A Daily Blog from Mr. Adams
Europe Trip 2007
We are winding up day one in Europe. We landed in Paris with a nasty bump but all kids were on board. Yes, the final two kids met us in Chicago with passports in hand thanks to the many parents that went a number of extra miles to help them out. Nobody lost a passport and no one lost luggage. That is the first relief! We met our tour guide and off we went to the Mont-Marte area which features the Sacred Heart Cathedral and an area made famous by painters like Renoir. It was a quick but neat tour. It was nice to get the blood pumping after the long flight. We then made it to the hotel and found little lunches at street corner shops. Lots of
French Bread and mystery meat. The kids then had some hours to explore the Opera district and lots of shopping for your presents has already been accomplished!
I asked the kids what was something neat today and I got responses like new foods, the artists at Mont-Marte, the Cathedral, the traffic!, and just being in Paris! What was something new? The food (mostly but not all positive comments), communicating in English to the French or trying a little French, finding their way around a big city, etc. What was scary? The traffic, getting lost (no problem, they were found quickly), and the food. Food is always a topic of conversation.
The kids are very upbeat but very tired. Our bed check is at 9:00 tonight and no one is complaining. We've been up for almost 32 hours. Big smiles but droopy eye lids. Tomorrow will be exciting and everyone is looking forward to being rested up for it. I'll write more tomorrow when I'm rested also!
Day 2 in Paris.
What a difference a good night's sleep makes! We all had a crowded but good breakfast then met at 8:45 to hop on our bus. Unfortunately, at 9:30 we left the hotel to walk to where the bus was going to be in 15 minutes. Not a great start. The blame went to Paris traffic. OK, we are on the bus and things get better fast.
Today we saw things like the Arc do Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Concord Square, the hotel and tunnel of Princess Diana fame, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower. I knew the tower was big but did you know it is over three football fields high! We had to climb this thing but the plan was only to visit it and get some pictures. We had a very light afternoon planned so we did a little improvising. We would go to a mall the tour guide knew of for lunch then we would walk on our own back to the tower, climb to our hearts content, then walk back to the hotel. I was pretty sure I could find it on the map!
So off we go to the mall. It is a strange place. There is graffiti all over it and it seems rather desolate but we trust our guide. We follow her like ducklings through an unmarked door into a dark and musty hallway which eventually opens onto a very quiet, OK, dead concourse. This place makes Metcalf South look like the county fair! It is completely shut down. Change of plan. We find a grocery store and the kids get creative. Junk food is out of fashion with these guys. They are buying apples, salads, healthy sandwiches, bottled water, and the like. Mom would be proud! We pick a nice picnic spot (our guide has left). The spot is an abandoned staircase under the closed mall that leads to a busy street. The odd thing is that with the great
attitude of this crew; it worked fine.
Now off we go to the Tower. After a nice walk the band is let loose to explore this great landmark. Almost everyone went up at least to the second level which gives you a great view of all of Paris. You can find almost all the famous points of interest. Many of us walked the whole way because it is cheaper than the elevator and the challenge is fun. Many continued up to the highest platform which is just way way up there! Only an elevator gets you to this level. Most of the students I talked to loved this part of the day. We then set out for the hotel with a walk along the Seine. We had a long way to go but it was through some neat areas. I didn't hear any complaints but of course I was at the front of the group and the traffic was often very loud. Really, the students were in great spirits and seemed to enjoy the trek.
Our day wasn't done! After a beautiful sunny day, we prepared to go to dinner. It was now pouring! We ran the short distance to the Bistro Romain for a real four course French dinner. This place was nice! Fine silverware, centerpieces, cravats of water, and wine at every setting. Yes, wine. Geez, our cultures are a bit different. I told the kids that if they thought their parents would approve and if they wanted, they could take a couple sips. I quickly asked the manager to remove the wine. Not only did he do that, but he replaced them with a nice fruit drink-non-alcoholic. The Bistro really made every effort to make this a special dinner for the kids. The first course was unidentifiable but very good. Almost everyone gave it a try and most liked it. The second course was a chicken dish with fried potatoes and an awesome gravy. The third course didn't go over so well. It was a small salad (very small) with a couple of types of cheese-both rather strong. The fourth was a dessert dish that was a very sweet apple pastry. The kids seemed to really enjoy this event and showed excellent behavior. We also sang Kaitlin Truster, "Happy Birthday!"
