We’re off to EUROPE with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square for our Central European tour. For security reasons (read “Islamic terror attacks”), we have been asked to NOT post anything about tour until after we are all safely home. So, I’m keeping a travelogue of sorts as we go. Even so, I’m going to be a bit vague on the details of the actual travel.
I’ve never been to Europe before. Cindy served a mission in Spain. She took three semesters (or was it three years?) of German at BYU, and then was called to serve a mission in Spain. (Go figure.) Now she has forgotten all the German! As soon as I found out that the Choir and Orchestra were going to Europe, I bought her a German immersion language program for her computer, and she has been diligently preparing. We’ll see how that goes…
June 27th – June 28th — Travel from SLC to Berlin — We left a little early for the airport so we could meet one of our sons who is traveling to Utah on business. It’s cool that our schedules overlapped enough that we could spend about half an hour together at the airport. Before he arrived, we bought sandwiches and fruit at Starbucks. (Yes, I know—appearance of evil and all that, but it was the only place outside of the security zone. And if you read my tour posts from 2013, you know that Starbucks was the only viable place to get food in our Chicago hotel as well. Yep, I’m a rebel.) We had a nice, but all-too-short visit.
Once we got our boarding passes and got through security, we had to wait for a LONG time. They started boarding our plane nearly an HOUR before takeoff time. After we boarded and got settled, it was actually a relatively comfortable flight. (OK, it was cramped and very long, but not as cramped as it could have been.) Cindy and I got to sit together, and that should not be all that remarkable, but, well… more on that later. All the movies were FREE (or at least included in the price of the ticket). There is no real way to watch a movie together, so we watched separate things. This worked out, in a way, because I got to watch a horror movie that Cindy wouldn’t have cared for. “10 Cloverfield Lane” was quite good, by the way.
I discovered that Delta flight attendants are the most COURTEOUS flight attendants on the planet. They were wonderful. The food was even good, except for the broccoli stuffed inside my otherwise delicious chicken breast. Maybe I should take back what I said about Delta flight attendants—it seems they were trying to poison me… with hidden broccoli! Cindy very graciously scooped out all the green nastiness from inside and consumed it. I have discovered that my dear wife has an amazing super power—she is immune to broccoli! (And somehow she can survive living with me. The woman is amazing!)
We landed in Paris a bit early, but had to wait while another airplane perniciously occupied our gate. Then we had to visit an Air France ticket counter, get our tickets from Paris to Berlin, go through security, and wait forever to get through the border police station to have our passports checked. We hurried to make our connecting flight to Berlin and barely boarded before they closed that gate. Air France thought it would be a good idea to put two other, unrelated Choir members between Cindy and me on the plane. Not sure why. Maybe it’s a French thing to assume married couples would prefer to not sit together.
And then we sat. And sat. And sat. After an hour or so, the pilot announced in heavily accented English (and of course French, although the French was properly accented, I assume) that the plane wasn’t airworthy and we would have to board a different aircraft. So after a delay of a few hours, we were finally on our way to Berlin.
Upon our arrival in Berlin, we boarded chartered busses to travel to the wonderful Berlin Marriott hotel. In our seats, we each found a bottle of water. How courteous! And then we opened it. The water was CARBONATED. Strangely, carbonated water wasn’t as refreshing as cool “still” water might have been. Actually, that’s another thing—Europeans don’t think much of COLD drinks, it seems. (“Remember: it’s not bad, it’s just different.”)
We really enjoyed the German buffet that awaited us at the hotel. After dinner, Cindy and I took a stroll around the area near the Marriott. We found, of all things, a Subway (the sandwich place), an Indian restaurant, and a Häagen-Das with table service! We, of course, opted for a refreshing Häagen-Das desert over curry.
Then it was time for bed after an exhausting day of travel.
June 29th — Berlin — We went to the Berlin Wall Memorial! To me, that place is hallowed ground. I wept as I read of the many who died in pursuit of freedom… and the few who actually made it. I lit a candle in the Church of Reconciliation. Freedom is worth dying for. And it’s worth fighting for. And we are forgetting that. So many people are embracing socialism, the evil system that robs human beings of the rights of self-determination, self-reliance, and the responsibility and privilege to care for others. Taxation and the redistribution of wealth are not charity.
A reporter for the Church News overheard me talking about my role in the Cold War as a B-52 pilot in the USAF in the service of liberty. He interviewed me and asked about my feelings about freedom and that holy space.
We must never forget the evil that men have done the name of “social justice…” and yet we ARE forgetting and embracing that same seductive evil.
After returning to the hotel, Cindy and I hurried over to the site of Hitler’s Bunker. On the way, we stopped for lunch at the food court in the Mall of Berlin. I was looking forward to some good German food. Unfortunately, we had to settle for Pizza Hut. Yeah, that’s right: Pizza Hut. Oh, well.
We hurried over to the Bunker, only to discover it’s nothing more than a parking lot for an apartment building. There’s a sign marking the spot, but NOTHING else… We hooked up with a tour group and listened as a man with a delightful IRISH accent—Cindy says it was Australian, but what does she know, huh?—told us about the Bunker as we stood near the apartment building. I learned some things there that I didn’t know, but there was NOTHING else to see.
Then I had to hurry off the Berlin Symphonie for rehearsal and sound check, while Cindy got to go sightseeing. She went to Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate. Ah, well, I’m not here to see the sights—I’m here to sing my heart out for the good people of Berlin.
The concert hall is beautiful inside. The acoustics are amazing. But there is no air conditioning. It was nice and cool OUTSIDE, but inside it was HOT—hotter than… nevermind.
The concert went very well. We were told Europeans don’t do standing ovations and they don’t cheer when they applaud. Well… they did give us a standing ovation and they did cheer. And they did synchronized clapping. Apparently, this is a sign that they really enjoyed the concert. And when we sang “The Battle of Jericho” and especially the part about “The walls come a-tumblin’ down,” the Berliners cheered. Perhaps they related the song to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But the best part of the concert for me? When we sang “God Be With You” at the end (in German, of course), and I could see people in the audience singing along with us. That made me weep (of course—this is ME I’m talking about, after all).
