Choir Trip to Italy – April 27 – May 13

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fond memories, and joyful homecoming

Everyone, both Concert Tour participants and those who extended their Italian stay by several more days, are home safe and sound! Thanks to everyone who followed the posts from our traveling bloggers. We experienced some challenges trying to post while on the road, but hopefully by the pictures that are now circulating on Facebook and the stories being told (MOST of them being true!), we can share the joy which abides for us from this little adventure! Che Dio ti benedica!

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The Amalfi Coast Beckons

On May 9th, we left the island of Capri on a boat headed for Positano and all the joys and delights of the Amalfi Coast. The rocky and rugged coastline views on our journey were spectacular!

Positano is a splendid cliffside retreat. It was quite a walk up from the dock to either of the hotels our group stayed in, but the view from the top was well worth it. At the Palazzo Murat Hotel, we were given royal treatment as we were greeted with splendid botanical gardens and an inviting pool in this eighteenth century palace that was once home to the King of Naples.

The next day, a van tour was arranged for some of our group, and we set off to explore more of the Amalfi Coast. My merry little group was chauffeured by the charming Francesco (affectionately known as “Franco”), who delighted us with his stories and coastline legends. We stopped for some shopping and gelato in Amalfi, had lunch in Revello, and learned more about all of the coastal towns we passed through on our journey. The Amalfi Coast is truly amazing and deserves a second visit.

On May 11th, we packed up again and headed to buses for our drive to Pompeii. Our guide Wanda was excellent and gave us an overview tour of these ancient Roman ruins that were once buried under 6 meters of ash and pumice after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

Afterwards, we headed to Sorrento where we stayed at the Hilton Sorrento Palace, a large modern hotel. It was the beginning of our emergence back into normal life again. Some chose to relax poolside while others ventured forth to explore new territory. Sorrento is full of wonderful shops, little churches to wander through and fine dining opportunities along the beach and hillside.

On Sunday, May 12th, some of us were able to catch part of the of the St. Luke’s UMC 9:30 a.m. service. We got to hear our fellow choir members sing before the Wi-Fi connection proved unreliable. It was nice to experience a bit of home despite the technical difficulties.
Soon, we were back in the bus headed to Rome for 1 final night in Italy. We stayed at a hotel near the airport, and the next morning, May 13th, we headed back to the airport for our long flight home to Indianapolis.  It was hard to leave Italy after such wonderful encounters and magical moments, but the memories linger…

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The Magic of Capri

On May 7th, there were 41 of us that stayed behind in Italy while the rest of our 80 friends headed back to the USA on May 7. It was difficult to be left behind in a foreign country while some of our nearest and dearest co-horts retreated, but I think we coped as best we could. (SIGH!)

Our first stop was to the island of Capri (pronounced CAP-ree) via a 4+ hour train ride from Milan to Naples and then a ferry boat from Naples to Capri. The LaPalma Hotel was amazing! We all fell in love with our Island “home” instantly and acclimated to a life of bliss and luxury with relative ease.

The next day many of us took the city bus over the hills to the little town of Anacapri, which is less touristy and full of charm. From there, some took the adventurous ski lift ride to the top of the mountain for incredible views of life below, while others enjoyed all that the little town could offer them from the safety of ground level.

For dinner, our group met at Da Paolina (The Lemon Tree) for an extravagant dining experience under a lemon grove. The appetizer and main course buffet was tasty and delicious with a wide variety of island delicacies and file Italian cuisine, which was followed by the elaborate dessert buffet which included fresh fruits, delightful pastries and cakes, and an incredible serve-yourself gelato bar.

With full stomachs, we returned to our hotel to pack up for our a.m. departure. It was going to be hard to say goodbye to Capri.

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Blogging in Italy

The St. Luke’s Chancel Choir bloggers fully intended to blog more than we did.  I don’t want to make excuses here for our lack of posting, but there were a couple of hiccups along the way which I feel our readers need to know about.

  • Internet connection issues. No really, we had some accessibility issues. Seriously, Wi-Fi was not as readily available as perhaps we had imagined in Italy.
  • Crazy schedule. OK, it might sound like a lame excuse here, but this was a busy trip and technically it was a “mission” trip. We were in Italy to serve by singing, after all. So in between our choir rehearsals and concerts, our long walks to get to the concert locations, the sightseeing adventures and forced late-night gelato runs, there wasn’t much time left over for anything else other than sleep.

Thanks for your patience and for joining us on our journey! I hope to post more about the extension adventures very soon…

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Living and singing with the saints

In today’s blog message the answers are:

Yes, yes, and yes.

