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Ireland - Great Britain - France
After four years, the Greece Choral Society was ready for another tour. This time we joined forces with the Buffalo Choral Arts Society, calling our combined group, "The Upstate New York Choral Society. " As before we were under the direction
of Ralph Zecchino (GCS) and now also Marcia Giambrone of the Buffalo group. Altogether, we were a bit smaller in size, with 100 singers and 30 guests.
The tour company we chose was Music Celebrations International out of Tempe, Arizona. We became part of the 50th anniversary celebration by the French government honoring the liberation of France in 1944. We decided on stops in Dublin, London, Paris, and Normandy. The anniversary necessitated our music be a blending of sacred and secular music, with selections including Haydn's Missa Brevis, Faure's Cantique de Jean Recine, and a variety of music popular during the war era.
Literally within hours of our departure, I received a call saying that Ralph, one of our co-directors, was unable to go due to health problems. It certainly put a damper on our activities throughout the trip. We did receive regular updates on his condition, even through surgery (which was eventually needed) by his mother-in-law who also went on the trip. Though the pressure was on, Marcia stepped in admirably assuming all of the music conducting rather than just half.
We flew out of Toronto by a Royal Air charter to Dublin. Typical weather for the area greeted us- cool and damp, with a spot of rain. It wasn't completely sunny any of our three days in Ireland's capital. We spent the morning and early afternoon on a city tour awaiting our hotel rooms to open. Guinness beer is the mother's milk of the Emerald Isle, and posters and billboards for the product are all over the area, especially near the main brewery facility. Not many of us remembered much from the tour, as we were a bit blurry-eyed from the evening flight. No matter, as we had plenty of time to explore the city on our own.
Our concert site in Dublin was Christ Church Cathedral built in 1038, within walking distance of our hotel, the Temple Bar. Afternoon rehearsal went well, as did the 5 PM concert, with an authentic Irish stew dinner and show as our reward afterwards. Some tour members opted for optional tours to the countryside. One major tour to Waterford had to be cancelled, for the Irish National Football (soccer) Team was playing a World Cup Soccer match back in America. The entire city (and probably country) shut down Monday, July 4 at 4 PM to watch the match. The city was a ghost town, as I, too, retired back to the hotel to watch the game on its wide screen TV. Ireland lost, but everyone was still in a party mood (actually, they seem always ready to party) to at least drown the tears.
On of the most pleasant experiences on the tour was the 3 hour ferry ride across the Irish Sea from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, Wales. The ferry was a huge cruise boat of the Stena Sealink Line, featuring three restaurants and gambling parlors. It took some 6 hours by motor coach to get to London and The White House Hotel.
The next morning was our tour of London and all its sites, Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Crown Jewels, etc. Again we had plenty of free time. I finally got to see the House of Commons in session. I was also able to spend afew hours at the British Museum to see such things as sculptures from the Parthanon in Greece, a Gutenburg Bible, the Rosetta Stone, and an original manuscript of Handel's "Messiah." Yes, we did have a concert here as well, at St. James in Piccadilly. I did get to check into the National Postal Museum tucked into an old Post Office near Saint James' Cathedral. There never seems enough time to enjoy London!
Back on a bus to catch another ferry, this time on the P&O line, for the one hour journey from Dover to Calais. Dover was nearly covered in fog, behind which were its famous white cliffs. The weather gradually improved across the English Channel, reaching warm and sunny Calais. Another few hours by bus and we were in Paris.
I had a rather bad time in Paris the last time I was there, and vowed never to return again. Well, like it or not I was back, allowing the city one more chance to win my favor. Again I was happy to help the first time visitors get acclamated to their new home for the next three days. We stayed at the Frantour Gare de Lyon, next to the train station of the same name. I saw many of the old haunts I saw last time I was there, the Eiffel Tower, Arc du Triumph, Napolean's tomb at Les Invalides, the Louvre, and alike. Sunday I visited the world-renowned stamp bourse, but was disappointed in the selection of items for sale and dismayed at the prices they wanted for the most common stamps. A visit to the French National Postal Museum lifted my spirits after the disappointment with its British counterpart.
Yes, we did sing at Notre Dame. There was a "scheduling conflict" according to the directors and we we might not be allowed by the priests to sing at all. We were there right on schedule, but Mass went longer than expected (some think intentionally) and we finally about 45 minutes later than expected after Mass. The following day we prepared for our next concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity (Eglise de la Sainte Trinite) downtown. The building was an impressive structure inside and out, and a joy to perform in. The concert, also part of the Normandy Celebration, was well attended and received with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Many came back stage in their appreciation of our musical offering.
Our "official" trip to the Normandy region was the next morning, bringing us through the French countryside and the towns of Caen and Bayeux. Performing at the US Cemetery at Omaha Beach was a moving experience for all of us, especially the handful of Normandy veterans in our group. The weather was very much cooperating, being comfortably warm and sunny that day.
That was the last night of our trip. It was time to pack and catch a British Airways flight back to London and a connection to Toronto. This concert tour went much smoother than the one before, and perhaps had more meaning to those who participated.