Berlin is an incredible city with nice people, glorious architecture, and a rich heritage, but the thing I will remember the most is seeing Berliners weeping and singing “Gott sei mitt euch bis aufs Wiedersehn” along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
President Thomas S. Monson said, “The saints in Europe have waited long enough.”
June 30th — Berlin to Munich — LO-O-O-ONG day! Up early for breakfast, then load on the busses to head to Munich. We were told that we wouldn’t be able to purchase lunch at our rest stop, so we needed to obtain something else for lunch. Before breakfast, I ran over to—you guessed it—Starbucks and bought a couple of ham and cheese croissants and some orange juice. The only problem with this plan was that the croissants had very little ham, no mayonnaise or mustard, and a LOT of goat cheese. (Goat cheese is not my favorite. When I was a senior in high school, my parents owned a goat. I could never successfully milk the goat, but this didn’t stop the wretched creature from peeing in delight every time she saw me coming. Did I mention that I hate goat cheese?)
After about 4 hours on the bus (with me zonked completely out and poor Cindy unable to catch a wink), we had our one and only break. We stopped at a Rasthouse (rest house). This was an elaborate two-story affair with a Burger King, a German fast-food place, and a mini-mart. (And of course, the ever-popular pay toilets.) As I chewed through my nasty goat-cheese and sliver-of-ham croissant, I eyed the BK with hungry eyes. So I bought a milkshake. It was heavenly. Did you know that BK in Germany has chicken wings? I had no idea. I LIKE this idea! (The idea about the chicken wings, not the pay-toilets. Or the goat cheese.)
Then it was off to Munich. I zonked out again. An eight hour nap. That’s the cure for jet-lag, let me tell you. Once again, poor Cindy managed to barely doze a little.
Remember all those stories about how there’s no speed-limit on the Autobahn? They’re true, BUT that doesn’t take into account hours-long traffic jams.
We saw many, many fields of thin, tall vines (maybe 20 feet tall). We finally asked our driver what they were. Hops. Apparently, Munich is famous for its beers. Who knew? (Other than Europeans, I mean.)
Needless to say, we arrived in Munich later than anticipated. Our wonderful bus driver, Reiner, dropped us off at Marienplatz in downtown Munich. Cindy and I dined at a fantastic place called—what else—Ratskeller. And we had the BEST authentic German food. Sausages, pork chops, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, potato dumplings. Neither of us could finish. After downing orange juice spritzers, we asked for water. Just plain, old water. No, not sparkling water, bitte, just “still” water. We received a 6.50 euro bottle of water. Won’t make that mistake again. Still, the food was GREAT and the service fantastic.
Now, we were told, no tipping in Europe. Don’t believe this. No, no, no, no. Tip. Tip well. But here, a good tip is about 10%.
We strolled around Marienplatz after dinner. Cindy forgot her sweater and wants to buy one here. (As if sitting next to someone as hot as me isn’t enough… Please, stop with the retching. Seriously. You can stop now.) However, all the shops closed at 8. Oh, well. The architecture, mostly older, with modern shops and restaurants on the first floor, was magnificent, glorious. We saw a giant clock with figures that moved around, only we couldn’t wait to see it go off at the hour, because we had to meet our bus. Monuments, statues of every kind were everywhere. I wish we could have spent a couple more hours there. I said, “It’s like walking around Disneyland at night, only with beer everywhere.” Cindy laughed, but it had that kind of feel. If you know me and Disneyland, you get what I mean. Atmosphere is what it’s all about. (Well, that and the Indiana Jones Adventure and Star Tours… and the Fantasy Land Canal Boats. Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!)
By the time we arrived at the Marriott Munich, it was pouring rain. But we escaped the worst of it.
Tomorrow, it’s off to Nuremburg for a concert. Cindy gets to sightsee. I get to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square to the saints and the other good people of Nuremburg. I think I get the better deal.
July 1st — Nuremburg — We loaded busses this morning for Nuremburg. There was no time for sightseeing for the performers, but the guests (e.g., Cindy) got to visit downtown Nuremburg and the Nuremburg Castle. Cindy had a fantastic time there. Apparently, Nuremburg is famous for its gingerbread, and Cindy bought some. (It was quite good, I can attest.) Cindy took many pictures at the castle, including shots of the many weapons and armor on display there. She thought I’d appreciate it, and she was spot-on.
Meanwhile, we prepped for the concert at the magnificent Meistersingerhalle. Once again, no AC. It was hotter than blue blazes in there. (How’s that for a dated expression, huh?) But the concert went very well. We got multiple standing ovations again and synchronized clapping. The hall was sold out as well.
Between the rehearsal and the concert, I had the opportunity to walk around the park nearby, the Luitpoldhain. This is the massive park where Adolf Hitler conducted those gargantuan Nazi rallies. I climbed the steps to the spot where Hitler looked out over the thousands and thousands of National Socialist fanatics. There is a spot there where a large celluloid is mounted, showing one of the rallies in black-and-white. If you stand in the just the right location, you can see it lined up with the park, just as one of Hitler’s staff would have seen it. This was a chilling sight.
It made me wonder, how could a whole nation go insane?
And then I thought, it’s not that different from today. We just want someone to “fix it.” We just want someone to blame—it’s “them,” “their fault.” “If we just got rid of those people…”
“And the people cried out for a king.” (Or queen.)
How did we get to this? We don’t read history. We just keep making the same mistakes.
Okay, enough of that.
The German people are so friendly, so helpful, so nice. I love them.
I have to ask though, why are there Burger King, McDonald’s, and KFC restaurants everywhere? And I do mean everywhere? You can often find all three at any Rasthaus (rest house) along the highway. I mean, come on—German food is so yummy! Why in the world would you have BK, McD, and KFC when you can have great German sausage??????
July 2nd — Munich — Today was a “recovery” day since we got in so late last night from Nuremburg. So we slept in. Then we went down to a late breakfast, then we came back up to our room and slept some more. We took the subway down to Marienplatz. Now I must say that the German subway is CLEAN and EFFICIENT. I don’t a have a lot of experience with subways, but the subway in Munich is fantastic.
