Monday, June 30, 2008

Campanillas in Paris

Saturday morning we had breakfast in the hotel then boarded our trusty bus to drive out to Versailles.  The line to get in was long, even though we had pre purchased tickets.  The palace is a large museum that has sculpture, paintings and quite a few rooms that had been kept as they originally were.  Several of us wanted to go into the gardens after we finished going through the palace only to find that they wanted an additional 8 euro to get in.  We declined but took a few pictures from outside the fence.  They were beautifully kept, more so than the inside of the museum in some areas. 

We boarded the bus and drove back into Paris for an abbreviated driving tour of the city.  Our driver was amazing at navigating tight turns and crazy drivers.  About 2 p.m. we went to the American Church to drop off all our equipment.  After that we had some free time to see the sights and have lunch.  The prime target was to visit Notre Dame cathedral but it was closed until 4:30 due to an event that was being taken out; loads of chairs etc.  We decided that lunch and shopping first was a good option and some of the group was treated to ring side seats for the Paris gay pride parade.  I may include some interesting pictures after we get home and I have time to process them.   We were finally able to get into the cathedral, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  It is large and beautiful but not as large or beautiful inside as the cathedral we had seen in Amiens on Friday.  A few of the group climbed up the stairs into the tower and enjoyed the incredible view. 

We had a designated place to meet for pick up to return to the church for our rehearsal only to find that the streets were still closed from the parade.  Our bus wasn’t able to get in to pick us up so our guide, Norbert, guided us at a very quick pace, through the subway system.  We still had a few blocks to walk after we exited the subway but we made it to the church just slightly later than planned.  We rehearsed until about 9:30 p.m. then got back on the bus to head to the river for a boat cruise on the Seine.  We left the dock about 10 p.m. when it was getting dark, which made for beautiful light.  Our boat also had many very bright lights on the sides that pointed up to the buildings along the river.  We passed the Eifel tower at 11 so were able to see all the flickering lights that last for 10 minutes on the hour.  Beautiful!  Difficult to take a good picture of though, between the bright lights and the constantly moving boat.  We disembarked then went back to the hotel for the night.

Sunday morning we headed back to the American church where we participated in their worship service.  At the conclusion of the service we changed clothes and had a choice of activities.  Some of the group went to the Louvre and sight seeing and some went back to the hotel to have lunch and shop or rest.  At 3:30 we headed back to the church for our 5 p.m. concert.  We had a nice audience that was very appreciative of our offering.  It was great to play in this lovely old church where Fred Gramann is the Director of Music.  We played one of his pieces during his concert and hopefully did it justice.  We loaded up the equipment and tables one last time then headed back to the hotel.  We changed clothes and met downstairs to walk to the restaurant for our final dinner together with everyone.  (Kelli, Erika and Justin were staying on for two more days.  Sarah and Karen both left immediately after the concert as they both had booked their own travel arrangements.)

I think I can speak for the group and say that we all had a wonderful time seeing new places and experiencing the history to be found there. It was great to perform for audiences that were mostly unfamiliar  with our instrument. 

We are in the Salt Lake city airport presently, awaiting our flight home to Phoenix.  The trip has been wonderful but we are all ready to go home.
I am posting this from home so you know that we all made it home safely and quite tired!  Thanks for taking our journey with us in mini format.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Brugge to Paris

Brugge – a lovely old medieval city with many interesting sights to see and not enough time to see them all.  We did have a nice guided tour in the morning, then free time for lunch and exploring on our own. After returning to the hotel we left the hotel again at 5 all dressed for our performance that evening.  It was in a small church that is now serving as a performance hall.  It had a pipe organ so we were able to play our organ/handbell duet with Roy at the keyboard.  We rang it director-less and it went very well as the organ and pipes were directly behind us.  The Carillon Society there hosted the concert and had publicized it well, especially among their members; so we had quite a large and very appreciative audience.  They really enjoyed our rendition of some Mancini and Cole Porter tunes.   We packed up, went back to the hotel, changed, and went out to find a late dinner as we hadn’t had time prior to the rehearsal.  Most of us ate at a restaurant right across the square from the hotel where we had very good food.  The young ones took off to find dessert and us older folk went back to the hotel to think about how good it was going to feel to get horizontal. 

