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Blogs from our 2011 & 2007 Europe trips


An article about our exchange:  

            http://www.johnsoncountylifestyle.com/articlesTheBandPlayedOn.htm .

 

Here is the blog that I wrote during the 2011 Europe trip to Bietigheim-Bissingen, Germany and Paris, France.  The entries start at the end of the trip and move earlier.  The blog from the 2007 trip follows.

6/12/11

After a marathon adventure through airports and airplanes that began with wakeup calls in Paris around 6AM (11PM, KC time) our trip ended with touchdown at KCI around 10:30 PM.  We are all home from the Europe trip.  I really enjoyed this year's journey.  This was a wonderful group of young people to spend time with.  Two of our stewards on the Paris to Chicago flight made a point of finding me to pass on how impressed they were with our students.  They both talked about how friendly, polite, and respectful our guys were.  They told me that when they see a group of students coming on the plane, they cringe but it wasn't the case with our crew.  One told me about a recent group of 59 ten year olds!  You can imagine what that would be like.

Many of the parents mentioned they used these little entries to keep up with events on the trip.  I'm sorry I wasn't able to post another Paris message.  I had written one but shut down the computer too quickly for it to download.  There was no time to re-write it.  Argh!  Just for posterity's sake, here is a quick rundown of the last two Paris days.  We braved the Paris subway system to save time going to the catacombs.  We were doing everything on our own on this day-it was meant to be an adventure and it was...most of it worked.  The catacombs were creepy but very interesting.  We walked through a long maze of undergroud tunnels.  Many were lined with the bones of literally millions of bodies that date from the 1700s and 1800s.  Our next stop was the Luxembourg Gardens-what a contrast.  Statues, perfect lawns, ancient trees, a palace, sun and rain will be remembered from this destination.  On to the Latin Quarter.  This is the area many of us picture in our minds when we think of Paris-a cafe on every corner, pastry shops, more little boutiques than you can count, and awesome people watching.  The students were let loose here for a while to shop and grab something to eat.  Our luck took a dive as we moved on to St. Chappell which is known for having the most beautiful stained glass in the world.  We will have to take their word for it because after over an hour in line, we couldn't get in.  Long story, maybe the students can tell you.  This is also the time that we realized a passport was lost/stolen.  Our luck changed back to the positive when we made the short walk over to Notre Dame Cathedral.  It is awesome for how ancient, complex, and beautiful it is.  The students took endless numbers of pictures of this nearly one thousand year old landmark.  It is built on an island on the Seine that was the birth place of Paris!  We took a long but energetic walk back to the hotel then let the students free to explore and find dinner.  Our adventure worked out pretty well, I would say.

On our final full day, we went to the Lourve.  This is the greatest art gallery in the world.  It is huge and the collection is as endless as it is amazing.  It took us a while to work through the red tape to gain admittance but once we were in, the jaws fell open as we saw not just the most popular items in the collection including the Mona Lisa but room after room of stunning statues and paintings.  I was so impressed with how interested my group (we had divided up) was and how knowledgeable some of the students were.  They shared what they knew with each other and filled up the memory on their cameras with images of so many masterpieces.  While we were here, Mr. Kohl helped Grant get his passport replaced.  It went pretty smoothly for them which was a huge relief to everyone.  They made it to The Lourve at the same time that we started our tour.  The Eiffel Tower was next.  It was chilly and rain was threatening but almost everyone wanted to go up.  You could take an elevator or steps (708 of them) to get to the second level.  Many paid a little extra and waited in a long line to go to the very top.  This icon is so much larger than most people realize.  The view is stunning and, yes, it did rain and the wind was cold and strong.  We went to the hotel to clean up then it was off for a meal at a very nice dinner establishment.  Everyone was wide-eyed at how fancy this place was.  Our waiters were in tuxedos!  The dinner itself was very good but pretty small for our American appetites.  The meal was something almost everyone liked so plates were left clean.  We weren't done yet!  We went back to the Eiffel Tower area to hop on a boat for a nice cruise on the Seine.  It was a relaxing and beautiful trip where we not only saw landmarks but also the Parisians enjoying the evening along the river.  When we returned to the pier, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated then right a 10PM, thousands of flashing lights burst into action on the tower.  Many ohs and ahs were heard.  Still not done!  We rode the bus for an illumination tour of many of the landmarks.  Laura Meschke and Erin Bonifield provided the narration as we worked our way back to the hotel with a few final brief photo stops.  We hop out of the bus at the hotel around 11:30 for some packing and cleaning because the night was going to be short before we headed out in the morning.

