Italy Tour 2005

The following log chronicles the adventures of our group through our Italy journey. For some members, this type of travel was a brand new experience, others were well seasoned travelers, and many more of us were somewhere in the middle. We attempted to keep a web log of our journey throughout the trip. Some locations it was easier to access the net than others.

In addition to this log several member of our group recorded a personal journal on separate days. You will find links to those journal pages from this page. Many thanks to Sue Wyatt for transcribing the handwritten notes so that they would be available for all.

The CHORALE's 10 Day Italy Tour

Day 1 - June 2, Leave Champaign for Rome

We boarded our bus in Champaign around 10 in the morning. Several CHORALE well wishers were there to see us off. A quick stop in Kankakee to pick up one more member and soon we were at O'Hare airport. After a somewhat long wait to obtain our tickets we boarded an Iberia A360 flight to Madrid and settled in. Some of us slept, others stayed awake and chatted. Early the next morning we made a very quick plane change in Madrid and were once again in the air heading to Rome.

Day 1 personal journal...

Day 2 June 3, We Have Landed!

Our plane landed in Rome shortly before 2 in the afternoon. We were met by Domenico our guide for our entire stay. It was then we found out about the first of our schedule changes. Our Sunday mass at St. Peter's was canceled because the pope would be installing new cardinals. However, we would be able to sing for mass in the high chapel at 5:00.

What an exciting ride. We had an hour and a half to get showered and dressed and present ourselves to the Monsignor at St. Peter's, only 24 hours after we had departed Champaign. A large crowd was in attendance. We sang 'May Thy Holy Spirit', Go Ye Now in Peace', 'Bless the Lord Oh My Soul', and 'All That Hath Life and Breath Praise Ye the Lord'. It was fun and our efforts were greatly appreciated by the Monsignor and the audience. The group did wonderful.

St. Peter's

The Monsignor's name was Pablo Colino. He is the chapel master of the Vatican choir. His comments after our performance were translated with the help of our guide Domenico. Molto, molto, molto...esspressivo needed little translation for us. He also felt we sang with passion and poetry. Our accomplishment for the day was no small feat. The first international performance of The CHORALE was in St. Peter's Basilica, the largest cathedral in the world.

We returned to the Hotel Regent for dinner and some well deserved rest. Our hotel was a few miles from the center of the city. Jasmine and oleander were in full bloom in this climate and the mix of these two fragrances produced a very heady, exotic scent.

Day 2 personal journal...

Day 3 June 4, Tour of Religious Rome

Due to our schedule change we spent the morning at the Vatican City touring the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. The temperature was quite warm, and it was a 2 hour wait to get to the museum entrance. For those of us who have never been it was incredibly overwhelming. The volume of precious art, sculpture, paining, tapestry, mosaic, etc... just boggles the mind. So many kilometers of art, though that can hardly be a measure of real beauty.

Group Photo in front of St. Peter's

After the tour we were on our own for lunch. I believe it was at this time when some members of the group may have had their first gelato, a popular frozen dish that became a quick favorite among many of us. We posed for a group photo in front of the Basilica and then were off to the hotel to change and get ready for the evening's performance.

At 5 we ate dinner at a small restaurant called La Cabana then walked to St. Eustacchio to rehearse and perform our first concert. This is a beautiful church with many antiquities from the 15th century. We had a wonderful and attentive audience. My personal estimate put the number at about 100, but there could have been more.

Singing at St. Eustacchio

The audience was warm and appreciative, especially for the second half of the concert when we presented the spirituals. Despite some minor problems with small details, many of our own doing, the performance went well. We finished the performance and walked back to the bus and to our hotel around 11ish. The local priest was very grateful and there was a small standing ovation at the end. Many singers commented to me how much that was worth to be so warmly appreciated in our performance.

Day 3 personal journal...

Day 4 June 5, Ancient Rome

This morning our first stop was at the Colosseum. I have seen pictures since a child, yet that did not prepare me for the size of this space. It is incredibly huge. Then on to the Roman Forum and the Pallatine Hills. After regrouping we made our way to Trevi Fountain where we stopped for lunch. Some of those familiar with the area made their way to the Spanish Steps. Many of us who have never been here have begun to overload on information and sites. The number of antiquities is beyond the imagination.

