The Hendersons 2008 Choir Tour - Dubrovnick
2008 Choral Union European Concert Tour and Our Subsequent Vacation
The Concert Tour in Dubrovnik
Saturday, July 12 - Zagreb to Dubrovnik
Our tour planner had recommended that we fly to Dubrovnik from Zagreb rather than drive even though they aren't very far apart. The road between the two cities is apparently slow going because of the turns and twists. We were picked up at the hotel at 11:00AM and taken to the Zagreb airport for a 2:30 flight, which meant we had over two hours of nothing to do in the airport, which is rather small. It wouldn't have been too bad, except when it was time to board the plane, we loaded onto buses and were taken onto the tarmac. The driver wouldn't open the door (I guess the crew wasn't ready for us) and it was sweltering - it reminded a lot of us of the stories of Jews being packed into cattle cars by the Nazis. It was a very unpleasant experience. At last, the driver opened the doors and we poured out, very grateful for the breeze.
It was only a 45 minute flight to Dubrovnik, then we loaded onto buses again for the trip to our hotel. Along the way we caught glimpses of the beautiful sea - sparkling in the sunshine. How refreshing it looked.
Our hotel, the Grand Villa Argentina, was wonderful - it was the 'splurge' of the trip. It was only a km. or so from the old town of Dubrovnik, and from the terrace there was a superb view of the old town. It had a lovely swimming pool at sea level and a sea wall, from which one could swim in the Adriatic. It also had an indoor pool, but that didn't seem to get much use. I think everyone had an ocean view - across from the hotel was the picturesque island of Lokrum. Cruise ships drop anchor in the passage between the mainland and island, although there is a new port north of Dubrovnik where most of the cruise ships moor.
Tom and I decided to walk into town for dinner. Along the way we were hailed by some Choral Union folks who were having dinner at a restaurant outside the city walls. We decided to join them. I think this place was one of the Rick Steves 'finds.' I've pretty much given up on Rick Steves - he discovers something, publicizes it and everyone flocks there. In this case, the dinner was terrible - overcooked vegetables and a bony fish. It was also very expensive. To add insult to injury, the restaurant's credit card processing machine went bad and we spent about 15 minutes trying to get the bill cleared (ultimately they ended up processing our credit card charge twice, so we were faced with a disputed charge). We ejoyed chatting with Joan Harstad and Angie Alexander over dinner, but the experience with the restaurant put us in a rather bad mood.
Tom and I walked into the old town after dinner - what an amazing place. It is the prettiest city I've ever seen. The town walls are preserved, so they encompass the entire town. The main street, the Placa (Stradun) which is very wide, is paved with marble - at one point, there were actually two settlements separated by a channel, but that was paved over to form the street. On both sides are lovely Venetian style buildings. The swifts (birds) dart in and out among the buildings and towers, chattering incessantly. The place is magical. We had a gelato from one of the many gelato stands and that put us in a much better mood.
Sunday, July 13 - Dubrovnik
We had breakfast on the terrace - it was early because we were singing at Mass in the Dominican Monestary. The sun shown on the old city, casting a golden light on the buildings.
We trooped into town for a 9 am Mass, then back up to the hotel, where we changed clothes, relaxed a bit, then had lunch on the terrace - a wonderful salad with chicken, fresh spring greens, carmelized walnuts, gorgonzola, blueberries, currents and cranberries in a berry juice dressing. Wow - it was really good. Afterwards, we went to the pool, swam in the pool and in the sea (got tossed around a bit getting out of the sea trying to get up the ladder). We heard that a couple of our tour members had some unpleasant encounters with sea urchins, the worst being Steve (Rachel Welde's father) stepping on one.
I left Tom at the pool and went on the walking tour with a guide.
In 1991-92 the Serbs, in a bid to keep Croatia from separating from Yugoslavia, positioned tanks and artillary on the hills which tower behind the town, and kept up a seige for three months. There is a map inside the city gate which shows how many buildings were hit or destroyed in the action.
