Sunday, December 15, 2013

1992 European Chorale Tour

This is the longest letter I ever wrote and I actually did copy this little book and send it out through the mail.  I can't believe, looking back how much time I invested in the belief that my friends and family would find it as interesting as I had, and so, I continue here, still thinking someone besides me, might vitally enjoy hearing about this trip.

Our Hotelship in East Berlin and a Cathedral in Gdansk, Poland
Greg and Dixie's Travels With The California Redwood's Chorale through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Poland - July 1992
Marienkirche zu Berlin
Orgel von Joachim Wagner (1721)
July 29, 1992


     We finally have recovered enough from our European Vacation that I can stay awake long enough to type this.  It's a good thing the adoption hasn't happened yet because we'd never be able to keep up with even one child yet.  Seriously, after we got back to the States, we went to a motel in Oakland with the intention of taking a nap. It was 1:30 in the afternoon when we lay down and 6:30 the next morning when we woke up.  That was July 18th and we've slept a major portion of each day since then.  But enough jet lag.  About our trip.

     On Friday, June 26th we drove the two hours down to Eureka where the choir Greg sings with, the California Redwoods Chorale, (CRC), was having a concert.  We spent the night there and then drove down south of San Francisco to Monterey.  We got there at 8:30 and soon realized that this seaside town, on a summer, Saturday night had no rooms.  So we drove and looked and drove some more, and the signs for Lo Angeles kept showing less and less miles, until at 11:00 we found a room in Soledad. That was the night (June 27-28) of the big earthquake down south (7.3 near Landers, CA), but we didn't feel a thing. Sunday we drove back up to Monterey and spent the day in the aquarium there.  It has a three story tall, glass walled, kelp cores, sea otters, sharks and a bat ray petting tank among other things.  Then we drove back up to San Francisco and met the rest of the CRC at a Day's Inn in Oakland. Monday, we slept until 11 AM and then began the task of getting the 80 members of our group, and their luggage to the airport, using the six passenger van the motel had, since they were letting us park in the motel lot.
Haarlem, in the Netherlands
     I love flying within the United States. Transcontinental jetting is more like a period of suspended animation within a modern day torture chamber. Your mouth and eyes are dried up as all the liquid in your body settles into your ankles and they balloon to three times normal size.  Your internal clock springs a gear or two.  No matter how long and boring the flight, you can't sleeper even stretch out your legs.  We got on the plane at 4:30 PM and took off an hour later.  We flew north over Montana, Canada, Greenland before dipping down toward Amsterdam, Holland. (also called"The Netherlands")  We landed a little after noon.  During or ten hour flight we went from 5:30 PM on June 29 to Noon on June 30.  We saw a two hour sunset turn into surmise without having dipped below the horizon.  We staggered off the plane, exhausted.  We met our tour guides, collected our luggage and boarded the two big buses belonging to Witte Travel.  Dreams of bed and baths filled our clouded brains.

     We drove from Schipol Airport so named because it is located on an area that the Dutch drain of water using huge windmills, and when it was drained, they discovered hundreds of wrecked ships, there naming it "Ship Hell,"  to nearby Haarlem.  Instead of going straight to the hotel, we were dropped off in downtown Haarlem for a few hours so we could explore the city square (an enormous area, all cobblestone and shops, named appropriately Gross (Big or Great) Markt (Not a typo, no "e") and a wondrous old cathedral, St. Bravo's, with an organ as large as our house practically.  the organ is from 1738 and Handel and Mozart played on it.  There was also a narrow street leading off the Gross Markt.  On that street is  tall, narrow house/watch shop where Corrie TenBoom and her family ran th resistance underground and hid Jews during WWII.  She's been my hero for years so we HAD to tour this house.  It's only one room did, three stories tall,
and three rooms deep. At the very top of a narrow spiral staircase is the secret room where Jews were secured.
Canal in Dokkum

Needless to say, we were ready when the time came to meet the bus and go to our hotel.  This group has a lot of people in their seventies and eighties and they travel in style.  We had a beautiful bug room and portered luggage. Dinner in half an hour in the cafe so it may have saved one of us from being killed in a fight to the death that the bathroom had both a tub and a shower stall.  We were asleep zoo after dinner and long before the sun set at 11 PM in that northern country.