The Colosseum

We boarded our bus again, this time to leave Rome and head for Florence. The bus ride was about 5 hours to our next home away from home. The Hotel Grand Bretagne is located in Montecatini, a resort town just to the west of Florence. We had a very nice dinner in the partner hotel around the block.

Day 4 personal journal...

Day 5 June 6, Siena and Montecatini

Today was a day for a somewhat relaxed pace, compared to the non-stop activities we had experienced in the last 3 days. Which is good because tomorrow will be another long day.

About 40 of us took the 1.5 hour bus ride to Siena to see the Basilica of St. Caterina and of course the Duomo. Home base for us that morning was the Piazza del Campo where the Mangia bell tower rises 100 meters. Unfortunately, there was enough rain during the morning that the stairway to the top was closed. Afterwards, lunch and shops were everywhere in the area.

A short break in Siena

Those that chose to stay the day in Montecatini found lots of shops, spas to soak tired bodies and for the more energetic the funicular trolley. There were only light sprinkles in Montecatini today so the weather was not a problem. In fact today's rain was light and the first we had run into on our trip. Day time temperatures are in the 80s and very sunny. Though there are cooling breezes on a regular basis.

At 6:30 we had a short rehearsal at the church across the street from our hotel. I do not remember the name of the church. But acoustically it was very live! Afterwards, we ate our dinner and to the delight of all we finally got our tiramisu.

Day 5 personal journal...

Day 6 June 7, Florence - More Art Than You Can Shake a Stick At.

We began our day with a quick continental breakfast and then we were off to the heart of Florence. Our first stop after a short wait in line was the Academy of Fine Arts. The primary attraction here is the statue of David by Michelangelo. There are many other fine works including several unfinished sculptures that Michelangelo was working on prior to his death.

The next stop just a short walk away was the Uffizi Gallery. This museum is utterly packed with works by some of the greatest masters of painting and sculpture that have ever lived, including works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and many more. Trying to absorb even a small part of this gallery in a mere 2 hours is impossible. The building itself is from the 16th century and many of the long hallways are decorated in great detail on the ceilings. Neither the Academy or the Uffizi Gallery allow photos to be taken so it is this part of the trip that we lack any pictures.

For lunch, once again we were on our own in the heart of Florence, afterwards a short walk to look at some examples of fine Italian leather. Various CHORALE members modeled the jackets and coats, much to the delight of the others. After a little free time we walked back to the bus to pick up our clothes for the evening concert. This was definitely our day with the most walking and by this time several in the group opted for a taxi to the restaurant instead of the long trek back. Once again the food was delicious but I had to wonder what the staff thought of these crazy Americans eating dinner at such an early hour.

Singing at Santa Maria de Ricci

After dinner we walked (did I mention we walked a lot this day?) to the church Santa Maria de Ricci. The church seemed small but I think that must have been my mind being fooled by the enormous buildings we had been in over the last several days. As we walked to the church the skies took on a threatening appearance and as we were getting dressed it began to hail. Really hard. Judging by the reactions of people on the street this was very unusual.

The one downside of this particular concert was the piano provided to us to use was a small Casio electric keyboard. Kent, our accompanist having just played the organ at St. Peter's Basilica just a few days before was now performing on a toy. The audience, however, appeared to really enjoy the performance. Once again, the spirituals really seemed to inspire them. After the concert some of us got a chance to meet with members of the audience. It added a lot out experience to be able to see in their eyes the enjoyment they received. We reached our hotel around 11 that night with the threat of another early wake-up call.

Day 6 personal journal...