Whew, we did a lot on this trip.  Thanks so much to Becky Meschke for all of her work on planning and setting up the trip.  I also really appreciate the work of Mr. Kohl, Mrs. Earney, and my wife, Shari, for all their efforts as chaperones on the trip.  They each worked so hard to make everything run smoothly and they care so much about these students.  Then, of course, I am very proud of our students-soccer champions, standing ovations, walking miles (many of them on steps), being on time, getting along, and enjoying and being interested in all they experienced are some of the ways I can describe our band.  They solidified our relationship with Bietigheim with their talents, curiosity and class.  So many people in Germany and France complimented the kids on their behavior and I told each that I would pass their nice words on to the parents because your home is where this class behavior is learned.

Finally, I hope everyone turned in their music at the airport.  If you still have some, please take it to South and leave it outside my office ASAP.  If you are not renting your school instrument over the summer, turn it in ASAP outside my office.  If you need to rent it, download a form from the website, attach a check, and slip it under my office door.  I hope everyone enjoys their summer.......and make sure you are practicing!         

6/8/11

So much has happend since I last wrote.  We are now tucked into our hotel in Paris after a day that began back in Bietigheim at 6:30 AM.  Many hugs and more than a few tears were shared as we said goodbye to our amazing hosts and then it was off to Stuttgart to catch the superfast TGV train to Paris.  It was a project getting all our luggage on but we did it then we glided out of the station.  I've never been on such a smooth and quiet train, and boy, does this thing move!  What would have been an 8-plus hour bus trip was accomplished in 3.5 hours on the TGV.  We met our guide at the Paris station and saw many of the sites-most by bus, but we walked around Montemarte and a terrace looking out on the Eiffel Tower.  Many photos were taken.  The weather was great and we learned just how crazy the roads are in this city.  If there are any traffic laws, you sure couldn't tell from our vantage point.  We then checked into our hotel and walked to dinner.  Sorry mom, most of the students didn't touch their carrot and tomato salad but the chocolate cake and pasta went over better.  The students had a couple of hours of free time but we got them into their rooms pretty early because they would need their energy tomorrow.

Let me backtrack a little.  Yesterday began with a tour of Bietigheim.  There is a lot of history to our sister city but it was so noisy in the streets that it was hard to hear the guides.  There is a lot of construction going on right now and it seemed that every power saw and jack hammer was going at the same time as our guides tried to speak.  Franky, not all of our guys were able to focus but our guide did tell me afterward that she was so impressed with how polite and quiet our students were during the tour.  She does this often and students from other countries do not present themselves nearly as well as our merry band.  We met the mayor then had pizza at the music school.  Their boosters bought a ton of pizza and we left a lot of it uneaten.  I think everyone got their fill but I wasn't surprised to see that there was lots of mushroom pizza left.  Then we had a surprisingly focused two hour rehearsal to prepare for our concert in their fine concert hall.

The concert was a huge success!  Wes Creaden was our announcer and he gained rockstar status with the people in the audience.  He, Keegan R., and Laura Morrill were all interviewed by the paper right before the concert.  The interview and pictures of these students were in the paper this morning.  Anyway, back to the concert.  After the German band played two numbers, we opened with the national anthems which is always a very cool moment.  Our trumpet quartet then played a number they had played at State Solo and Ensemble Festival.  The audience gave them a huge ovation-we knew this was going to be something special.  As we went through the program, I was so happy with the excellent performance of our guys.  We haven't had a band play this well in Bietigheim for many exchanges.  When we played our final march, the audience was clapping along.  I loved the smiles on our students' faces.  But we weren't done.  The audience gave the group repeated standing ovations which encouraged us to play 3 encores!  What a high for our guys and they deserved it for their wonderful effort.  It honestly could not have gone better.  What a great experience for all of us and it was a fitting final concert for our seniors.  They won't forget this one!  We continue our Paris adventure bright and early tomorrow.

 6/6/11

      It has been a full day!  After a weekend with the host families, students arrived at our meeting point with stories of their visits to the Porsche and Mercedes museums, the Ritter-Sports chocolate museum, a lake where some said half the band and their hosts showed up for swimming and paddle boating plus a wide array of other activities.  We all sang to Keegan Reese for his birthday then hopped aboard a city bus to the train station heading for Stuttgart.  It was sunny when we left...but it didn't stay that way.  There was a light sprinkle when we stepped out of the train but by the time we had gone just a few steps, it was pouring-cats and dogs pouring!  We dashed for what little cover we could find which was initially just a couple of trees until we retreated to the semi-covered train platform.  Our stylish bunch was quickly turned into a group of wet rats.  Our plans for an outdoor walking tour were dropped because of the rain and we were eventually back on the train now heading for the downtown shopping district.  It would be hours before we were totally dry but everyone took it in stride since we were all in it together.  The students were let loose on the shops and many quickly found treasures for themselves and I know quite a few gifts for the folks back home were purchased. 
     The rain continued on and off but eventually more off than on.  We left Stuttgart planning our strategy for the soccer game that was next on the schedule.  The field was a very nice artificial field near a small river and train tracks.  There was a ref and a fit looking opposing team arriving to take on the invading Americans.  The Exchange is 32 years old and we have never won the soccer game on German soil.  The game was tight and well played as the first half ended without a score.  Blaine Anspaugh put in the first goal by smashing through the defense.  The red, white and blue crowd went wild.  The clock was winding down when, with less than a minute to go, Deutschland put one in the net.  The whistle sounded and it was on to penalty kicks.  It was back and forth and very intense as the teams exchanged solo shots on the opposing goalies.  It wasn't until the 7th round of penalty kicks that this battle was decided and it was the Americans who came out on top!  A celebratory dog-pile ensued.  Will Skoog was awesome as our goalie.  He stopped many tough shots through the game then came out on top in the shoot out.  Both teams played very well and, as you can see, the game could not have been closer.  Great times and history was made!
      We ended the evening with a potluck dinner put on by their boosters.  The food might look different than what we are used to but judging by the quantity piled on the students' plates, they are adjusting just fine.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Germany.  It has been a fantastic time!

