Day 1, Tuesday, 30 June 2009

We left home at 6:40 am and arrived at the Nashville airport at 7:15. We checked our bags and got boarding passes from the Voyagers International representative. Teagan realized that she had packed her neck wallet (with passport) in her checked bag, so we had to get Delta to pull her bag so we could retrieve it. It turned out they had tagged my bag with Teagan’s tag, so the bag they brought us was mine. But we eventually got the neck wallet so all was well. If Delta had asked to see our passports when we checked in, we could have avoided the problem.

The group moved down to the gate around 8:15 and waited to board our 10:05 flight. The flight left a few minutes late, but since we had a long layover in Detroit, it didn’t really matter.

We were off the plane in Detroit by 1:00 pm EDT. We were to meet the group at the departure gate at 5:00, so we had plenty of free time to roam the concouse.

While we were eating lunch, the concourse was blocked off, effectively cutting it into two pieces, due to some security breach. That lasted about an hour. Once the barriers were removed, we were able to get to the terminal area and visit the more interesting shops: Motown Music, Henry Ford.

We met the group at the departure gate at 5:00 and awaited the boarding call for our 6:40 pm flight. Once the call came, we boarded our Boeing 767 (with 2/3/2 seating) and took off on time.

We used the individual flat panels to watch TV (R), a movie (T), and play Bejeweled. Teagan was able to score alot more the I was. She made it to level 7. Teagan watched the movie I love you man.

Day 2, Wednesday, 1 July 2009

We arrived in London’s Heathrow at 7:40 London time.  We cleared customs and headed to Windsor castle which is only about 20 minutes from the airport.

Teagan and I decided to do the optional castle tour rather than just sightsee in the town.  We got there just in time to see the changing of the guard.  This was a highly ceremonial, and somewhat strange, affair that lasted about 30 minutes in what was unusually hot and sunny London weather.

Since we were already at the parade ground, we went into nearby St. George’s Chapel.  The Gothic architecture was stunning.  We explored the chapel with the audio device provided as part of the admission fee.  The Quire was especially interesting.

We left through the gift shop and walked around the grounds of the rest of the castle using the audio device as needed.  We decided not to wait in line for the Dall House and State Apartments tour, and left in search of lunch around 1:30.  We ate at a pub.  We split orders of a smoked haddock fish cake and a bacon and cheese potato jacket.

We met back at the bus at 3:00 to head to our hotel: the Thistle City Barbican Hotel.  Traffic was heavy and slow, so we didn’t arrive until 4:30.  We got checked in and met for supper at 5:30.  Some fairly plain chicken was served with green beans and potato slices and salad.  The meal was quite adequate, but was nothing special.

After receiving instructions, we broke into our assigned groups for a walking tour.  We headed toward the Thames, stopping at the London Wall, then St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Teagan and I lost our group, so we paired up with one of the other groups (Mr. Kinzer’s) that had lots of Ravenwood ppl in it.  We headed to the Millenium Bridge where we crossed the Thames.  We got some ice cream from a street vendor.

Day 3, Thursday, 2 July 2009

We had breakfast at the hotel at 7:00 am.  Then it was off to Wesley Chapel for the choir concert.  Since Mrs. Clark’s husband was so ill, it was conducted by one of the other staff members.  The audience was mostly the band members and Ambassador parents, so it was really more like a dress rehearsal.  Given the last minute change in conductor, that was probably a good thing.

After the concert, we visited the grave yard behind the chapel where John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was buried.  After a short visit, we proceeded to the Embankment area where the band concert was scheduled.

Then we took the coaches to Victoria Embankment Park for box lunches. After arriving, we ate a provided box lunch, then got set up for the band.  The concert began at 12:30 in a nice outdoor band area.  The park was pack with Londoners eating their lunch and soaking up the sunshine.

There were several elderly regulars in the audience near the front. Some of them interacted with the band directors, apparently recalling them from previous years.  A few of them danced during Maleguena and also during the Tennessee Waltz.  And there was rhythmic clapping during Rocky Top, although I doubt they actually recognized the piece. The concert was very well-received by the Londoners.

After the concert was over, we went on a walking tour with our group.  We walked past the side of the Parliament Building where Big Ben is located.  Then we proceeded to Westminster Abbey..  By the time we got there, there were about 60 Ambassadors in all.  We purchased a set of group tickets and cued up in three groups.

Once we finally got in, we were treated to a spectacular interior.  We had time to visit all the parts of the chapel, although we couldn’t dwell.  We saw the graves of Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, G.F. Handel, and many more.

