Here we go again! Another 16 day tour - this time of Germany and Austria. Some of our dancers have never been outside of North America, let alone to Europe. We planned on having 6 performances with groups and/or choirs. Our tour was a small one with only 16 performers participating with Helmut, Dale's husband, and Cameron and Brigitte, Tanya's parents, coming along.
After leaving Vancouver in the mid-afternoon (this is Day 1), we had a gruelling 9 hour flight where we landed in Frankfurt and had a connecting flight to Münich (when we landed it was Day 2). Our bus and guide, Arthur, met us there and we had a short drive to our hotel in Peiting. We were staying in Peiting for 4 days and had plans for many day trips. Once we got settled in, some of us decided to take a walk around town and then hit the hotel bar for some good German beer before dinner. We had a wonderful meal at our hotel followed by another walk which led us to check out the restaurant we would be performing in on Friday. As we walked up, we could hear accordian music. We followed the music to the downstairs and saw their Schuhplattler group practicing. We introduced ourselves and were welcomed to sit, watch and drink beer. Tom ran back to the hotel to get Tony, Tony2 and Eric - they had just been lamenting that there wasn't a good event to start the trip off with a bang. Tony brought his accordian and he and the Schuhplattler's player, played some nice tunes. We said our good-byes (can't remember if it was very late) as we had a full day tomorrow.
Day 3 - we visited many of the sites of Bavaria - Linderhof, Ettal, Oberammergau. People were in awe of the magnificence of Linderhof, one of Ludwig's castles, and its gardens. We had lunch at Ettal and then headed to Oberammergau. We had a small tour in Oberammergau, it was supposed to be in English but the guy forgot to talk in English, which pointed out some of the interesting landmarks and luftmalerei (paintings) on the buildings. We got quite a bit of time to shop which suited us just fine. Brenda had been kicking herself for 12 years that she didn't buy a set of hand carved Schuhplattler dancers on her trip in '93 but she made up for it now. We returned to Peiting for dinner and went back to the hall to listen to the men's choir practice. They told us they weren't doing that well since they hadn't practiced for a couple of months but they sounded great. Tony and Franz had brought their accordians and so another late night of singing, drinking and some dancing.
Day 4 saw us going to Neuschwanstein. A few of us had been there before but it was interesting to see how the tour changed. We hiked up to the Marienbrücke which was a bridge that was built over a valley close to the castle. It is famous for the majority of the distance photos of the castle are taken from here. We trekked down the mountain, (some of us go some ice cream) and load into the bus for the next stop which was the Wieskirch. There has been a lot of development in that area and the church is not as isolated any more. We headed back to the hotel to rest and wash up.......for tonight we had our first performance! We were expecting it to be more of a typical performance but we were treated to a Heimatabend. We performed, the Peiting MännerGesang Verein, the full men's choir, a band, a folk music quartet and their Schuhplattlers all did performances as well. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and we all got the chance to take it easy and talk with many people. There were even people from Prince George, BC, there! Some of us got a chance to try playing the spoons and yodelling. It soon became evident that the restaurant wanted to close so we packed off after one last schnapps.
The next day (Day 5) was the opening of Oktoberfest in Münich. We didn't make it to the parade and we lost some people so we killed a bit of time shopping and site seeing and then headed to the Wies'n. Unfortunately, all the big beer tents were already full by 11am so we enjoyed ourselves with finding a table in the outdoor areas. The day had started out drizzly so we were lucky that by this time, it had cleared up. Arthur offered to give a small tour of Münich so some people took him up on that. Pat was enjoying the beer - for a while. He couldn't take much more and he ended up being sick under the bench. What is the saying......when in Rome, do as the Romans. This happened fairly early in the afternoon and our bus was not coming for us until 9pm. Some of us went on rides, walked the grounds or just sat and drank. Liisa ended up finding Tom and sending him back to help out Pat. Many of us did not know what to expect but they sure didn't expect this Oktoberfest.
It was now Sunday, September 18 - Day 6. We left Peiting by 9am with an idea to stop in Bad Toelz for lunch and continue on to Hallein to have a tour of the salt mines. We didn't bring along a rock for the Miner's Dance but Steven sweet talked our mine guide and she gave us a salt rock from the mine. Our hotel was the White Swan on the Traunsee and most of us had a view of the lake. On the lake, was the Gisela, built in 1872, the oldest coal-fired steam side-wheeler running anywhere. It was a great hotel with wonderful food. A bunch of us again went for a late night walk. When we got back to the hotel, Tony started us working on a fun hat dance that night. For some reason, it seemed that the later it got and the more beer we drank, the better we got - maybe that was just my imagination!
Day 7 - saw us visiting Hallstatt and toured the Ossuary and read up on the origin of that history. We were supposed to see the Silver Mines but Arthur said it was very similar to the Salt Mine tour so we decided not to do it. Instead we drove to St. Wolfgang and was able to tour a little more of the town then we saw last time. Tonight was the first of two performances with the AVC Melody Choir. They were on a tour at the same time but they started in Berlin and took a boat cruise along the Danube. The performance was in Linz, which is an interesting city - the fourth largest in Austria. Unfortunately, we came too late to be able to see any of the city. The performance went off OK and it was nice to visit with some of the choir members.
On Day 8, September 20, we left this area and continued on to Salzburg. This was a highlight of the trip for Deborah as she is a big fan of The Sound of Music. Arthur took people on a small tour to see some of the sites while others wandered the town on their own. We then departed for the area of Tristach where the Kohlroesl-Buam Gitschtal had an event planned. It too was like a Heimatabend with their band playing and the 2 dance groups performing. Unfortunately, as one of the choir members had recently died, they were not there to perform. Mike Tschapeller, a member of our club, was also here visiting family. He had arranged a bretljause for us that afternoon but we had arrived into town too late for it.
