Tuesday, March 13, 2007

EUROPE: Day 1 (Well on my way...a.k.a. Getting there)

I just got back from one of the most amazing trips I've ever been on in my life and I wanted to share each day with you while we were there. Unfortunately, I never had internet access after the second day. Fortunately, I was able to write about each day and save it on my computer until I got back. So, that's what you are about to read (should you accept the mission). Hope you can get something good out of the different posts. I tried to be as descriptive as I could without giving away too much. There is an underlying theme to all of the blogs. Let's see if you can find it!

And away we go!
I'm going to try to do something I've never done with my blogging. I'm going to attempt to write a new blog entry for every day of this 10-day mini-tour. I hope it's as entertaining for you to read as it is for us to experience.

It's been a wild ride so far, and getting here has been the bulk of the excitement. We met at the Nashville airport at 11:00 Saturday morning for a 1:25 PM American Airlines flight to Chicago (to be followed by a 3.5 hour layover and then a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany). I always say "It's not a trip unless something bizarre happens." Well, it was a trip from the time we got to the airport because our flight to Chicago was cancelled because of bad weather. We were re-routed to New York City, however, on a flight that would leave Nashville at 3:55 PM, putting us into LaGuardia at 7:05 Eastern. We would then need to get transportation from LaGuardia to JFK, check into Singapore Airlines and fly to Frankfurt. The fun part was that we would leave JFK at 9:05, a two-hour window to land, get our bags and equipment, get to JFK, check in (to an international flight, mind you) and be ready to go... Yeah... No sweat.

Before we left Nashville, a couple of us started calling around and trying to find transportation so we could just meet them at baggage claim and go. We had big plans. It was gonna work. So we get on the plane and we sit and wait for the pilot to push back so we can get there. Things start looking ugly (wouldn't ya know it). One of the gauges on the plane is not working properly, but come to find out, there's no problem. No problem at all, except that it has to be signed off by a licensed mechanic. He's not on the premesis yet. And so we wait.

Fast forward to 4:45. We're finally taking off. Yay! Now all we have to do is get to our connecting airport, checked in, through security, and on the plane in an hour and twenty minutes. Oh goodie! (What do you think we were doing in the meantime?) Hello, Doubt. Our lovely flight attendants had very little faith that we would make that flight (and we were starting to believe them), but they hooked us up a little bit. As we were exiting the plane, one of the flight attendants gave us 3 vouchers (and made some well-timed phone calls) to get us 3 Lincoln Town Cars to take us to JFK. We got packed into the cars (barely) and sped off. (I love New York. You can drive like you are in the middle of the Indy 500 and, if you look important enough, not even get pulled over.) So we get to JFK at 8:20. Forty-five minutes before take-off on a six-hour international flight. We hustle up to the counter and, wouldn't ya know it, the line is empty! By the way, I forgot to mention earlier that I had been praying for a mighty work to happen so we could make this flight. He'd done it before, He could do it again, if He wanted to. So we check in (and for the second time that day, didn't get charged for our equipment being over weight) and literally run through JFK to get to a long security line. We can see our gate from the security line, it's not far away, still we can't get to it. This can't be happening! From the moment we stepped foot into the airport, they were calling for people to board the plane to Frankfurt. By the time we hit security, it was last call. Nerves were overreacting, tensions were rising, complaints were flying. It was so scary. We finally get through security and high-tail it toward the gate.

Remember how I prayed for a mighty work? And remember how God answers prayers (even those from we who doubt)? Well, He did it again! I was the last person on the plane and we arrived in Frankfurt just before 10:00 AM local time.

It reminds me of Romans 8:28 where it says "God works for the good of those who love him." It's so good to be loved and cared for by a God who is madly in love with us, regardless of how we feel about Him. So I'll end this by saying that God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. Pray for us!

Peace, Love and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 2 (Frankfurt, Germany)

So we got to Frankfurt and found our way to our hotel which isn't very far from the airport. We took a train to the proper exit and got to the hotel (across the street from the train station) to check in. We slept for a few hours and then went out to explore Frankfurt...on foot. We ate and fellowshiped and enjoyed the scenery. It was great. That's all for now. I'm being rushed off of the hotel internet. More tomorrow! Pray today!

