Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Singing in Freiburg, Germany

We sing in two choirs, Royston Priory Singers, which performs entirely in the UK, and Choir18 which does half a dozen gigs in the UK each year, as well as a continental trip over the May bank holiday weekend.  Last year I posted about our trip to Pisa, and this year we went to Freiburg im Breisgau.  Jenny was fortunate in that unusually, the Cambridge exams started after the bank holiday weekend, whereas normally they start before, so she generally can't come on these continental excursions.

The trip worked out perfectly, but I did screw up badly when I booked our flights, and we ended up paying through the nose for it.

First, I had a hangover when I booked the flights, and I'd already left it too late, so there were no seats available on the flight I wanted from London City airport to Basel, which is the nearest airport to Freiburg.  I must remember not to do stuff like this when I have a hangover!

I would normally go straight to the EasyJet website, but somehow ended up buying EasyJet flights from an outfit called CheapoAir.  I mean, for goodness sake, with a name like that I should have heard the alarm bells ringing!

The only flight I could find for last Friday was from Gatwick at 08:10, so that meant we had to stay overnight near the airport.  For simplicity, I booked a room in the Sofitel, Gatwick, which is right by the North Terminal and 2 minutes walk to Check-In.  Pricey, but convenient and good.

Then the only return flight yesterday seemed to be at 9pm, but after I'd booked the seats, Jenny said she needed to be home much earlier than that as she is Senior Examiner for some bits of the Cambridge exams this year, and had to be on-site by 9am this morning.  Getting back late from Gatwick was not on.

We went to EasyJet this time and found a 3pm flight, so booked that as well. You can't get your money back, of course, so we just had to sacrifice the price of the 9pm seats.

As well as all that, the CheapoAir website had not allowed me to add hold luggage or passenger details, but the flight reference they gave me was invalid on the EasyJet site, so I had to do all that stuff by phone.  It all worked, but it was a pain.  Even the online check-in didn't work until I phoned EasyJet, when the customer services person at the other end somehow enabled it.  Still, I ended up with printed out boarding passes for all six passenger trips, so that was OK.

So just to give myself something to worry about, I then phoned EasyJet and explained what I'd done, and asked them to cancel the 9pm booking as we'd be coming home at 3pm.  I figured it that would let them sell those two seats if they wanted to, and they were no use to me.  That meant I could worry about them cancelling all flights, or at least the wrong one.

There were 10 of us all arriving within an hour or so of each other at Basel, so the tour organiser laid on a coach to collect us and take us to the hotel, in a village near Freiburg.  Bizarrely, although Basel is in Switzerland, the airport is in France, so there are exits to two different countries from the terminal and you have to make sure you go out the right one.  Fortunately we were forewarned, so got it right first time!  I had also taken the trouble to check the weather forecast, so we'd packed our thermals.  It was colder than the UK!

On Saturday morning we were coached to Freiburg Minster for midday.  They have a short meditation, some sort of reading from the bible, I suppose, though as it was all in German, I have little idea what it was actually about.  Either side of the talking, we got to sing for a few minutes.  The acoustics were great and there must have been a couple of hundred people in there.  They seemed pretty appreciative, too, which was gratifying.

At four the coach collected us and took us to another village near Freiburg, where we hung about for a bit, then sang in the 6pm mass.  Unlike the French, who no longer seem keen on proper music in their masses, the Germans were well up for it, and gave us lots of slots.  We sang a lovely Victoria mass, a modern Ubi Caritas, Gabrielli Jubilate Deo, Stanford Beati Corum Via, Byrd O Lux Beata.  It was cracking, and they loved it, as did we!

After the mass, sung from a balcony at the back of the church, we went down to the front and sang a short concert of secular pieces, one of which I'd never actually seen before.  Sight reading in front of an audience is scary, I tell you!  Still, they liked the concert just as much as the mass, so we came away feeling suitably smug.

On Sunday we had a rather early start for the coach to take us to yet another village for a morning mass, this place being the monastery of St Trudpert in M√ľnstertal.  This place was enormous, also with a balcony at the back, from which we sang.  The organ loft was up there, too, and not only was it a pretty impressive piece of kit, but the organist was really good!  It was a pleasure to watch her play the Bach voluntary at the end of the service.  The music was the same as for Saturday's mass.
 The coach then took us to Lake Titisee, supposedly to do some sightseeing, but it was cold and rainy, and our immediate group only made it as far as a restaurant right next to the coach park, where we had lunch, which took until it was time to go home.  At the highest point of the trip it was actually snowing, and there was snow on the trees and buildings.

Back at the hotel we gave another concert, but sadly whoever was in charge of publicity had failed miserably.  The audience did just scrape into double figures, but most of those were our own groupies - spouses and children of choristers.  Still, it went well and we were pleased with our performance.

Yesterday, Jenny, our friend Pam and I, caught bus, tram and coach to the airport.  Bus to the tram terminus, tram to the coach terminus in Freiburg and coach to Basel.  We were well early, but disappointed to find no restaurant in the airport, just a snack bar.  The baguettes were good, but actually, we'd have liked a sit down meal.

It's only just over an hour's flight to Gatwick and then we were amazed to get out of the airport in less than half an hour. I was sure we'd have dire traffic on the M25, it being the end of the bank holiday weekend, but there was not a single hold-up - we just drove home in about an hour and a half.  Fantastic!  I suppose the fact that it's half-term week must have contributed to that.

So all in all, a brilliant weekend.  Home in loads of time, knackered but happy. 

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