Tour Blog

Welcome to the Princeton Girlchoir Tour Blog! This blog is updated every summer while the girls are traveling to perform across the country and around the world.

Day Nine

Good afternoon, everybody! I haven't actually been sleeping until just now, but I've really hit the ground running and been all over the place already today (especially exciting was the visit to the chiropractor that I've needed since at least last Wednesday!). So here it goes: the final tour blog post of the 2018 tour!

We woke up after a refreshing night's sleep and headed over to our group breakfast spot, passing by the lovely lake full of fish, turtles, and swans. It was another good breakfast, consistent with what we'd been eating at our previous hotels: eggs, bacon, bread, cold cuts, cheese, coffee, juices, and a very welcomed addition--FRESH FRUIT! There was much rejoicing, as fresh fruit seems to be fairly rare to come by in Italy. After breakfast, we all piled onto the buses and made the (nearly one-hour due to traffic) commute into central Milan.

We were dropped off right in front of the world-famous Scala Opera House, which was (surprisingly) unspectacular to see from the outside. To be honest, it was kind of a letdown; it looked like any other ordinary building in the city. Fortunately for us, the Victor Emmanuel II Galleria and the Duomo more than made up for our disappointment. The Galleria, considered to be the world's first shopping mall, was an amazing structure with steel lattices, glass ceilings, and an impressive dome, is home to world-famous boutique shops (including the first-ever Prada store, Versace, etc). With our mouths agape at the beautiful sights, we passed through and were met with an even more beautiful sight: The Duomo. The 4th largest church in the world (or 3rd largest, if you're only considering Catholic churches [or 5th largest, if you do independent research and don't trust your tour guide]), the front facade of the church was decorated with 2,200 individual statues of religious figures. In total (if you include the statues INSIDE), there are 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures. The craftsmanship was amazing to see, with the white marble newly cleaned. I was surprised at how white it was--most pictures I had seen depicted it in its dirty grey condition. Lucky us, to see it so clean!

After passing through the security checkpoint and admiring the soldiers' lovely feathered caps, we went inside and were blown away by all we saw. The stained glass windows were particularly impressive, as they all consisted of hundreds of individual scenes from the Bible that came together to form a huge tapestry of color. Of particular import was a little red light above the altar that showed where the builders of the church put a nail used in the crucifixion of Jesus to keep it safe. Brought back from Jerusalem, the Holy Nail sees the light of day every year in a ceremony where the archbishop ascends to the roof of the church in a little wooden elevator! We also saw the church's sundial, and a particularly grotesque/fascinating statue of St. Bartholomew--skinned alive when he was martyred, he is depicted as wearing his skin draped over himself like a stole. It was also very neat to see a 1:1 replica of the statue that tops the churches tallest spire, the Madonnina.

Once we left the church, we headed back to the Galleria to learn some more history of the building and go for a few spins on our heels on the bull's private part (ask your girls about this--it's a weird tradition) for good luck. We then wandered over to the Sforza Castle, a beautiful Renaissance structure that now houses some museums (they weren't open, since we visited on a Monday). Once we were done with the walking tour, we had around three hours to eat lunch and to go SHOPPING IN MILAN! And shop we did! Holy moly, I'm not that much of a shopper, but even I was struck by how amazing the clothing stores were in the "fashion capital of the world". Even with three hours, we didn't have enough time. My personal favorite was the Versace store, where I opted not to buy the $800 dollar shoes (but I really wanted them!). Instead, I bought a beautiful scarf for my wife with the help of some of the girls (she loves it, by the way!).

Having shopped till we dropped, we then walked to meet our bus and pick up our concert attire, then headed over to the Sant'Antonio Abate Church: a lovely "little" church in one of the side streets of Milan. Ornately decorated with all sorts of paintings and frescoes on the walls and ceilings, we were struck by the beauty of yet another amazing space in which to sing. We had a fairy chill rehearsal (we were all verrrry tired and emotional, seeing as it was the last day of tour), and then walked over to our final dinner of the trip. After dinner, the chaperones gifted all of the girls with necklaces made by a local street artist (he made 60 necklaces during our one-hour rehearsal!), and then we walked back to the church for our final concert of the tour. It was very well attended and received, and despite a few tears from the girls and their accompanist, we rocked the house. After words, I could only boast, "We came, we saw, we conquered!" And it was the truth.

We made our way back to the hotel, packed up our things, and then went to bed early so that we'd (hopefully) be able to make the extra-early bus loading and group breakfast time (6:10!). Having eaten breakfast, we drove to the airport, checked in, made it through security, took the bus from the terminal to the airport, and flew back home. The rest, as they say, is history.

