“Oh, the Places I Went”

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Tate (second from right) with friends following a performance.

Salud! I’d like to propose a toast to the Summer Term at Waterford. This summer I had the incredible opportunity to travel abroad to Finland, Estonia, and Russia with the Waterford Chamber Orchestra to play and tour in various venues that otherwise, I might not have thought to visit myself. I shared this opportunity with many of my good friends, and my soon to be friends, most of whom are your kids. If your kid was a part of this tour, you’ve probable heard the stories about Eva, and the Russian police, and Nevsky Prospekt, and this yellow building or that yellow building, so I won’t go into depth about those. What I’m here to share with you today is my personal experience being a part of the Summer Term at Waterford, and a couple of pictures to go along with it.

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The first flight was fun. Is that weird? I could be wrong, but usually you don’t say sitting in a plane close proximity to a couple hundred people in seats that are barely wide enough to keep a baby comfortable for 12 hours is fun; but it was. I think a huge part of it was my friends. I think it was because I got to sit next to two of my best friends on the flights. And that is a testament to the Summer trips at Waterford. Sure family is…cool and all. But where else do you get to travel abroad with your closest friends in high school and play music in amazing venues for amazing people. That really is unheard of. I am so grateful for that opportunity for my friends and me.

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We got to travel to places that otherwise we may not have even thought to travel before. I can definitely say that Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland were far from the top 10 places I wanted to travel. But I wouldn’t change visiting those places for the world. Our first full day in Finland was also a concert day. We got to perform in an architectural masterpiece of a building/bat cave called the Rock Church, or Temppeliaukio Kirkko. This church is built into the ground, surrounded by huge walls of stone, topped with rings of copper and a glass ceiling. I find architecture amazingly fascinating, so when I found out I was going to play a solo in this rocky church, I was ecstatic. But that wasn’t the most special part of the concert. This was our one and only concert in Finland, which meant we had one chance to play Finlandia, one of Finland’s national songs. This was special. We touched people, and made them cry with our music. The most vulnerable state of the human appearance, and it was because of the way we Utahns played their national song. That is one moment that I won’t forget. After the concert, I overheard some of my friends talking to a member of the audience. The man said in broken English that he travelled on a ferry across the straight so he could watch us perform. That’s incredible! Our next concert was in Tallinn, Estonia in a church right next to the medieval main square. We made our presence known throughout the old town, rapping along to “Humble” by Hip-Hop artist Kendrick Lamar. But if you ask any of the students their favorite part of the concert, I bet you every one of them would say the way the sound rang through the main hall. It was certainly my favorite part. The first time we heard this was while rehearsing Vivaldi’s summer. Every single one of us stopped playing when we heard the way that first D resonated through our bones, and chills ran down our spines. Everyone’s expression held a look of awe, or joy, or both. The last concert I’ll talk to you about today is the one in the Glinka Capella in St. Petersburg. The Glinka has some of the best acoustics in the world, and for a high school orchestra to play in it is actually a once in a lifetime opportunity. This concert hall is a beautiful piece of art. The excitement was rushing through the wooden floored halls backstage. Every once in awhile, a head would pop out from behind the stage door, curious about how many people came to watch us play. Every single one of those red chairs were filled with an eager body ready to hear some music. It was here that we experienced our first true “power clap”, a new way to ask for an encore. Instead of normal clapping, everyone claps at the same beat, producing the sound of a thousand rehearsed soldiers marching down the street.