I finally got to see the Glockenspiel in action (or at least part of it). It was very cool. We visited a beautiful church. And of course, we ate more fabulous German food. And we had gelato for the first time. (I know—go to Germany and eat Italian ice…)
We also visited a local grocery store. You have to bring your own bags… or buy them there. In Berlin, I scraped a hole in the surface layer (the black leather layer) of my black shoes. So I needed to get some black shoe polish to cover the spot. I looked in the grocery store. I found ribbons, but no shoe polish. I spotted a drug store. It was closed on Saturday. Then I spotted a shoe repair store. Problem solved! But guess what? Every color of polish EXCEPT black.
Oh, well… I found a black permanent marker in the grocery store. Problem solv— I mean, problem covered. (I’m still gonna have to buy new shoes when I get home.)
Tomorrow, we travel to Vienna for a concert… and then we come back to Munich. We’re scheduled in at 4 in the morning…
July 3rd – Munich—Vienna—Munich — OK, today was a lo-o-o-ong day. Got up early and boarded busses for Vienna, Austria. What a gorgeous place! So green. Beautiful rolling hills, farms, small villages—always with a church in the center. And the mountains!!! The Alps!!!!
We drove through Salzburg. I mean, these are the Alps that the Von Trapps climbed to escape the Nazis…
Then we arrived in Vienna. We unloaded at the Wiener Rathaus, the city hall of Vienna (Wien). We were treated to lunch in the Rathausskeller (the basement restaurant of city hall). Then the performers were whisked off to the Musickverein, a 19th century classical music hall. To many, it is THE classical music hall in Europe. I have never even dreamed of singing in such a place. The hall has painted ceilings, gilded and sculpted pillars—basically gold and art EVERYWHERE. I felt like I had been transported back to a scene from “Amadeus.”
The performance was sold out, including the standing-room-only gallery at the back of the hall.
It was quite a challenge performing there. The hall wasn’t designed for a choir even half the size of ours. Virtually all of the baritones, basses, and sopranos were positioned up in the balcony—some right in front of the organ. We couldn’t hear the rest of the Choir from where we were, and some of us couldn’t even see the conductor. During the rehearsal and the concert, one of the baritones put his right hand behind his back and attempted to relay Mack and Ryan’s signals. This allowed some of the baritones to stay in synch with the rest of the Choir.
And of course, it was HOT. I have come to the conclusion that the REAL reason the Europeans claim that singing in the natural temperature is more healthy is simply due to the fact that they don’t want to alter/damage those glorious music halls.
Johannes Brahms was a conductor in that very hall!!!! So was Mahler, but that is all the mention we shall make of him…
When we arrived at the Musickverein, I was greeted by a very friendly Austrian woman. She introduced herself as the organizer for the concert. She asked to have her picture taken with me. She hugged me and said, “I cried too.” After the concert, she waved me over and gave me a bag of Viennese chocolates.
After the rehearsal, we took a short bus ride back to the Rathaus. There we were rejoined by Cindy and the other guests. We were fed in the upper hall of the Rathaus. Once again, this was an incredibly ornate, palatial hall, with tons of gilding and statues everywhere.
Cindy told me about her day. She visited a cathedral and a presidential palace, as well as a garden.
Then it was back to the Musickverein. Now, today was the Sabbath, and unlike other Sundays on tour, we were doing a concert. All the music, except for “Cindy” was sacred in nature. And we donated the proceeds to a local charity. So while we may not have kept the Sabbath in a traditional manner, we still manage to devote the day to true worship.
The concert was… well, my whole frame shook with the Spirit. Yes, it was hot, and difficult, but it was also an experience I would not have missed for the world. And, yes, I wept. And yes, so did so very many in the audience.
And they gave us a standing ovation. More than one, actually. And in a place where such accolades never happen. And they cheered.
And when we sang “Gott Sie Mit Euch” at the end, many of them sang along. In fact, Cindy observed one young woman mouthing all the words to all the songs. She also observed another young woman transmitting the entire concert on her phone. Legality aside, that was really cool.
During the intermission, two young sister missionaries came up into the balcony to take pictures with the men of the Choir. The missionaries wore traditional Austrian dresses called “dirndl.” One of the sisters was from Texas, the other from St. George, Utah.
Now, I have to give special thanks to one baritone who managed to sneak a battery-powered, silent fan into the balcony. He shared this bounty with those of us fortunate enough to sit in his blessed vicinity—including me.
After this magnificent and glorious experience (the concert, not the electric fan), we had to change out of our concert attire very quickly and load back on the busses for the long ride back to Munich. Now I have to tell you that you have not LIVED until you have peeled off a sopping-wet tux shirt that was sopping wet the last time you wore it. I am very grateful to have a clean tux shirt (clean, except for the fact that it’s hanging right next to the filthy, smelly tux shirt in the wardrobe box) for the next two times we perform in tuxes.
We arrived back at the hotel in Munich after 4 a.m. and staggered straight off to bed after not catching a single wink or snore on the bus ride of five hours. I was so grateful for our nice, comfy bed in the Munich Marriott…
Shall we stagger to the busses?
The beautiful, the beautiful busses?
Shall we stagger to the busses
That’ll take us to our nice comfy beds?
Yes, we shall stagger to the busses
The beautiful, the beautiful busses…
And yes, I actually warbled this as we climbed up from the dressing areas in the basement of the Musickverein.
July 4th — Munich — Another “recovery” day. After sleeping for a few hours, we dressed hurriedly—and rather haphazardly—and lumbered down to breakfast with the Choir at about 10 a.m. Then we crawled back to our room and promptly zonked out for another few hours (until about 2:30).
Eventually, we took the subway to Marienplatz. We ate crepes and smoothies for a very late lunch. Cindy bought a sweater, because the late night bus rides (and yes, there are more of these scheduled) can be quite cold, despite sitting next to her hot husband. (I meant temperature wise, so stop laughing… or puking. As I read this to Cindy, she’s sniggering at me.) Then I bought a real, very nice, very EXPENSIVE German cuckoo clock. We had it shipped, so we won’t see it for nearly two months, but… Yes, I now own a real German cuckoo clock! My parrot will go stark, raving MAD!!!