So that's it. We had an amazing time, and I'm sure that the girls will joke about how hot it was for years to come. But, truly, it was an amazing experience.

Until next year (wherever that may be), arrivederci!


So exhausted...

We made it home safely...and I'm so tired that I'm having trouble forming coherent sentences. I will write all about Milan after a full night of rest. Sorry for the delay! -R

Day Eight

Good morning from our lovely hotel in Milan! I will apologize ahead of time for both the brevity of this post as well as for any typos--I'm writing on my phone this morning because I was having issues with the Wi-Fi here.

Yesterday was another day of travel, leaving Montecatini and headed toward Milan. We stopped for lunch at a lovely rest area (a wide selection of sandwiches and such to hold us over), and then continued onward to Cremona. We had a little time for some gelato and shopping, but I opted to visit the city's beautiful Duomo. We then headed over to the beautiful violin museum, where we learned all about the history of the violin and saw some amazingly rare instruments. My personal favorite was a 1679 Stradivari with some mother-of-pearl bling--one if only ten like it in the world. It was pretty incredible to see.

After that, we finished our bus trip with gusto, or at least my bus did--we had a full bus sing-along with selections ranging from "Bohemian Rhapsody" to "I Want It That Way". Admittedly, I kept my headphones on...

We arrived at our hotel and had the pleasure of lugging our luggage up a flight of stairs before checking in. We then had a fantastic buffet dinner and then held the annual Paper Plate Awards. Many years were shed. This is a very special group.

So that's it, really. On to the city for the day. One more concert!

Day Seven

Good (late!) morning! Today we were able to sleep in because it's another day of travel, so I definitely took advantage of the extra sleep. I hit my bed and passed out last night after such an exciting day!

We began the day by eating a lovely breakfast in our hotel, and then meeting together and getting on the buses at 9:15. We made the (relatively) short ride into Pisa, getting stuck in our first bit or really bad traffic in the commute--despite all of the crazy driving we've seen, yesterday was the first time we had seen an accident in the entire week we've been here! When we arrived in the bus parking lot, we were swarmed by the street vendors who prey on tourists by selling all sorts of contraband; our girls have gotten very good at saying, "No, we don't want any." One guy asked me if I wanted a belt, and I replied, "You're a few days too late--I've already got one!" After taking another "pay to potty" break (.50 Euro again), we all split up into three touring groups with our local guides and made our way into the city to see the sights.

When we turned the corner and walked through the ancient walls, we were greeted with the sight of the Piazza del Duomo which featured the Duomo, the Battistero di San Giovanni, and--of course--the famous so-called "Leaning" Torre di Pisa. Let me tell you, it was a pretty amazing sight to see after years and years of seeing pictures and paintings. It's been amazing seeing all of these famous sites on this trip, and the Leaning Tower did not disappoint. We had a brief tour of the sites and explanations of everything we were seeing, and then we were cut loose to find some lunch and wander around the city for three hours. Many silly selfies were taken, and it was nearly impossible to walk through the piazza without messing up someone's shot--I know I felt very nervous walking around and being mindful of all of the posing happening in front of the tower, making for a few awkward exchanges--but everyone was friendly about it!

After wandering through the beautiful town and down to the river Arno, I got myself some pizza and gelato from "one of the top four ice cream stores in all of Europe" (according to our guide) I then headed back to the piazza to drop off my bags in the locker room and got in line at my allotted time to climb to the top of the tower. 18 Euros and 290 steps later--all of which you could feel the lean while climbing--we arrived at the top of the bell tower for an incredible view of the Duomo and surrounding areas. I have to admit, I felt a little bit nervous up there, very thankful for the added guard rails and fences that kept people from falling from the top. To top it off (ha!), we actually ran into one of the girls' friends while we were up there (not planned!). Throughout this trip, we've been bumping into people we know: friends, classmates, teachers, and (in my case) students! It's a small world, after all...

Sufficiently exhausted and sweaty (it was a scorcher yesterday!), some of us chose to visit the Duomo before we walked back to our bus and headed on to Pistoia, another cute little town close by to Montecatini, for a lovely family-style dinner before making our way onto San Francesco Church for a concert. We met with the other choirs for a brief collaboration (a choir of adults and a choir of young children) before putting on a beautiful show for an appreciative audience. As our tour guide Stefano quipped, "By the end of the concert, everybody loved you!" The children's choir loved us so much that they invited us to go get ice cream with them after the show, but unfortunately we had to decline due to our tight travel schedule. Next time!

So that was our day! Today, we make our way up north to Milan. Until later, ciao!


Update: Pictures!