Please forgive any misspellings or disastrous contortions of the English language. It has never been my forte and this is the last thing I'm doing today before hitting the sack. Sure, I've had to talk to a kid or two about showing up to this or that meeting place on time but you would be proud of how these kids are working together to make sure it is a wonderful trip for all. Tomorrow has a number of exciting things in store for us and the kids are already looking forward to moving on to Germany. Some are hoping for more shopping time (probably for your gift!) All is well for our crew in Paris!
Most of Day 3
The WIFI runs out before we are done with this day so to save 10 Euros, I'll give you a partial report! I'm always frugal with the band's money :-) Anyway, today we saw much of the rest of Paris with stops at The Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, a mansion from the 1500s, and the Latin Quarter. The Louvre is all that one could hope and more. It is huge and so full of amazing art. We only saw a tiny fraction of the collection but it did include the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. These are the most famous but probably not the most beautiful pieces that we saw. It was very crowded and you could hear languages from all around the world. There was lots of discussion about "The Da Vinci Code", of course.
Notre Dame is an awesome place the includes a 40 ft. stain glass window with 2 million individual pieces of glass! We escaped with no pick pocket victims. Lunch was in the Latin Quarter which had a huge variety of little eataries and traditional tourist gift shops. Many euros exchanged hands at this location because the kids knew their Paris shopping hours were coming to a close. We said goodbye to our tour guide, Edith. Edith gets mixed reviews from the band. She's very knowledgeable and pretty friendly but the plan always seemed to be changing (very frustrating for me) and that abandoned shopping mall yesterday lost her some big points. She was good to our guys and shared so many stories but maybe a few too many for many members on the bus. She loves her city and she could answer any question the students had for her. I think she very much is a good example of the French people; their strengths and their weaknesses. All in all, I think we were lucky to have her.
I think the kids have adjusted to the food, have enjoyed the sights, want to shop even more, bought some cool things, are shocked by how expensive things are, appreciate the sights, and still have quite a bit of energy. There are some sore legs! Tonight we are taking a cruise down the Seine to see the city lighted up. It is supposed to be amazing. We get back around 11:00 then are off to Germany tomorrow. Pray the rain stays away for us tonight. Another good day!
WE ARE IN GERMANY
When I last talked to you, we were on a dinner break on our final evening in Paris. That evening we hopped aboard the bus again and were all a little concerned to hear our new guide start giving us the same tour we had already had! We were all a little antzy because we weren't sure what the plan was but after about 15 minutes, we pulled into a parking lot that was full of busses but that seemed to be made more for Volkswagons! We were by the river right by the Eiffel Tower. We jumped off and boarded a boat on the Seine and disembarked for a cruise through Paris. Along with the landmarks, we saw houseboats, little bands playing by the river, dance groups performing, lots of people, and, it must be Paris, people romantically kissing and some just plain making out.
There was also the distrubing sight of homeless tents and shanties under some of the beautiful bridges including one that the narrator called the most romanitic bridge in the world. It is eye opening to see the best and worst, the happiest and the saddest
of a great city so close together. The cruise was relaxing and beautiful. As we returned, we all looked at the Eiffel Tower which was now illuminated then the entire crowd gasped as the Tower burst into a display of 20,000 flashing bulbs. It was an amazing site equal to any fireworks display. This happens for 10 minutes every hour from dark until 1:00. These are special bulbs that last 10 years. Its a good thing because to change the bulb, workers must wear mountain climbing gear and climb on the outside of the Tower!
Another surprise was in store for us. We were heading home and driving by some of the landmarks to see them illuminated. It was about 11:00 but the streets were unbelievably packed and there were pedestrians everywhere. We came to the Arc de Triomphe and noticed that there were all these people all wearing white sitting at white chairs and tables. Our first thought was that it was a wedding or some special party. There is a roundabout that surrounds the Arc and we soon saw that these people were completely surrounding the landmark. There seemed to be thousands of them. Our guide had heard of them but did not expect this. Apparantly, this group is connected only through e-mail and they just decide every once in a while to all meet somewhere in Paris and have a picnic. I found a link that describes what happened, http://news.sawf.org/Lifestyle/38628.aspx. What a crazy sight. As were drove by, they were doing the wave with their napkins all around the Arc! I was told they even bring their own chairs!
The next moring, we trudged down into the lobby with all of our luggage. Everyone paid any extra fees and Shari and I had a little battle with a street gypsy over a ring (these people are everywhere-ask your student about "do you speak English?"). We had a 9 hour drive through France and Germany on this cold and wet Friday. It was a good time to get a little rest and to share stories. We arrived at 6PM to our rain-soaked but smiling hosts. A German and American flag in the hands of the German students awaited us. There were many handshakes and hugs as new aquaintances were made and recent friendships were restored.
The students are now off with their host families for Saturday and most of Sunday. They will be doing a huge variety of things and will look forward to getting back together to talk about their hosts and homes and what they did. Many will see each other at little parties or sports events and others will be out of town seeing other parts of the region. Both the concert group and the jazz band will play at an outdoor festival Sunday late afternoon. The band director is a little nervous about so much time between tomorrow and our last rehearsal. It will be OK (he says to himself!). We've had rain and sun today but the forcast is good for tomorrow. It is
nice to have a fairly relaxed weekend after a wonderful but hectic time in Paris. Lots of kids are looking for new memory sticks for their cameras and it looks like one camera has been lost or stolen. Everyone seems healthy and happy.
Sunday night in Bietigheim
The group got back together to perform their first concert tonight. Everyone was in good spirits and had lots of stories to tell about their weekends with the hosts. Some saw castles, some went to the swimming pool, some played beach volleyball, some hit the candy factory, some paddled canoes, and some danced at the disco to name just a few of the experiences the band members had. The theme was that all were amazed at how warm and giving their hosts have been and yes, they are eating!
Our first concert with the jazz band and concert band were not the ultimate in performance opportunities. The stage was small, the temperature was high, and the acoustics were pretty rough. We were in a three sided tent. It was so loud in side and yet the sound outside was not very strong. It had been a long time since our last rehearsals but the kids did well. Still, the audience reaction wasn't overwhelming. I blame it on the heat and bad acoustics. We were playing at the Holzklobenfest which commemorates the logs coming down the river from the logging camps. It is a great atmosphere with all of the traditional German dishes and drinks available and lots of dancing and music. Many of us came back later in the evening to listen to a very good professional big band from the area and use our free food and drink tickets. The night before, Shari and I and our hosts watched a band called "The Horn Flakes." I just had to share that name!
After the concert, we all went to the soccer fields for the big rematch. You might remember that in the South stadium, we won 4-2. I'm afraid the news isn't as good this time. We were on the short end of a 3-5 loss. Chris Marx, an own goal which Brian Conrick had a lot to do with, and my father's day gift, a goal by Tom Adams, were our scores. Our guys played hard and in the end, both teams were very upbeat and happy to have had the battle. There is something beautiful in the fact that we won in America and they won here and both teams scored a total of 7 goals. A perfect tie for the series. I should mention that many on both teams were bloodied. The field we played on was artifical with large amounts of sand on it. The kids said the surface was great to play on until you fell. If you fell, you were bleeding as the sand scraped away at your skin. Students kept coming to Laurel with their battle wounds. I think Erin Gill, one of our goalies had the ugliest wound but she was back in the game in just a few minutes. The kids seemed proud of their scars! We all sang Happy Birthday to Jaynie Brautman!
Tomorrow we will learn the history of Bietigheim, meet the Mayor, eat pizza in the center of town, have a rehearsal, and perform "The Big Concert" in their Crown Center.
Monday night in Bietigheim
I'm a very happy band director tonight. We performed in the city's concert hall a couple of hours ago. It is a beautiful venue with great acoustics. It was a special night because before we performed, the Bietigheim band performed three numbers. This was Reimund Schiffer's last concert with the group before he moves on to be principal of the school. Reimund was honored by the school for his 24 years as director and his students gave him a special tribute plus a welcome to their new director, Julia Schlag. Reimund received a standing ovation from everyone and my good friend could not hold back some well-deserved tears. Julia is now the director of the Jugenblasorchester. It was a special night for the German music community and I was honored that our students were a part of it.
We performed after a brief intermission. Let me backtrack a litte bit. I told you yesterday that our performance last night was not what we had dreamed. Well, today we began with a tour of Bietigheim and a presentation of its history. We then met Oberburgermeister Kessing (the mayor) for some pictures then a short but nice reception in their council hall (which was built in the mid 1400s!). He read a prepared speech to the students in English and was quite the host. Our next stop was a great pizza lunch provided by the German band parents complete with non-stop ice for the drinks! In Europe, drinks don't come with ice unless specially requested.
The moms are just like our's; they go way out of there way to make the kids feel great. I took them out for coffee afterwards as thanks for their wonderful treatment of our students. Free time! Lots of kids tried my favorite, spaghetti ice! They'll explain it to you later. Then a practice. This was a hard practice where we really focused on getting back our best sounds and top concentration. It isn't the easiest thing to accomplish while on a trip like this but the band rose to the occasion.
OK, so now the concert. We played after intermission for about an hour. We were a new band. They focused, they concentrated, they played expressively, they watched their mean old conductor and the crowd went wild! The guys did a great job and the audience demanded an encore. Mr. Kohl stepped out on the stage to conduct "The Stars and Stripes Forever." This was his European debut. The audience hadn't had enough. We played our marching band tune, "Waiting on the Robert E. Lee" and they wanted even more but our chops were falling off, everyone was sweaty after so much playing and don't they say "always leave them wanting more!" What a great experience for everyone. You could tell in our students' faces that they had just performed one of the most memorable concerts they will ever play.
Tomorrow we head for Stuttgart for time in their zoo and botanical gardens plus a falcon demonstration. We will then join with the German band to observe a band clinic by the professional police band of Stuttgart which has "adopted" the Bietigheim band. I think we have a BBQ picnic after that. Days are long here! I'm so happy our kids got to have this experience today.
By the way, I think everyone that needed ATM help got it today. We got some cards to work and I used the band card to help some of the other students. Once we get home, these kids just need to pay back the boosters. Among other things, this is what the emergency fund is for. It's bed time and boy am I ready!
Tuesday night in Bietigheim
8:00 am felt very early this morning. A double decker bus was waiting for us and the rush was on to see who got the front of the 2nd level. Those of us on the bottom had the most comfortable seats that were facing each other with a table in between. The students across from me had a spirited card game going in minutes! We had a surprise visitor with us. Tyler Gatewood who was a former band member who travelled with the band to Europe now lives in Germany down in the Alps. He looks at the band website from time to time and saw that we were in town so he hopped aboard a train to see his old band. He first fell in love with Germany when he came with the band and returned a number of times. He now works for the military with their computer systems and attributes the direction his life has taken to the band trip. Tyler graduated with our chaperone, Laurel, and happens to be the younger brother of South teacher/coach, Travis Gatewood. It was great to spend some time with him as he joined us for our trip to Stuttgart.
Our first destingation was the Wilhelmima which is the city's outstanding zoo and botanical garden. The students had a number of hours free to explore. The adults went with one of the host fathers who knew the park inside and out. At one point, he called his good friend who is the head veteranarian for the park. I felt like we were with Dr. Doolittle as he would walk to
the exhibitions and give a whistle and shake his keys which had the effect of bringing the animals in each display to run to the front of the enclosures. We were able to gather quite a few of our students together for a real highlight. This man fed the polar bears and showed us right where to stand which was a glass that was opened to a scene half above the water and half below. My gosh, the sight of these huge animals standing on their hind legs then diving for fish and apples and coming up right in front of our window. The power and grace of the bears in the water is something I won't forget.
Our next stop was a castle at the top of a great hill covered with vinyards. We were there to see a falcon demonstration. This did not start out very well. It may have been the hottest day of the year and the kids were dragging. The presentation began with about 20 minutes of...well, I don't know because it was in German. Hot, tired, can't understand; the time moved slow. The first few demonstrations didn't seem to go very well. The birds would sometimes seem to ignore their keepers. Our attention was perked up when they brought out a huge eagle that the handlers had fly just inches above our heads. The audience was laughing, screaming, diving for cover, and snapping some amazing photos.
We weren't done yet. We returned to the Kronencenter, location of last nights wonderful concert. A professional band from Stuttgart with an international reputation gave both student bands an hour long clinic. It was very interesting to see these fantastic musicians prepare some very challenging and interesting music. It was very helpful that a translator was provided so our students could understand all that was going on but, of course, the music and the conductor's gestures told us most of the story.
Still not done! Everyone went to a park between the two rivers of the town for a big picnic. Reimund said that they got this idea from their trip to America. There was a wonderful array of dishes that each family brought. Believe me, most of our kids are not shy about trying new foods. Frisbee football, a little catch with a baseball, and general socializing between the kids of both groups, plus much more comfortable temperatures made for a simply great evening. I'm so proud of the behavior and openess of our crew. Yes, some of the kids need more rest and Laurel and Shari are helping with a few minor health issues and a couple of iPods and cameras have either disappeared or stopped working but this trip is going so well.
Lost in the Alps!
Today our happy little crew headed for the Austrian Alps. After about a three hour drive, we arrived at Lake Constance which sits between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is a huge and scenic lake. There are resorts all around the area we were in and people sunning on the beach. The sight of the grandpa-ish men in speedos was only a minor distraction!
Anyway, we rode a gondola up to the top of one of the near summits and enjoyed an amazing view over the massive blue lake and the surrounding mountains. It should be mentioned that the first gondola of our guys broke into songs from "The Sound of Music" plus a little "Yellow Submarine."
All was good as we spent about 40 minutes at the top. The trouble started on the way down. We began a long hike to the bottom that was expected to last almost and hour and a half. After a few steps, a group of the kids began running to the bottom right past our German guides. It wasn't long before we realized this group had taken a wrong turn on the trail. We sent the
amazing marathon man, Austin Bruss, after them. Gradually members of the group returned as Austin passed them and told them to head back. Finally we had everyone back except 5 plus Austin. Reimund and his son proceeded after the final kids and the rest of us headed down the mountain but we were now well past the scenic and meandering path. We had to take the very
steep plunging path that was frankly kind of scary.
Soon I received a call from Reimund that the other boys had finally turned around and met him on the trail. They would take a different trail to the bottom. He said he had 5 boys but I was sure we were missing 6. We recounted and sure enough, Justin Holmes was not with us. He had not run with the front group but had taken another route somewhere along the way accidentally.
There wasn't much we could do because many trails had been passed. We left it up to Justin to make it to the bottom. Lost American in the Alps! Well, we made it to the bottom with the big group and there was Justin waiting for us. Huge relief! Within a few minutes the other group of wayward distance runners plus Austin and the Germans found us. Happy ending and it makes for a great story. The day wasn't exactly as planned but it was certainly memorable!
A Day in Heidelberg,
We've had a change in the weather. A big storm hit late last night and we awoke to a cloudy cool morning. We crawled onto the bus (the mornings seem to be getting earlier) and headed for Heidelberg. The city is famous for having the oldest university in Germany. It has been there since the 1300s and is still going strong. The other attraction is the ruin of a great castle on the hill. We toured the old town with its many shops, the university, and the castle. One of the most memorable aspects of the castle is that it home to the world's largest wine cask that apparently always leaked and was only used for 50 years but it is the size of a small house!
Unfortunately, it rained through much of the tour. Some of our crew were lucky enough to have umbrellas but others just went with the new weather induced hair styles. There was much stair climbing again today but nothing compared to yesterday in the Alps.
After the tours it was FREE TIME! Many of the band found a Subway which was just like ours. T-shirts, German flags, chocolates, and many other momentos were being purchased during this relaxed chunk of time. The town really is beautiful and the tourists come from around the world. Our guide told us that fully 50% of the tourists that visit are from other countries. A little side story that we were told is that Mark Twain wrote much of Huckleberry Finn while in Heidelberg. Heidelberg means blueberry hill and the name inspired him to name his new novel. I don't know if this is true but it does make a good story.
We performed in the town of Tamm tonight in their brand new concert hall. We were the first group from outside the country to play there. The stage was a bit cramped but both the concert band and jazz band played great and the audience was again very appreciative. Both groups played an encore and the audience wanted more but I was trying to save the chops of the jazz band. The mayor gave all the band members a flower. This was the last performance for the concert band. The jazz band has another performance tomorrow night. We performed with two less players because Danielle Backus and Austin Bruss returned home today for a family wedding and Philmont scout camp, respectively. I hope their flight is smooth.
Speaking of flights, our guys learned today that they must meet at 5:15 AM to go to the airport on Saturday morning. This was not met with cheers. Some kids started saying "let's stay up all night." Please encourage your students if you talk with them that this is not a good idea. Your favorite chaperone crew does not want to have to herd 50-some nearly comatose teenagers through airports! Stuttgard tomorrow!
Short and sweet because I have to pack!
We will tell you all about it tomorrow when we see you at KCI. Today included the amazing new Mercedes museum in Stuttgart. Even if you aren't interested in the cars, you would be impressed by the cultural history presented along with all the cool cars. We hit the fan shop for the national soccer champion team from Stuttgart then went to the pedestrian zone to make our final purchases. Many amazing deals were found! Ever since I first came to this area of Stuttgart 20 some years ago, I have thought the Plaza should be made a purely pedestrian zone with the exception of the horse carriages. It would make an already special area so much better.
We had a couple hours to start packing then returned to the center of Bietigheim for a festival
that was a benefit for the town band. Though I didn't think it was the best performance of the
jazz band on some of the tunes, the overflowing audience seemed to love it! Just as we
finished, the rain started and the wind began to blow. It was off to final goodbyes, packing,
and last get togethers with our German friends.
This has been a very special and successful exchange. You would be so proud of how our kids have represented our community and how they supported and enjoyed each other throughout the trip. The Germans keep speaking of the wonderful time they had in Overland Park and we could not have been treated better here!
I can't say I'm looking forward to the airports and cattle car conditions in the planes tomorrow
but I am looking forward to getting home. Bietigheim is such an amazing place. Without a doubt it is my second favorite place on the planet but Dorothy said it best, "There's no place like home!"