6/4/11

We are enjoying a slow start to the weekend.  Let me catch you up on what we've been doing.  Last time I wrote, we were resting before our first concert.  We met at an old church to warmup.  When I say "old," I'm not using the term lightly.  The church in the town of Ingersheim was built on an early Christian burial ground that dates back to 250 AD.  Construction on the church itself began around 600 AD and much of the current construction is well over 1000 years old!  After warming up, we took the small stage and played for a large and enthusiastic audience that were there for a town festival.  Even after our encore, they wanted more but the next band needed to take the stage.  The students played very well and we all had a good time.  The new band shirts looked great!

On Friday, we loaded into the bus and headed for Ulm.  The church at Ulm was the tallest building in the world until the 20th century.  You can climb 768 steps to nearly the top if you are game...and almost everyone was!  This is the ultimate spiral staircase and many did get a bit dizzy but it is worth it.  At the top, you can see what seems like forever.  The cold wind is blowing and you are looking down, way down, at the birds, the city, and the Danube river.  Then it is down 768 steps.  The students loved the adventure.  We only had an hour so it was back on the bus to Neuschwanstein.  I actually spelled that right the very first time!  This is the castle that Disney's palace is modeled after.  It sits well up the first mountains of the German Alps and when we arrived, it was shrouded in fog and clouds.  You should have heard the students when they first saw it.  It lived up to every fantastic description and we were still only seeing it from the road.  We spent an hour walking around the town at the base of the mountain.  While there, we enjoyed some cupcakes that Tim Aspleaf's host mom made in celebration of his birthday!

We then trekked up the very steep and long path to the castle.  Most really liked the exercise, unfortunately, a couple students weren't feeling great and this wasn't fun for them.  Everyone made it up, though.  The tour of the castle was quick but it gave us a chance to see this amazing structure that was frankly the result of a man's fantasy who was a terrible King.  Ludwig II poured much of his country's resources into this and other castles while the country went broke.  Still, it gave us a chance to see what may be the ultimate Royal extravagance.  Everyone loved the place.

It took three hours to get back to Bietigheim but it gave everyone time to share stories and for our queazy folks to feel better.  We now have the weekend free with our host families.  I am looking forward to hearing what everyone will do.  The trip is going great.  I was so proud of how the band played at the concert and how they handle themselves as a group on these tours.  The energy is high and the attitude is exceptional. 

6/2/11

We are in Germany!  The plane trip was uneventful but so long.  The flight from Dallas to Frankfurt was 9.5 hours and it felt like twice that.  Everyone's luggage made it and we all got through security without a hitch.  We were met by Herr Schiffer at the airport and we loaded onto a brand new luxury bus that took us on to Heidelberg.  The Germans had been telling me about how warm and dry the weather has been since their visit to the US.  Well, the weather changed just in time for us.  It was chilly and a light rain fell all day.  It was OK because the cool temps helped keep us awake.  We may have started our tour at 10AM local time but our bodies still told us that it was 3AM KC time. 

We toured Heidelberg castle which is an awesome building overlooking the old town which features the university that was established in the 1300s.  We saw the largest wine cask in the world-it would barely fit in our band room, and heard stories of how the royalty of Heidelberg were connected to so many of the great people and events in European and even a bit of US history.  After the tour, we were set loose on the town for shopping and eating.  There were lots of options for lunch and every student will have a different story about their first meal.  We hopped back on the bus and headed for Bietigheim.  I am told that within minutes, every single person on the bus was out cold as sleep quickly overcame our group.  I can't tell you for sure because I was out like a light!

It was a great scene as we met our host families.  First, the local paper took a picture of our crew and luggage then there were many reunions as our students were picked up by "their family."  This morning, stories were shared of host family homes, meals, and how long everyone slept (I think 14 hours was the winner).  Our day today started with a big walk with our guys and many hosts through the streets of Bietigheim then up into the hills.  We ended in a park where their band boosters had sausages on the grill and drinks waiting for us.  The weather today is perfect and everyone seems to be doing great.  This is a terrific crew of students.  They are curious, getting along great, and enjoying it all.  We are taking a break for a couple of hours with our host families then we will meet up for a concert at a festival in a nearby town.  I hope we remember how to play!  I'll do my best at keeping you updated.

