Tour Blog

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

Day Two: Pearl the Panda gets some beads and other adventures

Good morning! Yesterday was an excellent day of exploring the city, so let's get right to it!

We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel, thanks to our love Ms. Bulter's early-morning trip to the grocery store. Our hotel does have breakfast options, but they are all pretty expensive for what you actually get. I opted to get up early and head over to the famous Mother's Restaurant and took advantage of their "Early Bird Special": two scrambled eggs, grits, sausage, biscuit, and coffee--all for $7.20. You can hardly even get a cup of coffee at the hotel for that price! What a deal, but what a number of calories ingested! Fortunately, I knew that the day's activities would likely burn off those calories before lunch.

We gathered in the hotel lobby and got a bit of a late start out the door (it's the first full day of tour, so we're still getting on board with the whole "to be early is to be on time" routine). We walked on over to the French Quarter and met our awesome tour guides for a very interesting and informative walking tour of the area. [Side Note: Remember how yesterday I claimed it was hot and humid, but not oppressively so? I still stand by my statement, but the girls would probably disagree with me. To be honest, it's been no worse than Rome last year--but I have to remember that not everyone on THIS tour was on THAT tour. But yesterday, we walked around the area for two hours in the sun, so it was a pretty constant barrage of rays and humidity.] We split into two groups with two tour guides, so I can only speak to the experience of half of us. That being said, our tour guide offered us a fascinating history of New Orleans, from the earliest settlers/natives, the French, the Spanish, the French, the theory that a city organized in a grid would curb criminal activity, subsequent axe murderers, voodoo (surprisingly connected to the Catholic church--ask your girls how!), the city burning/being rebuilt/burning down/being rebuilt/etc, jazz and its assorted characters claiming to be the sole creators of the art form, Louis Armstrong, and rock and roll. All the while, we took in sights of steamboats on the Mississippi River, the amazing architecture and wrought-iron balconies, occasional peeks into courtyards, the Louis Armstrong park with its various statues (some great, some terrible) of important figures in jazz history. Our tour ended at Cafe du Monde, where we waited in line to get our free (thank you, coupons!) beignets and drink. While being told of the time his local artist friend sold his sweet Spiderman jacket to Stan Lee for $50 by one of the local eccentrics on a park bench, I enjoyed the quintessential NOLA treat with the girls to the sounds of street musicians wafting through the air.

Fully satisfied (and sugar-high), we then split up in buddy groups and explored the French Market for a bit. I know I probably explored a bit more than the girls (as a non-chaperone adult, I get free range to wander as I wish), but there were still plenty of fun and interesting things to see. There were various street performers (I saw a lone sousaphone player wandering the streets, oompa-ing as he walked), pirates, artists with their work on display and for sale, local foods/delicacies (lots of alligator on a stick/jerky, praelines, snowballs, po boys, etc.), and your typical street market jewelry and cheap sunglasses. Being hot, the girls opted to head back to the air conditioned Riverwalk for lunch--which explains why I didn't really see our girls when I finally made it back to the French Market after a walk down Bourbon Street. They then went back to the hotel for a pool party, while I took in the Women's World Cup match and took a brief nap before dinner.

If you've talked to your girls since dinner last night, you probably heard about the dinner fiasco. Basically, 400 people converged in a much-too-small space on the 10th floor waiting to be allowed into dinner. Once all 400 of us were gathered, we were then told we had to organize ourselves into three lines based on what we had previously decided we were going to eat. And then, in the spirit of fairness, "If you were here first, you should move to the front." A lovely idea, if only the world worked that way. I write this not to bad-mouth the (dis)organization of the situation, but to let you know that your girls were not exaggerating if they were upset by the dinner situation. In the end, we were all fed, so that's what counts--right?

