A Daily Blog from Mr. Adams
Europe Trip 2015
Day 1 & 2
We started very smoothly, no problems at KCI or Atlanta. Our 50 intrepid students were off on a grand adventure. As we talked to students, some had done the international jet set a few times and were pros, others knew their way around an airport from trips within the states but for some, it was their very first flight! What a way to start. OK, all good but overseas flights are meant to be endured not enjoyed. You are in a tiny seat crushed between people that you hopefully get along with. There is no way to get into a natural sleeping position. Very little sleep was had but eventually we pulled up to the terminal in Munich, Germany! Yeah!
All we have to do now is get through passport control, grab our luggage and...and...and about 2/3 of the band's luggage doesn't come on to the carousel. Everyone else is gone, no more luggage is coming up...this isn't good.
Long story short, after much negotiation with two very concerned looking Delta employees that did their best with my English because I was helpless with their German, the luggage was located. At first, it looked like it was still in Atlanta but then they found it in Munich. It took a nervous hour but everything finally arrived! There were shouts of joy as each student's bag rose from the bowels of the airport onto the carousel. I would have understood if some of the kids would have really freaked out about this but everyone stayed calm. I really love the attitude of this crew!
So on to the bus we go and the day is gorgeous! Jared is our tour manager and Reiner is our driver. Good guys! Our first stop is the Marienplatz in the center of Munich. This area is famous for the Glockenspiel, many historic buildings and plenty of shopping. We arrived at about 11. The kids were told to meet at the designated spot at ten until two. Off they went to discover their first German meal and to explore the area. Everybody was back actually a few minutes early and all had new stories of what they found, experienced and ate and most have pictures ready to share. It was so cool to see their excitement. The eating: well some loved it and some are hoping for better luck next time. Oh, driving over to this area, the road went along a pretty stream where some of the students noticed an example of one of the differences between America and Europe: these observant students saw an elderly man drying off after a refreshing dip-let's just say even a speedo would have helped!
On to Salzburg-most of the students quickly fell asleep on this beautiful 2 hour drive. We gave everyone a couple of hours to rest and refresh before dinner upon arriving at the hotel. I am so happy with our home away from home: the rooms are huge which is very different from what is typical of European hotels. It is great. Our dinner tonight, which we shared with a tour group of older folks from Japan, was excellent! Though it included some different German specialties, the students seemed to love it. There were lots of choices in the buffet style setting and most students went back two or more times...especially for the desserts. After dinner, some students are now playing cards in the halls, some are wandering around our area outside-some made it all the way down to the river. Bed check is at 10PM and the only complaints were the students that wanted it earlier! This is a tired group of travelers! Tomorrow we are off to the historic district of Salzburg for a day of walking through this amazing city...it is supposed to rain! Time for bed check!
Our first full day in Salzburg started with a great breakfast! The hotel had a huge selection of European staples and American favorites. The students (and chaperones) were refreshed for what lay ahead after a good night's sleep. We hopped on the bus and met Isle, our tour guide. After a short ride, we entered the Mirabelle Gardens-a gorgeous Versailles style garden that surrounds a former Archbishop's palace where his mistress and their 15 children lived in great luxury. This was the location for a number of scenes from "The Sound of Music" as were some other landmarks we were to visit. We then crossed the river using a bridge that is covered with locks. Sweethearts place them here to signify their eternal love. The flute section wants to put one with all of their names on it tomorrow!
We were now in the old town of Salzburg! Here was a packed pedestrian zone full of shops, restaurants, churches, and coffee shops, all in the shadow of the imposing Fortress that stands above the town on a very steep and high hill. Our first stop was the museum in Mozart's birthplace which the kids seemed to really enjoy. Then our guide gave us some historical context on the sights we were seeing as she led us to the tram that would take us up to the Fortress. From there, we were treated to stunning vistas of the Alps to the South and the town to the North. Many pictures were taken. Under an intense sun, we headed back down to the town. After some instructions, it was time for lunch. We told the students that they were now on their own until dinner when we would all meet back at the designated spot.
The students knew free time was coming and had been told to come up with their plans for the day. They did as many different things as there were groups. Some shopped on the Getriedagrasse (I hope I spelled that right), others sought out the perfect pretzel, some bought traditional Austrian hats, while others revisited the historical sights seen that morning for a more in-depth look. Still others rented bikes and headed off into the woods...and, well, the list goes on but they loved this! Sure enough, a little before 6:30, everyone was back-not a single student late!