Brief note: I've added pictures to the couple of days that were missing some. I haven't put in too many, but I just wanted to let you know in case you hadn't been receiving any from the girls. :-D

Day Six

Good morning from Tuscany!

Yesterday was a day on the move--we were able to sleep in for a bit in the morning before loading up our buses with or luggage and saying goodbye to Rome. We made a brief stop at a rest area en route to our lunch destination, and I was struck by how different Italy's rest stops are to the ones in the U.S. First off, there was a section with a wide selection of wines and beers at the store (almost asking for some drinking and driving!), as well as a whole section of meats that would rival any grocery store's deli section. The girls stocked up on snacks and potato chips of many exotic flavors before returning to the bus and and completing the drive to our lunch destination: Sienna.

We had the good fortune of having plenty of time to explore this amazing Medieval city. One could get lost in all of its winding streets and back alleys, many with incredibly steep inclines due to the rolling Tuscan hills. Our meeting spot was the Piazza del Campo, which featured an amazing tower that some of our girls chose to climb (400 steps to the top!). I took time to wander around and look for the best photo spots, taking in the beautiful Duomo and local Basilica. Drawn in by aroma, I also found an amazing shop that sold all sorts of varieties of truffle oils and also gave free sample tastings. There were wine shops, jewelry shops, art shops, leather shops, and no shortage of restaurants to see during our nearly three hour stop. We finally met up in the Piazza and took a group trip up the stairs to see the Duomo (Dr. Jenkins and I were the only ones who had checked it out during the free time), where the girls were either totally impressed with the sight OR more interested in buying fresh fruit from the fruit stand. Go figure. Our walk back to the bus afforded us to some beautiful panoramic views of the Duomo and Basilica, and we made a quick stop at a public WC (.50 Euros to use!) before heading back to the bus and finishing up the trip to Montecatini.

We arrived at our hotel and got our keys and got changed for what I hear was a lovely dinner (veal instead of chicken for the first time on the trip). I say "I hear it was a lovely dinner" because I took advantage of our proximity to Florence by taking a whirlwind trip into the city via local train--it was a 45 minute train ride, then a frantic run around the city for an hour because if I missed the 10:10PM train back to Montecatini I would have been stranded in Florence overnight! All in all, it was insane to do, but a nice little adventure.

We're looking forward to seeing Pisa today and a concert this evening. Until tomorrow, ciao!


Day Five

Good morning from Rome (for the last time on the trip). We're about to board the buses, so as I get ready I will update you on what happened yesterday.

There's not really a whole lot to write about yesterday, as it was a day of rehearsals, free time at the hotel, and then the big gala concert last night. Let's just put it this way: we had an enormous crowd in the beautiful Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola, and every single one of those audience members had truly "been to church" by the end of the night. The girls were fantastic in their solo set, bringing down the house with "Music Down In My Soul", and the combined numbers got everyone fired up and walking through Jerusalem with us by the end. What an experience! I'll be sure to share some pictures tonight when I have a little more time, as the venue was ornately decorated with an AMAZING ceiling (but not quite like the Sistine Chapel).

Today we head north. Speaking of which, I'd better shower and get packed before I get left behind...

Until later, arrivederci Roma!


Day Four

I'm not quite sure how I'm going to be able to sum up today's experiences, as we saw so much and have so much to digest and process. Perhaps I'll just give a summary and let the girls tell you more about it when they arrive back home, as I'm sure everyone's day was different and special in their own unique and spiritual ways.

We did the whole normal breakfast routine, and met the buses extra early to be sure to meet our Vatican tour guides at our reserved tour time. We then rode into the city, fought through the traffic, and arrived at the "Smallest Country in the World", Vatican City. We waited a very short time in line (having reservations and being a group, we got the Vatican Museum "Fast Pass" treatment), made our way through the security checkpoint, met our tour guides, and headed into the museum.

After a short presentation from our guides about the Sistine Chapel artwork and learning some interesting tidbits [two of my favorite amusing items: 1) Michelangelo was the first artist to depict God's naked rear end and 2) He painted a particular priest who gave him lots of crap banished to Hell with a snake biting him in a very unfortunate place in "The Last Judgment"], we headed in and saw an incredible collection of Roman statues, maps, tapestries, painted ceilings, and all sort of wild and crazy things. And in reality, we barely scratched the surface--there were whole wings that we had to pass by because of the crowds and our schedule. To say it was overwhelming is an understatement.

Speaking of overwhelming, our final destination of the tour was the Sistine Chapel itself. There were no photos allowed, so we definitely didn't "huddle around people to block the guards who were hovering over with watchful eyes from seeing us 'not take pictures'". The ceiling was truly insane to see. I don't know what else to say.

