On the next day of travel, we ended up driving through four countries: we had lunch in Germany, a snack in Switzerland, a snack in France, and then dinner in Italy. When we stopped in Switzerland to eat some cheese, we happened to be next to a huge lake in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Naturally, we had to hike down the side of the mountain to get to the lake (the whole thing was very reminiscent of the famous shot from “The Sound of Music,” when Julie Andrews is singing in the middle of tall fields of grass in the mountains).
Alicia and I took a break to have fun on the see-saw in the middle of the Swiss Alps.The rest of the drive through Switzerland was really exciting for me, because I recognized quite a bit of Geneva from when I visited Switzerland back in 2003 with the Arizona Ambassador Choir. If you ever get an opportunity to visit Switzerland, go, because the Swiss Alps are among the most beautiful mountains I’ve ever seen. The most exciting part of the drive, however, was when we had to drive up through the mountains to cross over to the French side of the Alps. Not only was the drive awesome (and scary), but it provided us with a beautiful view of the Swiss countryside.
We arrived at Chamonix that evening, and then proceeded to drive through a 30 km tunnel through the mountains to get to Courmayeur, Italy, where our hotel was located. By this time, the sun was completely down, so we had no idea how beautiful the mountains were until the next morning when we woke up. The following are some pictures of Courmayeur.
That night, the clan invited us to join them for a bonfire in the forest back in Courmayeur. We weren’t really sure what to expect, other than incredibly cold weather and food. When we arrived, we first learned a traditional Celtic tune by ear from a bagpiper, with whom we would later collaborate the next day. The clan showered us with drinks, delicious food, homemade nutella, and some amazing pork, which had previously existed as an entire pig roasting on a spit. After consuming huge portions of delicious food, we sat around a fire with the clan and jammed out with a harp player, a whistle player, and a few drummers (including one who was playing the boran, a traditional Celtic drum). After enjoying food, company, and live music, we participated in the bonfire portion of the evening. A few of us, along with many of the clan, were given torches with which we marched through the woods to the beat of drums and a bagpipe. Once we arrived at the bonfire site, we all gathered around the skeleton of branches that would soon become the bonfire. The clan leaders read traditional Celtic texts and put their torches at the base of the braches to light the fire. Then, one by one, everyone who had a torch was invited to put his or hertorch into the bonfire if he or she felt moved to do so. The bagpiper and drummers jammed out the whole time, and once everyone had thrown their torches into the bonfire, we were led in a Celtic dance around the bonfire.
Looking out of the hotel window. That night, we performed in the Celtica festival, which was located back in Chamonix. Celtica was run by a Celtic clan based out of the Aosta Valley (the region in which Courmayeur is located). From what I understand, the members of the clan are legally citizens of Italy, but they don’t necessarily consider themselves "Italian." The show that night marked the beginning of what would be an incredible set of days with this clan. That night in Chamonix, we were set to perform on a stage in the town square at 10 p.m. As the night waned on, however, a storm started to set in and the rain showed no signs of letting up. Because we had a covered stage, we still had to perform. Much to our surprise, there was still a crowd left by the time 10 p.m. rolled around. Even with the weather, the teens from the clan (some of whom were barefoot and and none of whom had umbrellas) danced in front of the stage for much of the show, soaking their tartans in the rain and puddles! It was quite an incredible experience from our end, seeing an audience dedicated to having fun under less-than-desirable circumstances (i.e. rain). [Thanks to Matt for all of the pictures taken during the show!]The next day we traveled to St. Pierre, Italy, which was about 30 minutes away from Courmayeur by car. We were still in the Aosta Valley, but this time had new incredible sights outside our agro-tourism hotel up in the mountains:
Alicia and me with our torches.
Sarah throws her torch into the bonfire.
Shortly after fully lighting the bonfire, we had to head back to St. Pierre, though the bonfire party reportedly continued until about 4 a.m. Needless to say, partaking in the evening’s festivities was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever had the opportunity to do. However, the awesomeness of that night was soon to be outdone by the awesomeness of the next night. We had one more show to play back in Courmayeur (still part of the same festival), but this time it was in a tiny, intimate outdoor theatre in the center of town. In the afternoon, we did a small 20 minute show as a teaser for our show later that night at 10:30. The teaser must have worked well--not only was every seat filled, but a huge group of the clan members had shown up and they were all standing to the left side of the stage. Whenever anyone would have a solo, the Celtic teens would scream for us to go over to their side of the stage, where it seemed as though a mosh pit was only seconds away from breaking out. After an exhilarating show, we got the opportunity to participate in what was, for me, perhaps the most unique experience I’ve ever had in music. The tune we had learned from the bagpiper the night before was a tune the clan sings whenever the entire clan is together. As I was told by a clan member, usually upwards of 200 musicians will cram onto a stage to perform the tune in what is essentially a huge jam session. Along with 6 or 7 drummers, a killer harp player, a bagpiper, and two other violinists who had performed earlier in the evening, we jammed on stage to this one tune for about 15-20 minutes (and the tune itself is probably only 45 seconds long), with different sets of musicians taking turns each time we repeated the tune. Meanwhile, the entire clan (and some non-clan audience members) were swaying and singing along. This sounds really corny and cliché, but people say that “music is an international language”—for me, jamming and singing with the Celts made that statement unbelievably true.
|Thanks again to Matt for this picture!|
|After the show with Federico, Claudio, and Stefano (some of the Celtic teens).|
|With Alicia, our interpreter while we were in Italy.|
The next morning marked the beginning of five days off in Italy, which I spent with Matt, Alicia, Tim, Kristina and Jason, backpacking around Florence, Rome, and Venice, staying in hostels and traveling by train.
When in Rome (and Florence and Venice)…
When in Rome (and Florence and Venice)…
|Standing on top of Il Duomo, in Florence.|
|The sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence.|
|In front of the Colosseum in Rome.|
|Inside the Colosseum, ready to take on the gladiators.|
|The Palatine (a hub of Ancient Roman life).|
|A view of the Papal Gardens from inside the Vatican Walls.|