Jared, our tour manager, led us to a restaurant called the Sternbrau just as the rain began to fall. We had a hearty schnitzel with soup, salad, and dessert. This was another good choice though honestly, many of us weren't that hungry because lots of snacks were had during the day. As good as the dinner was, what many students will remember from this place was, I'm not kidding, the bathrooms. They were the ultimate in high teach, high fashion restrooms. I won't go into a lot of detail but one thing is you don't have to touch a thing-even the doors open automatically and just for good form, the mirror has written on it, "we think you look great." Of course Jared had to tell me this because it was written in German! I'm pretty sure every student went to look at these bathrooms-I know it sounds weird but they thought it was really cool and so did I!
When we got back on the bus, I told the students they had some choices to make: first, after our morning tour tomorrow, did they want to go to the historic salt mines in the mountains-a big tourist draw but also a 12 Euro expense-or did they want to have another 3 or 4 hours of free time in Salzburg? The latter won. So many want to experience what their friends did today. The other question was, what time did they want bed check? Believe it or not, they picked 10PM instead of a later time and there were quite a few votes for 9:30!
I am so proud of how these students are working together to really get the most out of this trip. They are staying in groups and supporting each other in their adventures. They are being upbeat and courteous to folks that are around them. They are a fantastic crew.
Our last day in Salzburg! After breakfast, we hopped on the coach to drive out to some palaces, some with, you guessed it, "Sound of Music" connections. It was starting to sprinkle as we got off the bus to walk through the grounds of Hellbrunn Palace. It has beautiful lakes and many statues but what our guide kept talking about was "the trick fountains." She wouldn't tell us more...but I noticed she did not join us for the hike we were about to take. Oh, and now the rain was coming down pretty good. We began the fountain tour with this devilish looking young man as our guide. He had this constant knowing smile. His English wasn't very good as he directed us stand on these marble risers that surrounded a stone table and chairs. He asked for volunteers to sit on the chairs and gradually, starting with Eric Karanevich then some other guys, then joined by our first brave lady, Danielle Hoff, they came forward. Then I was forced, totally against my will, to sit at the head of the table. He asked us to put our hands on the table then water started shooting up from behind the chairs, then straight up from the chairs! Yep, there were some wet bottoms! But not mine! The Arch Bishop that had this palace built was quite the prankster and this is how he treated his guests. It is 200 years old but the water features still work. I wasn't wet because I sat in the Arch Bishop's chair. That evil guide then convinced Ethan Iba to sit in my chair which he did. He didn't get wet until he stood up and was nailed by another set of jets! His surprised face was so funny! We then went through a series of what turned out to be more fountain traps. Most of the students were nailed a number of times by the shooting water-and they loved it. Special mention goes to Cora Selzer-there was a tunnel of sporadic sprays that everyone was avoiding. Cora just took off her new Austrian hat and danced right through them to everyones' cheers. We were already wet from the rain so who cares! Strange place but so much fun. We then took an unplanned trip back to the hotel to change.
Then it was back to the Mirabelle Gardens to let the students off to start their 4 hours of free time for lunch and to explore. The rain had stopped but it remained overcast and cool-actually perfect weather for exploring on foot. As our adult group would run into students, they all were in such great moods and so full of stories of what they had done or bought or planned to do. Groups kept sharing ideas on what they liked with each other. Today, the Gummy Bear store was a hit, a playground with a huge enclosed slide became the backdrop for student videos, and a number of groups discovered a very steep and beautiful trail into the woods that overlooked the town. Again, everyone was on time at our meeting place. This is going so great!
We had another excellent dinner in a dining room below the Fortress that was built in 1720 then we returned to the hotel. A highlight for all of us at dinner was that a number of our girls decided to pull out all the stops to look gorgeous for their night out. Stunning dresses, perfect hair, and those radiant smiles made it a little more special for all of us. Now, it is time to pack. We leave for Bietigheim and a surprise addition to our itinerary at 9AM tomorrow morning. Bed check is at 10 again. This crew is happy, working as a team, and kind of tired!
