Everyone—students, staff, instruments and luggage—are all home safe and sound. We didn't have any major illness or accident and enjoyed wonderful weather, concerts and fellowship together. We thank God for His provision and care.
Today was our last day in France. After eating breakfast at our hostel, we got on the bus and drove to the Louvre. We had a little wait for our tickets to get into the Louvre which turned into a huge fun photo op. After getting inside, we broke up into two groups and saw the highlights of the Louvre. We very quickly realized that to really appreciate all that we were seeing and walking by, we would need to spend at least a week. After seeing the Mona Lisa, Greek and Roman statues and a painting by Michelangelo, we got lunch and headed out to the Eiffel Tower. Once there, we were given time to see the tower and travel all the way up to the top. We then went back to our hostel, and changed for the goodbye dinner. Before dinner, though, we got to see Notre Dame. After dinner, it was time to wait for the boat that never came, which turned into skit time. We then got back on the bus and headed back to the hostel. All in all, a wonderful night and a wonderful time in France.
Today we got on the bus and drove all the way to Paris. Our first stop was to go to a high point near the Eiffel tower and take pictures. Seeing the Eiffel tower really made it sink in that we were actually in Paris. We then spend a good part of the afternoon taking a bus tour of Paris. It was really cool to be able to see sights that we had only seen in movies or pictures right before our eyes. We then went and checked in at the hostel we were staying at for the night. We changed into our concert black and went to set up for our final concert. After rushing to get everything where it needed to be, we went back down the street for our supper which ended with either an apple or pear dessert. We then played a very good last concert before packing up and heading back to our hostel for the night. Tomorrow, the last official tour day, we'll see more of the sights close up.
Yesterday, we started off by being dropped off by our host families. We then continued on with what has become a very routine bus ride. While riding, we were able to share stories from our experiences about crazy bus rides, way too much cheese, and jars of Nutella the size of your head. We traveled from Geneva to Beaunne and had time for lunch. After lunch, we went to the hospice in Beaunne, which was still in use until the late 1980s. The hospital still exists, but now it is in a new location. We learned about the interesting remedies that they would use to help “cure” the patients such as giving them snake skin, cow manure, and other strange-sounding remedies. We had a little more time for sightseeing and then headed to the hotel to prepare for the concert. The concert went very well. It was really fun to be able to play in the church we were in. The organ Dr. Danek played on was the same one the Guimont pieces we played were written for. We then raced to clean up, leaving the concert hall in a record 15 minutes so that our bus driver Philip could clock out on time. We got back to the hotel and headed to bed. Today, Paris!
Today we had an amazing opportunity. We were able to play in the gorgeous Protestant Cathedral of Saint-Pierre during their Sunday service. The acoustics were amazing and we sounded wonderful. This church was actually the church that John Calvin preached in, and we were able to see the chair where he would sit. We also got to climb all the way to the top of the cathedral towers—probably several hundred steps! The climb was tiring but the view was beautiful—Lake Geneva and its fountain. After a quick lunch, we toured the Museum of the Reformation, where we learned more of the history of Geneva and the reformers. It was a very interesting museum and it's too bad we didn't have more time to explore it. Then it was time to prepare for our next concert at Calvin College. Our host families all came to see us perform. Unfortunately there was no organ so we were limited to pieces without it. After a good concert we all left with our host families for our last night in Switzerland.
Today was a day with a long bus ride. We got on the bus around 7 and drove towards Geneva, which was a five hour drive. After having some quiet time, we played bingo, and the lucky winners won chocolate! We passed through into Switzerland without any problems. We then traveled on to catch a boat on Lake Geneva. We then went to Chateau de Chillon, a castle on the edge of Lake Geneva where the novel Frankenstein was written. From the tower, we were able to gaze over the lake and take spectacular pictures of the Alps. As evening approached we drove back into Switzerland and met our hosts families. From there, we were taken to dinner by the families and a number of us were shown around the city of Geneva that evening. Some of us even went to a music festival as well. Tomorrow we play in the Cathedral in Geneva
We began today with a three hour bus ride to Avignon, a walled city. There we visited the Palace of the Popes, where French popes reigned when there was a schism in the Catholic Church. We also saw the river Rhone and the Pont du Avignon, the bridge over the river. Some of us even took a ferry ride! After touring the palace we walked through its gardens, which were at the top of the city and had a spectacular view. We also got to see a magnificent cathedral next door to the palace. Then we all had free time and dinner in the city. There were lots of restaurants to choose from—we had everything from pizza to lamb. In the evening we drove to the Vert Hotel, an adorable hotel with circular staircases, lots of flowers, and a very homey feel. Tomorrow, Geneva!
Yesterday we got to sleep in before getting on the bus and going to Carcassonnne. The castle was huge and we were told it was the best restored castle in all of Europe. It really made us feel like we had stepped back in time. Some members in our group had a traditional dish Cassoulet. It has white beans and three meats. It was like a stew. After an afternoon of going through the city sightseeing and buying souvenirs, we got to take an audio tour through the castle itself. It was amazing to see this piece of history that had been so well preserved.
After that, we rode back to Lavoure, had supper and began to warm up for our concert. We played our concert which went really well. The audience seemed to enjoy how we had played. They gave us a book about the city and invited us to come back any time to visit their beautiful city. All in all, it was a great day. Today, on to Avignon!
Today (Wednesday) we were mostly awake. We started off the day with some breakfast in our hotel, Etap, and then rode the bus over to the tourism center of Toulouse. There we met our guides who took us on a tour of the city center. We went into the old government building, called the Capitolium, where we saw paintings of Toulouse's famous past and lots of and ornate architecture. Then we walked through the city square, which had a market, and toured two nearby churches—one Gothic, one Romanesque. Afterwards we all had lunch and shopped on our own, visiting a number of small “sandwicheries” near the city center. It's certainly an experience to order food in another language! It requires a lot of pointing. After lunch we drove through the French countryside (vineyards!) to the little town of Lavour where we rehearsed for the concert tomorrow. Then it was back to Toulouse for dinner at a downtown buffet restaurant called Flunch. There we had tempura fish and some of us had the famous European Magnum bars for desert. We're all still safe and sound (no one's been run over by the crazy traffic yet!) Tomorrow, Carcassonne!
Days 1 & 2
Today, or rather, yesterday and today have been crazy. We started taking off from Northwestern. After loading the bags and instruments, we prayed for the trip and were off! However, things don't always leave as smoothly we'd like. A few minutes from campus, we got a call telling us someone left their jacket behind. After a quick save by Mr. Loeffler, we were through security and on our way to Chicago. In Chicago four of the group moved off to a different flight due to their deviation and the rest of us boarded a flight to London. After a seven-hour flight in the air and a long wait through customs, both groups were reunited on the ground.
At that point we met our tour guide for the day, Susie. We were off for an adventure in London. As we drove, Susie pointed out the different sights that we drove by such as the house where Julie Andrews was suspended when she played Mary Poppins, the names and histories of different streets, and why London was built the way it was. We got to a market area in the middle of town and had about an hour to wander. There were musicians playing and a lot of fun shops around the area. A few people bought souvenirs such as postcards or scarves, but for the most part, we just enjoyed being in London. After a wonderful lunch at Tuttons of eating a pasta dish with an assortment of vegetables such as miniature turnips and carrots and a brownie and ice cream for dessert, we were off to the well known sites of the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. We stopped and took pictures at all the places. It was amazing standing in places that most of us had only seen in pictured. After that, we headed back to the airport and boarded a flight for Toulouse. We landed with all of our luggage and all of our people exhausted, but glad to be in France. Thank you so much for your prayers. We can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.