The only issue so far has been for some students to get money.  The banks were closed in Heidelberg yesterday during lunch and today is a holiday so the stores and banks are closed.  It hasn't really caused any problems for anyone.  There will be banks available tomorrow.

 



A daily blog of our 2007 Europe trip.  Read from the bottom up to get the feel of the trip.  The first entry is at the bottom and moves to the top as the days passed.  The 2011 trip is May 31 to June 12.

Short and sweet because I have to pack!

We will tell you all about it tomorrow when we see you at KCI. Today included the amazing new
Mercedes museum in Stuttgart. Even if you aren't interested in the cars, you would be impressed
by the cultural history presented along with all the cool cars. We hit the fan shop for the
national soccer champion team from Stuttgart then went to the pedestrian zone to make our final
purchases. Many amazing deals were found! Ever since I first came to this area of Stuttgart 20
some years ago, I have thought the Plaza should be made a purely pedestrian zone with the
exception of the horse carriages. It would make an already special area so much better.

We had a couple hours to start packing then returned to the center of Bietigheim for a festival
that was a benefit for the town band. Though I didn't think it was the best performance of the
jazz band on some of the tunes, the overflowing audience seemed to love it! Just as we
finished, the rain started and the wind began to blow. It was off to final goodbyes, packing,
and last get togethers with our German friends. This has been a very special and successful
exchange. You would be so proud of how our kids have represented our community and how they
supported and enjoyed each other throughout the trip. The Germans keep speaking of the
wonderful time they had in Overland Park and we could not have been treated better here! I
can't say I'm looking forward to the airports and cattle car conditions in the planes tomorrow
but I am looking forward to getting home. Bietigheim is such an amazing place. Without a doubt
it is my second favorite place on the planet but Dorothy said it best, "There's no place like
home!"

A Day in Heidelberg,

We've had a change in the weather. A big storm hit late last night and we awoke to a cloudy
cool morning. We crawled onto the bus (the mornings seem to be getting earlier) and headed for
Heidelberg. The city is famous for having the oldest university in Germany. It has been there
since the 1300s and is still going strong. The other attraction is the ruin of a great castle
on the hill. We toured the old town with its many shops, the university, and the castle. One
of the most memorable aspects of the castle is that it home to the world's largest wine cask that apparently
always leaked and was only used for 50 years but it is the size of a small house!
Unfortunately, it rained through much of the tour. Some of our crew were lucky enough to have
umbrellas but others just went with the new weather induced hair styles. There was much stair
climbing again today but nothing compared to yesterday in the Alps.

After the tours it was FREE TIME! Many of the band found a Subway which was just like ours. T-
shirts, German flags, chocolates, and many other momentos were being purchased during this
relaxed chunk of time. The town really is beautiful and the tourists come from around the
world. Our guide told us that fully 50% of the tourists that visit are from other countries. A
little side story that we were told is that Mark Twain wrote much of Huckleberry Finn while in
Heidelberg. Heidelberg means blueberry hill and the name inspired him to name his new novel. I
don't know if this is true but it does make a good story.

We performed in the town of Tamm tonight in their brand new concert hall. We were the first
group from outside the country to play there. The stage was a bit cramped but both the concert
band and jazz band played great and the audience was again very appreciative. Both groups
played an encore and the audience wanted more but I was trying to save the chops of the jazz
band. The mayor gave all the band members a flower. This was the last performance for the
concert band. The jazz band has another performance tomorrow night. We performed with two less
players because Danielle Backus and Austin Bruss returned home today for a family wedding and
Philmont scout camp, respectively. I hope their flight is smooth.

Speaking of flights, our guys learned today that they must meet at 5:15 AM to go to the airport on
Saturday morning. This was not met with cheers. Some kids started saying "let's stay up all
night." Please encourage your students if you talk with them that this is not a good idea.
Your favorite chaperone crew does not want to have to herd 50-some nearly comatose teenagers
through airports! Stuttgard tomorrow!

Lost in the Alps!

Today our happy little crew headed for the Austrian Alps. After about a three hour drive, we
arrived at Lake Constance which sits between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is a huge
and scenic lake. There are resorts all around the area we were in and people sunning on the
beach. The sight of the grandpa-ish men in speedos was only a minor distraction!

Anyway, we rode a gondola up to the top of one of the near summits and enjoyed an amazing view
over the massive blue lake and the surrounding mountains. It should be mentioned that the first
gondola of our guys broke into songs from "The Sound of Music" plus a little "Yellow Submarine."