Day 5 & 6
We are in Germany! Everything went smoothly as we left our hotel in Salzburg and settled in for the drive to Bietigheim. We added a stop that I thought the students would enjoy to the town of Ulm which is famous as the home of Albert Einstein and the Ulm Munster which is the tallest church in the world! You can climb the 768 steps to get almost to the top which is just short of 2 football fields high. Most of the steps are in a tight spiral and the highest part has people going up and down on the same very narrow stairs. If you don't like heights, this might not be for you. Many of the students climbed to the top and had the elation of accomplishing a truly athletic feat as their calf muscles twitched the rest of the day. They were rewarded with an unbelievable 360 degree view that included the Danube river. Others chose not to climb but were able to take in the beauty and awesomeness of the church from the ground. This church started out in the 1300s as a Catholic cathedral but became a Lutheran church a couple of centuries later (for more accurate history-please look it up), anyway, it wasn't finished until the late 1800s. This was a big hit for our crew! Then it was on to Bietigheim.
After a long drive, we pulled into the parking lot of the Ellenthal Gymnasium (basically, their high school). It was great-here was this huge crowd of German students and parents that you could tell were very excited to see the Kansans. For some, it was a reunion, for others it was a chance to meet someone who had opened their home to them for the first time. There were handshakes, hugs, and simply a very warm welcome for our crew. Everyone headed home for a couple of hours to have dinner and see their home for the next week.
We all came back together at 8:00 in the town's winery. Yes, for hundreds of years they have made wine here but we were meeting to watch the national soccer teams of Germany and the USA face off. Hmmm, Germany won the World Cup last summer and we were, well, the underdogs. Everyone stood as the National Anthems played for both teams then we settled in for the game. Germany seemed to dominate but there was no score for a long time then the Germans put it in. Oh well..but wait, America puts one in..it is tied and then....USA scores again! The Germans made some dangerous attacks but WE WON! I think everyone was surprised. Honestly, most of the students from both bands were more interested in getting to know each other than the game...but it was fun to win!
Today, we toured the Mercedes-Benz museum. This is an ultra-modern building that follows the history of the last century and a half through developments of the Mercedes company. Yes, there are lots of cars to see but also a great timeline of world history. It was very interesting even if you are not a car nut. Most of the student's spent quite a bit of time in the exhibit. The museum was across the street from Stuttgart's soccer stadium and a number of students went over to their fan shop to seek out jerseys and souvenirs. I know Rhys Jones found a treasure. Kris Sturm had a memorable experience back at the museum. I didn't see her but the kids were talking about this tall, glamorous, must-be-a-super-model woman that was walking through the exhibit. Well, near the end, there is a 2 person simulator that you can get in for a thrill ride. Kris climbs in and...so does she! Kris won't tell us what happened in that simulator but he was blushing and said her name was Natasha! This story has been independently verified by a number of students :-)
All day, it was great listening to the students talk about their hosts, their host homes, what they ate, host pets, you name it! Our next stop was the Konigstrasse which is a huge pedestrian shopping area in Stuttgart. This is the Plaza times 10! It is great for shopping but also people watching, getting a snack or just looking around. As is now normal for this group, everyone was on time at our meeting place then we hopped on the bus to crawl back to Bietigheim. The traffic is ridiculous! Something nice, Ronja, our flute playing German exchange student from two years ago came in from the Eastern part of Germany to see our students. It was great to see her.
Our first performance is tomorrow and the day ends with another USA/Germany soccer game-this time with our guys playing the German band members. I'm hoping for the same result as the national teams but I'm worried, the Musikschule's principal is going to be the ref!
I'm going to keep it short tonight because it is 11:30 and it has been a busy day. We started the day with the students visiting some of the classes in the high school. One teacher would not let our guys into their class even though the Principal had arranged it. One of the German moms, I heard, confronted the teacher and...well, I don't know the details but it shows that while our kids are here, the host families take care of our students as if they were their own.
We played our first concert today for a room full of students. We hadn't played in over a week and there have been a few distractions like traveling to Europe! but the band was focused and played really well. Initially, the audience was kind of talkative but they got more and more into the performance. By the end, we had to play two encores and still they kept applauding. It was exciting for all of us. Our guys understand now that this is truly a MUSICAL exchange.
Great solo work was turned in by Eric Karanevich, Megan Stollsteimer, Hannah Bonifield, Alyssa Bridges, Rachael Ashcraft, and Maddie Stevens.
After a meal at the high school, the students were off to some fun in the sun at the city's water park. It is a really nice facility and the weather was warm and sunny. It was a great way to cool down after a warm concert-air conditioning isn't common here.