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Ok here’s my cliche moment. One of my favorite books growing up was “Oh the places you’ll go” by Dr. Seuss. Yeah sure it’s a common gift at graduation parties, weddings, new job offers, Whatever because of the inspiration Seuss offers in his writing. But I liked it for a different reason. I liked the pictures that accompany the story. Mostly because I….well I couldn’t read when I first opened the book up. But nevertheless it’s still inspiring, to me at least. I mean, do you see all the places to where this guy got to travel? He’s going to colorful lands, golden buildings and what not. Is it too bold to say that we pretty much did the exact same thing he did? I mean, St. Basil’s is colorful. Catherine’s and Peterhof and literally every other dome in Russia is gilded. Oh the places we went! And Oh the places we’ll go. The thing about the pictures are that they are necessary to make the words work or visa versa. They rely on eachother to tell a story. Similarly, we relied on music to tell our story. Only Charlie and Clark spoke Russian, and they could only speak to so many people. How remarkable it was that we could play music for them. They knew our thoughts and our emotion and our lives through the way we played many of their national pieces. After every concert, there would be people that went up to the stage and tried their shot at English, and those who couldn’t do that would just speak in their language. Many of us would just respond with *the awkward nod and a “yeah”*, but we knew what they were saying. We knew that they were saying how grateful they were that we could travel from across the globe to play for them. We knew that The Waltz brought chills down their spine the same way it did to us. We knew that Scheherezad and Czardas were songs that this woman listened to ever since she was a young girl in the Soviet Union. We knew that we touched the Finnish people’s hearts with one of their national songs in a way that we might not have been able to without music. Music has no boundaries. Music is a universal language that everyone can understand. No matter gender, sex, race, nationality we can all understand music. How great is that. Music is eternal. And I am so incredibly grateful I can speak it.

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I can’t begin to describe the amount of fun I had travelling this summer. You all made this possible for us. Everyone here, everyone not here; It’s all possible because of you. Thank you for providing me with memories that will last a lifetime. I’m grateful for Craig and the chaperones that helped organize this trip. And a special thanks to Kathy Morris. Thank you for teaching me how to love music, and how to speak such a beautiful language. Best. Summer. Ever.

Plan B

By Mia, Class XI

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Mia (in front) backpacking to camp.

When I signed up for the Wind Rivers outdoors summer trip last fall I figured that I knew what I was getting myself into.  I’ve taken outdoors every term, and even gone on multiple summer term trips before.  However, this year, it did not go quite as expected.

To begin with, the students were the driving force in the planning process.  At the time the trip was announced, all that was planned was that we were going to the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming.  Every few weeks we would meet as a group and attempt to figure out where in this massive range we should go.  One thing that we knew for sure from the beginning, was that this trip should include many different aspects of what we learn in the outdoors class, including backpacking, climbing, packrafting, and fly fishing.

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Having a vague idea of what we wanted to do was not nearly enough, though, so we divided up, each conquering one aspect of the trip.  I was in charge of the climbing, and spent more than one weekend poring through guide books dreaming up dangerous ridges for us to scale.  Of course, these dreams were promptly crushed at our next meeting by Watkins, the voice of reason, who pointed out that it just wasn’t realistic to haul 15 people up a twenty four hundred foot climb in one day.  I wasn’t the only one with dreams of grandeur: at one point it was proposed that we would hire llamas.  (Honestly, of all of our far fetched plans, I’d say we were the most sad to let the llamas go).  Eventually though, we found a backpacking loop that was perfect for us, making it so that we could hike a respectable distance, climb a nice, easy peak in the Cirque of the Towers, and leave plenty of time for floating in our packrafts.

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Students making the most of record snowfall across the Intermountain West.

By then, it was winter and the planning was set aside as we revelled in the record snowfalls and the skiing that that brought us.  Therefore, it came as a slight surprise when, soon after summer began, we received an email from Watkins requesting another planning meeting.

What we learned during this meeting came as even more of a shock.  That record snowfall that we had reveled in a few months before had also hit Wyoming.  The range had 190% of its average snowfall for that time of year.  For us, that meant that the trails were still snow covered, and even more problematically, the road to the trailhead still hadn’t even been plowed.  And, don’t forget, this was a mere six days before we were scheduled to leave.

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Cliff jumping at Island Lake.

With this in mind, we said goodbye to our meticulously laid plans from before, and decided as a group that no, we would not be going to the Wind River range as expected. Now where do we go?

Due to limited time and gas money we would have to stay fairly close to home, but that still left hundreds of viable destinations.  There was a backpacking route in the Tetons that looked exciting, a backpacking and rafting trip in Yellowstone, hiking in the Uinta mountains of Utah, and canyoneering in Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, just to name a few.  