Yes, the St. Luke’s Chancel Choir and accompanying entourage have seen the sights, eaten pasta, sampled fresh mozzarella, drunk wine at lunchtime, sampled at least three flavors of gelato, and/or been witnesses to a car accident, ridden the Metro, taken a ride in a Roman taxi, and/or walked miles of cobblestone streets alongside zooming scooters and relentless little Fiats.

And, yes, they have lived to tell about it, as loved ones are sure to learn soon.

And, yes, we’ve been singing. The choir gave its first concert Tuesday evening at San Ignazio, a church within a block of the Pantheon filled with Baroque art and statuary. Church representatives assured Mark Squire and Bob Zehr that 9 p.m. would be a good starting time on a week night in the Eternal City, as Italians typically eat late and stay out late.

They were right, of course.

By the time we closed the concert, some 300 people filled the pews in the magnificent space. Sprinkled throughout the program were anthems with Latin texts, passages no doubt familiar to many of our listeners.

We got a standing ovation, and one older gentlemen in front raised his arms above his head, as if applause just wasn’t enough to describe how he was touched, or perhaps he just wanted to hug us all.

St. Luke’s own senior pastor Rob Fuquay, standing behind this man, smiled and raised his own arms in solidarity. Or maybe he was just signaling the choir a touchdown. In any case, gifts of music and love were given and received, given and received.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First Glimpse of Europe

Monday, April 29

At around 6:30 a.m., many of us got our first glimpse of Europe from the airplane window, cloud banks broken by the peaks of the Alps. An hour later, we approached the airport, green fields and clusters of red-tiled homes hugging bits of the coast. The waves of the Mediterranean broke along the beach. And with a soft landing, we arrived.

It’s hard to be at your best on the first day of a trip like this with jet lag affecting sleep patterns, meal times and personal hygiene. But choir and guests practiced good manners, I’m happy to say, and we settled into our Rome hotel quickly, starting with a lavish brunch that included sausages and thinly sliced Italian meats, tortes and pastries, fruit, and the richest quiche I’ve ever tasted. And cafe americano that was wonderfully unlike anything that ever came from a Mr. Coffee.

Several of us ventured over to the nearby train and Metro terminal (oh, did I mentioned the weather was warm and sunny?) and hopped on an open-top tour bus for a whirlwind tour of the Eternal City. The Colosseum, the Forum, St. Peter’s, several other monuments and churches appear around corners as the bus takes us along narrow, busy streets filled with honking cars, zooming scooters, and pedestrians, well, everywhere.

I enjoyed soaking up the colors, from the rich green leaves of tree-lined streets, the pale yellow and terra cotta of the painted four-plus storied buildings studded with tall windows, all shuttered, some with lavish window boxes and rooftop gardens. Every so often, a thoroughly modern facade would appear, wedged in between ones with ornate window cornices.

The span of architecture in Rome is a humbling reminder of those millions of minds and hearts who lived before us and helped to form what we think of as our cultural heritage. This city has a lot to teach us in the next few days!

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blessing and honor

For me, the time it takes me to prepare for a party or long trip is the same: it takes whatever time I have. So, since I had all of Friday night free for packing and doing last-minute cleaning and putting-away, it took me until after midnight to secure all I thought I’d need for 11 days overseas. Sure, I could have done everything in an hour, but what else would I have done all night?
While sitting in row 39 of Delta Flight 240, sleep comes to mind. Yes, sleep would have been nice.
   Of course, the St. Luke’s Chancel Choir has spent the entire past year preparing for this journey to Italy. Hours of rehearsal, and occasional nail-biting over parts and performances have led to this coming week of making music and memories. So, a few hours’ of lost sleep is not too large a price to pay.
During this trip we will take in the wonders of ancient cities, walk through places beloved and maintained for centuries by those walking in our faith. And we will laugh, be inspired, and eat–oh, yes–our way across the country, finding delight in places new and old to us.
But those experiences can happen on any, if not most, trips that tourists take to Italy. I can’t help but think that the “St. Luke experience” will differ because of what we bring with us–our gift of music. We hope that whoever comes to hear our concerts, who attends the masses when we sing, will be touched by what they hear. And that may happen, we can’t know. But what will happen, I’m positive, is that our singing in these sacred spaces will touch us in ways we can’t predict.
Prior to the choir’s tour of Austria and the Czech Republic four years ago, I gave little thought about the impact our performances would have on me. Even now,when I think about that trip, I cannot find words adequate to describe how deeply I was moved. And when you’re a writer, that’s a bit disconcerting.
At the end of last Thursday’s rehearsal, Mark Squire mentioned that we may encounter those “thin places” on our trip, places where the veil between earth and heaven brushes softly against us. That may sound a little too mystical for most practical-minded Methodists, but who knows? After the voices of 80 singers fill these sacred spaces, adding a new, invisible layer of prayer and praise, changing, if only for a moment, the very molecules of air, blessings, like reverberations, may return in reply.

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