Our dreams of a US victory in soccer did not come to fruition today. We lost, 4-1. Thanks to Rhys for putting in a penalty shot and to Ethan Iba for keeping it from being worse-he stopped a lot of shots. Our guys played actually pretty well but it just didn't work out. Our team was a balanced crew of guys and girls that subbed regularly so everyone that wanted to got to play. The Germans, maybe still smarting from their two losses on the last exchange and the recent tie in the US, played about 15 players, all guys. They won but had to work for it. I was very proud of our crew.
The weekend is now free for the host families to make their own plans with the students until we get back together for a huge potluck dinner on Sunday night. I'm really looking forward to hearing what experiences the students have!
Day 8 & 9
I didn't plan on writing this weekend because we don't have a set itinerary. The host families decide what to do with their guest so I am not seeing our guys until this evening and the students' experiences will all be totally different. However, I wanted to let you know about something pretty special I did today that kind of puts the whole trip into perspective beyond just a cool trip to Europe.
My host took me to a reunion of the German students that were on the first two exchanges to Overland Park back in '79 and '84. For many of them, it was the first time they had seen each other in over 30 years. The Guest of Honor was their former director, Seigfried Moll and his wife. Herr Moll will turn 80 this year and he now lives in the Black Forest, well south of here. A couple former students hatched this plan a year ago and invited him to come back. Of course, as the only American there, I felt it might be an uncomfortable time but it wasn't. These now graying band members kept coming up and telling me about their experiences in KC and trips they have taken to the US since. They asked about host families or students they hosted. One guy, actually hosted my best friend from high school. A number of them are still in contact with people from SM South that they got to know through the exchange. Many made it clear that their trip to Shawnee Mission (that is the term they usually use) was a huge highlight in their young lives and, for many, had a major impact on their adult life. One husband and wife were very proud to tell me that they fell in love on their trip to Overland Park. When I asked them if they had children, the wife said, "yes! a flute and a trumpet!" I had to laugh. I'm still not sure if they have sons or daughters-band people! A little before I left, many broke out their instruments and, under the direction of Herr Moll, played three tunes from their tours. They were so happy, so many pictures were being taken and I thought it was just beautiful. Actually the music wasn't bad at all. You see, though almost all of these people have careers outside of music, many still play in their town bands and the like. This is another subject but there are so many more opportunities to keep playing over here-almost every village has its own town band.
How special that these people were coming together because of this exchange at the very time students thirty years younger than them were visiting and doing the same thing they did all those years ago. In a way, this reunion gave me a glimpse into our own students' future and the importance this exchange may well have on their lives. Yes, this is why we keep doing this.
I look forward to seeing our students this evening for a potluck dinner to see what they have been doing. They continue to just be an exceptional group. I am very proud of every one of them. I do not say that lightly-honestly, everyone of them is contributing to make this what I will remember as one of our very best trips.
Sunday through Tuesday afternoon
It has been so busy with such late nights that I have fallen behind. Let me try a quick catch-up: Sunday night our hosts threw a big potluck in Ingersheim. There was so much food! We had it on this terrace that overlooked vineyards and, far below, the Neckar River. Many stories were shared about what the students did over the weekend with their families-I heard about Ludwigsburg Palace, a get together at a lake, a variety of museums, a treetop adventure park, and all sorts of other activities.
Yesterday, we were off to Heidelberg with its Old Town, imposing castle, and university that was founded in the 1300s, plus tons of shops to help unload the students' euros-and shop they did. This town does a great job of balancing historic interest with plain old tourism. We started with about three hours of free time to shop and explore then we broke into two groups and had guided tours through the castle (it has the largest wine cask in the world...and the second and third) and the old town. We all sang to Kris Sturm-it was his birthday! and coincidentally, one of his host brother's, too.
Our first real mishap-Ryan Wagner was riding a bike through Bietigheim to get one of the famous spaghetti ices Monday night when he fell. When his arm didn't start feeling better after an hour, his host mom said, "we are going to the hospital." Sure enough, x-rays showed his arm was broken. He is now in a really fashionable blue cast and is cleared to go home with us but surgery probably awaits back in KC. He is doing Ok today but what rotten luck. If you have any questions about the German health care system, Ryan is now our expert.