All three groups met outside the abbey to head for supper.  We walked past 10 Downing Street and on to Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column.  Then on to a street with several restaurants, including a Macdonald’s.

By the time we got to the supper area, a little after 4:30, there wasn’t much time to eat anywhere except at the Macdonald’s there.  Teagan and I tried to eat at Borgia’s, an Italian restaurant, but they couldn’t get our food out in time, so we had to leave.  We joined our group and headed back toward the Embankment where we were to meet the entire group.  We hit a Quizno’s along the way for a sandwich.

We met with the entire group around 5:30.  At about 6:00, we split into groups according to evening activity:  Thames cruise and London Eye in our case.  The cruise provided an informative trip downstream as far as Parliament and upstream as far as London Tower.  Afterward, the London Eye gave us a good view of London from high above the Thames.  It was about an hour before sunset and sky was pretty clear, so we got decent views in all directions.

Once we finished there, we walked around the park to look at the entertainers, the upside-down purple cow, and to hit an ATM machine.  We also got a soft ice cream.  They are very creamy tasting.

After a visit to an ATM, we got an ice cream and walked around the grassy area on South Band by the eye.  We took a Taxi back to the hotel around 9:30.

Around 9:15, we met with our group and split up in to cab-sized subgroups to return to the hotel.  The ride back was 10.80 pounds we we split three ways.

Day 4, Friday, 3 July 2009

We had breakfast at 7:00 am at the hotel.  Then we went on a guide-led coach tour of London.

The guided took us to the Westminster Abbey area, giving lots of information along the way.  She had amble time, given the heaby traffic.

Once at Westminster Abbey, we had a short time off the bus for coffee, rest rooms, pictures, etc.  Then it was on to Buckingham Palace, again through heavy traffic.  We passed 10 Downing Street again along the way.

When we arrived at the palace, we lined up along a curb so we could get a good view of the parade.  We got to see the bands, mounted and marching soldiers enter the palace from two different directions with our vantage point.  Once they were all in, we didn’t wait to see the groups leave.  We just left and went on the St. Paul’s Church for a boxed lunch.  The church was open, so we looked in, but it wasn’t worth the admission charge given the short amount of time we had there.  Besides, we had already seen St. George’s chapel and Westminster Abbey, so that was probably enough in the church department for us anyway.

After lunch, we went to the Tower of London.  We arrived around 1:30 pm.  We entered the tower area, but the guide was going on with more information than we thought we needed, so we proceeded directly ot the Crown Jewels building so we could be sure to work those in and have a little time left over.

The line to enter the building moved along nicely, and we were inside after about 10 minutes.  The gowns, scepters and orbs, and crowns were amazing.  Whether spending fortunes to make such things is a wise investment of British resources is a reasonable question, the jewels were nevertheless quite impressive.

After we finished that building, Teagan and I went on to tour the White Tower.  It it were exhibits of the various armaments used over the past thousand years or so.  We go to see how weapons and protective gear developed over that timeframe.

Once we finished that building, it was time to head to the Tower Bridge area for pictures.  Then on to the gift shop.  Teagan struck out again on shot glasses, so we left empty-handed.  We met our bus group at the exit at 3:20.

After leaving the Tower of London around 3:30, the coaches took the group back to the embankment area to divide the whole group into smaller activity groups.  We lobied for a group to visit the British Museum.  Mr. and Mrs. Box were interested in that, so they led a group of almost 30 toward Covent Gardens, where they stopped for food, street entertainment, shopping, etc.  Teagan and I didn’t want to spend as much time there as the group was alotted, so we left early to head to the museum.

While still at the gardens, we saw an entertaining unicyclist who juggled two machetes and an apple while riding.  He also ate some of the apple during the juggling.

On the way to the museum, we stopped at a market to pick up some cheese, grapes, and crackers for lunch on the ferry tomorrow.

Once at the museum, we proceeded to the Egypt area.  The first disply in that area is the Rosetta Stone.  We weaved our way back and forth all the way back to the Parthenon exhibit.

Once in that area, we were able to see the friezes and other details that we didn’t see when we visited the Parthnon in Athens.

After the British Museum, some of the group took cabs back to the motel, others walked.  Teagan and I walked so we could get a last glimpse of London.

Day 5, Saturday, 4 July 2009

Today was a travel day, so we got started early.  We dropped the luggage off in the coach area at 5:30 am, then off to breakfast in the hotel.  The breakfasts have been essentially the same all three days.  There was cereal, croissants and other breads, ham products, and cheese, together with coffee and juice to drink.