We visited the Treasury museum and saw many, many cool artifacts, including a reproduction of Trajan’s Column, golden automaton drinking toys, ornate swords, crowns, scepters, sculptures, ornate gilt platters, etc. Those swords could never be wielded in combat, because of the jewels in the handles. It actually made me a bit sad to think that this was the height of the swordsmith’s art—a priceless, yet worthless weapon. There was a golden, wind-up stag with a goddess Diana on the back. It would roll down the table, and whomever it stopped in front of, that person was required to remove the stag’s head and drink the enormous quantity of liquor inside the body. An amazing work of art, but I wonder how many people that piece alone could have been used to feed and clothe.
And just as an aside, I learned that Duke Wilhelm the Pious only became “Pious” after a lifetime of riotous living. When you read “The Sweet Sister,” you will understand the reference.
In spite of our determination to try something a little different for dinner, we went back the Ratskeller. This is the third time we have eaten there, and it was culinary nirvana. I had the sauerbraten. Cindy had the goulash. And we shared a crème brulè for desert. (Yes, I know—go to Germany and eat French food. I gotta tell you, the Germans know how to cook French food!)
We saw a clothing store called Wormland and a jewelry store called Christ.
Oh, and by the way—Happy Independence Day, America! From Germany, where the German National Football (soccer) Team just beat Italy for the first time in four years and advanced to the semi-finals. I confirmed this by asking the bell-captain at the hotel about it. Unfortunately, he is from Italy. Go figure. Germany plays France on Thursday. Go, Deutchland!!!!
July 5th — Munich—Dachau—Munich — As I walked through the iron gate emblazoned with the lie, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Labor Makes Free”), I stumbled and nearly fell to the ground. I was overcome with a grief that is beyond words. At the end of our tour, we visited “Barack X.” This is the name of the second, more efficient crematorium and the gas chamber. For reasons unknown, the gas chamber at Dachau was never used. We do know that the commandant was under pressure to reduce the mortality rate among the prisoners, since Dachau was a work camp, as opposed to a death camp. So he shipped those who could no longer labor to Auschwitz and other death camps to make his numbers would look better.
I stared into the maws of the ovens where tens of thousands of human beings were burned to ash. Once again, I was overcome with a grief that almost drove me to my knees.
How could sons and daughters of God enact such horrors on other sons and daughters of God, on their own brothers and sisters? How could an entire nation go mad and call evil good and good evil?
It’s not the first time, and it will not be the last. I have met the German people. They are good people! They are honest! They are kind. They are friendly. But their leaders, the men who stole power in the middle of a crisis, turned the whole nation upside-down.
And it may be happening in our own country.
I had the choice to visit a castle instead of Dachau. I’m grateful Cindy and I chose to go to one of the most evil places on Earth. Because, we must NEVER FORGET. Only by remembering can we hope to avoid the sins of the past.
Dachau, the model for all other Nazi concentration camps, is now a memorial. There are flowers and stones laid at the memorial wall. Flowers are a gentile expression of remembrance. Stones are a Jewish token of remembrance. I did not place a stone or a flower, but I will never forget the horror and grief I personally experienced at KZ Dachau.
Upon returning from Dachau, I met the Munich Stake President. His name is Michael. He is such a nice man! And he especially wanted to meet me. So we had arranged a meeting through a mutual friend in the Choir. We talked in the lobby of the hotel. (Thankfully, his English is perfect.) We chatted about music, family, and the gospel. He talked about his grief at the recent death of a child and how music helped the family through that loss. He talked about his sure knowledge that he will be reunited with his son in the next life. I spoke of trials we are experiencing with our own children. Life has its difficulties, but the grace of Jesus Christ will sustain us and complete us and take us home.
After my meeting with Michael, Cindy and I took the subway to Marienplatz once more. I was intent on seeing the Glockenspiel in action. I had only caught the tail end once before, but I wanted to see the whole thing. There are two knights on horseback who pass each other in a joust. On the second pass, one of the knights knocks the other backward. It was so COOL!
We ate dinner at a sidewalk café. Cindy had a German pizza. Let me tell you, Germans take their pizza very seriously! And it was delicious, with a very thin, crispy crust. I had tomato soup with cream. As we ate, we saw a man with a very… different haircut. The sides of his head were shaved and the rest of the hair went straight up for probably 10-12 inches. It was died two distinct colors—yellow and brown. On the other side of us sat a man smoking a cigarette. On the side of the pack of cigarettes was a large sticker that read, “Rauchen ist tödlich.” (“Smoking is deadly.”) Go figure.
After dinner, we went down to the subway to return to our hotel, but the subway wasn’t moving. A garbled announcement was repeated over and over. Finally, one of our group who spoke German said, “We’re being told to evacuate the station.” So we exited the underground. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to do so. As it turned out, the subway was shut down because of a fire. Over 90 fire fighters were dispatched.
So we took a taxi back to the hotel. There were eight in our group, and the largest taxi we could find could only carry seven. So two of them elected to take the next taxi. Ninety minutes after we returned to our hotel, the remaining two people still had not made it back. I was very worried. I tried calling, texting, messaging, but we heard nothing. When they finally made it back, we found out they had been forced to WALK most of the way back. I felt awful. At least they made it back safely. The spouse of one Choir member fell during the visit to Nuremburg and fractured her shoulder. Now the two of them are returning home tomorrow. The tour of a lifetime has ended for them.
I’m so very grateful to be here. Especially with my beloved Cindy.
July 6th — Munich—Zurich—Frankfurt — We traveled through FOUR countries today. We left Germany this morning, crossed into Austria, then Lichtenstein, then into Switzerland for a concert in Zurich.
As we travelled, we were treated to glorious vistas of the Swiss countryside. Such a gorgeous country. Rolling green hills, cows, farms, the Bodensee (a beautiful lake), and of course, the majestic Swiss Alps.
While the Choir rehearsed, Cindy and the other guests visited Lucerne, a beautiful small town with a castle and a famous monument to fallen Swiss Guards. She had someone take a picture of her standing next to a suit of armor, but she didn’t BUY it for me. How rude! I NEED that armor… I do. I really, really do. It would look great in our living room!
The concert tonight was in the Hallenstadion, a sports arena, rather than a concert hall. We’ve sung in sports arena’s before, but not on this tour, and such a venue poses several challenges. Our sound engineers are wizards of their craft, but we have to alter the way we sing as opposed to singing in a concert hall. In other words, it’s not ideal, but we’re grateful to be able to sing to the people of Zurich. Actually, people traveled great distances to hear the Choir tonight.