Wednesday, July 1st, we broke away from the group. We pack overnight bags and left our big suitcases on the bus.  We got direction at the hotel, walked to a city bus stop and took a bus to the Haarlem train station.  There we bought tickets to Amsterdam and climbed aboard the smoke filled train. We noticed the non-smoking section as we disembarked.  Fortunately, nearly every Dutch person speaks English and we met several people who were more than willing to give directions and chat with us.  Greg's brother Matt is married to a native Amsterdam woman and the two of them met us at the train station.

    We walked over to a cozy little pub and had some of the wonderful coffee that should make Holland as famous as windmills and dikes and tulips.  Matt had to leave from there to go to the school where he teaches but Andrea had the day off.  We took a bus part way, then walked to their apartment.  Another thing Holland should be famous for is staircases with steps no wider but slightly steeper than a ladder, often twisted into several stories of corkscrews. Their apartment on the third floor was no exception. No wonder their both in such excellent shape.

    After we dropped off our luggage, we went walking through the streets with lovely stalls of fresh fruit, clothing, fish, everything imagine by anyone.  We took a canal boat tour of Amsterdam and saw all the tall, one room wide, apartments wall-to-wall along every street.  People's property tax used to be base upon the width of the roof.  Amsterdam is beautiful.  We spent the afternoon walking its twisting streets  Then we met up with Matt and had dinner tat a pub with authentic Dutch food (meat, potatoes, veggies) fairly simple food, very delicious.

     Of course that night we had to walk down through Amsterdam's red light district, which, unbelievably to an American, is a safe area to be out walking after dark.  We saw all the backlight lit rooms with young prostitutes posing in their lingerie in front of their glass doors.  We were startled to see a tour bus of seventy year old ladies unload for the guide to walk the through the narrow alleys.  then after another shot of coffee we headed back to Matt and Andrea's and collapsed for the night.  Bright and early Thursday we woke up, showered and had a typical, yummy Dutch breakfast with breads with chocolate sprinkles, rolls and cheese.  Then we had to walk down to the train station where Andrea helped us find the train to Leewarden.  We rode through a midwest type landscape of gently rolling fields of corn and flowers.  Yes, the windmills were everywhere.  After we left the train, we walked to the bus stop an caught the bus to Dokkum where we were to meet the group once again. I think Dokkum is everything that Solvang, California tries to be but doesn't quite achieve.  It ha beautiful canals, windmills, cathedrals, shops.
     Dokkum ended up being one of our best memories.  After greg had a rehearsal in CRC's first cathedral (the floor was paved with centuries old grave stones) and I had gone shopping for postcards and such essentials as Dutch versions of Yahtzee and Battleship, we were introduced to our host family for the night. Jan and Annie deVries were close to our age and even had a bird.  We loved them on sight.  They generously took us into their home which was lovely and filled with beautiful antiques. They made us dinner and breakfast. They picked us up after rehearsal, drove us to the concert, woke us up in the morning and drove us to meet the bus.

  So July third found us on the road, leaving the Netherlands (Holland) and entering Germany.  We stopped in Bremen's old town where we saw the statue of the Bremen Town Musicians.  Greg and I also climbed the tower on the cathedral.  The view of the city was breathtaking, but not as much so as the climb up the narrow, twisting, airless tower.  I could never, ever have been a monk!  Bremen had been devastated in the war but it is lovely now, crowded with architectural wonders.

    Our stop for the next two night was Bad Bramstedt.  Bad means bath, and means the town has hot springs.  Greg and I walked down to a sidewalk cafe that specialize in Turkish food.  It was one kind of meat after another with a few potatoes on salad.  We were supposed to stop in Hamburg on the way here but were stuck for hours in a major traffic jam on the Autobahn.