This morning we left Brugge, Belgium, in a light rain to travel to Paris.  We took a side trip into Amiens to view the largest cathedral in France.   As you can imagine, after several hours on our bus, most of us needed to use the facilities.  There was much new construction going on around the cathedral so the restrooms where our trusty guide, Norbert, took us weren’t in service.  The tourist information office told us where to find the public toilets; so all of us took off for a walk of a few more blocks.  These bathrooms are on the street but are really very nice and clean, assuming some dumb Americans don’t come along and mess them up because they didn’t know how to work them!  They accommodated one person at a time and totally self cleaned after each use if you just let it do its thing.  Long story short, by the time 23 of us used the two that we found we decided that we needed to do lunch before touring the cathedral.  Meals are more leisurely here so we had to hurry back to the cathedral to meet Norbert and the rest of the group. 

The cathedral is beautiful and really is very large and very tall thanks to the use of flying buttresses.  Part of the exterior had been cleaned so was very light, the same was true of the interior. I hope the pictures I took inside will come out nicely so I can share them with you.   (We are on a pretty tight schedule all the time so I haven’t had time to download them from my camera; thus nothing new on the web site.)  We left Amiens to travel on to Paris where we arrived in time to experience their version of rush hour on the freeway.  It rivals ours any day!  We had to go directly to dinner rather than stopping at our hotel first to dump our stuff or we would have missed our reservation.  Not a good thing.  We got a brief tour after dinner as we made our way back across the city to our hotel that is right next door to the Gare de Lyon train station.   (Roy and I actually stayed in this same hotel in ‘97 on a rushed trip home from Nice.  It is nicer now, but the rooms are still pretty small.)  There were huge lines waiting to go up into the Eiffel tower even at 8:30 at night.  Our route took us right along the Seine; so we saw many of the buildings that we have all read or heard about.

Tomorrow we are off to Versailles and then back into the city to rehearse at the American Church in Paris where we will be part of the worship service Sunday morning as well as playing a concert at 5 p.m.  More on that later after it has happened.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Netherlands and Beyond

Sorry for the delay in posting.  It was late when we returned to our hotel (motel) in Sassenheim and I wanted more internet time it was another 15 euros so decided to save the money.  We voted to revise our schedule for Tuesday as we needed rehearsal time so we left Sassenheim at 8 a.m. to go into Amsterdam, only a 15 minuted ride when it isn't rush hour.  We all visited the Anne Frank house. It is hard to imagine living with 8 people in such a small area and with black out curtains all day every day, never going outside etc.  Lots of steep stairs that were more like ladders going up and down.  We reported back to the bus to unload only to find that Gerard and Norbert, our driver and guide, had resourcefully borrowed a tall rolling rack from a grocery store and had move all the tables foam etc.  across to Westerkerk.  They were in the second trip with the bells so we only had to take our personal items.  Such nice guys!  The concert here and the next two as well were combined concerts with Boudewijn Zwart.  He has a portable carillon that travels on a trailer.  He wheels it in, connects all the contacts to make the bells play and off he goes!  He is an excellent organist as well and we played a handbell-organ duet with him.  He played a couple of organ pieces and a couple of solos on the carillon and we were the rest of the program.  It was a very successful merging of talents.  

