2013 Gratitude Project – Travel: First International AdventureThis month will be a celebration of travel. I am so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had over my nearly thirty years to explore the world. Click here to read about my 2013 November Gratitude Project – Travel
Other than a quick trip across the border to Nuevo Laredo, my first international experience was in 1998 when I traveled with The Texas Boys Choir to the International Boys Choir Festival in Riga, Latvia. It was amazing. It’s just so much for me to tell you, so I’ll share just a few memorable experiences and share a few pages from my scrapbook of photos.
On the travel over to Latvia, we had a long layover in London during which we took the Tube to the Tower of London. I don’t remember much of the tour, but I remember the ravens wandering around the pit and riding the moving sidewalk passed the crown jewels. I also found it ironic that there were ravens in cages since the legend is all about if the ravens leave then the empire will fall. However, if they’re in cages they can’t really leave.
When we finally arrived in Latvia, it was a completely different world. We stayed in the nicest, poshest hotel of the time in Riga. This hotel was still a remnant of Soviet times, and the water was brown out of the shower head. I’m sure there are more modern accommodations now available.
The main performances of the festival were at the Riga Dom Cathedral, home of the Riga Dom Boys Choir. This was across the city from our hotel. We walked to a fro regularly. Along our path was a statue, a national monument that was greatly revered. I forget what the monument represented, but remember that the elaborate flower arrangement on the ground in front of the monument changed each day.
We also walked through the market on these trips. This was probably my first real experience in a place with bargaining. If you read my posts about Chinese markets, you would know that I enjoy the bargaining game. In Riga, vendors would approach us and tell us how much things were. One thing I learned about this type of negotiating is to not show your cards. This means don’t pull your money out until you have a deal. If they see more than you want to pay, they will insist on more and not go lower.
Whenever we gave a performance the house or church was full; there were people standing in the aisles filling the place. What someone has to realize about the time we were there is that this was less than ten years after Berlin Wall came down. So, for many places that were once Soviet, Americans were the greatest thing. They loved us.
At the end of each performance they would clap in the Soviet way, in unison, demanding encore after encore. At our two performances in other Latvian cities, we did about ten encores. The girls would mob us and give us flowers. They welcomed our bus wherever we went. Since I was a soloist, audience members would come forward during the applause and give me flowers and gifts. It really was a surreal experience. If I had to guess, it would be completely different today – 15 years later.
After Latvia, we stopped in London again, but this time for a little longer. We had a performance there, which gave an extreme contrast to our shows in Latvia. There was very little applause. And, when we came to the American songs portion of the program there wasn’t any excitement like there was in Latvia.
I am so grateful for these amazing experiences. They opened my eyes to diverse cultures and that’s when I truly fell in love with travel. Before coming home, I spent time in London and The Netherlands with family. I’ll share a bit about those adventures tomorrow.