The Tetons were soon out because they also had far too much snow.  Yellowstone looked amazing, with a five day backpack, and then a packraft float down the lower Yellowstone river.  However, we soon discovered that it was, in fact, illegal to go to that stretch of Yellowstone thanks to it containing the largest population of grizzly bears in the lower forty eight.  Not wanting to be mauled by a grizzly put an end to that plan pretty quickly, so we moved on to Escalante.

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Students put their fly fishing skills to use and caught fresh trout for dinner.

Escalante is a beautiful, remote stretch of desert strewn with canyons and rivers perfect for rafting.  We devised a plan to packraft down a canyon and even try out our canyoneering skills.  The downside was the forecast for high 90s temperatures, but we would be fine, as long as we were near water…Except that there wasn’t water.  The river that we had proposed to float was dangerously below its normal capacity, and therefore unfloatable.   With such high heat, the lack of water was a deal breaker, so we moved on to the next plan.

The only plan left at this point was to backpack the Uinta mountain range. And although they are a lovely mountain range, no one was particularly excited about this option.  The Uintas are close to home, so we already had explored them a fair amount. But with less than a week to go, what other choice did we have?

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Rock & Ice

Another meeting was called for the next monday, two days before we left.  Even though we knew we would go to the Uintas, that still left us with a lot of options for where we could explore.   Eventually we put together to a loop through basins and over passes, with the main attraction being the plethora of lakes available for us to float in.  We would still climb, and hike, and packraft, and fish, all the important aspects that we had started with back in the fall, and now, because of the abundance of snow, we would also ski.  

That Monday passed in a frenzy of planning as we drew up a menu, a hiking route, and a gear list, meanwhile adjusting ski bindings and looking through bin after bin of cook stuff for elusive camp spoons.  

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And at 9 a.m. on the 22nd, we all showed up at Waterford with full backpacks, spent a few hours organizing food and loading gear on to the bus, and then we were off.  

It’s a scary thing to have planned a trip and suddenly see it become a reality.  I’m sure that every one of us had thoughts going through our heads vaguely along the lines of ¨is this actually going to work?¨  Having planned the trip ourselves from beginning to end was a far different experience from all of our past outdoors trips, which had been more along the lines of ¨so, what are we going to do today, Mr. Watkins?¨  Now we had to take ownership of what happened, good or bad, which was frankly a terrifying prospect.

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However, when it came down to it, I’m glad we went to the Uintas.  They are very different from the dramatic, rocky peaks of the Wasatch, or the Wind Rivers for that matter, but they have a beauty of their own.  Every dip in the earth is filled with water, making for some stunning mountain lakes. Because we went in late June, it was prime wildflower season, and in many places it was actually impossible to walk without trampling a few dainty little marsh marigolds underfoot.  There was an abundance of fish, and the wide open skies meant that we could fall asleep beneath a blanket of stars.  

The responsibility that we had assumed during the planning process was not over.  Every day, two of the students would be given the map and compass and told to lead the rest to the next campsite.  Unfortunately, thanks to the network of trails, only a small number of which were actually on the map, it was very easy to get lost.  And after a long day of hiking, it is not a welcome thing to hear that you have been walking in the wrong direction for an hour.  Soon tempers began flaring, even leading to a mutiny at one point, leaving the chosen leaders powerless and the angry masses without a map.  Eventually the actual trail was found and peace was restored, but we had learned in the process that in order to make it through we would have to work together and all have an equal say.

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I feel confident that every one of us on that trip learned real life skills that we will carry into our future adventures and everyday life.

And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t solely a good experience because of the challenges.  We all became closer friends than ever before and enjoyed the wilderness to the utmost.  We hiked, climbed, fished, rafted and skied.  We also spent time sitting on the shore of lakes reading, and around fires playing truth or dare.  We walked through the woods at night singing, and one night over dinner had a massive snowball fight.  We are far from all grown up, but if I look back and see myself entering outdoors in 7th grade, I have definitely grown.  Outdoors, and the opportunities it gives me, such as this one, has taught me so much, and even more importantly, has brought me closer to some of my closest friends.  