After leaving the museum, we had a few hours to spend exploring the area and getting some lunch. We then met back at St. Peter's Square and headed over to a hotel to change into our concert attire. After that, we headed into St. Peter's Basilica for some time to explore it on our own. Again--overwhelming. To be standing in front of Michelangelo's Pieta was an emotional experience for me. And then, finally, singing the Mass (and playing the organ!!!) was an experience I'll not soon forget. Oh, and some of us spotted another celebrity who was also overwhelmed by his experience and in tears: Macklemore.

After the mass, we changed into our tour clothes and headed on over to a local restaurant for another excellent dinner. We then headed back to the hotel and I promptly crashed as soon as I sat down on my bed.

So that's all for yesterday. Gala concert tonight!


Day Three

Good morning! I'm sorry I didn't post last night--I fell asleep pretty much right after last night's England vs. Columbia match. What I've been able to see of this year's World Cup has been pretty exciting!

Yesterday began with another great hotel breakfast, followed by a rough ride into the city for a rehearsal. We experienced the full extent of Roman traffic on our way in, and from my vantage point at the front of the bus I was able to learn about how traffic flows in Italy. To say there is any true organization to how traffic flows in Italy would be a lie. I observed that the lanes marked on the actual streets were merely suggestions that no one really followed. Three marked lanes become two lanes of cars straddling the dividers; red lights and green lights are basically meaningless; you are always at risk of being hit by traffic coming in the opposite direction; and most importantly, one should invest in a Vespa or moped if you actually want to make progress in moving forward. We were ultimately about a half our late to our 9AM rehearsal with the festival choir.

Despite being late, we still managed to get everything done in rehearsal that had been planned. We worked on fine-tuning our pieces for TODAY's performance at the Vatican (in which I'll be making an appearance as a SINGER, holding down the bass line in our SATB repertoire! Still no word on the organ...), and then rehearsed our festival concert music some more. We also learned a piece written by the conductor of the gospel choir that is singing with us (incidentally, they're from Philly, and one of the members is actually a former neighbor of Dr. Jenkins! Small world!), learning it in the true gospel style: without music, by ear! We were quick studies, and in less than 15 minutes we were rocking! We may even put it on the program on Thursday!

After rehearsal, we went back into center city and had free time for lunch. We were dropped off at the Piazza Navona again, and split up into various groups. I took the opportunity to visit the Pantheon since we had missed out on that the other day due to dress code violations, and then had my first Italian pizza--it reminded me of Nomad's. Now I know where to get authentic (Roman) Italian pizza. I'll keep you posted on what it's like in Milan...

We then met up for a brief dress rehearsal at our concert venue for the day: Sant'Agnese in Agone. The girls' jaws hit the floor when they walked in and saw the beautiful frescoes on the walls and in the dome--it was like something straight out of an art and architecture book (literally). We got used to the acoustics, sweated a whole lot (there is a rumor I heard that it was air conditioned in there, but I'm not so sure I about that), and then changed into our concert attire. Even for our rehearsal, we had an appreciative audience that apparently drew a line all the way outside of the church. The concert itself was packed--standing room only included! It was such an appreciative audience, and the girls sang beautifully! The applause continued even after we had all exited and made our way back to our dressing room. The girls certainly earned that applause--that had to be one of the finest first performances I've been a part of on a tour EVER.

Once we were changed out of our concert attire, we headed over to the Pantheon for some free time. The girls who hadn't been in the Pantheon on Monday were admitted this time because they were all dressed appropriately (our casual outfit yesterday had to fulfill similar standards to even rehearse in our concert venue), and we also enjoyed some crazy acrobatics by a few Brazilian street performers. We made our way to our dinner restaurant, which was a lovely cafe with outdoor seating that was in a magical piazza in some side streets in Rome. Beautiful. When we arrived back at the hotel, we packed up all of our concert dresses and music for today's performance and stowed them in a few large suitcases (our dresses are meeting us at a hotel today so we don't have to lug them around the Vatican while we tour). I brilliantly packed my deodorant in my concert bag, which was a great idea for this afternoon's concert--but not so much for this morning. Fortunately, Hilary bailed me out and offered me access to my bag which had not yet been packed away and moved to the new locale.

So that's all for yesterday. On to the Vatican!


Greetings from (Ancient) Rome!

"Wow!"--that's how I'd sum up today in one word. Fortunately for you, my blog post will be a bit more extensive than a one-word description!