After this, we had our first festival rehearsal with all of the combined choirs. Maybe you heard about the beginning of this rehearsal, too, as it featured a similar spirit to the earlier dinner fiasco. After organizing 400 children by both voice type and height order (!), it was time to make some music. At this point, I had already left the hotel for an adventure with Pearl the PGC Panda in NOLA after dark, so I will trust the reports that the rehearsal went well after the initial pandemonium. Pearl and I had great fun taking in the sights, sounds, and even SMELLS (of various types) of Bourbon Street after dark, and she even managed to get some beads and a cool Mardi Gras mask (my treat!).  But don't you worry--I was sure to have her back by the 10PM curfew.

So that's what we did on day two! Today promises to be another adventure!

-R

Day One

Greetings from hot and humid (but not oppressively so) New Orleans!

Yesterday was a pretty low-key day for us overall. We met at the airport as the carpools started to arrive around 8AM, headed over to check our bags, made it through security (I got to take an extra escalator ride because I missed the sign about our end of the terminal being the TSA PreCheck ONLY side), found a bite to eat (lots of breakfast sandwiches were had), and then boarded our plane. We had a lovely flight (hardly any turbulence!) and landed in New Orleans a little bit after noon local time. We're an hour behind you all in New Jersey, so if you're finding it difficult to communicate with your girls, please keep this in mind.

Upon arrival at the airport, we were greeted by some awesome murals depicting jazz icons, as well as the news that a very important bit of luggage had somehow been lost in transit: one of our girls is a bit hobbled and came with a wheelchair, and, despite having scanned it in, it had somehow been left on the runway or jetway (still not sure of the details) in Philadelphia. Fortunately, the people here at the New Orleans airport were awesome in getting us a replacement for transport around the airport, and then the details of how the correct wheelchair would find its way to NOLA and our hotel were ironed out. As we waited for said details to be ironed out, we took the opportunity to have a lovely baggage claim carousel rehearsal and awed the airport staff with our rendition of "Ave Maria". The airport staff even turned down the canned jazz music that was playing on the PA so they could hear us better!

We then got onto our bus to the hotel and made the 25-minute ride in from the airport to our lovely accommodations, where we were greeted by staff from the festival. We were all given special bracelets (our "ticket" into all of the events and rehearsals that make up the festival), as well as coupon books for many of the stores and restaurants at the Riverwalk shopping center. I was particularly excited about the "Buy 3 slabs of fudge, get one FREE!" coupon. After getting our room keys, we headed up to the 12th floor to unwind for a few minutes before heading over to the Riverwalk shopping center for some shopping and dinner with our per diem. There were all sorts of options at the food court, but I (being ever so adventurous), went for the fried alligator plate at one of the seafood restaurants. PGC tours have afforded me some great culinary adventures: shark, termites, and now we can add alligator to the list. Some of the more adventurous girls tried a few pieces that I was willing to share, just for the experience. A great time was had by all!

After dinner, we went back to the hotel to get into our formal concert attire, piled onto a school bus, enjoyed the ride through some crazy NOLA rush hour traffic, and made it to Trinity Episcopal Church. We made great use of our short rehearsal time in the sanctuary, had a short break, and then opened up the festivities as the first ensemble to perform on this particular show. We rocked the house (of course!), and then enjoyed performances from Allegro Con Brio (an all-girls choir from the Kansas City area), and the various ensembles of Coronal Del Mar High School (women's chorus, men's chorus, underclassmen [was it only freshman? They looked young to me], and then combined). We ended the night with an impromptu performance of a South African song with all of the other choirs, and then headed back to the hotel--a much shorter ride this time, since there was no traffic.

The girls had a 10PM curfew last night, and afterwards the chaperones and accompanist went downstairs to have a late-night snack (confusing our waitress with our perfect German pronunciation of "Flammkuchen"--turns out they don't say it like that in Louisiana) before heading to bed for a well-earned night's sleep.

Today many adventures await us. I don't want to give anything away, so you'll just have to check back here tomorrow to find out all about them!

-R

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!

-R

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!

-R

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!

-R

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!

-R

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!

-R

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