystals and a number of amazing wall sculptures, including a copy of da Vinci’s last supper that is a brilliant example of perspective. It is only six inches deep, yet from a distance of six feet away or more, it appears to be about a meter deep… Amazing. We had a group photo done, and then we had a special treat: our choir sang “Adoramus Dei” and it was beautiful. (Lots of other tourists stopped to listen.) 🙂

A few stops along the way at some gift shops and a view of a final grand chandelier featuring 3700 salt crystals, and the tour was complete… But it was only 10:45! Lots of day left ahead.

We followed the salt mine tour with a walking tour of the center of Krakow. The Polish people are very proud of their history and shared a great deal of information with us, including the famous legend of the Krakow dragon. (Ask your children about this one!) After visits to the castle, the cathedral and the oldest university in Krakow (Copernicus studied there!), we had free time to walk around the old part of the city (a Unesco heritage site). The chaperones had wonderful Polish comfort food (perogies, cabbage rolls, sausages snd fish soup…) for lunch at a restaurant established in 1899, and later enjoyed, among other things, the best hot chocolate in Poland, the best coffee in Poland, and the best plum cake in Poland (sold by the kilo!). The Polish people are great salespeople.

Shopping featured sweat tops, amber jewellery, Lego, books (in Polish!), and a collection of wooden swords. This group sword purchase led to some interesting exchanges with a knight in the square – again, ask your kids! Tired minds, tired bodies, cold hands and feet, and empty wallets (of zloty, at least!). But wait – there’s more!

Our concert at the State Drama School Spectacle Hall was a big hit with a small but VERY enthusiastic audience. They were taking videos of the band and called for an encore! Unfortunately, our tight schedule made that impossible, but we were complimented by some people who stayed behind to tell us how great it was, which was very lovely to hear. We even had our own posters! (Photo to come…)

The concert was followed by a wonderful dinner and folklore presentation (music and traditional dancing – yep – the Reynolds kids did us proud in the dancing department!), a walk back to our hotel in the lovely crisp air, and a well-deserved good night’s sleep.

I promise photos as soon as the Internet becomes my friend again. I estimate that there will be tens of thousands of photos coming back to Canada next Tuesday, but I will try to send a few before then.

Tonight, we are in Prague after another long travel day. ( Only two countries today…) We have a full day planned for tomorrow, and I will update tomorrow night. In the meantime, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!

Karen

Posted in Uncategorized

A day in Vienna

What a day!

Today we began with our third concert. We visited Mistalbach, Austria, and went to a school (BORG Mistalbach) to perform. BORG Mistalbach is a small school by our standards, with about 330 students, and their programs include home economics and music. Their English was very good and they thoroughly enjoyed the music – some of their students even sat in! The music was great (truly, the band just keeps getting better!) and was very well received. The band played, the choir sang and Eric did an awesome beat-boxing demo that had people bopping.

The Choir

The Choir

Alastair playing "Trumpeter's Lullaby"

Alastair playing “Trumpeter’s Lullaby”

Eric beat boxing

Eric beat boxing

After the concert and a wonderful lunch of pretzel sandwiches, we returned to Vienna for an afternoon of exploring in the central part of the city. And what an afternoon… The quote of the day, shared by multiple students with many of the chaperones, was “Best day EVER!”

We visited cafes for coffee and cake…

Demel Cafe Creme brûlée and coffee

Demel Cafe Creme brûlée and coffee

Explored in the old city…

Fourth century walls with a dusting of snow...

Fourth century walls with a dusting of snow…

Shopped…

Vienna shoe store

Vienna shoe store

And posed for a group photo (thank you, Charles!)…

Reynolds Senior Tour Band 2013 in front of the Hapsburg Palace

Reynolds Senior Tour Band 2013 in front of the Hapsburg Palace

And tonight – wow!!! After a great dinner at Cafe Einstein, we were taken to another palace (one of Vienna’s finest concert halls) and attended an amazing concert of chamber music, opera, ballet and an awesome triangle solo by Alison. The Vienna Residence Orchestra performed a number of famous works on period instruments. In fact, the concert mistress was playing an authentic Stradivarius violin! But as fabulous as the music was, what really brought tears of joy to my eyes was the reaction of our students. The kids were overwhelmed by the performance… “My face hurts from smiling…”; “We just saw that… IN VIENNA!!!”; “I have never experienced something so amazing!…”; “Thank you for bringing us here…”; “Hey guys – maybe WE should try for more dynamic contrast next time we play!”…, (Mr. Flello loved that one!). They were a fabulous, appreciative audience and talked about the concert the whole way back and during room checks. Truly, it was an amazing end to our time in the gorgeous city of Vienna.

Vienna concert

Vienna concert

A happy audience

A happy audience

To bed now – another long travel day tomorrow, but it will be a time to reflect on the wonderful experiences we have had thus far.

Until tomorrow,
Karen

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It’s Wednesday – this must be Vienna!