We had an extra translator, in addition Sonja, our native German member of the Choir. French and Italian are also spoken Switzerland, everything Lloyd Newell said was repeated in German and in French. (The Italian speakers were just out of luck, I guess.)
The concert went well, and the audience was phenomenal, although in that setting, we couldn’t see them. They gave us standing ovations, cheered, and then gathered outside to thank the Choir as we left the arena. It’s been a quarter of a century since the Choir was in Zurich, and I was very humbled to be a part of this very welcome return.
Now we are on a long bus ride to Frankfurt. We are scheduled to check into our hotel at 3 a.m.
July 7th — Frankfurt Am Main — This was a recovery day after our long day yesterday. And I recovered. I slept until about 1:30 p.m., then we walked to a farmers’ market, located near an old, medieval-looking tower. It turns out that the tower is from an old train station. Almost all of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing, but this tower still stood. We ate “breakfast” at Subway. Now, Subway is not exactly the same here. For one thing, there was only one kind of cheese. In Germany. Only one kind of cheese. Huh. Anyway, I had the BBQ Rib sandwich (kind of like a foot-long McRib). I had no idea Subway had such a thing. Maybe they don’t in the States. I’ll have to check that out!
As we sat, eating our Subway sandwiches, I noticed on a building across the street three fake (plastic?) crows affixed to ledges and a pole. If they were intended as pigeon-deterrents, they weren’t completely effective.
Then we puttered around, did a little bit of shopping… and went back to the hotel for a nap. Got up for dinner, then went back to the hotel room. We’ll sightsee tomorrow.
Germany lost to France yesterday. Sad times here.
By the way, WE’RE GOING TO A MEDIEVAL CASTLE TOMORROW!!!! Whoohoo!!!
July 8th — Eltz Castle — Frankfurt — I am in GEEK HEAVEN! We went to Eltz Castle! This castle has been around since the 12th century. There have been auditions up through the 19th century, but it still retains the flavor of medieval architecture. It looked like something right out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! It’s been in the same family (the Eltz family) for 33 generations. They still have apartments there. (It’s a vacation home for them.) There are old fortifications around the castle. There was a siege against it in the 14th century.
At the start of the single-lane road leading to the castle, there is a sign that reads, “Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand, wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?” (“Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest in all the land?”) Cool, right? Extremely cool. Disneyland with beer.
And the armaments!!!! Swords, maces, halberds, spears, crossbows, a longbow, suits of chain and plate mail. Geek heaven! I would point at weapons and say, “I have that one!” They had firearms. They even had a few Asian weapons, including a silk-covered shield. They had functional miniature cannons. The Count apparently collects them. These mini-cannons were used anciently by cannon salesmen. “Buy the full-size model, and get the miniature for free!”
I was so excited, I could hardly breathe! I kept saying, “We’re in a real-live fairytale castle! We’re in a castle! Isn’t this the coolest?” I was only allowed to take pictures of the outside, but I bought a book with lots of pictures of the inside. (Only the first picture is of Eltz. The rest are of pictures along the way.)
Our tour guide was a lovely young woman named Paulina. She spoke excellent English with just enough of a German accent to be charming, rather than hard to understand. Although she answered tons of our questions, there were some things she just didn’t know. It turns out that nobody knows the answers to some of the questions. But isn’t that the great thing about history and knowledge in general—there are still mysteries and things to speculate about and discover. And admitting that you don’t know everything is the beginning of wisdom. (Just don’t tell my kids.)
And the German countryside! Oh, my! So many beautiful villages, castles, fortresses, and farms to see along the way. We saw the Rhine River and the Lorelei (a rock formation in the river with legends about tragic death and a siren). We saw barges and river-cruise ships and pleasure craft. We saw churches and old-fashioned resort hotels. We saw sheep and cows and… Well, it was just idyllic and beautiful. The trees are so green, they’re almost black. We saw vineyards growing up the steep sides of mountains. That was pretty and amazing, but I personally would hate to have to tend to those grape vines.
On the journey to the castle, our bus driver discovered about halfway up that the planned road was too narrow for the bus to navigate. He safely and expertly backed down the road, then chose a different route to get us to the castle. The second road didn’t work either, but the third one did. The bus drivers for our tour are amazing, especially our driver today, Michael.
Speaking of bus drivers, one of the drivers on our tour is named Günner Müeller. Fans of my second book will recognize that name… <evil-chuckle>
On the way back, we hit a massive traffic jam. The source turned out to be a collision of two semis. One of them had burned down to the chassis, and the other was badly damaged. I hope no-one was hurt.
That brings up one observation—the semis here have vinyl sides, rather than metal. I’m not sure why. Another observation is that there is graffiti everywhere here. I don’t think much or any of it is vile, but it’s everywhere.
I learned something else today. The real name of Frankfurt is Frankfurt am Main. This literally means, “The French ford across the Main.” Apparently, this was the one spot where the Main River was shallow enough for the Frankish king to be able to cross (ford).
Concert in Frankfurt am Main tomorrow!
Oh, and I bought a CROSSBOW!!!! It is large and beautiful and FUNCTIONAL!!!! And I hope I can get it through customs… If you want to see it, you will have to come to my place or attend one of my classes.
Did I mention I am in geek heaven?
July 9th — Frankfurt — We took the subway to downtown Frankfurt and wandered around a bit. We found a very medieval-looking tower (with multiple turrets) and a couple of beautiful old churches, but none of them were open. The tower itself housed a café (with the seating outdoors). Then we got lost on the subway on our return, but it didn’t delay us much. However, while we were on the subway, a man seemed surprised to hear us speaking in English. He asked if we were from England. When we told him we were from the United States, he said, “Be careful to not let anyone hear you speaking in English. You might get robbed. There is a lot of crime in Frankfurt.”
After our subway “adventure,” we walked over to a large shopping mall near the hotel for lunch. We decided to get Chinese food from a place called Mr. Phung. The food was quite good, but was a little different from Chinese food we are used to in the States.
