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Germany - Switzerland - Liechtenstein - Austria - Czechoslovakia
July/August, 1990

This was the first of two concert tours I assisted with for the Greece Choral Society. No, that's not the country of Greece, but the name of the suburb I live in. I've been an active member of the group since 1983, and this was our first such excursion. The GCS combined with another local choral group, the Rochester Oratorio Society, resulting in some 104 singers and 46 guests on tour. Our directors were Ralph Zecchino (GCS) and Roger Wilhelm (ROS). While we set the basic itinerary of countries and cities we wanted to perform in, and the request of 3 to 4 days in each, a travel agency specializing in concert tours made the final arrangements, Performing Arts Abroad. That firm is now out of business (not because of us)!

We were so many people that we actually wound up getting to Europe split in three. The first group took PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) out of Toronto to Frankfurt, then bused to Salzburg, Austria, our meeting point and first concert site. The plane these folks rode in was half the battle, almost literally falling apart at the seams. Groups two and three (including me) left a day later on a Friday, one out of Toronto and me flying Pan Am to NYC on to Munich then by bus to Salzburg. The traffic was so heavy out of Germany that we were on the bus some 4 hours before we all met up with one another. This was only the start of an enjoyable but "bumpy" tour! We jokingly nicknamed this trip the "much confundar" tour after one of the songs in our repetoire.

Having been to Salzburg on a prior trip, I somewhat knew my way around and helped the others. After a brief warmup in the sub-basement of the Salzburg Cathedral Sunday morning, we were escorted upstairs and sang during high Mass. The rest of the day was spent on a brief tour and time on our own. As you would imagine, we easily found sites to explore in this musical town. Choices that night included the opera or outdoor concert at Salzburg Castle. From Salzburg we travelled back to Munich for one performance.

I had definite plans of what I wanted to do and see in Munich, having only spent two days there before. I very much enjoyed a visit to the Science and Technology Museum. There were displays on everything from air and train transportation to even a working mini-brick making facility. I still have the brick which came off of that assembly line. The following day I finally made it to the Olympic Plaza and up the observation tower. The natatorium where Mark Spitz won all of his gold medals was open and I had a look through that and other buildings in the sports complex. In fact, they were completing a new ice arena nearby just in time for the World Figure Skating Championships a few months away.

We all travelled about an hour south of Munich to the small village of Ettal and its ornately Barroque monastery. It was a pleasant afternoon drive for the 150 of us and worth the trip. The monastery was acoustically perfect for the evening's performance. Optional side trips from Munich included King Ludwig's Castle (Neuschwanstein), a tour of the local salt mines, and a trip to Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest.

On the road again, we set off for a few days in Vienna and two concerts in St. Stephen's Cathedral and the Votivkirche. Most of our concerts were in churches, as we featured sacred works from Mozart, Vivaldi and others. A must-see side trip was across the then "Iron Curtain" to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. Despite a major delay at customs to get in, the rest of the visit went well. We toured the historical district of the city and its castle overlooking the Danube. The people we met were very friendly, although most were seen under controlled situations.

From Austria we headed to Switzerland's French area and Neuchatel for another concert at the Temple du Bas. It was a peaceful place rarely visited by tourists. After two days there we headed for tour final stop, Berne, Switzerland's capital. Although we were there for only a day, we saw quite a bit none the less. Bears, symbols of the city, were on display in a large outdoor habitat at the edge of the city. I took a bus to the Universal Postal Union's headquarters where postal matters worldwide are managed. Others enjoyed the last minute shopping before our departure.

For many people, this was their first international experience. Some were unaware of what exactly to expect. Rooms are not as spacious as we have grown accustomed to in the US. As with travel anywhere, expect the unexpected and go with the flow, especially in a group. Despite lost luggage, a bus flat tire, boarder delays, traffic jams and alike, these problems turned into memories by the time we arrived home! This first choral group experience would not be our last!