We walk a lot on this trip but today we may have put in the most miles...I mean kilometers. We started the day with guided tours through Bietigheim. This is an amazing old town with buildings from the 1300s on. Many have been beautifully restored. There are also incredible gardens and all over the place are interesting modern sculptures which make a fascinating contrast to the architecture of centuries gone by. Next, we took a lloonngg walk to lunch. We had this great little outdoor place all to ourselves and had a hearty meal....but then had to walk all the way back and a little farther to the Kronencenter where we had an hour and a half rehearsal for tonight's show. It was a long hike but the group was game-at least I heard no complaints! Our guide was Bastian Schiffer, son of the Principal. Bastian was an exchange student, as was his sister, at SM South back when they were in their teens. They both were all-state musicians and love their memories of Overland Park.
Right now, the students are at home maybe taking a nap (everyone is happy but really tired), or packing (that is probably what I should be doing), or getting ready for their last dinner with their hosts. I am sure they will have a terrific concert tonight then they will go home to get ready for a 6:15 meeting tomorrow morning for the long drive to Frankfurt, the spacious and comfortable accommodations (not) on our overseas flight, a 6 hour layover in Detroit, then home sweet home. I can promise you there will be some tearful goodbyes when we leave. Our hosts have been fantastic and every host I have talked to has told me your students have been wonderful guests. The kids now realize that it isn't the sites that make this trip special, though they are pretty awesome, it is the people they have met. Wait until you hear their stories first hand!
OK, we are home! Now you can ask the students that were actually there but let me finish this blog with a wrap-up of our amazing trip. The final concert was plain and simply, an awesome experience. The concert hall was full when the JBO, the band that visited us in April, took the stage and played two solid numbers. They sounded terrific. Then up our guys went to the stage and played the national anthems of both countries. The Principal of the Musikshule came up and welcomed us and told the audience a bit of the history of the exchange. I so appreciated that a good number of people who have been involved in the exchange over the last 35 years were in attendance. We then moved into our program and the band was ON! From the first notes, I knew we were ready to show our best. At the end of the first number, I think our students were a little shocked by the extended ovation-you should have seen the smiles on our musicians. As the concert continued, the audience became even more encouraging and the band rose to new levels thanks to their focus, skill, and this amazing audience's motivating response. Eric Karanevich again nailed the Weber Clarinet Concertino and all of our soloists were in great form. Kris Sturm did an impressive job as our announcer. Ms Earney conducted her international debut and the band didn't let her down. The German leaders thanked us by giving us a jersey of Bietigheim's national champion hockey team that was signed by all of their band members. We then gave their directors and the parents that organized events and chaperoned our day trips some nice gifts from our Boosters. We ended with The Stars and Stripes Forever which was played to the audience clapping along and then we were...not done...they wanted more so we played the Fight Song...and more so we played Galop which I picked because I had heard so many of our students whistling it over the previous days......and they still wanted more-for our third encore, we played "Let it Go" from Frozen. The audience continued to applaud as each section stood one by one to the cheers of the audience. Such a great experience.
Those who were at the concert by the JBO back in April at SMS remember that our audience was also extremely supportive of our guests. That is the beautiful thing-the ovations are for the music but also to support the new friends made and also as thanks for the hosting in both communities and the exchange in general but, as their music teacher, I can very proudly assure you, they played fantastic! It was an honor to stand in front of this group for that performance and every other activity on this tour. You sent an exceptional group of young ambassadors to represent our community!
The next morning, we met at 6:15 to load the bus and say goodbye. It was quite a job to get our students to part from their host families and German friends but we had to go! There were a lot of teary eyed band members on that bus and your could see it was the same with their hosts. We finally started rolling about 10 minutes late but as soon as we turned the corner the bus came to a halt. A large group of German band members had snuck ahead of us and were now seated cross-legged across the road. We were blocked. They wouldn't let us go. OK, now tears rolled down even my eyes. This is such a happy sadness. It is sad because it was the end of this chapter of something so good. Everything was so wonderful-especially two bands' worth of truly first class young people-one from Overland Park, Kansas and one from Beitigheim-Bissingen, Germany. We live thousands of miles apart and yet could not be closer.
Well, then we were off to the airport and as I said at the beginning of the trip-you just try to endure the airports and flights. Let's just say, it didn't go exactly smoothly but it worked and we are home. The parent welcome when we got off the plane was so perfect. There really is no place like home.
Thanks to everyone that made this a great trip. If you still have music, please drop it off on the table in front of my office in the band room as soon as possible. Otherwise, rest up and enjoy your summer!