While we were waiting for our food to be cooked fresh, a Chinese woman approached the cashier/order-taker at Mr. Phung. She ordered in English and demanded that her dish be prepared a little differently. The cashier and then the cook refused to alter the recipe, whereupon an argument ensued in Chinese between the customer and the cook. It was actually pretty entertaining to watch.
After lunch, we returned to the hotel, and I boarded a bus for tonight’s concert. The venue was the Jahrhunderthalle (“Hundred Year Hall”). It’s a dome. It looks like it could host a rock concert, a circus, or… the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
I was hoping to meet Cindy before the concert, so I waited inside, near the entrance as concert attendees arrived. At least eight people approached me and said something like, “Are you the one who cried at Conference? Thank you for sharing your testimony with us.”
The concert itself went extremely well. Standing ovation and loud synchronized clapping. However, this was our last concert in German. That’s bittersweet for me, because the German and German-speaking people have been so very nice, so friendly, so helpful, so wonderful to us.
We only have two more concerts: Brussels and Rotterdam. Then it’s off to Paris, and after that, home.
I had to say goodbye to my beautiful crossbow. It’s packed in my large suitcase. I hope I have no problems getting it through customs…
July 10th — Frankfurt — I love tour sacrament meetings! They are fantastic, and we always have a member of the Seventy and his wife speak to us. Today’s meeting was no exception. But I must point out that I especially enjoyed the talk given by Choir member John Maddox. I was also privileged to pass the sacrament today.
After more rest, we finally ventured out to Römerplatz, an older part of the city. Frankfurt was mostly leveled by Allied bombing during the Second World War, but a few isolated spots remained, including an old church and a few towers. Most of the city has been rebuilt in a very modern style, but Römerplatz was rebuilt in an older style. It was beautiful. And yes, I looked like an obvious tourist, taking many pictures. Römerplatz was originally the site of a Roman settlement on the Main River.
We entered a church and listened to a choir and string quartet rehearing. They were magnificent. And the acoustics in that little chapel! I would’ve liked to have heard more, but we had agreed to meet a fellow Choir member for dinner. So after successfully (this time) navigating the subway back to the hotel, we met our friend, only to find out he’d already dined with some other ladies in the Choir! I agree, dining with ladies is always nice, but…
Anyway, Cindy and I had a very nice steak dinner in the hotel bar. (I know, eating out at a bar on the Sabbath!) French fries (“pommes”) are very popular in Germany. You seem to find them served with many, many meals here. They served the pommes with Heinz tomato ketchup and mayonnaise. I guess you are supposed to make your own ad hoc fry sauce…
Tomorrow, it’s on to Brussels for a concert, and then a long bus ride to the hotel (for once, not a Marriott) in Amsterdam.
July 11th — Frankfurt—Brussels—Amsterdam — Another long day, but oh, what a wonderful day! We have left Germany behind, and with it the German language for the rest of the tour. We were singing four German language pieces. Now we have only one piece by Bach that we sing in German.
We traveled to Brussels for a concert in the Bozar Center for the Fine Arts. Now, I have to confess that going to Brussels at this time is a bit scary. The recent Islamist terror attacks and current intelligence have placed the entire county of Belgium on the highest level of alert. There are armed soldiers everywhere. Unfortunately, some members of the Choir and Orchestra have not followed the instructions to avoid posting anything to social media that would indicate our location. And we are a large, dense, slow moving, very American target.
So the threat is very real.
However, the venue was amazing! The concert was glorious. When we sang, “We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of Heaven,” I felt as if that were literally true. I felt as if the armies of Heaven were singing with us.
Before the concert, I had five people come up to me and ask to take a picture with me. One group was a family from Brazil. I saw them sitting in the balcony at the end of the concert. The wife was weeping. After the lights came up, they waved at me.
After the concert, we met a man from Ireland. He had come to Brussels specifically for the concert. I don’t think he’s a member of the Church, but he is a huge fan of the Choir. We talked for a couple of minutes, and he asked both Cindy and I to sign his program. Then two women from France came up to us to greet us and thank us. I introduced myself and Cindy, and we shook hands with them. One of the women said, “In France, we do not shake hands. We kiss.” Then she hugged and kissed both Cindy and me on the cheek.
These are memories that I will cherish forever. (And I’m not just talking about getting kissed by lovely French ladies in front of my wife.)
In order to get the entire Choir and Orchestra on stage, most of the basses and sopranos were actually in the balcony. They were in two levels of the balcony. Those sitting in the lower balcony level had a difficult time seeing, so the front row actually sat down to sing for most of the concert. However, on the stage itself, two of the rows of singers were actually sitting on the floor (when not standing). I was on one such row. So that was an interesting experience…
During the sound check and rehearsal in the afternoon, Cindy went shopping and sightseeing in Brussels. She had a wonderful time.
As for the performers, after the sound check and rehearsal, we were fed a five-course meal. The food was very good. I at a lamb chop for the first time in my life. (I’ve had lamb mixed with beef in a gyro many times, but never straight lamb.) It was delicious, but when I ate it, I wasn’t certain what it was. I just knew it tasted a little different. (I found out afterward.)
Anyway, after a wonderful concert where the Spirit was very strong, we boarded busses and traveled to Amsterdam. I thought the hotel was NOT a Marriott. It turns out that I was mistaken: it’s a Marriott Renaissance Hotel. We got in about 1:45 in the morning, so I have only been able to see Amsterdam at night so far. But even at night… We were crossing canals almost every other street! What a city! I can’t wait to see it tomorrow.
I’m off to bed!
July 12th — Amsterdam — Many years ago, as a scoutmaster, I attended formal BSA leadership training. This included, of course, campfire songs. I learned “Three Jolly Fishermen,” which is fun and silly and has a joke at the end. The song starts out with—
There were three jolly fishermen.
There were three jolly fishermen.
Fisher, fisher, MEN, MEN, MEN!
Fisher, fisher, MEN, MEN, MEN!
There were three jolly fishermen.
There are several verses that follow this pattern. The final verse starts out with—
They all went down to Amsterdam.
At this point, the scouts slow WAY down and adopt a sly and mischievous look.
They all went down to Am-ster-dam.
Then they finish with a raucus—
Amster, Amster, SHHH, SHHH, SHHH!