So, as we hiked along a trail hundreds of miles from the one we had originally planned to hike, when Watkins asked me if I would help to plan next summers trip, of course the answer was yes. I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity for the world. We’re supposed to go to Washington. But who knows what will happen.

See more photos from the trip here.

All About the Journey

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Students ready to board the bus

We wedged eleven students, four instructors, and fifteen bulging backpacks into Waterford Bus #1 on Monday morning. Our destination was King’s Peak, the highest peak in the state of Utah, with an elevation of 13,534 feet.

Three hours later we spilled out into the China Meadows parking lot to have our last taste of perishable food and use the pit toilets. With packs loaded and stomachs full, we hit the trail. We walked through quiet forests, along streams, and across open meadows. The first three miles to camp passed quickly with games and riddles. The last two miles proved more difficult as we climbed the ridge, fully appreciating the weight of our packs. Most of the students had never backpacked, and there were mentions of sore shoulders, blisters, and aching backs. Our break stops became frequent, and I became concerned that we may fall short of our objective. But just as morale was beginning to wane, the fork for Lake Hessie appeared.

 

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Camp at Lake Hessie

We reached Lake Hessie around 6:00 p.m., dumping heavy packs on the ground and congratulating each other on a successful first day. Camp was set up and students took to the lake to swim and fish. In a technology-saturated world, it was refreshing to see students so excited to spend time with their classmates in the outdoors. Students ate dinner together, shared scary stories around the fire, and gazed at the stars before falling asleep in their tents.

Expectations

The next day was more challenging than the first. Gone was the novelty of backpacking; students lingered over breakfast, no one eager to get back on the trail. One student even caught a fish for breakfast, supplementing our Quaker Oats with fresh trout. We began hiking around 10 a.m., leaving behind the comforts of the lake for Henry’s Fork, a six mile journey. The first few miles were steep and long as we climbed out of China Meadows before descending into a beautiful valley. Wildflowers were in bloom and we had a clear view of King’s Peak (our ultimate destination) and the High Uinta Wilderness. Our pace was slow, but students stayed positive and upbeat. As we neared Henry’s Fork, we spotted a bull moose and cow drinking from Henry’s Lake. We decided to pitch tents alongside the moose when tired feet and fast-approaching afternoon thunderstorms begged us to stop.

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Trout breakfast at Lake Hessie

At our leader meeting that evening, we studied the map and came to the grim realization that we were not going to summit King’s Peak the following day. It would be an 11 mile roundtrip with 3000 vertical feet of climbing. Over the past two days, students had barely managed a combined ten miles with an average of 500 vertical feet each day. We decided it was best to adjust expectations and aim for Gunsight Pass, a five mile roundtrip journey with moderate climbing and great views. We gathered students to tell them the news, emphasizing that the trip was not about summiting, but about backpacking with friends and learning new skills along the way. The students were understanding, but disappointment showed on their faces as they returned to cooking dinner.

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On the trail to Henry’s Fork

Summit Day

Our summit day was beautiful. The rains had passed and left the valley verdant and lush. Students ate a simple breakfast of granola bars and grabbed their daypacks, thrilled to be carrying lighter loads. We followed meandering cairns through the valley and then began our ascent of Gunsight Pass. I kept glancing at my watch, impressed by how quickly students were moving with their daypacks. We reached the top of Gunsight Pass at 10 a.m., a full four hours ahead of schedule. The students were thrilled by their progress, and asked if we could still pursue the summit. After a quick huddle, it was decided that we would push on with a firm turnaround time of 2 p.m. We broke the huddle with a, “Hike Yah!” and excitedly rejoined the trail.

