Sunday 3 July 2016

Final Stop – Zagreb, the Croatian Capital – a charming old Central European City.

Enroute to Zagreb we made a stop at Plitvice Lakes National Park, a “National treasure” which is known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, that extend into a limestone canyon. Back on the coach and off to Zagreb. Zagreb has grown out of two medieval settlements that for centuries developed on neighboring hills. Both settlements were surrounded by high walls and towers, the remains of which are still preserved today. Only time to drop off our luggage and out the door for for a walking tour of Zagreb that included a visit to Dalac, the most picturesque open air market in the city, the Cathedral of St. Stephens and Archbishops Towers and Halls as well as the Stone Gate.


 Day 14 – Friday, July 1 Canada Day in Zagreb

Happy Canada Day!!!! The morning was started with a tour of the at Korak Wineries in Plesivica where we were treated to wine tasting and homemade bread, cured meats and a clotted creamed cheese mixture – Croatian style. Our day had only just begun. Back on the coach for a drive to Sestinski Lagvic to a lovely hilltop restaurant where everyone enjoyed a farewell lunch and the spectacular view that overlooked the city of Zagreb. A quick change into our red and white choir garb and back on the bus pm for transport back to Zrinjevac Square in Zabgreb where HHMAC performed outdoor concert that was sponsored by the Canadian Embassy. We were greeted by two lovely ladies from the Embassy and one lady was from Placentia, NL. She greeted us waving the Newfoundland flag. What a wonderful sight! We performed for 45 minutes in 30 plus temperatures and after the concert we had a short break to rest or feet and cool off before we were transported to ZG Brewery where celebrated a Canada Day BBQ with the Croatian Canadian Business Network, the Canadian Ambassador to Croatia and Kosovo and the staff of the Embassy. HHMAC started the festivities with the Canadian anthem, the Croatian anthem and the Ode to Newfoundland. This was a long but really was the climax to the whole trip. What an honour the represent our country and our province at this event!


Day 15 – No rest for the weary! Up again and on the coach for a guided tour to the Zagorje Region including Trakoscan Castle. The Trakoscan Castle is a 13th Century Castle and is considered one of the prettiest in Croatia. The castle is being carefully restored to reflect the various stages of construction through the centuries and styles of architecture of those periods. After the tour lunch was served at Vuglec Breg, a country retreat featuring cabin accommodations, a wellness centre, a restaurant and a winery on 12,000 hectares of hilltop land.


A late afternoon return to the hotel for stuffing purchases into suitcases and then a farewell reception for choir members and travelling companions. Then off to bed for an early morning departure back home. We started out as choir members and companions, however we all ended up as family.                                                                  
Day 16 - Homeward bound. Thanks for reading!  The HHMAC Bloggers. 

Thursday 30 June 2016

Hello Opatija

Day 10 – For the first morning in the beautiful seaside resort of Opatija we embarked on a guided walking tour along the promenade. The walk passed along the Adriatic Sea and through many aspects of Opatija’s splendid past such as Villa Angiolina, Saint Jacob's church, the painted wall of celebrities who visited the city, Opatija’s symbol and the Croatian Walk of Fame. The afternoon found many of the ladies visiting another landmark…where they explored one of the two malls that were located in neighbouring towns.


Day 11 – This day found us travelling on the sea. We left the hotel early morning to enjoy a full day boat excursion to the islands Cres and Rovinj. Stops were made in Malinska on Krk and at Beli on Cres. While on the islands we enjoyed fun in the sun with water activities, jumping off 20 foot walls or enjoying a leisurely stroll along the seashore. On board we dined on local wine, mackerel, sardines, sausages, varieties of meat and fruit. Entertainment was provided with a local accordion player intermingled with taped Rock and Roll music. Most travellers were on their feet dancing to the beat, so much so we thought we might have to “Sit Down, We Were Rockin' The Boat.”

Day 12 – Off we travelled to Postojna, Slovenia (a 90-minute bus ride from our hotel) for a tour of the Postojna Caves, the second largest cave in Slovenia. The caves are 2 million years old and are located several hundred metres below the surface. We travelled by train to the what seemed like the centre of the earth. The temperature on the surface was 30 degrees Celsius, however in the caves it was 9 degrees Celsius. We travelled 5 kms through awe-inspiring stalactites and stalagmites made of limestone tinted with iron and manganese. Each of these columns or spikes takes thousands of years to form from water dripping down the limestone. In fact it takes 100 years for 1 cm of growth! We walked through passages, tunnels and ended our tour in the spectacular Concert Hall where sound echoed for 4 to 6 seconds.  The choir took the opportunity to sing “Fare Thee Well” to the international visitors to the caves. The sound in the hall was spectacular!!!

We were unable to visit the lowest level of the caves as the river Pivka flowed freely through the caverns. So, we boarded the train to take us back to the surface where sunshine warmed our chilled hands and feet.

Back on the bus to travel back to Croatia for our next stop. Here we enjoyed chocolate tasting at a local Opatija Chocolatier. We were greeted with a large slab of chocolate that welcomed the HHMAC and companions. Our guide told us of the many flavours that were produced in the building and asked the attendees to identify the mystery centre of one of the chocolates for a prize of 1 kg of chocolate. To the surprise of the group the centre was made from balsamic vinegar. A variety of chocolates were sampled and then back to the hotel to freshen up to enjoy a leisurely dinner at one of the many local restaurants.

Day 13 – Back on the bus to travel to our final destination…. Zagreb.

Monday 27 June 2016

19th Annual Alta Pusteria International Festival

The first day of the festival (June 23) we boarded our coach and arrived at the base of Riscone, at the base of Plan de Corones where we rode in cable cars to the summit (2275 meters) for the ‘Fiesta di Benvenuto” (Welcome Party).  Each of the 90 choirs performed one selection with HHMAC entertaining the crowd with “Jack”.