Today began (for most of us, at least) with a 6:30AM wake-up call. If we had not attempted to bathe in the "Sh-bath" (a term that Hilary introduced me to, describing our current bathing situation: a shower, senza full shower curtain/glass which often leads to a flooded bathroom floor), we tried our luck. Also, we may or may not have washed our feet in the lovely little foot washing sink, which I've told is called a "bidet". My toenails have never been cleaner! ;-)

We ventured down to our hotel's breakfast room, which offered a wide variety of foods: eggs, bread, sausage, bread, bacon, bread, cereal, bread, fruit, and just a little bit more bread. There were also many options for drinks, including all sorts of coffee-type beverages, milk, and fruit juices. All in all, it was a pretty good spread, and all of us were able to find something to suit our appetites. We then boarded the bus, where we discovered that there was a whole room-full of girls who had somehow managed to sleep through alarms and a wake up call (their room phone was somehow disconnected). Fortunately, they were able to quickly get dressed--and were able to bring along some breakfast, thanks to some fast-acting chaperones--and we managed to leave in time to meet our tour guides in Ancient Rome.

As we got off the bus, we were greeted with the amazing sight of the Colosseum. It's one thing to see it in pictures and in history books, but it's an entirely different thing to see it looming enormously in front of you! I'm not sure what I expected, but I do know that even from the OUTSIDE, it exceeded my expectations. We met our local guides and split up into three groups to tour one of Rome's famous Seven Hills, taking in the sights of ancient ruins and learning more about the historical importance of what we were seeing. It was incredible to see all that remained of stadiums used for private games of the Emperors, temples, and residences. Everywhere you looked was another incredible bit of history, just lying there in ruins. At the top of the hill, we were afforded some breathtaking views of the city. Viewing some of the triumphal arches, it was interesting to note the different styles of art used--which we learned was due to the Romans reusing and repurposing bits and pieces of their old buildings. In one of the arches, we even saw a bit that was taken from Jerusalem and brought back in 70A.D. Yesterday, we learned that all of the obelisks around Rome were brought here from Egypt, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me that they would have brought some things back from Jerusalem--but it is still pretty crazy to think about.

After stopping to refill our water bottles from one of the many water fountains that is supplied via the aqueducts (they are all over the place here--amazing!) and then carefully making our way back down the hill, we finally reached our final destination of the tour: the Colosseum! We waited in line and then went through the metal detectors and x-ray machines (it was like being at the airport, but we could keep our shoes on!), only to wade through more immense crowds. The Colosseum is very, very crowded, but well worth the trouble. We climbed to the upper level and learned about what the Colosseum would have been like if we had been around in ancient Rome, imagining the people and animals being transported under the stage through the substructure, being blown away by the fact that they had engineered a canvas roof to protect the spectators from the sun (we could have used it today!), and hearing the roar of the 70-80 THOUSAND people that it would have held in its heyday. It was truly incredible to see, and many panoramic pictures and selfies were taken. We then headed down to ground level to get a better view of the substructure corridors before finally heading out the door and on our way to lunch at Pizza Forum. Well, everyone except me--I had to run an errand to buy a new belt because of a mishap at the airport. Long story...

After lunch, we boarded our bus and headed off to our first festival rehearsal at a fairly swanky hotel--they were a bit cruel and walked us past a luxurious swimming pool that looked oh so inviting on our way to the conference room. We were led (and often entertained) by our festival choir director, Dr. Rollo Dilworth, running through our music for the first time together as a group. By the end of the rehearsal, those of us who were still awake were pleased with the progress we had made, and very excited about our future performances in the coming days. I'm also super excited about the possibility of playing the organ at St. Peter's in the Vatican--I don't play the organ, but I will jump at the chance if they allow us to. Talk about something to put on my resume!

We all headed out to dinner at a lovely restaurant where we were treated to bread, pasta, chicken, sausage, and ice cream. The adults (and there are lots of adults--this festival choir is inter-generational!) also had some lovely wines, of which I partook. When I noticed the bottle was nearly empty, I also noticed that no one else at my table had been drinking any. This led to more typos while writing this than ended up in the final version...

Each choir took a turn singing a piece for the rest of the group, which was really great to hear. Dr. Dilworth requested that each group present something that gave the rest of the festival an idea of what we were all about, and when it was our turn the girls sang a lovely a cappella version of "The Lord Bless You and Keep You"--beautiful! It was a great time all together, and our girls have already found new friends in fellow choirs in the festival.

So that's all for today! Tomorrow brings our first concert, so we're all excited! Until then, ciao!

(Note: the wi-fi here is making it difficult for me to upload photos. I'll try to put some up in the morning, hopefully before traffic is slowing things down!)



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