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Anderson Pass

Students then faced their biggest challenge of the day: a vertical boulder field to the top of Anderson Pass. The boulder field was a major shortcut, but the rocks were loose and required scrambling with hands and feet. We carefully picked our way up the field, balancing on rocks and hoisting bodies over boulders. The route was more technical than anything we had seen in the past two days and students were nervous. Despite their concerns, students continued climbing until we reached the top. In that moment, I knew we had accomplished something noteworthy, even if we never made it to the summit of King’s Peak. Students had pushed themselves and conquered their fears. We celebrated with sandwiches and high fives. The time was 11:40 a.m.

King’s Peak came into view as we crested the top of the ridge and approached Anderson Pass. Students repeatedly asked for the time, determined to make it to the top. We had decided we were going to summit as a team, no splitting up. We made our way across rocky, uneven terrain, finally reaching the established trail just before 1 p.m. I looked ahead at our final destination, reminding myself of the talk we gave to students the previous night. It’s difficult not to place such value on reaching the top, especially after you’ve spent two days approaching the summit. I could tell some of the students were beginning to lose steam, so I asked them to raise their hands if they had the energy to summit. About half the group raised their hands, the others wanting to summit but unsure if they had the stamina to continue. At Anderson Pass, with King’s Peak in sight, we decided it was best to turn around. I was so proud of the way the students handled themselves in that moment. Not a single student complained or placed blame. We had set our sights on Gunsight Pass and come an extra three miles and 1,500 vertical feet. We may not have reached the peak, but we accomplished far more than we thought possible.

Back to the Bus

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Enjoying the rapids at “River Island”

Morale was high the following morning. Ten miles remained between us and the bus, an unthinkable distance on day one. But after reaching Anderson Pass, students were confident in their ability to make the mileage. We got on the trail early and settled into a comfortable pace, the steady rhythm of footsteps occasionally interrupted by laughter and chatter. By noon we had already covered five miles, at 2 p.m. we had covered eight. We reached our final campsite before 5 p.m., a place we dubbed, “River Island.” As I watched the students swim in the river and set up camp, I was amazed at how far we had come in a single day. We had operated as a unit, supporting one another and offering encouragement along the way.

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Celebrating our final night with Oreo desert

As we sat around the fire on our last night, I thought about all the students had learned in five short days. They learned how to cook on a camp stove, how to set up a tent, how to pack a bag, how to read a map. They learned about the strength of their minds and bodies. They learned about setting objectives and teamwork and adjusting expectations. They learned to respect nature and weather and the things outside of our control.

I was inspired by our students to go and try something new, to get outside my comfort zone, and to be comfortable with not reaching the top on my first try. I think I may buy myself a fishing rod. If I’m lucky, I’ll be eating trout for breakfast.

See more photos from the trip here!

Day 13: One Final Day in Moscow – Conservatory Visit & Heart Warming Final Concert!

One final day in Moscow

DSC02374After battling traffic this morning we finally got to the Moscow Conservatory. What an incredible building filled with character and history. As we waited to be let in we could hear students practicing from their practice rooms.What beautiful sounds coming out from their open windows.

The Moscow Conservatory is also officially known as the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory. It offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in music performance and music research. It was co-founded in 1866 by Nikolai Rubinstein and Prince Nikolai Troubetzkoy. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was appointed professor of theory and harmony at its opening. Since 1940 the conservatory bears his name. It is the second oldest conservatory in Russia after the St. Petersburg Conservatory. When we went into the great hall – I had chills. The beauty of the hall was overwhelming and to see all the Russian composers surrounding the hall was incredible. There was an organist practicing in the hall getting ready for his concert. It sounded glorious.

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Triple encore again today for our last concert! We played Czardas, Scheherazade and Waltz No.2 again. The Russians just love that song!!!! Their heartfelt applause and cheers will be something I think we will never forget.

Blurb from Jessica – “Our concert tonight was so much fun. By the time we got to the end of our planned repertoire, everyone was sweating to death under the hot spotlights. The veterans were clapping so loud that Mrs. Morris decided we should do an encore, so we played Czardas. Because the girls were velvet shirts and long skirts and the boys wear tuxedos, we were all ready to faint from heat stroke at this point. The veterans absolutely loved Czardas, so we played yet another encore. Even though we were all drenched in sweat and exhausted, the looks of pure joy on the veterans’ faces made the whole experience worth it. Performing for these veterans and making their day was one of the highlights of the trip.”