By 6:45, we were all on the coaches and departing for Dover where we were taking a ferry across the English Channel to Calais.

We arrived in Calais around 8:15 where the coaches cued up to load on the ferry.  Our ferry was scheduled to leave at 10:00, so we had some time to walk around.

About 9:30, we rode the bus onto the ferry.  The we exited the bus and headed up to the deck area.  A lot of us sat on the back of the boat and watched the white cliffs of Dover recede into the horizon – until we hit fog and couldn’t really see anything.  Most people had brought some lunch items along; others purchased food on the ferry.  Teagan and I ate the cheese and crackers we picked up last night.

We arrived in Calais around 1:00 pm (losing an hour in the channel due to a time change).  We boarded the coach and headed south toward Paris.  We stopped at a rest area along the way that had a couple of places to eat and some gift shops.  I took a walk around back to a wooded area where I saw some kind of magpie.

We were there about an hour and fifteen minutes until 3:45, then we continued to Paris.

Even though it was a Saturday, the traffic as we headed to the restaurant was at a standstill.  It took about 45 minutes to finish the last 2 km of the trip.

At supper we had quiche lorraine, turkey cutlets with mushroom sauce, and custard for dessert.  The food was very good.

Then we took the coaches to the Saphir Hotel outside Paris.  Once there, we moved into our rooms and gathered for a meeting with the staff.  That broke up around 9:30.

Day 6, Sunday, 5 July 2009

Since it is Sunday, we had a later start today.  Breakfast was from 8:30 to 9:30.  There was cereal, croissants, and coffee.  The coffee came out of a machine where you just push a button for what you want – any of about 8 coffees drinks (most of which I’ve not heard of).  I tried coffee long, coffee short, and cappuccino.

We left the hotel at 10:00.  The first stop for the day the Paris Opera House, the Palais Garnier.  Two of the box seats were open for viewing.  From the seats, we could see the entire spectacular house, including the famous chandelier.  The lobby areas and stairways were beautiful as well.

The next stop was Mantmartre, the former Bohemian artist community and highest point in Paris.  Teagan and I climbed to the top of the Sacre Coeur, the church that sits atop the hill.  From the dome, there were spectacular views of Paris and surrounds.  We tried to identify as many landmarks as we could from the top.

After we descended, we toured the crypt.  There were many small chapels there with ornate sculptures.

Once we exited the church, we headed to the neighborhood to find some lunch.  Everyone in our group of four had crepes.  Teagan and I split a savory crepe and a dessert crepe.

After lunch, we stopped in a gift shop so Teagan could buy a shot glass souvenir.

The next stop was the Louvre.  We were set free about 3:15 for a two-hour visit.  We started by trying to find the Mona Lisa.  It turned out that today was a free ticket day and the crowd there was huge.  So they had closed off some of the hallways to redirect traffic.  This made finding the Mona Lisa a little trickier for us since we were all first-timers.

Eventually, we found the correct section and fought through the crowd for a look.  There was a lot of shoving and pushing, so the viewing situation wasn’t ideal.

After the Mona Lisa, we headed to the second on our list of the big three, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  Using our map, we actually walked right past it and didn’t realize it.  Kind of embarassing.  But when we couldn’t find it where we thought the map showed it, we backtracked and found it.

Third on our list was Venus de Milo (Aphrodite).  We found it with no problem.

Once were were done with the big three, Teagan wanted to go outside to see the famous I.M. Pei pyramid entrance.  So we took an escalator to the main entrance and exited.

We walked around outside, taking pictures, for a few minutes.  We saw an arc across the street which we thought might be the Arc de Triumph.  We walked over to look at it, but it was another, smaller, arc.  The Arc de Triumph, it turned out, is a pretty good walk away.

Then we went back into the Louvre and used our final half hour to look at one of the sculpture galleries.  At about 5:05, we headed back to the carousel to meet the group.  We were about 3 minutes late and the last ones back, so everyone else was very punctual.

We headed for supper at Restaurant Le Saulnier.  Tonight it was salad, chicken cordon blu, and chocolate mousse.  The salad was really good, the chicken dish had a manufactured quality about it (how else can you feed 147 people?), and the mousse was good.

After supper, we went on a cruise on the Seine.  The huge double-decked boat left at 8:05 and returned at 9:15.  It went as far as Notre Dame in one direction, and past the Eiffel Tower to the Statue of Liberty in th eother.  The narration was given in several different languages sequentially.

After the cruise, we all returned to the hotel, arriving about 10:00.

