Day 9: Spectacular Day & Concert in Pushkin & Enchanting Night in the “Venice of the North”

Another beautiful day in sunny Saint Petersburg. We lucked out with the weather these past few days……blue skies and warm weather. Olga, our tour guide says that they have a saying here about the weather – they have 9 months of “expectation” and 3 months of “disappointment”…. 🙂 IMG_2475

Well, we certainly have been lucky and blessed with beautiful weather.

On our way to Catherine’s Palace we were stopped by the police. They checked our paperwork and looked at our seat map and called out Stella’s name. He wanted to check to make sure that we were all sitting in the right seats. It was a hassle, but the policeman was pretty nice about it. He asked us where we were from…..he said Michigan??? We said no – Utah and he had this blank look on his face. I don’t think he’s ever heard of Utah…..


Catherine’s Palace was beautiful. It’s a palace located almost an hour south of St. Petersburg. It was the summer residence of the Russian tsars. It was spectacular. It was an easy walking tour and it was nice because it wasn’t as crowded as the Hermitage. It was good to be able to see without having to dodge people.


For lunch everyone had a chance to go where they would like.  A group of us found this cute restaurant right near the palace. It had the best mushroom soup and Russian pancake with chicken and mushroom. Many students also had beef stroganoff and chicken cutlets. Yummy food.


I used a paid toilet for the first time here in Russia. It was an adventure trying to figure out how it all works. We had to get “tokens” and get swiped in with a key card. It was very interesting.

We had our concert today at 4pm at the Veterans Cultural Center. The building was built in the 1860’s and was and still is the cultural center. It is a noble assembly/gathering center to this day for veterans. It is a very historical center. Many people/veterans came to hear our concert. It was packed again. I heard that many of these veterans came by bus just to hear our concert.

They were so sweet and clapped and cheered like none other. My students played really well today. It was so good for them to be out and about today sightseeing, getting lunch, buying souvenirs and then turning around and playing a concert for over an hour. I was so proud of them. They adopted to a smaller stage and quickly adapted their balance and sound. The hall of course didn’t have the same acoustics as the Glinka Capella, but it was still good and everyone LOVED the concert. Today, I wished I had a camera on stage, just so I could take a picture of all these happy people enjoying the beautiful music. The seniors were tapping their feet, dancing, conducting etc…. When we played Tap Roots some of the audience members stood up so they could get a closer look at the “spoons”. They loved it!!! I spoke to several people after the concert. One woman in particular was very sweet. She spoke a bit of English and she said that she enjoyed the concert and was so happy to hear American and Russian music together in one concert. She said that it made her heart warm and that it gave her hope for the future. She was lovely. I’m so proud of how my students played today. They were awesome!


From the concert, we went to dinner – it was delicious. We had salad, borscht, a beef stew and ice cream. Don’t worry – for the vegetarians they always get separate meals so there is no worry.

Our final activity was the canal tour. It was excellent – now I know why Saint Petersburg is called the Venice of the North! I highly recommend this tour. It was a great way to end our stay here. It gave us a different perspective of the city from the water. We got back to the hotel around 10:30pm. Another 12 hour day… Your children will sleep so well when they get home!

We all love Saint Petersburg. We’re a little sad to leave this wonderful city.


Tomorrow we head to our final destination- Moscow!



Here again are some concert clips – Enjoy

Day 8: City Tour, Hermitage & The Ballet

We have all fallen in love with Saint Petersburg. What a fantastic city full of culture and history. We left the hotel at 10am and our bus promptly stalled on a major road. What was impressive was that a new bus was called and within 30 minutes not only did we have a new bus and driver, but we had all the necessary paperwork for Russia’s strict rules to transport children in their country. It was lucky that we had those papers as the police did a random check on our bus while we were eating lunch today. Only in Russia!


We saw many sites of the city such as St. Isaacs Cathedral. I wanted to go inside, but we unfortunately didn’t have time. We also saw where Tchaikovsky and Rasputin died and saw a memorial of Glinka and Rimsky Korsakov.


We had a little free time to shop and get some lunch. Many of us went to Cha Cha – a Georgian Restaurant. When James and I covered food for Russia he said that I absolutely needed to try Georgian food. He was correct – I had Badridzhani which is Eggplant stuffed with walnuts, Georgian spices and pomegranate and Lavash which is a thin Georgian bread. The food was delicious. Meagan, Matthew and Maddie were at the table next to us and when they got their bill – it came to exactly what I gave them – that has never happened before on any of my tours.


After lunch we went to The Hermitage. The buildings were spectacular. We saw works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michelangelo etc… The Hermitage was huge and had so many beautiful things to see. We walked a lot – it was all stunning.


We went to dinner close by and then headed to the ballet. We saw Don Quixote. It was perfect for the kids. The music was lively, the costumes were colorful and it was excellent. The brilliant performance kept them all awake and focused. Charlotte could really appreciate the hard work and excellence of the production. She was in heaven. All my students gave the performers a standing ovation. It was great for them to be in the audience – the loved every minutes of it.


The students had a 12 hour day today. We got back to the hotel after 10:30pm.


Another full day on tap tomorrow. We go to Pushkin – to Catherine’s Palace and then we have another concert at 4pm.