 

 

The highlight of the tours for me are always the concerts! I love each concert because each venue is so different and unique. You never know what we get until we arrive. In this case I love the unknown. I love the heightened/elevated pressure that is needed to adjust to each situation. I love watching the audience members fall in love with my students and their music. I love watching my students faces light up when the audience members start clapping in unison, cheering and crying tears of joy.

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Sharing our music with the kind people of Russia have been very meaningful. They truly express their love and joy for the music and for my students. They are genuinely appreciative of their performance and music. There is nothing fake or artificial – if I could capture one thing to bring back – I would bring that back for everyone to see how warm, welcoming and truly embracing our audiences have been no matter the venue, city or country.  It is heartfelt and sincere. I know that my students know that music can bridge gaps and bring joy and harmony to all.

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The other thing I take away is the time I have spent with my students. They are great kids and when you go on tour together you truly become one family. The quality time spent and the memories made over the past 2 weeks will be lifelong.

I also want to thank them for all their hard work. Going on tour has been a year committment and my students know now, why we had to prepare so much repertoire. They played 6 concerts that were each over an hour long and then played 1-3 encores on top of it. That’s a lot of music and time performing. All I can say is well done – Bravo.

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Our journey comes to an end here in Russia, but we bring back to Waterford all that we have learned and experienced.

We leave for the airport tomorrow morning. We fly from Moscow to JFK and then to SLC. We get in at 11:45pm on Tuesday.

See you soon.

We’d like to leave you with one final toast to end our time in Russia……

 

 

Day 12 Gallery:

 

Day 12: Magnificent Day in Moscow & Triple Encore!

DSC02362Czardas, Waltz No. 2 and Lady Gaga were our three encores tonight! The kids were fantastic – especially after a long day on the road in Moscow. When we started playing the Waltz again during the encore people started clapping their appreciation for the kids in the middle of the song! It was so cool. I’m so proud of my students for their focus, effort and beauty! Bravo tonight to all – it was truly outstanding!

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During the day we got a guided tour of the Kremlin grounds. It was surprisingly beautiful. In fact breathtaking. Over the high walls I never expected to see such gorgeous grounds and buildings/cathedrals. It truly took my breath away!

We had some fun in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. I took pictures with the whole group and then with each grade. It was so much fun being silly together. We even had a bride ask to take a picture with us.

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We had free time for lunch- many of us went to Cafe Bosco which is right next to Red Square – it was a good people watching place, and a nice place to sit and relax. Of course the food was yummy! From there some of us went to this Food Emporium place in GUM which has delicious Russian caviar, chocolates, candies etc…. Amazing shop full of goodies.

The sun was shining today and as we said goodbye to Saint Basil’s and the Red Square – it will be a place that none of will ever forget.

Blurb from Katie Dover – “Tonight as Maiya and I were riding up the elevator to our hotel room, a family with a little boy got on with us. After speaking with his parents in Russian for a few moments, the maybe six year boy said “hello” to us and told us his name (his name is Roma) in English. Though we had a very short conversation, the boy really lifted my spirit, and taught me a little bit about being brave! After all, it must be pretty scary talking to foreign strangers in a second language”

 

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Tomorrow is an exciting day for us – we’re getting a tour of the Moscow Conservatory and will have our final concert of the tour!

Stay tuned………

PS – Just a few video submissions from the kids;

Roomies:

 

Magic:

 

TODAY’S GALLERY

Day 11: A Day On The Town Moscow Style

Today we went to Sergiev Posad for a guided tour of the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius.