The next day, as always, we got off by 9am and started to make our way to Millstatt. We stopped for a bike ride along the Drau River. The biking system used to be that you could rent from one place and return it elsewhere. But can you believe it - not 2 weeks before we got there, they changed the regulations and we couldn't leave the bikes at the end of the bike trip like we planned - so no picnic. We checked into Millstatt, another nice hotel on the lake, and got ready for our performance with the Kremsbrücke group. Another Heimatabend but with a twist. A friend of their's, a Park Ranger at the Nockberge National Park, came and gave a talk about the park. During his talk, he would take breaks and the performers went on - us, the folkdancers and Schuhplattlers, the singers and the band. It was actually a very interesting event and it was nice to see everybody again.
The next day, a hike was planned for us by this group in the Nockberge Park. It had sleeted on the mountain during the night and since most of us didn't have proper hiking boots, they decided to change the plans. We still went to the mountain, there was an old farmhouse as an interpretation centre so the ranger gave us a talk about the way of life, and since it was still quite cold, one of the dancers offered schnapps as you came out of the centre. We didn't do a formal large hike, it ended up being more of a walk in the woods with the ranger giving talks about vegetation, animals and other interesting facts. At the end, we came to another interpretive centre and the host group set out some benches and tables and they proceeded to set out our lunch. And what a lunch it was!! The ranger showed us the traditional way to eat the food - using all 5 fingers. The food was great, the amount of beer and schnapps was uncountable and the friendships that continued were unmatchable! Tony then brought out his accordian and we did some signing and dancing. As we were having lunch, a boar came out of the woods to investigate and some guys thought it was a good idea to chase it. It was still fairly cool out but the schnapps warmed us up. We then drove to a spa in the mountain - it was 300 years old and the rock tubs are heated by stones that are heated in a huge fire. We then had coffee and cake (some had beer) and more instruments were brought out and more music was played. I think we can all agree that this day was the best on the trip.
Day 11 began with us driving towards Steiermark. Some people went to the Hochosterwitz Castle and a few of us who saw the castle in 2000 went for a tour of the Freilichtmuseum in Maria Saal. We then set off towards Fürstenfeld with a stop for wine tasting. After our first night in Fürstenfeld, we spent the next day in Graz revisiting some of our favourite places - Armoury, Uhrturm, trachten and second-hand shops. We then had an early dinner - a bbq with the Fürstenfeld choir and then got ready for our show. We were a little disappointed as we were told the event was the big highlight of the trip but it was not as big as we thought. We and the AVC Melody Choir were both performing but the Fürstenfeld Choir did not. Even though there was a gathering after the event, many of the singers that we had gotten to know the last time were not there so it seemed not as festive. When we got back to the hotel, the downstairs restaurant was now a night club so everybody stayed up and drank and partied.
From Fürstenfeld, we started on our way towards Vienna. We stopped in Rust in Burgenland for lunch and a walk around town. Some of us walked to Lake Neuseidl, others around town and to the top of the church tower. A cute little town with lots of stork nests on the chimney tops. We arrived in Vienna in time for dinner and then we all headed to the Prada for some fun on the rides and some belly laughs. The next day we had a tour of the Ringstrasse and a stop at Hundertwasserhaus. Interesting architecture! We then went to Schloss Schoenbrunn for a tour of the castle and its gardens. We had a bit of time for some siteseeing in the city before our final show. Our final show was not a performance per se......there was a group of folkdancers who got together every Tuesday for some folkdancing so they had invited us to participate. We had danced some of their folkdances, did some of ours with short introductions, and then some more folkdancing. It was quite a fun evening - very relaxed and the people were very friendly. They invited us for drinks and snacks after the dancing which we gladly accepted.
Our last full day in Europe started with breakfast at the hotel and then a day of being on your own. Some of us headed into the city centre to sightsee, Brenda and Brigitte went to Lusana to pick up some socks and Arthur took everybody else on a backroads tour. They visited places you would not normally see on a tour. The evening meal.......we'll get to that in a minute. A few people wanted to get to an accordian supplier in town (Arthur had called the man to discuss the visit)....so Arthur took them via train and bus, and bus and train, and foot, to find the house. Unfortunately, as there were so many detours (from construction) that had to be taken, they were too late to see the man. In the meantime, the rest of us took the bus to Grinzing for dinner and the accordian travellers were meeting us. The accordian travellers showed up - a little wet as it had been raining quite steadily since before we left the hotel. Grinzing is a very quaint little area but unfortunately, it wasn't what we were hoping for. The food was good but we were in the area of the restaurant reserved for bus tours so we were not in the main area and therefore it seemed like we missed the real atmosphere. When we got back to the hotel, some stayed up and drank and others went to their rooms to pack and to go to bed as we had to leave at around 4am - YUCK!!! I think there were some people who were still drunk in the morning as we were loading into the bus.
We boarded the bus and Arthur gave a little speech about the fun he had and gave all of us a few words of encouragement. We arrived at the airport, checked in all our luggage and gear and proceeded to wait for our flight.
It was a great trip and great seeing places we hadn't been to before. We thank Gery at Specialty Travel for organizing the trip and thanks to Arthur, our guide, and Sepp, our driver, for making it so much fun. Also thanks to all our members and tag-a-longs for making this a memorable trip.
Next trip 2010?