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 3 (Florence, Italy)

So we got to the airport when we needed to, but once again, complications slowed us down. Thanks to the weight charge difference, we ended up having to deal with a difficult situation that I can't really talk about right now. Long story short, we ended up getting on our plane...barely...but we weren't the last people on. After running through a fairly crowded Frankfurt airport and cutting in front of some nice German people, we got through a slow security station and ran to the bus that was waiting for us. Problem was that there was no driver. I guess that's a good thing because another group or two of people got on the bus after we did. The bus took us to a pretty small plane, along with several other people, including a basketball team.

We got to Florence where we met our first promoter, Robbie Shakelford (head of the HUF program) and went to the Harding University, Florence (HUF) villa. We spent some time meeting people associated with HUF and then we went to our housing site which was the Florence Bible School located a few minutes from the HUF villa. After we got our stuff put away, Robbie took us to the Piazzale Michelangelo which overlooks Florence. What a breath-taking view! We could see the majority of the city from there. We got to visit a nearby church and listen to the monks do vespers (Gregorian Chant - very soothing, especially when you haven't slept much in the previous couple of days). We capped that portion of the day with some wonderfully tasty gellato (YUM!).

Next, we returned to the school so we could clean up and change for our first European performance. We went back to the HUF villa and sang for the 40 college students and probably 25-30 other local folk (and a couple of American parents). We sang off mics and it was a super-fun 45 minute concert. We had a great time hanging out with the Harding students and eating and fellowshipping with them.

We finally got to go to bed and sleep for a full 6 hours or so (wish it could've been longer, but that's the life of musicianaries).

Keep the prayers going up!

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 4 (more Florence)

Today I felt more surreal than I have felt in a very long time. It started as a normal day. We woke up early and went to an elementary school to sing for some of the students there. After that, we met up with Tracey Patterson, our outstanding tour guide who is an assistant to Robbie (HUF director) and a great southern girl. Some of you may even know her. A few years ago, she attended regularly the Crossbridge Church where Gary Brantley (Allen's dad) is the preacher. Anyway, she took us to the Accademia museum where we saw several important pieces of art including one of the most famous sculptures ever created -- David. It was everything I imagined and so much more. I can't really describe what it felt like to be in the presence of such greatness in the field of art and history that is known world wide and has been known for centuries. It was truly amazing.

After that, we had lunch at a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant and it was some of the best food I've had in a long time. Then we went to the Uffizzi museum and saw lots of important and beautiful art. That was another great experience that can't be described. We had lots of fun there and took pictures where we could. I hope to share some of them soon.

We left the downtown area and went to the Florence Church of Christ to set up for the concert. It was a fun concert in an intimate setting. The inside of the church building was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome and it was a beautiful building. The acoustics were crazy! Several of the HUF students who were at last night's concert were present at tonight's concert too. They loved it and we love them for that.

After the concert, we ate and fellowshipped together. As we ate, I met a few Texans. Some were HUF students but there was a couple who had 3 small children and the wife grew up in (of all places) Gruver, TX. Gruver is a tiny town of about 1000 people (if that many) in the Panhandle of Texas about 100 miles north of Amarillo. She knows people I worshipped with in Canyon before I joined Acappella and moved away. I'm pretty sure her maiden name is Lanita Burnham but don't ask me what her married name is because I can't remember whatsoever.

We had a great day. Tomorrow, Rome! You've got to pray just to make it today!

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 5 (Rome, Italy)

We woke up early this morning because we had to be at our bus stop before 7:00 this morning. For those of you who don't know me, I have a confession to make. I am one of the grumpiest people on the face of the planet in the mornings, especially when I haven't had much sleep, and even moreso when I am woken up before I want to get up. Needless to say, it was a very long morning. We had to catch the bus, though, so we could get on our train to Rome. It was a very nice train filled with working stiffs as well as high-class business folk. Tracey, Jordan and I went to the bar car and got cappuccinos. I woke up a little bit and became less of a grouch. Now we could start our day.

We got to Rome and caught taxis to our hotel, the Hotel Tiziano. It was super-nice. After we got checked in, we went to the Vatican City. That's an amazing place. We got to walk through the "city" and see all the sights that led us to the Sistine Chapel. It's true. Michelangelo was an unbelievable artist. Words can't really express what it was like to be there and see the painted ceiling first-hand. It was unreal. We kept walking and finally got to St. Peter's Basicilica. What a work of art. The largest church building in the world and we were standing right in the middle of it. It's amazing to see the result of what man can imagine and create, but it's even more amazing to see what God can create, which is so much more than we could ever imagine.