 

 

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“St. Sergius, the founder of the Holy Trinity, Lavra, was born of wealthy Rostov boyars on May 3, 1314. On the fortieth day the local priest baptized the child, naming him Bartholomew. From his childhood he grew accustomed to solitude and sought his salvation through prayer, fasting and work. In 1337, at the age of 23, after his parents’ death, he decided to leave for the desert together with his elder brother Stephen. The brothers chose to found their hermitage in a clearing surrounded by thick forest on a lower hill. They built for themselves a cell and a small church, which they dedicated to the Lifegiving Trinity. That was the birth of the monastery, which later served as a source of pride and inspiration to the people of Russia.”

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It was beautiful and there was a sense of peace to the whole “complex” despite all the tourists

We needed that sense of calm and peace since it took us two hours to get there. The traffic is so bad in Moscow. I know there is a lot of people, but I had no idea just how bad it was.For lunch a lot of us went to McDonald’s just to try it in Russia – others went to the stalls.They had darling souvenir stands here that were all made from the people of this town.

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From the Monastery we went into the center of Moscow. We got a Metro tour. The metro opened in 1935 and more than 9 million people use it daily. It runs very efficiently and totally beautifully. There are ornate stations- they have unique lighting and the escalators are steep and take you deep down into the underground.

We had dinner at Godunov and then had free time for 2 hours to explore the Red Square, and GUM (pronounced “goom”) GUM is the State Department Store. It is a beautiful old building filled with fancy American and Russian shops and delicious ice cream. Both Matthew and Sophie independently ran into their mom’s at GUM! It’s a small world. 🙂

We took the Metro home back to our hotel.

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Here’s a little blurb from Tate –

“Today in Red Square, we went into a souvenir shop on a side road. After shopping around for a little bit, I found a group of santas in the back corner. Knowing my mom collected santas,  I knew I had to get one. So determined, I bargained my way down to less than half price for the santa. I’m very proud and I hope my mom likes it.”

Tomorrow we have a big day – we have a tour of the Kremlin grounds, more Red Square time and then we have a big concert tomorrow night at 7pm at the International House of Music.

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It will be a long day for my kids, since we will leave the hotel at 10am and not be able to come back until after the concert. Wish us good luck!

 

Kyoto to Koya-san

Arriving in Himeji aboard the Shinkansen, we rented a fleet of bicycles and rode our way to Himeji Castle. The bike ride was rather eventful, as we followed a route that encircled the Castle grounds, on which both Trevor and Adah nearly killed a pair of elderly people. Adah was successful in landing a blow on her intended target, while Trevor missed by a hair and crashed into the sidewalk.

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The Himeji Castle excursion was a step back in time to the feudal era of Japan’s rich past. Several trees on the castle grounds were centuries old, to place it into perspective. The biggest impact it probably had on the group, though, was aching calves, due to the slope of the stairs. After visiting the castle, the caravan of bicycling proceeded on to a roundabout route to the train station. The bike ride was overall enjoyable. Justin wants to include that he (and Mr. Waterhouse) did some “sick bmx-ing” which included “bunny-hops, mostly”. We then continued on to Kyoto.

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The Air bnb where we stayed in in Kyoto was cozy and modern, but very steep. The stairs, nearly vertical in their steepness, posed an existential threat to any wearing socks indoors, regardless of direction of progression. The girls, and Dreeg, stayed on the second floor of the three floors, next to the wifi and kitchen, while Justin and Trevor stayed in the attic, next to the industrial washing machine and showers where, as a reliable source states, they were “required to perform rigorous menial labor in the washing of clothing and pumping of water for measly bread rations, and the occasional droplet of clean water.” In all actuality, Justin and Trevor just had bad wifi, and actually made everyone else late most days.

The following day, we went to the Fushimi Inari shrine and passed through hundreds of the vermilion torii (gates) leading up to the main shrine at the top of the path, and saw the gardens and fountains and all.

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Following the visit there, we took the bus to the Hall of the Lotus King, a temple which holds over 1000 Golden Kannon statues, as well as 28 stone guardian deity statues. The temple’s policy of prohibiting photography, as well as the general atmosphere of the place, truly imparted a sense of reverence and tranquility. After that, we went to the Kiyomizu-dera temple, a temple aged over 1200 years, and saw the overlook and gardens, which provided a stunning and singular view of the city and the wildlife of Japan’s forests. Somewhat. The gardens at this temple also were quite peaceful. At some point during the day, we went and got some ice cream. It was great.

