Paris Invasion on Bastille Day

For bloggers following us, apologies for the delay, we have had some interesting  times trying to log on…. and stay logged on long enough to post anything but here is the next installment following the Windsor Concert.
Wednesday morning seemed to come along very quickly and with suit cases packed and black tour t-shirts re-donned we were off to France. Getting to Kings Cross/St Pancras station  and getting on the Eurostar was a breeze for all, except our beloved conductor who seemed to have had enough and tried to board the train for Brussels. After having to re-direct the director (again) the journey to Paris was very fast. At Gare du Nord in Paris, our first introduction to walking, (which became the theme for the city) came with our first trek to find the bus. It was pouring with rain and their were puddles (lakes) to be negotiated but eventually we found the bus. We set off for the hotel but, alas, the bus could not get close to it so we had to troop with suitcases, programmes, CD’s etc, down cobbled streets to find our hotel. The Hotel Les Provinces Opera was a lovely little hotel and welcomed us warmly. It had a broom cupboard for a lift (and there was only one broom cupboard) which could fit 4 people or people with suitcase to a maximum weight of 300kg’s. With a tour party of over 70, we had an option, wait forever or yet again, walk but this time, up sloping stairs to the 3rd to 5th floors. Thankfully the rooms were lovely and bathrooms larger than 4 lifts put together.
As we arrived on Bastille Day, those that had any energy walked around town, exploring Paris and being rewarded with a 35 minute fire-work display at 11pm better than I have ever seen in any part of the world. Others with less energy found a bar across the road called The Horizon with its generous host Stephan. No matter what you ordered, the bill seemed to be 7.50∈. The Horizon became very popular with the Kiwi group partly because of it’s proximity but also because it was deemed a safe bar after two of our senior choir members went to another bar and were bought beers by a friendly Parisian man. After an arm wrestle that ended up in a chest to chest clinch, they realised he was interested in more than just their company and ran to The Horizon for safety!
On Thursday, we all had to make our own way to Notre Dame which meant conquering the Metro (the easy part) and getting the tickets (the hard part). Once we had all mustered outside the monumental Notre Dame Cathedral, the men were escorted through a side gate while the WASP’s were allowed in the main entrance. The choir stalls, where the men were taken to, are not for public viewing so it was a real privilege to see the church from that angle. Robert settled the men and asked them to listen to the rumble from the Cathedral visitors as that would be what they had to sing over. One or two looked puzzled and asked ‘what rumble?’. It seemed to emanate from the ground and reverberate through the walls, making it a like a building that was alive.
Sylvie got her fingers on the small organ as it was nearer to the choir; however, it was behind the choir’s backs so she had to rely on watching Robert’s arms waving to keep in time. Thankfully she is an excellent accompanist and Robert is an expressive conductor. The choir’s sound was rich, warm and deeply resonant and moved through the Cathedral in waves. Many came to sit in the nave and appreciate the glory of the sound in the reverential setting. We fielded many questions and expressions of congratulations; there was even applause from the listeners which is a big no-no in the Cathedral but it was a spontaneous reaction to the moment. It was a wonderful performance, well appreciated in a magnificent setting. If I mention the stained glass windows, I’ll just go on and on so best just say – wow.
The next performance venue was La Madeleine near Place de La Concorde. It is a lesser profiled church dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, beautiful and impressive with even more beautiful stained glass windows reflecting rainbows of light and immense statues throughout the church. Here the men warmed up in the Sacristy,  not dissimilar to the broom cupboard lift at the hotel so it was very close and harmonious. The sound the choir made in La Madeleine during the performance was as rich and warm as Notre Dame but it seemed brighter and wowed a large audience. As in Notre Dame the men sang brackets of sacred songs in Maori, English and Latin. Here in La Madeleine, John Masters sang a beautiful version of Panis Angelicus accompanied by Sylvie on the organ and Keith Spragg who turns out to be a clarinet virtuoso along with his singing talents. Again, the audience was very appreciative (with more ‘no-no’ clapping) and the beauty of the sound matching the surroundings.
In all, Thursday was a very successful day with two concerts performed and everyone managing to navigate the metro, the ticket booths and the warren of tunnels connecting the platforms when we had to change. I mention this as the tunnels linking the platforms are very long with multiple sets of stairs so by the time you get to the place you need to be, you feel as though you have walked half way across Paris. Actually I think they make the tunnels long deliberately to offset the over indulgences in red wine, croissants and patisseries. Whatever the reason, Paris certainly was a ‘pedestrian’ experience and thoroughly enjoyable. Its a free day tomorrow so I’m blogging off until Saturday’s update when we travel to Salzburg – should be interesting if previous train experiences are anything to go by.
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