All was good as we spent about 40 minutes at the top. The trouble started on the way down. We
began a long hike to the bottom that was expected to last almost and hour and a half. After a
few steps, a group of the kids began running to the bottom right past our German guides. It
wasn't long before we realized this group had taken a wrong turn on the trail. We sent the
amazing marathon man, Austin Bruss, after them. Gradually members of the group returned as
Austin passed them and told them to head back. Finally we had everyone back except 5 plus
Austin. Reimund and his son proceeded after the final kids and the rest of us headed down the
mountain but we were now well past the scenic and meandering path. We had to take the very
steep plunging path that was frankly kind of scary.

Soon I received a call from Reimund that the other boys had finally turned around and met him on
the trail. They would take a different trail to the bottom. He said he had 5 boys but I was
sure we were missing 6. We recounted and sure enough, Justin Holmes was not with us. He had
not run with the front group but had taken another route somewhere along the way accidentally.
There wasn't much we could do because many trails had been passed. We left it up to Justin to
make it to the bottom. Lost American in the Alps! Well, we made it to the bottom with the big
group and there was Justin waiting for us. Huge relief! Within a few minutes the other group
of wayward distance runners plus Austin and the Germans found us. Happy ending and it makes for
a great story. The day wasn't exactly as planned but it was certainly memorable!

Tuesday night in Bietigheim

8:00 am felt very early this morning. A double decker bus was waiting for us and the rush was
on to see who got the front of the 2nd level. Those of us on the bottom had the most
comfortable seats that were facing each other with a table in between. The students across from
me had a spirited card game going in minutes! We had a surprise visitor with us. Tyler
Gatewood who was a former band member who travelled with the band to Europe now lives in Germany
down in the Alps. He looks at the band website from time to time and saw that we were in town
so he hopped aboard a train to see his old band. He first fell in love with Germany when he
came with the band and returned a number of times. He now works for the military with their
computer systems and attributes the direction his life has taken to the band trip. Tyler
graduated with our chaperone, Laurel, and happens to be the younger brother of South
teacher/coach, Travis Gatewood. It was great to spend some time with him as he joined us for
our trip to Stuttgart.

Our first destingation was the Wilhelmima which is the city's outstanding zoo and botanical
garden. The students had a number of hours free to explore. The adults went with one of the
host fathers who knew the park inside and out. At one point, he called his good friend who is
the head veteranarian for the park. I felt like we were with Dr. Doolittle as he would walk to
the exhibitions and give a whistle and shake his keys which had the effect of bringing the
animals in each display to run to the front of the enclosures. We were able to gather quite a
few of our students together for a real highlight. This man fed the polar bears and showed us
right where to stand which was a glass that was opened to a scene half above the water and half
below. My gosh, the sight of these huge animals standing on their hind legs then diving for
fish and apples and coming up right in front of our window. The power and grace of the bears in
the water is something I won't forget.

Our next stop was a castle at the top of a great hill covered with vinyards. We were there to
see a falcon demonstration. This did not start out very well. It may have been the hottest day
of the year and the kids were dragging. The presentation began with about 20 minutes of...well,
I don't know because it was in German. Hot, tired, can't understand; the time moved slow. The
first few demonstrations didn't seem to go very well. The birds would sometimes seem to ignore
their keepers. Our attention was perked up when they brought out a huge eagle that the handlers
had fly just inches above our heads. The audience was laughing, screaming, diving for cover,
and snapping some amazing photos.

We weren't done yet. We returned to the Kronencenter, location of last nights wonderful
concert. A professional band from Stuttgart with an international reputation gave both student
bands an hour long clinic. It was very interesting to see these fantastic musicians prepare
some very challenging and interesting music. It was very helpful that a translator was provided
so our students could understand all that was going on but, of course, the music and the
conductor's gestures told us most of the story.

Still not done! Everyone went to a park between the two rivers of the town for a big picnic.
Reimund said that they got this idea from their trip to America. There was a wonderful array of
dishes that each family brought. Believe me, most of our kids are not shy about trying new
foods. Frisbee football, a little catch with a baseball, and general socializing between the
kids of both groups, plus much more comfortable temperatures made for a simply great evening.
I'm so proud of the behavior and openess of our crew. Yes, some of the kids need more rest and
Laurel and Shari are helping with a few minor health issues and a couple of iPods and cameras
have either disappeared or stopped working but this trip is going so well.

Monday night in Bietigheim

I'm a very happy band director tonight. We performed in the city's concert hall a couple of
hours ago. It is a beautiful venue with great acoustics. It was a special night because before
we performed, the Bietigheim band performed three numbers. This was Reimund Schiffer's last
concert with the group before he moves on to be principal of the school. Reimund was honored by
the school for his 24 years as director and his students gave him a special tribute plus a
welcome to their new director, Julia Schlag. Reimund received a standing ovation from everyone
and my good friend could not hold back some well-deserved tears. Julia is now the director of
the Jugenblasorchester. It was a special night for the German music community and I was honored
that our students were a part of it.