Amster, Amster, SHHH, SHHH, SHHH!
They all went down to Amsterdam!
The joke is, of course, that you think the boys might swear. In fact, you are “horrified” that the scouts might swear. But of course, they don’t.
Sadly, our society has coarsened to the point that if eleven-year-olds were to swear, it probably won’t shock us at all.
Well, after sleeping-in on our recovery day, Cindy and I ventured out to explore the ancient city of Amsterdam. The mantra on this tour has been “It’s not bad; it’s just different.” And I thought I was prepared. I knew about the marijuana shops and the sex shops. But I was unprepared for the prevalence of the pot and the “erotic” displays EVERYWHERE. There’s even a Museum of Prostitution. (I’m not making that up.) It’s been a long time since I smelled pot smoke, and it’s not a scent I care for at all.
But it was quite common.
So I was a bit taken aback, especially while I was walking hand-in-hand with my eternal companion and there were times when there was NOWHERE safe to look. My dear wife struggled with this as well.
We walked to one of the many, many canals and boarded a long canal boat for a one-hour tour. (Queue the Gilligan’s Island music. A one-hour tour. A one-hour tour!) The boat captain announced in a deep and delightfully accented voice, “Welcome aboard! I hope you enjoy the tour.” He gave instructions, then concluded with, “If you want to smoke a joint, you are out of luck. There are no drugs allowed aboard my boat.”
This got me thinking. These things may be virtually everywhere, but they were NOT aboard that boat. They were not, in fact, everywhere. Starting with that boat tour, I began to see beyond the pot and the sexual images. I began to see so much more.
There is great beauty in this unique city. There are lovely churches, the royal palace, the canals, and the many, many leaning houses. That’s right—the houses here were built on sandy, unstable foundations, and many of them are now leaning. Inside, the floors are sloped. Each narrow and tall house is unique, but they have many features in common. Almost all of them have a beam with a hook sticking out at the top of the house so that furniture can be hoisted to the upper floors, rather than taken through the front door and up the narrow stairs. Most of the houses along the canals are now businesses. Next to our hotel, there is a house with a fish carving above the door. One might expect a fish market. However, one would be wrong. The building now houses a music shop.
After dinner (I had the Dutch Pea Soup, which was excellent), we walked down to Dam Square. Here you will find the royal palace, a beautiful old church, a war memorial… and Madam Tousaud’s Wax Museum, at least TWO McDonald’s, a KFC, a Subway, and, of course, sex shops and marijuana shops.
We saw an old woman feeding the horde of pigeons. There were definitely too many of them to call them merely a “flock” of pigeons, or even a “kit” (which I’m sure you knew was the proper collective noun for pigeons, because everyone and their pigeon knows that). It was a horde. And it was actually kind of cool. The song from Mary Poppins sprang to mind: “Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag…”
We also saw a “grim reaper” who was part of an anti-smoking campaign. He was gleefully taking pictures with tourists while holding a giant, plastic cigarette to their lips and his scythe to their necks. (I wonder if that was a tobacco cigarette or pot…?)
Just on a lark, I walked into both McDonald’s restaurants and looked around. Something struck me right off the bat in both establishments: you place your order at any one of multiple touchscreens. No person takes your order. The minimum wage here is so high that it is cheaper to employ machines rather than people. Something to think about…
Since this was a recovery day, we limited our sightseeing. However, I must say that the personnel in the hotel were very nice and very helpful. They each wore a nametag which gave their title as “Navigator.” I thought this very appropriate, since they were very intent on making sure our “voyage” was successful and enjoyable.
Well, tomorrow, we have a concert in Rotterdam!
July 13th — Amsterdam—Rotterdam—Amsterdam — We got up early and walked over to the Maritime Museum. I found it very interesting, but we spent far too much time looking at paintings and figureheads, because I was very rushed when it came to the one thing I really wanted to see: a large 18th century Dutch cargo ship. I had a mere fifteen minutes to explore. And there were still other vessels to see!
Oh, well, next time… Oh, wait… Darn.
Then it was off to Rotterdam for our final concert. The hall was gorgeous, and the sound was incredible. The entire Choir was up in the balcony. The organ was, in the words of Clay Christiansen, “a very nice instrument.” And the concert went very well, but it was the AUDIENCE that was impressive to me.
The hall was very full. The applause was thunderous. They stood. They cheered. They yelled, “We love you!” and “Please come back!” and “Come back next year!” and “Bravo!” And they wept. (And of course, I wept. Go figure.) When we sang “God Be With You” in Dutch, after an initial reaction of shock and delight, they sang along.
And they waited for us after the concert.
As I left the balcony, a man yelled, “Brother Belt!” I looked over to see him as he waved with unrestrained exuberance and enthusiasm. I waved back. (And I thought, Do I know him?) As we approached each other, I realized from his accent that I must not know him (as I didn’t know any Dutch people on a last or first name basis). He introduced himself and his wife. I told him my name, and he said, “I know. I looked you up!” (As it turned out, he had found me through my blog and my book website.) We chatted for a few minutes, then took a couple pictures.
And then there were more. I met many wonderful people tonight. Many of them said, “Thank you for your testimony. Thank you for coming!”
And most touching of all, there were the Dutch saints who said, “Now we are not alone.” The saints here are under siege. They feel cut off. President Monson was right (of course). They have waited long enough. They need to know that they are not alone. I am so profoundly grateful that I could be a part of this.
In spite of my less-than-favorable first impression of Amsterdam, I learned that the Church is true everywhere (of course). I learned that there are wonderful, great, happy, devout people in the Netherlands. I am so very grateful that our final concert—and in so many ways, our best concert—was here. What a fantastic way to wrap up this wonderful tour.
But actually, it’s not quite over. Although we don’t have a concert there, tomorrow it’s on to Paris!
July 14th — Amsterdam—Paris — We traveled through Belgium and Brussels on our way to the City of Lights. When we arrived, we got to stand in line for a LONG time to board an elevator to get to our rooms. Then we hurried down to dinner.
And it was a great dinner—French cuisine, of course. We heard some remarkable stories from the Choir management and leadership about the lives we have touched. We learned, “Make it about the music, and everything else will work out.” In other words, we are here to perform a mission, and everything else is secondary.
