A few weeks ago, my teenage daughter Diana and I took the trip of a lifetime, to Ireland/Scotland/England, on a tour with several other members of our city’s chorale. We were gone for two weeks, stayed in five different cities, and presented six concerts (plus provided the music at a Sunday morning church service). I had been to Ireland before, but it had been nearly 30 years in the past and my perspective with this trip was much different than before.
Our group was roughly 60 people, 35 of whom were in the musical group (the rest were friends and relatives that came along for the ride and became our “groupies”). The singing we did was fantastic; all our concerts were in old churches, from the little stone church in Kells, Ireland to the St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland… All different venues but fantastic sound everywhere we went!
One of the groupies has posted videos of one of our concerts on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7GExEaU4MJUCdsv4rlNtbg/videos (My favorite of all the songs is “The Ground”. Also, listen to the “River in Judea” rehearsal at St. Andrews in Holborn; at the end you can hear how “live” the room was.)
Aside from the concerts, we also got to do plenty of sight seeing. I am sure glad I have a decent digital camera, I could NOT afford film, much less developing, for all the pictures I took! Here are just a few.
Dublin: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, harp in the Trinity Library, our accompanist Kati Rittner with Diana in The Church (now a bar/restaurant but where Handel rehearsed prior to the first performance of The Messiah), and Diana learning how to be a barmaid 🙂
On the way to Belfast, we got to stop at Barmeath Castle. The owners had attended our concert the previous evening and hosted our entire group. They have kept up the castle and grounds and it was very impressive!
Belfast: We sang in the church where C. S. Lewis attended as a boy. The vicarage had a doorknob that inspired a key character in his books, and we drove past a small park that had a statue of someone entering a wardrobe.
We also got to visit the Belfast Castle which is now owned and run by the city, and used for occasions such as weddings. The prior owners were definitely cat lovers; we saw several statues and mosaics of cats in the gardens.
A few of us also got to visit the Titanic museum. The shipyard was located here and the museum was fascinating! The building is huge and has four sections that each look like the prow of the ship. The height is the same as the ship, so that visitors can get an impression of how big the ship really was.
Edinburgh: Our ritziest hotel was here (the Carlton) and we really enjoyed our time here. Most of the places we sang in were small local stone churches, but we gave a lunchtime concert at the St. Giles Cathedral. This is the view from where our director was standing!
There was a street artist outside the cathedral every day. He made the most incredible landscapes using spray paint, scraps of newspaper, and a putty knife. Here is one of the paintings that we watched him create; the entire process took only about 20 minutes:
We took a side trip to see Rosslyn Chapel (made famous by Dan Brown in “The DaVinci Code”). The carvings on and in this building were spectacular! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
You can’t go to Edinburgh without noticing the Edinburgh Castle up on the hill. Our group got a guided tour, and we got to see the crown jewels of Scotland (no pictures in that room either unfortunately, but those crowns looked just like I’d always imagined a King would wear!) There were statues guarding the entrance to the grounds, one of them was of my ancestor William Wallace.
Lindesfarne (Holy Island): We took a westerly scenic route from Edinburgh to York, and stopped at the island on the way. The road is open only when the tide is out. There is a castle on the island, and in the town there are ruins of a monastery.
York: The town is dominated by Yorkminster Cathedral, and is also surrounded by a stone wall that dates back as far as the Roman times. We got to tour the inside of the cathedral, as well as some of the historic places in the town. A few of us spent some time exploring the wall.
London: We spent three nights here and it wasn’t enough…. there is so much to see and do there! I was thrilled that I got to finally meet my friend Elise from France; we had worked together for over four years but had never met in person. We had a fabulous time and she was able to come with us on some of our tours. Of course, the first thing we did was go down to the nearest pub!
The “must see” sights include Big Ben (which is the name of the bell inside the Elizabeth Tower), Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square and the Victory Column, the Tower Bridge and the adjacent Tower Museum (where we got to see the Crown Jewels of England), and, of course, the tube system and shopping at Harrod’s (we only bought chocolate!)
Our final concert was at St. Andrew’s in Holborn, with the English National Opera Community Choir. We joined them for the first song, then they did the rest of their numbers. After intermission, we presented our numbers and they joined us for the last one. It was our best concert of the tour, and a lot of fun! The church was small but the acoustics were awesome and the organ was very beautiful.
The day before we left was a Sunday. We participated in the worship service at St. John’s church, and afterward the vicar hosted us in the “garden” for lunch. We were able to entertain our hosts with a couple of our a capella numbers there. Then, we were free to spend the afternoon sightseeing. Diana and I hiked all over, we went to Baker Street and also to the BBC headquarters (but the Dalek wasn’t that scary!) The next morning, we had time to visit the T.A.R.D.I.S. before it was time to go to the airport.
It was good to get home, but I would not have missed this trip for the world. I got to know a lot of the chorale members a lot better, I got to meet Elise, Diana and I had a lot of fun, and this was the first REAL vacation I had taken in years. In fact, I took another week off after we got back, just to recuperate!