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The second day in Kyoto, we had an extravagant experience that started off with a wholesome and nutritious breakfast at McDonalds. We then traversed our way over towards the notorious bamboo forest, Japan’s most famous rock garden, and Kinkakuji (a building you see in all the travel books and post cards for Japan. Both of which were stupefying views, and brought upon us a tranquil feeling. Either that, or that we were exhausted from all of the walking.

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We also hiked up a gargantuan hill, which resulted with the sweet reward of seeing, and yes, feeding monkeys. Some fed the monkeys peanuts, others apple slices, but all in all, it was a enjoyable event.

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The best part was the monkeys fighting though, it was entertaining watching them run around screeching at each other. Lilly also got pounced on by a monkey and hurled her backpack down the hill, which was luckily retrieved by one of our group members.

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Dinner that day was quite eventful, as we had Thai cuisine. It was all very scrumptious, but Trevor had decided to treat himself to an entire dehydrated chili pepper. He then proceeded to hurl up what seemed to be a huge web of mucus that had been making him cough ever since before the beginning of the trip. It was quite repulsing. Anyways, sorry for those who are eating while reading this. Don’t imagine it too much.

The last day in Kyoto, we had various things bought from a store for breakfast. It wasn’t exactly formal, but was still as good. Just some bread, bananas, etc. We packed all of our stuff, got some coin lockers, and went off to Nara. We saw a huge Buddha statue and fed some deer that distracted Trevor long enough for the rest of our group to leave him behind and board a bus back to the station.

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Thankfully, Justin noticed that he had gone missing, and we sent out our search and rescue squad to retrieve him. (The search and rescue squad was really just Mr. Wade and a slight bit of concern for Trevor) Trevor was thankfully recovered and escorted to the station, and both Trevor and Mr. Wade were thanked graciously with various options of meals. We then boarded a train, and a couple transfers to our next stop, Koya-san.

Mount Koya was quite an experience just to get to. We had to board a cable car that went up a track on a very steep hill. The inside was oddly shaped, as to compensate for the steepness of the hill. The inside was shaped like stair steps, which was quite a contrast to the familiar flat inside of a train. Arriving to our destination, we ventured through the vast hallways, twists, turns, whatever it had to throw at us. Thankfully we had a gracious monk show us around and lead us to our rooms. It’s beautiful up here. The birds chirping, the peaceful aura around the place, it all evokes a form of tranquility. We later ventured towards a grave site that was very peaceful. Just by stopping for a second and listening closely, you could literally hear a pin drop. It was incredibly quite.

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We also walked around and saw the Mausoleum of Kukāi, which was massive. The entirety of the grave site was quite peaceful. We walked back, but some were unsure of where the place was. Thankfully, we had Mr. Wade to point us in the right direction. Dinner was a vegetarian meal which was quite enjoyable. Some new things for us to try, like the notorious pickled plum. Well, new if you’re not Sakiko.

The second day on Mount Koya, we took a day trip to Kongōbu-ji, where we learned about the story of Kukāi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism and first settler of Mt. Koya. There, we also saw a rock garden, the largest in Japan, and many other artistic wonders. After this, we headed to another temple, with new wonders. If any of you readers have seen the video of the group pushing a wheel, that was taken at the other temple here in Koyasan. Following that, we found a playground meant for children far younger than us and made use of it, ironically, of course. From there, we went on to take a small hike up to a shrine, which was very nice, but unfortunately destroyed Adah’s ankles, Dreeg’s knees, and made the rest of us really sorry for them. From there, we’ve been granted a great amount of free time, which we have used to get some downtime to just chill. Tomorrow we head into Tokyo, and that is bound to be exciting! We all look forward to hearing from you readers as we go onwards on this trip. Please keep an eye out for further posts from us.

 

~Trevor and Justin