    Saturday, July 4th we got on the buses again and drove to Kiel, which is a former naval base, now a University city which lies along the mouth of the sea canal linking the Baltic to the North Sea.  After shopping and lunch there, we drove out to the Schleswig-Holstein open-air museum where more than 30 farms and rural houses (shoe and thatch) have been rebuilt.  They date from the 16th to the 19th century.  Cows, sheep and geese wander the grounds, the bakery sells bread and cake, the dairy sells milk, there is a small carnival and it was really interesting.  However too many times on this tour we were given an hour at a museum and two hours at a rest stop.  We then drove back to Bad Bramstedt to small church of brick, Maria Magdalenen Kirche.  After a quick rehearsal, we went back to the hotel for dinner and to let the CRC people change into formal clothes before going back to the church for the concert.

    Ater participating in the morning service back at the kirche we boarded our tour buses and drove to Puttgarden where we drove both buses into the belly of a ferry boat and then got off the bus to go up on deck.  We spent a few hours on the crossing to Rodbyhaven, Denmark.  We also spent some money in the duty free gift shop.  After docking we reboarded the buses and drove through several small villages with storks nesting in the chimneys.  That evening we arrived in Kobenhaven, Danmark (Copenhagen, Denmark) This lovely, capitol city was to be our home for the next three nights and we immediately felt welcome.
Monday, July 6th started with a tour of the city.  Copenhagen is filled with bronze and copper statues, flowers, fountains.  We saw palaces and the harbor with the little mermaid statue.  We saw Hans Christian Anderson's home.  We saw cathedrals and canals and the Queen's residence.  Then we were dropped off at Denmark's most famous amusement park, TIVOLI and spent the afternoon in this carnival with gardens and theaters. We rode the roller coasters and ate licorice and ice dream.  We relaxed along side the lakes and fountains.  Then we returned to the motel to stomp our clothing clean in the shower and hang it up to dry on the buggy cords we'd packed just for this.

Vangede Kirke in Copenhagen
    We got on the buses Tuesday morning to drive to the castle Kronoborg.  It was the castle where Shakespeare set Hamlet.  Across the water you could see the shores of Sweden.  (Why do I hear Sarah Palin's voice in my mind when I reread that line?) The castle itself had a mouthful of swans with their babies,  and a huge cobblestone courtyard. It had a lot more to see but we had been dropped off with the order to be back at the bus in 30 minutes!  So we drove past the "white palace of peace" then we stopped and went for a two hour tour through a castle museum which was surrounded by green moats and stuffed with every imaginable treasure; paintings, figures, its own cathedral, entire ballrooms wallpapered with intricate tapestries from the castle's own looms.  Frederiksborg is 22 miles north of Copenhagen. Acquired and name by King Frederik II in 1560.
The evening of the 7th we went to Vangede Kirke, a modern masterpiece of a church, made out of brick, chrome, airy spaces and light. Our group had a marvelous concept there and then were invited to stay for champagne and pretzels.  Interesting people there who were proud of their church but very willing to share their time and space with us.

    July 8th we didn't have to check out of the hotel until 11:00  Then we were then down to TIVOLI again and dropped off until 9 PM.  Greg and I went to a holographic exhibit that had things looking like dirty cellophane hanging on the walls.  But when you got to the right angle suddenly there would be things like  pair of binoculars floating in the air, and even though it was just a projected picture, when you put your eyes where the binoculars were you could look through them and see a parrot up in a tree.  We wandered around, explored the shops, ate at an American Pizza Place, went to the Ripley's believe it or not and roe their motion movie, similar to a ride in Disneyland called Star Tours.  We sat by the statue of Hans Christian Anderson and watched street musicians and dancers.

    We had dinner and then got drinks at Burger King and it was time to meet the bus for the trip to the ferry boat which we'd be on overnight as it went to Poland.


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