At the end of the festivities we were instructed by Valerie to gather at particular area for a professional photo. The choir gathered for the photo with the Dolomites in the background and a flautist playing. Missed that clue… why would a flautist be playing for our pictures??? seemed to be posing for photos for a long time when the next thing we see Valerie and Geoff appear in their wedding attire. Among screams of surprise and tears of joy we witnessed Valerie and Geoff exchange their wedding vows. Not a dry eye was evident in the group. A truly magical and fairy tale wedding for a special couple!

We returned to our hotel where the dining room was transformed into wedding reception. We dined on a four course meal while a harp, violin, acoustic bass and accordion played. But our day had not ended yet!  Off to the Gustav Mahler Hall, Dobbiaco we went for the

evening concert with choirs from other countries such as Israel, England, Denmark and Italy. A friendship was developed that night with the Wessex Men’s Choir. The audience wished Geoff and Valerie many years of happiness when it was explained that Valerie played and conducted the choir all decked out in her beautiful wedding dress. It was a rather large day!

Day 2 (June 24) of the festival was back at the Gustav Mahler Hall for the “Meeting Morning” Concert where we were one of twelve choirs to perform two pieces.
After an afternoon of leisure and free time, our evening was quite busy. The first stop was a 9:00 p.m. concert at Casa Resch, San Candido followed by an 11:30 p.m. concert in Villabasa when all participating choirs gathered in the central Piazza von Kurz for an ensemble concert. A long day that led to a quiet bus ride back to the hotel.

Day 3    (June 25)                                                                                                                                                                              
The morning was spent relaxing and enjoying the facilities of the hotel and the magnificent surroundings of the Dolomite Mountains, while some took a short bus ride into the city of Bruneck for more shopping.
The afternoon brought all participating choirs together in San Candido for the “Festival Parade of Choirs”. Prior to the parade, some choir members (the Evil Knievel wannabes) took part in a thrill seeking ride down a mountain in their own cars that sped down a luge like rail with an added obstacle course of cows grazing on the mountainside. Once the ride was over, choirs, dressed in uniforms, walked along the streets and gathered for the Mayor’s official welcome to the Val Pusteria region  followed by a  massed choral performance of over 90 choirs.

Day 4 (June 26) – Arrivederci Italy

Today we say goodbye to Italy and our fellow choristers by participating in the closing ceremony or “Festa dell’Arrivederci” where the choir directors received a certificate of participation. To close the festival, all choirs sang “Signore delle Cime” by De Marzi.

Sunday 26 June 2016

Good-bye Venice - June 22, 2016

Upon leaving Venice we traveled north to the Val Pusteria Region, site of the 19th Alta Pusteria International Choral Festival. On route to the festival a farm to table lunch was served at  “Nogherazza Ristorante and Locanada”. A seven course lunch was served in a canopied area that overlooked the spectacular views of the Italian Dolomites. On full bellies we all boarded our coach to continue our journey to Valle d’Anterselva.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Buongiorno from Venice

We arrived in Venice and were met by our tour guide, Renata and took a short bus ride to our hotel in Mestre, Italy. We had a quiet dinner in a small Italian restaurant and spent the night recharging our batteries for the next day.

The next morning off we headed to Venice for a three-hour tour…. three hour tour….. (Thankfully, it wasn’t the S.S. Minnow on Gilligan’s Island).  Our modes of transportation were by bus, water taxi and a walking tour through the narrow streets of Venice. The first stop was St. Mark’s Square where our tour guides met us at the Lion’s Column. This was the place where executions took place and it was considered bad luck to walk through the columns. Highlights of the tour included the Piazza di San Marco famous the world over for its covered galleries, the Basilica San Marco, built between 1063 and 1073, with its great variety of architectural styles, Campanile – a 325 ft. bell tower and the Doge’s Palace with its pretty facades of pink and white marble.On through the narrow streets of Venice to the Gran Teatro La Fenice (The Venice Opera House) home to Maria Callas.  Our tour continued through the streets and viewed the MANY shops that offered wares of leather and Murano glass. 
A few purses were purchased this day!
Rounding a corner of one of the Cortes, our all female choir cast their eyes on a tiny plaque that had the name of the first female, Elena Luchezia Cornard Piscopia, to receive a university degree internationally. We then walked to Bacino Orseolo (the Gondola parking lot) and broke into groups of six for the signature gondola ride on Venice’s famed canals. The ride included a short time on the Grand Canal and a view of the Rialto Bridge. Sadly, the Rialto Bridge is presently covered for reconstruction that will take 5 years.

The evening consisted of a three course Italian dinner that started with pasta and finished with Tiramisu. After dinner we walked to Ateneo di San Basso – located on St Mark’s Square. Ateneo di San Basso is one of the oldest churches in Venice and now a popular classical concert venue. We attended a musical production of Vivaldi e L’Opera. Fantastico! At the conclusion of the concert we walked back to Riva degli Schiavoni to meet our private water taxi and then back to hotel. Day 1 done!!!!!

After an early start with a buffet breakfast at the hotel we departed for the journey to the Venetian Islands of Burano and Murano Burano is known for its lace and picturesque pastel houses and Murano is famous for its glass factories. A walk along the main street with its many glass shops was completed by a viewing of a glassblowing demonstration in the Murano Glass Factory. Then back to St. Mark’s Square for leisure time to purchase lunch, have a glass of Spritz (a Venetian orange beverage specialty) and of course more shopping.

Dinner was in a private dining room that consisted of a piano and drums. The evening ended with singing and dancing with 50 plus friends. Good Night!