Day 7, Monday, 6 July 2009

Today was an early day with breakfast from 7:00 to 7:45.  The coaches left the hotel at 8:00.

After experiencing the fabulous Monday morning traffic, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower about 9:15.  We had about two hours of free time in the tower area.  Our small group went to the tower first, stopping for pictures along the way, of course.  After looking around at the trinkets for a few minutes, we bought tickets to climb the stairs.

We decided to go only to the first level so that we’d have time to explore the area around the tower and get lunch.  We spend some time looking around the first level to see the different views.  Then we went down.

We picked a random direction to walk, and proceeded until we found a fruit shop and also a panini shop.  We were looking for food we could take with us, so we passed up on the restaurants we saw.

Then we headed back to the coach area.  Some of the ones in our group needed a rest room (a toilette), but the lines at the tower were too long, so we skipped that.

We, along with everyone else, were back at the coach at 11:20.  A French guide joined us and narrated a tour of Paris.  We ended up at Luxembourg Gardens at 1:30 to set up for the band concert.

I walked around the area to see the gardens while the band set up and got ready.  The concert started at 2:00.  I videotaped the concert.  There was a pretty good crowd there.  The longer the band played, the more people migrated over to hear what was going on.

The concert wrapped up at about 2:55.  The people in the band who also sing in the chorus left quickly so they could go on to Notre Dame before the choir concert.  The rest of the choir had already left.

After the band equipment was put away, the band headed to Notre Dame.  We got there about 3:25, took about 30 minutes for a quick look, then proceeded to the choir concert.

We arrived at the St. Severin Church after the concert was underway.  That was the original plan – there just wasn’t enough time to see Notre Dame and make it to the concert on time.  The choir sounded great in the stone church. Having to replace the choir director caused a little confusion on their first concert, but this time everything was just right.  [We got a report Mr. Clark was diagnosed with dehydration and mononucleosis when he got back to the states.  So even if he had been correctly diagnosed in London, he and Mrs. Clark (original choir director) would have had to return home anyway.]

After the concert, we headed to supper, again, at Restaurant Le Saulnier.  Tonight it was a first course of, perhaps, Welsh Rarebit (just my guess), beef Bourgonon, and for dessert, it was a custard-filled puff pastry with a sweet sauce drizzled over.

Then it was back to the hotel for an early night since we have a very early morning tomorrow.

Day 8, Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Today was a travel day, so breakfast was at 7:00 am.  By 8:00, we were off to Switzerland.

We headed southwest out of Paris and passed through Troyes, Dijon, and Besancon before entering Switzerland.  Along the way, we made a couple of rest stops in France, the second one being for lunch.  We also made a rest stop shortly after entering Switzerland.

We arrived in Crans-Montana about 8:00 pm.  Rain along the way, plus a detour around a tunnel, made us about an hour late. We met the local Voyager International people for an orientation in the town tent (where the concert will be held).  After that, we moved on to the hotel for supper.

Each bus was assigned a different hotel this time.  The one for the red bus was the Hotel Eldorado.  Most of the rooms had a view over the vast valley (the Rhone valley, I think).  The elevation of Crans-Montana is about 1,500 meters, which is about 1,000 meters above the valey floor.

Supper provided a pleasant surprise in the quality of food.  While the food in London and Paris was perfectly adequate, the food here was excellent.  The first course was a salad buffee; the second was pasta with marinara sauce; the entree was a chicken fillet in mushroom sauce served with french fries; and the dessert was (I forget).  The hotel is family-run and the level of service was exceptional.

Since we were late getting to Crans-Montana, there wasn’t much time to explore the town after supper.  The town has quiet time beginning at 10:00 pm, so the students had to be in their rooms by then anyway. Most of us just got unpacked and went to bed early.

Day 9, Wednesday, 8 July 2009

I got up at 6:30 am and was out the door around 7:00 to explore the town before breakfast.  I walked past Lac Grenon, a small lake near the hotel.  Then I headed to the center of Crans and walked around.

I was back at the hotel around 8:00 for breakfast.  It was a buffet breakfast with a wide variety.  The most intersting items for me were the many grains that were placed around a mill.  You could mix whatever grains you wanted and grind them in the mill.  I picked bulgar wheat and some type of resoto creal and added a little milk.  There was also an array of cheese and what we would call artisan breads in the U.S.  I selected four cheeses to sample with a couple of breads.  There were several other items to try at breakfast, but that’s all I got around to.

After breakfast, I headed to the cable car that runs up the mountain with a group of adults and students.  Teagan headed off with a group of students who were going into town to look at the stores.