After the concert we packed up and were off to Gouda where we toured St. Johns church (St. Janskerk), the city a bit, and had a little time to shop for cheese.  Time was short so we didn't really have time for a real lunch.  Since most of us had bought cheese, crackers and other munchables we had a "potluck" on the bus with everyone tasting what everyone else had selected.  Fun and quite yummy!  On the road again to Schiedam and our performance at the Grote (great) church.  The concert was to be similar to the afternoon one but the organ was so out of tune with the bells that we couldn't do the duet.  Just a small audience for this one but that is OK as they enjoyed it just as much.  Packed up again and headed back to the Sassenheim for our last night there.  (Did I mention how much fun it is to pull rolling bell cases over bumpy cobblestone streets and sidewalks or that some of the streets were so narrow the bus had to back up to get us out!)  We had to leave bright and early next morning; so we all pretty much packed up the night before.  We had wonderful breakfasts in the hotel so left on a full stomach.  

Wednesday we drove to Rotterdam and took a driving tour of the city then headed to the coast.  The driver took us the scenic route rather than the expressway so we really got to see a lot of the country and more windmills.  They also have a lot of the big metal ones too that they use to generate power.  We drove along the coast to see Maeslantkering, the last project of the Delta Works.  They constructed two huge "gates" that swing closed to close off the sea when there is a very bad storm to prevent flooding inland.  Norbert told us that all of the Netherlands are below sea level; so high seas come in and cause flooding all over the country. This was quite an amazing project, and they test it a couple of times a year to be sure all parts are working.  They have only had to really use it once since it's completion.  As we drove on from there we crossed over several other parts of the whole project that block the sea from entering.  Quite ingenious and complicated but also quite amazing.

From there we continued on our way to our evening concert in Vlissingen.  We made a brief stop at Veere, a very picturesque town, where surprisingly, we took pictures!  We had to keep moving as we had a deadline for dinner and rehearsal in Vlissingen.  We did make one more stop in Middleburg which is the seat of government for the Zeeland province.  Another lovely town, and we had time for a lunch and/or a bit of shopping.  Lovely town and beautiful buildings.  Pictures will follow on the link provided at the top of the page.  Vlissingen is another beautiful town right on the North Sea; so quite windy.  It was another town of very narrow streets; so our trusty Gerard navigated us as close to St. Jacobskerk as he could get us.  We hauled equipment about a block, set up, rehearsed and then had dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  Food was delicious.  St. Jakobskerk dates back to 1328 and is beautifully preserved.  We had a wonderful concert and a wonderful audience.  We had the local organist play our duet piece on the big pipe organ; so it was a challenge with us at one end of the sanctuary and the pipes at the other.  Mr. Zwart was there again with his carillon; so the concert ran 1 1/2 hours between carillon solos, organ solos, carillon/organ/handbell duets and our solo pieces.  The hosts here were most enthusiastic and sincerely invited us to PLEASE return in the future to play for them again.  Surprisingly, most of Holland has never heard handbells at all.  The audience consisted of locals but also of folks who had driven from quite a distance to hear us.  One such group was young boys who are the first handbell group in Holland.  They purchased a used set of bells and are getting started.  They were quite interested in all the techniques we used etc. as well as our 6 octave set of choir chimes.    As I said before, a wonderful concert and audience.  We felt bad that we really had to rush off, but by law in Holland, drivers can only work 15 hours and we still had to drive on to Brugge in Belgium.  We made it, and as he turned off his bus the 15 hours expired.  He tells us there is a 2,000 euro fine if they catch them over the limit.  (He then has to have 24 hours off to rest with no driving so; we will have a new driver to take us to our concert venue in Brugge.)  We dumped stuff in our rooms and most of us, including Gerard and Norbert headed off across the square to see if anything was open past midnight so we could have a beer to celebrate our concert and also Stuart Schweidt's 16th birthday.  Here they can have "soft" liquor, which is beer and wine, at 16.  Stuart is Elizabeth's son, and he came as her traveling companion.  We sat outside in a cool breeze as the bar was small, noisy and smoky.  Stuart drank a few swallows and decided that it really wasn't very good.  Fun for him though.  