Day 7 June 8, The Doge Palace, Murano Glass and Mass at St. Marks

First thing in the morning we said goodbye to Montecatini and boarded our bus for Venice. By this time we were starting to come together as a group, showing up on time with all of our necessary gear. After a drive of several hours we went straight to a water taxi to take us to the main islands of Venice. Our first stop here was a tour of the Doge's Palace. This immense structure served as an administrative center, hall of justice and prison. Today it is a gallery with room after room filled with Renaissance art. It contains one of the largest rooms with no interior column supports. From this room it was a quick walk over the Bridge of Sighs to the old prison.

St. Mark's

We then followed Domenico, our guide, to watch a glass blowing demonstration. The speed and skill of the artisan was very impressive. This was followed by the showroom where hundreds of artistic glass objects lined the walls.

Late that afternoon we trotted to St. Mark's for the evening mass. Again we were received by a very appreciative audience. After the mass was over we were granted permission to stand and sing on the steps of the main altar of the church.

Day 7 personal journal...

Day 8 June 9, Gondolas and a Concert in Treviso

Our day began with an early wake up call. Continental breakfast was served at the hotel followed by a short bus ride back to a water taxi to carry us to the islands of Venice. Gondola rides were on the schedule for many in our group. While others trekked to the market at the Rialto on the Grand Canal. Lunch was pizza at a small restaurant found only by winding through a maze of narrow streets.

St. Mark's

By early afternoon we back at the bus changing clothes for the evening's performance at the Loggia dei Cavalieri. When we arrived in Treviso we had to walk to the Loggia because of the narrow streets. The venue was a covered outdoor lodge made of stone with a raised platform on one end and a couple hundred seats for audience members. There was some worry as our warm up began as there was no piano. Fortunately the piano arrived - in tune - about 30 minutes before the performance was to begin.

This performance probably had our largest audience for the entire tour. Minutes before the concert began the local police blocked off the street that ran directly in front of the building leaving only foot and bicycle traffic. We began with around 40 people in the audience. Midway through the concert we had added nearly a hundred more to that number. Many were people who were walking along the street and were attracted by the sounds. There were people on bicycles, many on foot, some with dogs, and several with children. It reminded me of a typical Midwest summer concert.

Day 8 personal journal...

Day 9 June 10, Milan

We arrived late at our hotel that night and many went straight to bed. The morning wake up call was early to give us time for the bus ride to Milan. We arrived in Milan around noon, with the bus dropping us off right in the middle of a very busy city street. The group separated here with many walking to La Scala to see the famous opera house. Others spent time shopping or strolling for gelato establishments

St. Mark's

We met again as a group on the steps of the Duomo. A central landmark in this city that has an exterior that is absolutely unbelievable. Thousands of spires and statues ornament the outside of the building in incredible profusion. It must be seen to be truly appreciated. We stepped inside for a look at the inside as well and received permission to sing a few songs on the steps in front of one of the alcoves. Though technically not as large as St. Peter's the immenseness of the inside of this building produced the most amazing acoustics of the trip. There was a good 7 second wait from the end of the song before the last lingering sounds faded.

We then had to hurry to meet our scheduled time to see 'The Last Supper'. We went in 3 separate groups. It was a little surprising that the location of this painting is not in any large ornate cathedral but tucked away in a small building adjacent to a small church. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it was painted onto the wall instead of using a fresco technique. Our final stop was the Hotel Crown Plaza where we enjoyed a leisurely supper complete with entertainment provided by our own members.

Day 9 personal journal...

Day 10 June 11, The Journey Home

The return journey was long but much anticipated. Early in the morning we loaded the bus (the first time we were all on time) and picked up a breakfast bag to eat along the way. The check in process was very slow. Seemed like a repeat of the problems in Chicago with slow computer response. We arrived at the airport 3 hours before takeoff and we used every minute of that.

Once on board most of us settled in for the flight back. The view from the plane of the Italian Alps was a little disappointing as the mountains were covered in early morning mist and clouds. We arrived in Chicago on time. There were a few lost bags and there was some confusion about our bus returning us to Champaign. They split us into two vehicles and one of the buses did not have any air conditioning! Nevertheless, we all managed to arrive home safely with many memories of an unforgettable trip.

Day 10 personal journal...

touching the spirit... enriching us all