We performed after a brief intermission. Let me backtrack a litte bit. I told you yesterday
that our performance last night was not what we had dreamed. Well, today we began with a tour
of Bietigheim and a presentation of its history. We then met Oberburgermeister Kessing (the
mayor) for some pictures then a short but nice reception in their council hall (which was built
in the mid 1400s!). He read a prepared speech to the students in English and was quite the
host. Our next stop was a great pizza lunch provided by the German band parents complete with
non-stop ice for the drinks! In Europe, drinks don't come with ice unless specially requested.                                            The moms are just like our's; they go way out of there way to make the kids feel great. I took them out for coffee afterwards as thanks for their wonderful treatment of our students. Free time! Lots of kids tried my favorite, spaghetti ice! They'll
explain it to you later. Then a practice. This was a hard practice where we really focused on
getting back our best sounds and top concentration. It isn't the easiest thing to accomplish
while on a trip like this but the band rose to the occassion.

OK, so now the concert. We played after intermission for about an hour. We were a new band.
They focused, they concentrated, they played expressively, they watched their mean old conductor
and the crowd went wild! The guys did a great job and the audience demanded an encore. Mr.
Kohl stepped out on the stage to conduct "The Stars and Stripes Forever." This was his European
debut. The audience hadn't had enough. We played our marching band tune, "Waiting on the
Robert E. Lee" and they wanted even more but our chops were falling off, everyone was sweaty
after so much playing and don't they say "always leave them wanting more!" What a great
experience for everyone. You could tell in our students' faces that they had just performed one
of the most memorable concerts they will ever play.

Tomorrow we head for Stuttgart for time in their zoo and botanical gardens plus a falcon
demonstration. We will then join with the German band to observe a band clinic by the
professional police band of Stuttgart which has "adopted" the Bietigheim band. I think we have
a BBQ picnic after that. Days are long here! I'm so happy our kids got to have this experience
today.

By the way, I think everyone that needed ATM help got it today. We got some cards to work and I
used the band card to help some of the other students. Once we get home, these kids just need
to pay back the boosters. Among other things, this is what the emergency fund is for. It's bed
time and boy am I ready!

Sunday night in Bietigheim

The group got back together to perform their first concert tonight. Everyone was in good
spirits and had lots of stories to tell about their weekends with the hosts. Some saw castles,
some went to the swimming pool, some played beach volleyball, some hit the candy factory, some
paddled canoes, and some danced at the disco to name just a few of the experiences the band
members had. The theme was that all were amazed at how warm and giving their hosts have been
and yes, they are eating!

Our first concert with the jazz band and concert band were not the ultimate in performance
opportunities. The stage was small, the temperature was high, and the acoustics were pretty
rough. We were in a three sided tent. It was so loud in side and yet the sound outside was not
very strong. It had been a long time since our last rehearsals but the kids did well. Still,
the audience reaction wasn't overwhelming. I blame it on the heat and bad acoustics. We were
playing at the Holzklobenfest which commemorates the logs coming down the river from the logging
camps. It is a great atmosphere with all of the traditional German dishes and drinks available
and lots of dancing and music. Many of us came back later in the evening to listen to a very
good professional big band from the area and use our free food and drink tickets. The night
before, Shari and I and our hosts watched a band called "The Horn Flakes." I just had to share
that name!

After the concert, we all went to the soccer fields for the big rematch. You might remember
that in the South stadium, we won 4-2. I'm afraid the news isn't as good this time. We were on
the short end of a 3-5 loss. Chris Marx, an own goal which Brian Conrick had a lot to do with,
and my father's day gift, a goal by Tom Adams, were our scores. Our guys played hard and in the
end, both teams were very upbeat and happy to have had the battle. There is something beautiful
in the fact that we won in America and they won here and both teams scored a total of 7 goals.
A perfect tie for the series. I should mention that many on both teams were bloodied. The
field we played on was artifical with large amounts of sand on it. The kids said the surface
was great to play on until you fell. If you fell, you were bleeding as the sand scraped away at
your skin. Students kept coming to Laurel with their battle wounds. I think Erin Gill, one of
our goalies had the ugliest wound but she was back in the game in just a few minutes. The kids
seemed proud of their scars! We all sang Happy Birthday to Jaynie Brautman!

Tomorrow we will learn the history of Bietigheim, meet the Mayor, eat pizza in the center of
town, have a rehearsal, and perform "The Big Concert" in their Crown Center.