So now it is Thursday and I am about finished with catching up.  We had breakfast in the hotel and set off on a walking tour of Brugge which really is still a medieval town.  Very narrow streets, beautiful buildings, etc.  Lots of chocolate and lace for sale.  Needless to say, I had to purchase some chocolate as did quite a few of the others.  We really needed more time in each of the cities/towns we visited as there is so much to see; but alas we are on a fixed schedule so I must stop now and get ready to go to the next concert venue here in Brugge.  We will have our first "solo" concert tonight as Boudewijn didn't come with us. 

Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday June 23, Sightseeing in Delft,The Hague, and Scheveningen

Today we started with a nice breakfast at the hotel then hopped on our trusty coach with driver Gerard and tour guide Norbert.  Our first visit was to Delft, which is a beautiful medieval city.  It has many canals, cobbled alleys and bot Gothic and Renaissance houses and buildings.  We began our tour by visiting the De Delftse Pauw Pottery factory where we were given a tour of the factory and shown how they hand make and paint all their pottery.  It is a small operation that has been in their family for generations.  Their pottery is beautiful and many of us partook of the items for sale in their beautiful showroom.  We next visited the city center and saw the magnificent Old and New churches. The old church dates from the 13th century and the New one from 1381!  New?  It was back then!  So much history in this town.  We also saw the old city hall and had a chance to visit shops and have lunch.  This is a town I would love to spend more time in.
Next we were off to the nearby town of The Hague, which is the seat of government for the Netherlands.  We had a short tour of the governmental buildings then some of us visited a beautiful museum called Mauritshuis (Maurits House).  It was filled with many beautiful paintings. Even though it is a relatively small museum the art work on exhibition is wonderful as is the house.  As we left the haag we made a quick stop in front of the peace palace.  Beautiful!  Then on to the seaside town of Scheveningen where we had free time to wander the board walk, shop and have dinner.  Some of us were even bold enough to take off our shoes, roll up our pant legs and put our feet into the cold water of the North Sea.  After all this sightseeing we returned to our hotel where 14 of the group went to the bar, where Kelli had reserved a good sized area, and they played Phase 10 again.  I stayed in the room to update the blog and hopefully get a few pictures linked from my .Mac web page so that you all can see them.  I have tons of pictures but have only put a few up for viewing so you wouldn't get too bored.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

We have arrived in Amsterdam

Well, we made it here safe and sound and relatively problem free.   We were all at the airport bright and early Saturday, unless you don't consider 4:30 a.m. early.  We sure did.  Everyone's baggage and all the bell cases were at or under the 50 lb. limit.  We arrived in Atlanta to have our 4 hour layover then off to Amsterdam.  Janie, who was coming up from Florida, was delayed so missed our flight.  She got here late but we connected with her this afternoon.  Our bus went back to the airport at noon to pick up the group from England and Karen so all are here safe and sound.  Janie has no luggage as she had to come by an alternate route as well as change airlines.  We are hopeful that it will arrive tomorrow.

We have a wonderful tour director and bus driver.  They took us on a driving tour of Amsterdam then to the Van  Gogh museum and lunch.  After they had picked up the group that came in via England we drove around a little more then most of the group took a short walking tour.  Some of us stayed on the bus to rest.   Then off to the airport again to get Janie, then off to our hotel which is a 15 minute drive outside of the city.  

The gals who ring the upper bells met to rehearse a bit so Kelli and Erika could get up to speed with us.  Then we had dinner at the hotel. Then back to our rooms for the night.  Roy and I proceeded to fall asleep.  I woke up again so am doing this post now and have downloaded today's pictures.  I will include a few of them then sign off and get to bed.  We have a day of sight seeing tomorrow, no concerts so don't have to be up too early.  

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Campanillas del Sol in Europe

Hello and welcome to our blog.  We hope to add  posts daily once we hit the road on June 21.  Please check back throughout the week of June 22 to June 30 to keep up with where we are and what we are doing as well as view photos along the way.