After spending some time there, we went to this cool little "Disney-esque" tourist attraction called "The Time Elevator" which gives a brief history of the foundation of Rome. If you've ever been on a Universal Studios ride or anything similar, you know what I'm talking about. Big movie theater screen with moving chairs that gives you that nice queasy feeling when you get up. Cheesy, yet surprisingly satisfying.

Then we went back to the hotel, grabbed our stuff and took taxis to our concert site which was a school with a small auditorium. Once we got situated and set up, I had the biggest surprise of my trip. My dear friend, Silvia Manfredi, came to see me! She's a clarinet player who lives in Genoa, Italy and was in Rome for an audition to play in the army band. Unfortunately, it didn't work out this time, but pray for her so her next audition will be much more fruitful. Anyway, I was so excited to see her and spend the rest of the evening with her after the concert. We had a great concert and the small room was packed with Roman people and their neighbors. After eating with the local church members (from the Church of Christ in Rome...how cool is that?), Silvia and I caught a bus back to the stop nearest to the hotel so we could spend time catching up after nearly two years of not as much as hearing from each other. We got there just in time for her to catch a taxi to the train station for a 6 hour ride home (which left at midnight) so she could get to work the next morning.

After Silvia and I parted ways, Tracey took the guys and me to see another historic Roman sight. The Pantheon. It's absolutely gorgeous at night. So majestic. So regal. So we left there and went to the Fountain Trevy which was even more beautiful. Tracey says it's her favorite place in Rome, especially at night. Quite the spot for romance. If you're ever in Rome with the one you love, go to the Fountain Trevy at night. You'll never lose that special someone that way (unless you do something to mess it all up, which is a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother time).
We left the fountain and walked back to the hotel. It wasn't a long walk and it was a beautiful night so we took our time. Now it's off to bed late for an early morning.

We are seeing more sights in the morning before going to the airport to head back to Frankfurt. Pray, pray, pray!

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 6 (more Rome, more traveling)

I have hereby decided that Rome is the most amazing city on the face of the planet (at least that I have seen, anyway). This morning we woke up and had a nice breakfast in our hotel. After breakfast, Tracey took us walking to a nearby park where it is believed that Brutus and his friends betrayed and killed Ceasar. The ruins were covered up ages ago and were rediscovered some time around the 1920's. We left there and went in search of true Roman history. On the way, Tracey took us to some great places including the museum dedicated to Marcus Arellius. We didn't go into the museum because just behind it was The Forum. We went down some stairs and were standing in The Forum where the Roman Senate did all their business and where Ceasar ruled the world. Next to The Forum was a small prison where it is believed that Paul and Peter were incarcerated. We got to go inside and look around for a moment. It was really interesting to think that some of the original Christians, some of the men we pattern our love for Christ after, some of the men who physically walked with God stood in the same place I stood today.

We walked through The Forum, taking lots of pictures as we went, and there it was. The thing we'd been waiting to see for this entire trip. The structure of structures. One of the most amazing man-made wonders of all time.


It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen with my own eyes. I touched it with my hands. It's very real. Yes, we took plenty of pics there too. It was extremely surreal. Imagine it being built by men way before things like cranes and trucks and electricity were ever even thought of. It was truly the greatest work of man-made art I have ever seen.
Once we were able to peel ourselves away from there (and after I almost got hustled by some guys dressed in Roman soldier costumes), we headed back to the hotel so we could get to the airport and catch a plane back to Frankfurt. We said our goodbyes to Tracey and got in our taxis. Let me take a moment to say that Tracey Patterson is a blast and a half and her fiance is one fortunate man. She did a great job of showing us around Rome and Florence, as well as interpreting for us and really doing whatever she could to make us feel comfortable and well-taken care of.

So we got to the airport and got checked in with no problems whatsoever (for the first time this entire trip) and had about half an hour to sit and eat before boarding the plane. We flew Lufthansa Airlines back to Frankfurt where our new promoter, Phillipe and his son Jonathan met us with a large van. We drove for about an hour into Heidlberg where we stopped and found an authentic restaurant to enjoy a hearty meal. We were about an hour-long drive away from Seebach, France so we headed that way so we could get to our hotel and sleep.