WE ARE IN GERMANY

When I last talked to you, we were on a dinner break on our final evening in Paris. That
evening we hopped aboard the bus again and were all a little concerned to hear our new guide
start giving us the same tour we had already had! We were all a little antzy because we weren't
sure what the plan was but after about 15 minutes, we pulled into a parking lot that was full of
busses but that seemed to be made more for Volkswagons! We were by the river right by the
Eiffel Tower. We jumped off and boarded a boat on the Seine and disembarked for a cruise
through Paris. Along with the landmarks, we saw houseboats, little bands playing by the river,
dance groups performing, lots of people, and, it must be Paris, people romantically kissing and
some just plain making out. There was also the distrubing sight of homeless tents and shanties
under some of the beautiful bridges including one that the narrator called the most romanitic
bridge in the world. It is eye opening to see the best and worst, the happiest and the saddest
of a great city so close together. The cruise was relaxing and beautiful. As we returned, we
all looked at the Eiffel Tower which was now illuminated then the entire crowd gasped as the
Tower burst into a display of 20,000 flashing bulbs. It was an amazing site equal to any
fireworks display. This happens for 10 minutes every hour from dark until 1:00. These are
special bulbs that last 10 years. Its a good thing because to change the bulb, workers must
wear mountain climbing gear and climb on the outside of the Tower!

Another surprise was in store for us. We were heading home and driving by some of the landmarks
to see them illuminated. It was about 11:00 but the streets were unbelievably packed and there
were pedestrians everywhere. We came to the Arc de Triomphe and noticed that there were all
these people all wearing white sitting at white chairs and tables. Our first thought was that
it was a wedding or some special party. There is a roundabout that surrounds the Arc and we
soon saw that these people were completely surrounding the landmark. There seemed to be
thousands of them. Our guide had heard of them but did not expect this. Apparantly, this group
is connected only through e-mail and they just decide every once in a while to all meet
somewhere in Paris and have a picnic. I found a link that describes what happened,
http://news.sawf.org/Lifestyle/38628.aspx. What a crazy sight. As were drove by, they were
doing the wave with their napkins all around the Arc! I was told they even bring their own
chairs!

The next moring, we trudged down into the lobby with all of our luggage. Everyone paid any
extra fees and Shari and I had a little battle with a street gypsy over a ring (these people are
everywhere-ask your student about "do you speak English?"). We had a 9 hour drive through
France and Germany on this cold and wet Friday. It was a good time to get a little rest and to
share stories. We arrived at 6PM to our rain-soaked but smiling hosts. A German and American
flag in the hands of the German students awaited us. There were many handshakes and hugs as new
aquaintances were made and recent friendships were restored.

The students are now off with their host families for Saturday and most of Sunday. They will be
doing a huge variety of things and will look forward to getting back together to talk about
their hosts and homes and what they did. Many will see each other at little parties or sports
events and others will be out of town seeing other parts of the region. Both the concert group
and the jazz band will play at an outdoor festival Sunday late afternoon. The band director is
a little nervous about so much time between tomorrow and our last rehearsal. It will be OK (he
says to himself!). We've had rain and sun today but the forcast is good for tomorrow. It is
nice to have a fairly relaxed weekend after a wonderful but hectic time in Paris. Lots of kids
are looking for new memory sticks for their cameras and it looks like one camera has been lost
or stolen. Everyone seems healthy and happy.

Most of Day 3

The WIFI runs out before we are done with this day so to save 10 Euros, I'll give you a
partial report! I'm always frugal with the band's money :-) Anyway, today we saw much of the
rest of Paris with stops at The Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, a mansion from the 1500s, and the
Latin Quarter. The Louvre is all that one could hope and more. It is huge and so full of
amazing art. We only saw a tiny fraction of the collection but it did include the Venus de
Milo and the Mona Lisa. These are the most famous but probably not the most beautiful pieces that
we saw. It was very crowded and you could hear languages from all around the world. There was
lots of discussion about "The Da Vinci Code", of course.

Notre Dame is an awesome place the includes a 40 ft. stain glass window with 2 million
individual pieces of glass! We escaped with no pick pocket victims. Lunch was in the Latin
Quarter which had a huge variety of little eataries and traditional tourist gift shops. Many
euros exchanged hands at this location because the kids knew their Paris shopping hours were
coming to a close.  We said goodbye to our tour guide, Edith. Edith gets mixed reviews from the band. She's
very knowledgeable and pretty friendly but the plan always seemed to be changing (very
frustrating for me) and that abandoned shopping mall yesterday lost her some big points. She
was good to our guys and shared so many stories but maybe a few too many for many members on
the bus. She loves her city and she could answer any question the students had for her. I think
she very much is a good example of the French people; their strengths and their weaknesses.
All in all, I think we were lucky to have her.

I think the kids have adjusted to the food, have enjoyed the sights, want to shop even
more, bought some cool things, are shocked by how expensive things are, appreciate the sights,
and still have quite a bit of energy. There are some sore legs! Tonight we are taking a
cruise down the Seine to see the city lighted up. It is supposed to be amazing. We get back around
11:00 then are off to Germany tomorrow. Pray the rain stays away for us tonight. Another good
day!

Day 2 in Paris.