As my group rode the cable car up, we passed over a heard of cows.  They were all wearing cow bells so there was a constant clanging of bells.

At the first platform, the attendant told us to stay on the cars and go on to the end of the lower cable.  When we got there, we were in a cloud that was dropping snow.  We walked around a little to see if we could find someplace with good visibility.  The clouds cleared a bit, and we could see some of the valley before long.

After several pictures, we took the cable car back down to the first stop and got off.  The visibility was even better there, and we took more pictures.  Then we returned to Crans.

We walked around the town and went into a grocery store to lay in supplies for lunch.  After more walking, we headed back to the hotel for a noon departure on the coach.

We headed to the Castle of Chillon near Montreaux.  This castle is mostly know as the setting of Lord Byron’s poem “The Prisoner of Chillon.”  We had a guided tour that started at about 1:30.  The tour guide was very knowledgable and spoke excellent english.  After the tour was over, we had free time until 3:00, when we met to walk along Lake Geneva to Montreaux.

The walk took about 30 minutes.  There was flowers planted all along the walkway which enhanced the picturesque view of the Lake and the mountains.

The Montreaux Jazz Festival was going on in the town, but there wasn’t much music when we were there.  There were lots of vendor tents set up that we could look at.

Our red bus group met back at the statue of Freddie Mercury (lead singer for Cream) at 4:25 for a 4:30 departure back to the hotel.  We arrived at the hotel around 6:00 for our 6:30 supper.

The meal tonight consisted of a buffet salad (greens, corn, carrots, and beets), foccacia, beef with brown gravy, and ice cream cake.  Once again, the food was excellent.

After supper, it was concert time.  The concert began at 8:30 in the town tent.  There was a good crowd of locals there as the choir began its part of the concert.  As the concert went on, more and more showed up.

Once the choir finished, it was the bands turn.  The crowd especially like the marches, and the Dixieland piece “Just a closer walk with thee.”  They went crazy over “Stars and Stripes Forever,” which was the finale.

This was, by far, the most successful concert.  The performing groups appreciated having such a large audience.

Day 10, Thursday, 9 July 2009

Breakfast was in the hotel this morning at 7:15 am to get ready for our trip to the Matterhorn.

We departed at 8:00 and headed by coach to the town of Tasch – about 75 km away.  There, we boarded a train to take us to Zermatt.  This is a small town in the Swiss Alps that serves as the gateway to the Matterhorn. It is auto-free to cut down on pollution.

Teagan and I went shopping in Zermatt for about two hours.  Then the entire group met at 11:30 for instructions about taking the cog railway to Gornergrat.  We walked over to the station to catch the train.  It works on a rack and pinion system since the angle of ascent is too steep for a traditional railway.  It travels through a tunnel in the mountain and exits at Gornergrat at 3089 meters elevation, where there is an excellent view of the Matterhorn.

When we got there, the Matterhorn was mostly engulfed by a cloud that seemed to just move back and forth.

After getting our pictures taken, we headed to the lunch area, where we got a sausage that was very good.  After lunch, we went for a short walk on a mountain trail.  The cloud stayed around the Matterhorn the whole time we were there.  We took lots of pictures of neighboring peaks and several of the Matterhorn, as well.

We headed back down to Zermatt at 2:00 pm to pick up a dessert and to pick up an item we purchased earlier in the day (can’t give away what it is).  Teagan got an Apfel Strudel and I got a Nuss (nut) pastry of some kind.  They were both very good.

We returned to the meeting area around 2:45 to pick up an item at the gift shop and to look at our pictures in front of the Matterhorn.  Then the chorus sang an inpromptu song in the square.

We headed to the train back to Tasch where we boarded the coach to head back to Crans-Montana.  Once there, we had free time until the fondue party at 7:30.

Teagan and I headed to a grocery store to lay in supplies for our lunch tomorrow in Lichtenstein.  Then we went shopping in the village.

We returned to the hotel to get ready for the party.  Then we each headed over to the town tent a little after 7:00 pm.

The fondue was a blend of seven Swiss cheeses.  Mostly I tasted gruyere.  There was a three accordian polka band.  There were dancers performing traditional dances.  The dances looked like a swiss version of square dancing.  Then there was a horn player who played one of those long swiss horns (think Ricola commercial).  He invited audience members to come up and try to play the horn, also.

The dancers also invited prople to dance with them.  Then there were dances that everyone participated in.

The party wrapped up around 9:30 and we returned to the hotel to pack for our travel day tomorrow.