It is unthinkable, for this is truly a beautiful place. One of the guides said that she lived in the hills which the Serbs overran, so she and her family had to flee into the town for protection (their home was destroyed). There was no electricity, so the people had to eat the frozen food first to keep it from going bad, then subsisted on canned food brought in by the UN for the rest of the time. I remember when the seige of Dubrovnik was in the news, but as often happens, it seemed very remote. The city has been largely repaired, but they have had to make some compromises - the tiles which are so characteristic are no longer available, so the new tiles are a 'close match' as are some of the stones used for the buildings.
There is a lot of history in Dubrovnik, but there are also a lot of tourists - when the cruise ships come in, the streets are packed.
We had a late concert in the same monastery where we sang Mass in the morning - again, we knew it would be very hot. This time, the women were allowed to perform without the jackets we usually wear - we were very grateful - just that much made a difference.
It was too bad it was so hot - many members of the audience had to leave and come back because of the heat. However, I think we performed quite well, although we were dragging a bit on the third piece (Ave Maris Stella). It was so hard keeping up energy.
After the performance, Tom and I went into the old town for dinner - we weren't about to make the same mistake we had the previous night! We had a very nice, reasonably priced meal of grilled lamb, with potatoes and salad.
We needed to get back to the hotel by midnight as we expected a call from Matt - we got to the entrance of the hotel when the cell phone rang. It was nice to chat with him, although there were some problems with the call.
Monday, July 14 - Dubrovnik
What a wonderful way to spend our 35th wedding anniversary - in a beautiful, exotic location, with good food (mostly) and a lot of friends.
We had breakfast on the terrace, of course, then changed into walking shoes for a walk around the very famous walls of Dubrovnik. It was a feast for the eyes - many wonderful views of this beautiful town and too much evidence of the all-too-recent war. We've read that that roof tiles originally used in the town were no longer available, so after the war, the rebuilders had to find the closest possible match. In some case they used new tiles for the foundation and covered them with old tiles to maintain the look.
All that being said, there are so many different views of the city - little 'snickelways' as they say in York (small alleys) many churches, homes, restaurants, towers, sea views. We took about two hours just walking around the city walls - not doing anything more than taking photographs,
After, we went into the town - it was packed - we learned that most of the cruise ships moor north of the city in a new harbor and the passengers are escorted into the city for a walking tour. What a mob! We had wanted to go into the cathedral, but there was a long queue. Next time, I guess,
We walked back to the hotel and had lunch - the salad yesterday was so good that we had a repeat. Then we laid by the pool - the water in the sea was much too rough for swimming - we read a little, kibbitzed with some of our friends and were generally bums.
The evening was the farewell dinner. I have to say that I was very disappointed with the food; some fish, some pork and chicken, some kale and pasta, but generally it was pretty poor. Dessert was bread pudding or rice pudding. More importantly, they ran out of food before everyone had his dinner. Given what we paid for this, that is too insulting! We heard later that they prepared for 38 people, but we were 58 people.
However, we had a great time - there were the usual skits - Mark Welde did an amazing imitation of Richard conducting a rehearsal - his 'choir' was the 'groupies' of Choral Union. It was so funny. Another group did an ode to Jennifer (the guide) and another an ode to Eva (the other guide). Then we had open mic. Eric Faris thanked Tom and me for taking on the Quest Field money raiser, without which he wouldn't have been able to come - and also for treating him like an adult. Hmm. I toasted my husband and we had a long, languid kiss, in front of al the group. Happy Anniversary. Bill Giddings read a poem he had written in German, translated into English - about how his butt was cold in Saltzburg, and Angie made mention of getting lost in Saltzburg. Larry Wiseman announced that he had a ferry to catch to Bari and wondered if anyone had seen his passport. It was so much fun!
Later, Eric knocked on our door and reminded us that the beeer we Quest Field people had promised in Prague hadn't occurred, so we met in the piano bar to hoist one in memory of our good times. Well, they weren't exactly good times, but they were memorable.
Wow, it was late - to bed and on to the next leg of our venture.