We had a great day in Salzburg, and today we travelled to Vienna (about a 3 1/2 hour drive). It has been a great couple of days.

Yesterday began with a guided tour of the old part of Salzburg. The guides were amazing, sharing historical details and interesting tidbits about life in Salzburg over the last 900 years. We were told the “real” story of “The Sound of Music”… The Von Trapp family did indeed live in the city and flee the Nazis in 1938, but things were a little different than Hollywood showed us. Maria was a novice nun at the Benedictine nunnery, but she was an educated woman who went to the Von Trapp home to tutor the eldest daughter (also named Maria) who could not go to school because she suffered from a heart condition. That Maria (the daughter) is still alive and visited Salzburg two years ago to celebrate the opening of the family home! We saw the tombs in the chapel in which the family hid (actually, the studio was not allowed to use the tombs in the movie, but they created an exact replica for the film!), and the mountain which they did NOT cross… Want to know why? The mountain that they showed in the movie actually would have led the family right to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. They did flee over the mountains, but in the opposite direction, into northern Italy. 🙂

After our tour, we took the funicular up to the fortress (Hohensalzburg) above the city. The fortress was started in the 11th century and was constructed over the course of the next 600 years. It was the residence of the archbishops of the church for centuries and protected the city from attacks (or perceived attacks). The structure was amazing, and we enjoyed many spectacular views of the city and surrounding area. Then back down the mountains for lunch and a bit of shopping before our evening dinner and concert.

Funicular trolley up to the Salzburg Fortress

Funicular trolley up to the Salzburg Fortress

image

The band played in Insell, back in Germany. That was fun – a small and stone-faced audience (except for those four at the front of the beer hall!) who nevertheless appreciated the performance, in spite of not understanding a word the band directors said (except for the phrase “No problem” and the name “Stevie Wonder”).

Today, we started with a bit of snow (in the Alps!) and enjoyed s foggy drive to Vienna.

Miss Sullivan's crossword and coffee - bus pastimes!

Miss Sullivan’s crossword and coffee – bus pastimes!

The city center is gorgeous with a wide variety of stunning examples of architecture… We can see why it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was the capital of an empire – the Hapsburg family reigned for over six centuries – and the buildings and monuments reflect its status as a world center. (It is actually one of the UNESCO World Heritage Centers because of its urban and architectural qualities and the range and scope of architectural styles represented in the city.)

We saw palaces and galleries, museums and cafes, cathedrals and squares… Then the Lippizaner stallions in their stables! It was a whirlwind day, but we are settled in our hotel now (ask your kids about the showers in the Ibis Hotel!), and we are looking forward to our school concert tomorrow morning followed by an afternoon of site seeing and shopping (oh, and sachertorte with Viennese coffee!!). Tomorrow night we will be attending a concert of the Vienna Residence Orchestra (a period chamber orchestra) playing works from Mozart to Strauss at one of Vienna’s foremost concert halls.

We are having such a good time and seeing such amazing things… We are a truly fortunate group. Even the weather has been good to us – our guide in Salzburg told us that “Where angels fly, the weather is good.” 🙂

Now it’s off to bed to dream of chocolate and waltzes! Good night, all!

Karen

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And we arrive in Salzburg!

Hello from Salzburg!

After a wonderful two days in Kehl (and some rather tearful goodbyes – the billet families were very special), we are settled in a great hostel in Salzburg. Our seven-hour bus ride took us through rolling fields, forests of thin, tall trees, and on into Heidi-worthy mountains and fields – the start of the Alps. And yes, there was snow!

Some travel highlights included
– 70 euro cent trips to the bathroom (!) with rotating toilet seats (we’ll explain when we arrive home!)
– the Munchen soccer stadium
– high-quality chocolate treats at road-side stops
– even better chocolate in Salzburg itself
– a rousing rendition of sing-along selections from “The Sound of Music” led by the Bus #1 chaperones
– more pastries (I bet you are surprised!).

We are a five-minute walk from the center of the city (and some amazing strudel and chocolate “Mozart Balls”!) in a hostel located on a university campus. Tonight we walked in the old downtown area, window shopping and enjoying some more wonderful treats. (It really is about the food!) We saw one of Mozart’s homes (his birth place) and walked on some of the cleanest streets we have ever seen.

Easter is a very significant holiday here – there are bunnies and eggs in many of the shops, and the most amazing confections are on display. It is fun to see – these are not the “cheap” chocolate bunnies we see in the drug store; the small specialty shops and cafes are decorated up and the windows are quite spectacular. 🙂

Salzburg chocolate shop March 11, 2013

Salzburg chocolate shop
March 11, 2013

Our hostel wifi has been a challenge, so I won’t add many photos tonight, but I will send some more along as soon as I can. Tomorrow, we will have some walking tour and shopping time, including a trip to the castle (built in the fourth century). Tomorrow evening, we play our second concert (back in Germany!), and we are looking forward to sharing music again.

Have a great day!
Karen

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments