A Daily Blog from Mr. Adams
Europe Trip 2011
We are in Germany! The plane trip was uneventful but so long. The flight from Dallas to Frankfurt was 9.5 hours and it felt like twice that. Everyone's luggage made it and we all got through security without a hitch. We were met by Herr Schiffer at the airport and we loaded onto a brand new luxury bus that took us on to Heidelberg. The Germans had been telling me about how warm and dry the weather has been since their visit to the US. Well, the weather changed just in time for us. It was chilly and a light rain fell all day. It was OK because the cool temps helped keep us awake. We may have started our tour at 10AM local time but our bodies still told us that it was 3AM KC time.
We toured Heidelberg castle which is an awesome building overlooking the old town which features the university that was established in the 1300s. We saw the largest wine cask in the world-it would barely fit in our band room, and heard stories of how the royalty of Heidelberg were connected to so many of the great people and events in European and even a bit of US history. After the tour, we were set loose on the town for shopping and eating. There were lots of options for lunch and every student will have a different story about their first meal. We hopped back on the bus and headed for Bietigheim. I am told that within minutes, every single person on the bus was out cold as sleep quickly overcame our group. I can't tell you for sure because I was out like a light!
It was a great scene as we met our host families. First, the local paper took a picture of our crew and luggage then there were many reunions as our students were picked up by "their family." This morning, stories were shared of host family homes, meals, and how long everyone slept (I think 14 hours was the winner). Our day today started with a big walk with our guys and many hosts through the streets of Bietigheim then up into the hills. We ended in a park where their band boosters had sausages on the grill and drinks waiting for us. The weather today is perfect and everyone seems to be doing great. This is a terrific crew of students. They are curious, getting along great, and enjoying it all. We are taking a break for a couple of hours with our host families then we will meet up for a concert at a festival in a nearby town. I hope we remember how to play! I'll do my best at keeping you updated.
The only issue so far has been for some students to get money. The banks were closed in Heidelberg yesterday during lunch and today is a holiday so the stores and banks are closed. It hasn't really caused any problems for anyone. There will be banks available tomorrow.
We are enjoying a slow start to the weekend. Let me catch you up on what we've been doing. Last time I wrote, we were resting before our first concert. We met at an old church to warmup. When I say "old," I'm not using the term lightly. The church in the town of Ingersheim was built on an early Christian burial ground that dates back to 250 AD. Construction on the church itself began around 600 AD and much of the current construction is well over 1000 years old! After warming up, we took the small stage and played for a large and enthusiastic audience that were there for a town festival. Even after our encore, they wanted more but the next band needed to take the stage. The students played very well and we all had a good time. The new band shirts looked great!
On Friday, we loaded into the bus and headed for Ulm. The church at Ulm was the tallest building in the world until the 20th century. You can climb 768 steps to nearly the top if you are game...and almost everyone was! This is the ultimate spiral staircase and many did get a bit dizzy but it is worth it. At the top, you can see what seems like forever. The cold wind is blowing and you are looking down, way down, at the birds, the city, and the Danube river. Then it is down 768 steps. The students loved the adventure. We only had an hour so it was back on the bus to Neuschwanstein. I actually spelled that right the very first time! This is the castle that Disney's palace is modeled after. It sits well up the first mountains of the German Alps and when we arrived, it was shrouded in fog and clouds. You should have heard the students when they first saw it. It lived up to every fantastic description and we were still only seeing it from the road. We spent an hour walking around the town at the base of the mountain. While there, we enjoyed some cupcakes that Tim Aspleaf's host mom made in celebration of his birthday!
We then trekked up the very steep and long path to the castle. Most really liked the exercise, unfortunately, a couple students weren't feeling great and this wasn't fun for them. Everyone made it up, though. The tour of the castle was quick but it gave us a chance to see this amazing structure that was frankly the result of a man's fantasy who was a terrible King. Ludwig II poured much of his country's resources into this and other castles while the country went broke. Still, it gave us a chance to see what may be the ultimate Royal extravagance. Everyone loved the place.
It took three hours to get back to Bietigheim but it gave everyone time to share stories and for our queazy folks to feel better. We now have the weekend free with our host families. I am looking forward to hearing what everyone will do. The trip is going great. I was so proud of how the band played at the concert and how they handle themselves as a group on these tours. The energy is high and the attitude is exceptional.
It has been a full day! After a weekend with the host families, students arrived at our meeting point with stories of their visits to the Porsche and Mercedes museums, the Ritter-Sports chocolate museum, a lake where some said half the band and their hosts showed up for swimming and paddle boating plus a wide array of other activities. We all sang to Keegan Reese for his birthday then hopped aboard a city bus to the train station heading for Stuttgart. It was sunny when we left...but it didn't stay that way. There was a light sprinkle when we stepped out of the train but by the time we had gone just a few steps, it was pouring-cats and dogs pouring! We dashed for what little cover we could find which was initially just a couple of trees until we retreated to the semi-covered train platform. Our stylish bunch was quickly turned into a group of wet rats. Our plans for an outdoor walking tour were dropped because of the rain and we were eventually back on the train now heading for the downtown shopping district. It would be hours before we were totally dry but everyone took it in stride since we were all in it together. The students were let loose on the shops and many quickly found treasures for themselves and I know quite a few gifts for the folks back home were purchased.
The rain continued on and off but eventually more off than on. We left Stuttgart planning our strategy for the soccer game that was next on the schedule. The field was a very nice artificial field near a small river and train tracks. There was a ref and a fit looking opposing team arriving to take on the invading Americans. The Exchange is 32 years old and we have never won the soccer game on German soil. The game was tight and well played as the first half ended without a score. Blaine Anspaugh put in the first goal by smashing through the defense. The red, white and blue crowd went wild. The clock was winding down when, with less than a minute to go, Deutschland put one in the net. The whistle sounded and it was on to penalty kicks. It was back and forth and very intense as the teams exchanged solo shots on the opposing goalies. It wasn't until the 7th round of penalty kicks that this battle was decided and it was the Americans who came out on top! A celebratory dog-pile ensued. Will Skoog was awesome as our goalie. He stopped many tough shots through the game then came out on top in the shoot out. Both teams played very well and, as you can see, the game could not have been closer. Great times and history was made!
We ended the evening with a potluck dinner put on by their boosters. The food might look different than what we are used to but judging by the quantity piled on the students' plates, they are adjusting just fine. Tomorrow is our last full day in Germany. It has been a fantastic time!
So much has happend since I last wrote. We are now tucked into our hotel in Paris after a day that began back in Bietigheim at 6:30 AM. Many hugs and more than a few tears were shared as we said goodbye to our amazing hosts and then it was off to Stuttgart to catch the superfast TGV train to Paris. It was a project getting all our luggage on but we did it then we glided out of the station. I've never been on such a smooth and quiet train, and boy, does this thing move! What would have been an 8-plus hour bus trip was accomplished in 3.5 hours on the TGV. We met our guide at the Paris station and saw many of the sites-most by bus, but we walked around Montemarte and a terrace looking out on the Eiffel Tower. Many photos were taken. The weather was great and we learned just how crazy the roads are in this city. If there are any traffic laws, you sure couldn't tell from our vantage point. We then checked into our hotel and walked to dinner. Sorry mom, most of the students didn't touch their carrot and tomato salad but the chocolate cake and pasta went over better. The students had a couple of hours of free time but we got them into their rooms pretty early because they would need their energy tomorrow.
Let me backtrack a little. Yesterday began with a tour of Bietigheim. There is a lot of history to our sister city but it was so noisy in the streets that it was hard to hear the guides. There is a lot of construction going on right now and it seemed that every power saw and jack hammer was going at the same time as our guides tried to speak. Franky, not all of our guys were able to focus but our guide did tell me afterward that she was so impressed with how polite and quiet our students were during the tour. She does this often and students from other countries do not present themselves nearly as well as our merry band. We met the mayor then had pizza at the music school. Their boosters bought a ton of pizza and we left a lot of it uneaten. I think everyone got their fill but I wasn't surprised to see that there was lots of mushroom pizza left. Then we had a surprisingly focused two hour rehearsal to prepare for our concert in their fine concert hall.
The concert was a huge success! Wes Creaden was our announcer and he gained rockstar status with the people in the audience. He, Keegan R., and Laura Morrill were all interviewed by the paper right before the concert. The interview and pictures of these students were in the paper this morning. Anyway, back to the concert. After the German band played two numbers, we opened with the national anthems which is always a very cool moment. Our trumpet quartet then played a number they had played at State Solo and Ensemble Festival. The audience gave them a huge ovation-we knew this was going to be something special. As we went through the program, I was so happy with the excellent performance of our guys. We haven't had a band play this well in Bietigheim for many exchanges. When we played our final march, the audience was clapping along. I loved the smiles on our students' faces. But we weren't done. The audience gave the group repeated standing ovations which encouraged us to play 3 encores! What a high for our guys and they deserved it for their wonderful effort. It honestly could not have gone better. What a great experience for all of us and it was a fitting final concert for our seniors. They won't forget this one! We continue our Paris adventure bright and early tomorrow.
After a marathon adventure through airports and airplanes that began with wakeup calls in Paris around 6AM (11PM, KC time) our trip ended with touchdown at KCI around 10:30 PM. We are all home from the Europe trip. I really enjoyed this year's journey. This was a wonderful group of young people to spend time with. Two of our stewards on the Paris to Chicago flight made a point of finding me to pass on how impressed they were with our students. They both talked about how friendly, polite, and respectful our guys were. They told me that when they see a group of students coming on the plane, they cringe but it wasn't the case with our crew. One told me about a recent group of 59 ten year olds! You can imagine what that would be like.
Many of the parents mentioned they used these little entries to keep up with events on the trip. I'm sorry I wasn't able to post another Paris message. I had written one but shut down the computer too quickly for it to download. There was no time to re-write it. Argh! Just for posterity's sake, here is a quick rundown of the last two Paris days. We braved the Paris subway system to save time going to the catacombs. We were doing everything on our own on this day-it was meant to be an adventure and it was...most of it worked. The catacombs were creepy but very interesting. We walked through a long maze of undergroud tunnels. Many were lined with the bones of literally millions of bodies that date from the 1700s and 1800s. Our next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens-what a contrast. Statues, perfect lawns, ancient trees, a palace, sun and rain will be remembered from this destination. On to the Latin Quarter. This is the area many of us picture in our minds when we think of Paris-a cafe on every corner, pastry shops, more little boutiques than you can count, and awesome people watching. The students were let loose here for a while to shop and grab something to eat. Our luck took a dive as we moved on to St. Chappell which is known for having the most beautiful stained glass in the world. We will have to take their word for it because after over an hour in line, we couldn't get in. Long story, maybe the students can tell you. This is also the time that we realized a passport was lost/stolen. Our luck changed back to the positive when we made the short walk over to Notre Dame Cathedral. It is awesome for how ancient, complex, and beautiful it is. The students took endless numbers of pictures of this nearly one thousand year old landmark. It is built on an island on the Seine that was the birth place of Paris! We took a long but energetic walk back to the hotel then let the students free to explore and find dinner. Our adventure worked out pretty well, I would say.
On our final full day, we went to the Lourve. This is the greatest art gallery in the world. It is huge and the collection is as endless as it is amazing. It took us a while to work through the red tape to gain admittance but once we were in, the jaws fell open as we saw not just the most popular items in the collection including the Mona Lisa but room after room of stunning statues and paintings. I was so impressed with how interested my group (we had divided up) was and how knowledgeable some of the students were. They shared what they knew with each other and filled up the memory on their cameras with images of so many masterpieces. While we were here, Mr. Kohl helped Grant get his passport replaced. It went pretty smoothly for them which was a huge relief to everyone. They made it to The Lourve at the same time that we started our tour. The Eiffel Tower was next. It was chilly and rain was threatening but almost everyone wanted to go up. You could take an elevator or steps (708 of them) to get to the second level. Many paid a little extra and waited in a long line to go to the very top. This icon is so much larger than most people realize. The view is stunning and, yes, it did rain and the wind was cold and strong. We went to the hotel to clean up then it was off for a meal at a very nice dinner establishment. Everyone was wide-eyed at how fancy this place was. Our waiters were in tuxedos! The dinner itself was very good but pretty small for our American appetites. The meal was something almost everyone liked so plates were left clean. We weren't done yet! We went back to the Eiffel Tower area to hop on a boat for a nice cruise on the Seine. It was a relaxing and beautiful trip where we not only saw landmarks but also the Parisians enjoying the evening along the river. When we returned to the pier, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated then right a 10PM, thousands of flashing lights burst into action on the tower. Many ohs and ahs were heard. Still not done! We rode the bus for an illumination tour of many of the landmarks. Laura Meschke and Erin Bonifield provided the narration as we worked our way back to the hotel with a few final brief photo stops. We hop out of the bus at the hotel around 11:30 for some packing and cleaning because the night was going to be short before we headed out in the morning.
Whew, we did a lot on this trip. Thanks so much to Becky Meschke for all of her work on planning and setting up the trip. I also really appreciate the work of Mr. Kohl, Mrs. Earney, and my wife, Shari, for all their efforts as chaperones on the trip. They each worked so hard to make everything run smoothly and they care so much about these students. Then, of course, I am very proud of our students-soccer champions, standing ovations, walking miles (many of them on steps), being on time, getting along, and enjoying and being interested in all they experienced are some of the ways I can describe our band. They solidified our relationship with Bietigheim with their talents, curiosity and class. So many people in Germany and France complimented the kids on their behavior and I told each that I would pass their nice words on to the parents because your home is where this class behavior is learned.
Finally, I hope everyone turned in their music at the airport. If you still have some, please take it to South and leave it outside my office ASAP. If you are not renting your school instrument over the summer, turn it in ASAP outside my office. If you need to rent it, download a form from the website, attach a check, and slip it under my office door. I hope everyone enjoys their summer.......and make sure you are practicing!