At this point we have gone almost the entire day with no problems traveling whatsoever. That changed quickly. We got to the German - French border which is about 300 meters (approx. 5 miles) from Seebach. The border was closed. That's right. They closed France! Figure that one out. We had arrived just a few minutes too late to cross the border there, so we ended up driving 30 miles down the river which took us nearly another hour to find another border crossing and then we had to find our way to the hotel. We finally found it and now I'm going to go to bed.

It's been an amazing journey so far. I can't wait to see what happens the rest of the trip! Keep praying!!!

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 7 (Seebach, France)

We've spent so much time in big cities that I almost forgot what it was like to be in a small town. Seebach is a very small village just west of the German border. Actually, the town is surrounded by Germany on 3 sides. It's a quaint little French village, though. Phillipe was nice enough to let us sleep in for the first time in a few days and it felt glorious! When it was time for us to leave, we found out that European eating schedules are precisely what they sound like, schedules. In Italy, food was programmed into the schedule and we ate when we were supposed to. We quickly found out that there are only small windows in which you can eat. There's breakfast, of course, and lunch. After about 1:30 or so, you can't eat at a restaurant or get food at a supermarket until around 6:30 PM. They stop serving food after 9:00 or so. After that, you're out of luck, and especially in a small village like Seebach. I said all that to say nothing was open except McDonald's at the time we went to eat. Guess where we ate. Yes, I got pics there, too. ("Ya know what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in Paris? A royale with cheese." Name that movie.)

After Mickey D's, we went to the concert hall to set up our sound equipment. Come to find out, we didn't have the right power conversion system for that venue, so we used what they had. It's interesting to see us doing a concert with wired mics instead of our normal wirless ones. Such is life. We ended up doing a great concert with a pretty full house (I was told around 580 French and German people). They even asked us to do two separate encores!

Between set-up time and sound check, we met up with a professional tour guide named Don. Don is originally from Canada, just north of Toronto, but now resides in France and doesn't speak English very often. He and Phillipe took us to an old World War II bunker that the French people in that area defended their border from. It's amazing to think of that area 60-70 years ago as a war zone, but that's the way it was. Beautiful country. Lots of farm land for cattle raising. We spent the rest of the day with Don, even after the concert for a short while. He was a complet joy to work with and we are so priveledged to have met him. He is a choral conductor and a professor of music. His 280 member choir sings all kinds of music but he places his emphasis on gospel and liturgical type music. It's his ministry and we pray that God will bless it to its full capacity and then some.

Okay. Bed time. We have a 6 hour drive ahead of us in the morning and have to get up early. I need my beauty rest. Did you think to pray today?

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 8 (Montreux, Switzerland)

My trip has been officially completed today. I mean, we've been to Florence, sang for people of all ages there, seen priceless art there and in Rome, Saw the foundation of what was once the most powerful city in the world. I even got to see my dear friend whom I haven't seen in ages.Well, today was the capper for me. We drove into Montreux today and I learned that things in Europe are much different than in the States. For example, I went to get a refill on my drink and learned that it cost about three bucks American for about 8 ounces of Coke. That's insane!

That's not what made my trip complete, though. You see, Montreux is known for this little event called the Montreux Jazz Festival. The festival is held in a few different venues, one of which is Stravinski Hall . Some of the world's most innovative and timeless music legends have played that stage. Names like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, and now Acappella. That's right. We played Stravinski Hall, home of the Montreux Jazz Festival!!! We performed on the same stage as Herbie Hancock and Tower of Power (one of my favorite bands of all time) and I know this because we signed a giant book afterward that was started last year and we found Herbie and T.O.P. back-to-back in the same book. My hand has written in the same book as Herbie Hancock?! Are you kidding me?!

I don't remember much about the concert except that it was packed on the ground floor with close to 1000 people who called us back for two encores and wanted more. Too bad we ran out of songs. There were people from all over at the concert. We even had guests all the way from Spain who flew in just to see our concert! What an amazing experience. God is way too good to me. I'll never fully understand why.

Tomorrow, the final concert of our tour, Zurich. Oh yeah, Phillipe told us that the Winterthur concert got moved to Zurich, so that's that. Pray today, tomorrow, and always.