It’s Bastille Day, and from our hotel room, we could just barely see a massive fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. Actually, the fireworks were mostly hidden behind a tall skyscraper, but the building itself was lit with moving streams of red, white, and blue lights. It was impressive.
Even though the French Revolution didn’t work out as well as the American Revolution (to put it mildly), they still prize liberty here. Liberty is still worth fighting and dying for. We just need to be grounded in faith and in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without Him, there can be no true liberty.
July 15th — Paris — We awoke to news of the terror attack in Nice. A monster murdered at least 84 people and injured scores more while shouting “Alahu Akbar”. Strangely, as of this writing, the media refuses to link him with Islam. And stranger still, in a country with extremely strict gun control, he managed to obtain a gun. Although, he didn’t need a gun to murder and maim most of his victims.
My son texted me. (That is the only way we are communicating with family back home.) He asked if we were alright, if we were near the terrorist attack. He said, “Please text me back, no matter the hour.” You see, we haven’t even been able to tell our families our exact itinerary.
This was the first we knew of the mass murder. I looked it up on internet news. We were horrified. We were saddened.
And I still had to get up and get dressed and go do my calling.
The Choir and Orchestra boarded busses and headed over for a photo shoot with the Eiffel tower in the background. The photo was intended as a recreation of a picture the Choir took the last time they were in Paris. Once that was accomplished, we were bussed over to the construction site of the Paris Temple. We assembled on the grounds of the unfinished temple and shot a video of the Choir singing, “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”
That was first time we have used a drone to film a video. While it was cool that we were using new technology, the sun was rising over the temple grounds… and shining directly into our eyes. Let’s just say that it was a challenge to overcome… “Everyone close your eyes, then open them on the count of three. One. Two. THREE!” And we all tried to keep from squinting as the drone came flying out of the sun like an armed attack helicopter on a strafing run.
Then it was back to the hotel to change, meet our guests, and head out for our only day of sightseeing in Paris, in spite of and in defiance of the monsters.
Paris is a beautiful, incredible, and ancient city. Cindy and I and another couple visited Notre Dame. (Cindy and I are going to see Disney’s “Hunchback” at Tuacahn!) Amazing place. Beautiful. Stunning.
Then it was off to the Eiffel Tower. Now, you have to understand that police and soldiers are everywhere here today. Paris is under its highest alert level. So we didn’t try to go up in the Tower, but we took a number of pictures.
Then we took a cruise along the Seine River around the center island in Paris. I THINK I got to see MacLeod’s barge from the Highlander TV series. This was a must-see for me. (Seriously. I’m not kidding.) Then we took a bus tour of the city. And I DEFINITELY saw Darius’ church from the Highlander TV series. Made the whole bus tour with the crappy audio worth it. (Seriously, 80% of the audio track was garbled.) I had real French onion soup… in FRANCE! It was good too. I also had a steak with real French béarnaise sauce. The sauce was good (but my sauce is better). Cindy ate a snail. I did not feel the need to show my stupi—I mean, bravery in such a fashion…
Well, we are at the end of the tour. Tomorrow we head home. (We have to get up at 4:30. <grumble-grumble>) But at least we get to fly home on Delta. Maybe I’ll get to see the end of the latest James Bond movie… I only had 10 minutes left!!!
Pray for France. Pray for the victims and their families. Pray for their leaders and ours—pray that they will call evil by its name and crush it. Pray for the police and the soldiers on the front lines. Pray that we as individuals, families, and nations turn back to Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can deliver us from these latter-day Gadianton Robbers.
July 16th — Paris—home — I’m not going to bore you with details of our travel home. There were glitches (delayed luggage, delayed flights, ponderously slow passport checks, hurrying to make our connecting flights, and a strange propensity to not put married couples in adjoining seats on long transcontinental flights), but we—or most of us—made it home—and the rest should make it home today. And we are very grateful to be here. So I’m not going to bore you with those details (except to say that, yes, I did indeed get to watch the final 10 minutes of James Bond, thank you very much!). I’m just going to leave you with a few parting thoughts.
Our European bus drivers are incredibly skilled. They were friendly, courteous, and all-around wonderful.
I love being in the Choir. These are good people, and the dedication they show in serving the Lord at great personal sacrifice is amazing. They are, to a man or woman, far more talented than I. I love serving with them, and I dread the day when I must retire and move on to other callings.
I love serving under the direction of Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy. These men are geniuses in their fields. They are humble servants of God. They love the Lord, and it shows.
I think that the Choir staff, especially Barry Anderson, are amazing! This tour was a monumental effort and it came off extremely well. You (and I) have no idea of the complexity and the challenges involved. I am grateful for their efforts.
I am amazed at and humbled by the saints in Europe. We met wonderful people who are courageous and dedicated in their love for the Lord. Without exception, the saints I met in Europe were generous, kind, loving people who truly embody the word “saint.”
I am grateful to those who kept the home fires burning (and the cats and parrot fed and the lawn mowed), most notably my son, Jacob, and my daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Austin Ayleworth. And a special thank you goes out to my wonderful neighbor, Julian Riley, who repaired a broken sprinkler head while we were away.
I am grateful and humbled to have participated in this tour. I bring home memories and experiences I will cherish all the rest of my life.
I am grateful to be home (even if I did have to mow the lawn as soon as I got back). I love this country and the embodiment of freedom she represents. She is not perfect. She has her flaws. But she represents a truth that will not be eradicated by the Gadianton Robbers, whether they be of radical Islam or the political parties. And we will be free so long as there is a band of faithful Christians to protect that truth: that man has the right and obligation to govern himself, and that no king or queen or political party or alliance or judicial tyrant can take that right from us, so long as we serve the God of this land, even Jesus Christ.
I love my Cindy. We have been together 24-7 (except for rehearsals and performances) for almost three weeks, and there is no-one else I would rather spend three weeks with in Europe. Cindy is my fairytale princess and the queen of my heart. “I wish I was an apple a-hangin’ on a tree…”
I love my Heavenly Father and my Savior. “O, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”
And lastly, if you read all the way to the end of this boring travelogue, go read a book or something. In fact, I can recommend some…