What a difference a good night's sleep makes! We all had a crowded but good breakfast
then met at 8:45 to hop on our bus. Unfortunately, at 9:30 we left the hotel to walk to where
the bus was going to be in 15 minutes. Not a great start. The blame went to Paris traffic.
OK, we are on the bus and things get better fast. Today we saw things like the Arc do
Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Concord Square, the hotel and tunnel of Princess Diana fame, and, of
course, the Eiffel Tower. I knew the tower was big but did you know it is over three football fields
high! We had to climb this thing but the plan was only to visit it and get some pictures. We
had a very light afternoon planned so we did a little improvising. We would go to a mall the
tour guide knew of for lunch then we would walk on our own back to the tower, climb to our
hearts content, then walk back to the hotel. I was pretty sure I could find it on the map!
So off we go to the mall. It is a strange place. There is graffiti all over it and it
seems rather desolate but we trust our guide. We follow her like ducklings through an
unmarked door into a dark and musty hallway which eventually opens onto a very quiet, OK, dead
concourse. This place makes Metcalf South look like the county fair! It is completely shut
down. Change of plan. We find a grocery store and the kids get creative. Junk food is out of
fashion with these guys. They are buying apples, salads, healthy sandwiches, bottled water,
and the like. Mom would be proud!  We pick a nice picnic spot (our guide has left). The spot is an abandoned staircase
under the closed mall that leads to a busy street. The odd thing is that with the great
attitude of this crew; it worked fine.
       Now off we go to the Tower. After a nice walk the band is let loose to explore this great
landmark. Almost everyone went up at least to the second level which gives you a great view of
all of Paris. You can find almost all the famous points of interest. Many of us walked the
whole way because it is cheaper than the elevator and the challenge is fun. Many continued up
to the highest platform which is just way way up there! Only an elevator gets you to this
level. Most of the students I talked to loved this part of the day. We then set out for the
hotel with a walk along the Seine. We had a long way to go but it was through some neat
areas. I didn't hear any complaints but of course I was at the front of the group and the traffic was
often very loud. Really, the students were in great spirits and seemed to enjoy the trek.
       Our day wasn't done! After a beautiful sunny day, we prepared to go to dinner. It was
now pouring! We ran the short distance to the Bistro Romain for a real four course French dinner.
This place was nice! Fine silverware, centerpieces, cravats of water, and wine at every
setting. Yes, wine. Geez, our cultures are a bit different. I told the kids that if they
thought their parents would approve and if they wanted, they could take a couple sips. I
quickly asked the manager to remove the wine. Not only did he do that, but he replaced them
with a nice fruit drink-non-alcoholic. The Bistro really made every effort to make this a
special dinner for the kids. The first course was unidentifiable but very good. Almost everyone gave it a try and most liked it. The second course was a chicken dish with fried potatoes and an awesome gravy. The third course didn't go over so well. It was a small salad (very small) with a couple of types of cheese-both rather strong. The fourth was a
dessert dish that was a very sweet apple pastry. The kids seemed to really enjoy this event
and showed excellent behavior. We also sang Kaitlin Truster, "Happy Birthday!"
Please forgive any misspellings or disastrous contortions of the English language. It has
never been my forte and this is the last thing I'm doing today before hitting the sack. Sure,
I've had to talk to a kid or two about showing up to this or that meeting place on time but you
would be proud of how these kids are working together to make sure it is a wonderful trip for
all. Tomorrow has a number of exciting things in store for us and the kids are already looking
forward to moving on to Germany. Some are hoping for more shopping time (probably for your
gift!) All is well for our crew in Paris!

About 8:45 PM Paris time on Tuesday

We are winding up day one in Europe. We landed in Paris with a nasty bump but all kids were on
board. Yes, the final two kids met us in Chicago with passports in hand thanks to the many
parents that went a number of extra miles to help them out. Nobody lost a passport and no one
lost luggage. That is the first relief! We met our tour guide and off we went to the Mont-
Marte area which features the Sacred Heart Cathedral and an area made famous by painters like
Renoir. It was a quick but neat tour. It was nice to get the blood pumping after the long
flight. We then made it to the hotel and found little lunches at street corner shops. Lots of
French Bread and mystery meat. The kids then had some hours to explore the Opera district and
lots of shopping for your presents has already been accomplished!

I asked the kids what was something neat today and I got responses like new foods, the
artists at Mont-Marte, the Cathedral, the traffic!, and just being in Paris! What was
something new?  The food (mostly but not all positive comments), communicating in English to the French or
trying a little French, finding their way around a big city, etc. What was scary?  The
traffic, getting lost (no problem, they were found quickly), and the food. Food is always a
topic of conversation.

The kids are very upbeat but very tired. Our bed check is at 9:00 tonight and no one is
complaining. We've been up for almost 32 hours. Big smiles but droopy eye lids. Tomorrow
will be exciting and everyone is looking forward to being rested up for it. I'll write more
tomorrow when I'm rested also!

Sieve

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