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 9 (Zurich, Switzerland)

Last night was not nearly as short of a night as we've been dealing with as of late, and that made us all very happy. We didn't leave the Hotel Villa Tuscane until 10:00 this morning. Phillipe took us to the church where he and his family worship (I never really found out the name of it. I mean I saw it once, but I didn't write it down or anything and I don't remember the real name of it, so I'm not gonna try to share the name because it's French and I forgot...that was a really long run-on sentence) and we sang a few worship songs during their communion time. It was very special singing in a church building that was built about 250 years ago. We were privileged to share the Lord's Supper with the people of Vevey (just outside of Montreux) and then we shared lunch with the Meyer family at their home. I can't describe the beauty that surrounded us while we were at their home. They live in the mountains and to step onto the front porch means that you will witness the power, majesty, beauty, creativity of the God who gave us life and, in spite of ourselves, gives us mercy and grace. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

After lunch, we drove to Zurich which took just over 2 hours. Though Bern is the capitol of Switzerland (and we drove through Bern), Zurich is the financial hub. As a matter of fact, we drove down one of the wealthiest streets in all of Europe while in Zurich. Our concert was held in one of Zurich's most famous landmarks, the Grossemunster Cathedral. I really had no idea about the Grossemunster but it's in most of the pictures and postcards of Zurich (it's the church with the two steeples). Many a tourist visited the church building as we were setting up and checking sound and I think that drew more of a crowd for us in the long run.

After sound check, we walked to our hotel, The Hotel Alder, which was a five minute walk...through the red-light district! It was a little scary, and a lot exciting to know that the gospel would be shared in (or at least very near) the red-light district of a financial powerhouse of a European city. So we took a few minutes to clean up and change, then we walked back and prepared for our concert. The place was packed! All of the seats on the main floor were occupied and there were several people in the balcony. All in all, there were around 750 in attendance and it was just a special night. During intermission, Phillipe asked us to add some of the worship songs we had sung this morning for the second half of the concert, so we went to the middle of the room in the midst of the people and sang two of our favorite worship songs, "Covenant of Love" and "Worthy is the Lamb." That was my favorite part of the concert. Although most of the people didn't sing along, I felt like we were fortunate enough to lead God's people in true worship. The feeling was amazing.

As before, we were invited to sing two different encores and I think the crowd was just as encouraged as we were when all was said and done. This was a great way to end this tour. It was also the end of Ryan Smith's time on the road with us as sound man. He's been on the road with us for several months now, but is going to work full-time in the Acappella studio and continue to be a part of this ministry. Though we will miss him on the road, we look forward to adding Byron Sommerdahl and Corey Callis to our "road family."

We fly home in the morning. I'm excited to be back, but I will miss all the friends I've made here (or the ones I've caught up with) and the beautiful places that define Europe. What an amazing experience this trip has been! Pray for our safe travel back to the states and that God will do a mighty work in Europe and bring more souls to him.

Peace, Love, and Chocolate

EUROPE: Day 10 (On my way, on my way, on my way home...)

The last early morning for us for a few days and it feels nice! It's been an incredibly long day, though. We had to be ready to go at 7:00 this morning, Swiss time (1:00 AM in Texas) so we could get to the airport and get checked in on time. We made it with no problems and plenty of time to do some last minute shopping. Phillipe got us there and took good care of us, making sure we were all situated before he left. We will miss him terribly, but we look forward to the time when we get to see him again. Keep him and his family in your prayers. He's a great man of God.

The flight from Zurich to Dallas is way long! After spending about eleven hours on the plane, we landed in Dallas at about 4:15 this afternoon. We went through customs, claimed our bags, rechecked our bags, and had over 2 hours to wait before getting on our plane to Nashville. We landed in Nashville at about 9:40 tonight which, after doing the math (and if you know me, you know how I feel about math), meant that we spent over 18 hours getting from our hotel to our own beds...Jordan calls it a "thirty-hour day."

What a day! What a trip! What an experience! I doubt I will ever forget the way this trip has changed my life. I will try to share that later (after I've had a chance to rest and reflect) but it's bed time now. I hope you've enjoyed this trip as much as I have. Just because we're back doesn't mean you can stop praying, though. Pray without ceasing!

Peace, Love, and Chocolate