I truly don’t know how to describe the feelings that I have for this incredible day… I am truly overwhelmed with my emotions. It has been one of my goals to perform in the Glinka Capella in St. Petersburg and for it to come true was a dream come true. It is not only a beautiful concert hall, but it is filled with such history and culture from 1882. If only the walls could talk….


The hall was packed tonight – someone said that there were over 500 people in attendance. Our concert was advertised all over the city with posters and a native Russian heard our concert being advertised over the radio today. It was thrilling for me and my students to be able to perform before such an enthusiastic and full house. I heard that when they opened the doors people were running to get a seat, especially the cute old Russian ladies. When I came out to start the concert I was stunned to see a packed house. In between pieces I looked out into the audience and saw pure joy, love and many people crying happy tears. Some cute old ladies were even waving to me in between pieces.

James Browning, my Russian teacher, would be very pleased with me tonight. I spoke in Russian and people clapped and cheered for me.  It made me so happy and happy for James who has been working so hard with me. His hard work and patience really paid off. I really appreciated that I was able to say even a few phrases in Russian.


The music tonight was incredible. The students performed with heart and character. Their stamina was excellent as well. They rose to the occasion and really stepped up. Not only were they inspired by the music, the country and the venue, but I believe it’s also because Craig gave them a pep talk tonight before the concert. He told them to put their game faces on and to go out there, play hard and have fun. At the end of his speech on three they all shouted “Ravens”.  It doesn’t matter if it’s sports or music they are true Waterford “Ravens” and we should all be proud of them tonight!



I wish you could’ve all been there. For those who were there tonight I hope you will be able to tell the other parents how wonderful their children were tonight. It truly was glorious. We played our regular repertoire with the addition of Ford playing Arioso tonight. It was beautiful. The audience clapped in unison at the end, so we ended up playing 2 encores – we played Czardas and Tchaikovsky Elegie.

IMG_2112At the end of the concert I met several people who came to talk to me and had me sign their programs. It was really sweet. I was honored. 

During the morning and early afternoon we spent the day at Peterhof. The gardens and fountains were breathtaking. We split into two groups and had a walking tour. Peterhof covers over 250 acres so we did walk a lot today……not all the grounds of course. 🙂 I did eat traditional Russian food at lunch and I loved it.

The grounds were gorgeous. I wish I could write more about that, but I am very tired tonight. Hopefully we can add some pictures from the day and it can give you an idea of the beauty here.



Our concert tonight from start to finish was truly stunning. Russia has been our inspiration for a year and to be able to perform in this country is truly something I will never forget.

Tonight was a good reminder to me that music is a universal language. It crosses over and connects all borders and knows no political lines.


Here are some moments from the concert tonight – Enjoy!







Day 6: A long Days Journey to Russia

Zdrahst-vooy-tyeh! Hello – We made it into Russia!!!!

This morning we had breakfast at 5am. We left the hotel and made great time to the ferry. We had 10 private cabins reserved so it was a lot easier to store our luggage. It also allowed some kids to rest. We were first off the ferry and made it to the train station and onto the train with 4 minutes to spare with all of our luggage.

We ate lunch on the train – sandwiches, caesar salads, meatballs and mashed potatoes, salmon soup etc. Craig had 2 “sun buns” – his new favorite pastry….. I wonder if he can find it back home.


It was lovely and easy being on the train until the Russian border control. When we first got on I asked the Finnish customs to stamp my carnet. They said that I didn’t need it and so they didn’t stamp me out of Finland. When I got into Russia – I handed the carnet to the customs man – he was very unhappy that the Finnish hadn’t stamped my carnet. It’s amazing how the “left hand” doesn’t talk to the “right hand”.  It was a bit of a stressor since they took pictures of all the violins, viola and bows before we could get off the train, but in the end they stamped the carnet.

It was good that we had the carnet – they did a random check on Ulla’s viola and asked about her customs declaration for her viola. I was grateful that we had the carnet and that it covered all of our instruments. You never know…..

We met our guides Olga and Natasha as we finally exited the train and got right to sightseeing by going to the Church of the Holy Saviour (Church on the Spilled Blood.)

It was beautiful and spectacular. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it up close with my own eyes.


We are having internet problems here at the hotel so I’m not sure if this blog is going to make it out tonight so I’m going to stop here right now.

We have a big concert tomorrow night at the Glinka Capella



Japan Trip Days 0-3 Written By the Hers and They


-10 bijillion hours of traveling

-the toilets make noise: harsh waterfall with essence of bird and confusing buttons

-ferry to Miyajima- seeing the gate


-the magic of the bath


-waking up super early do to jet lag- Lily ate loud snacks and woke Amy up at like 4:00am


-hiking to see temples on the mountain

-we saw signs to beware of venomous snake signs, and then a lady warned Sakiko that she saw a snake on the path, so we freaked out just a tad

-SO MANY STAIRS, also Sakiko always has snacks


-shopping- we got food socks!

-we pet deer


-Japanese shaved ice

-traditional Japanese dinner


-Hiroshima- sad but interesting



-People our age kept saying hello to us in English because we definitely look like tourists

-lunch ramen, yum


-Iwakuni- Sakiko, Dreeg and Adah got momentarily lost, tripping on invisible stairs on the bridge,  went to a samurai village- an old guy talked to us (English) and said “very pretty ladies, very good”,  Sakiko and Adah played in water, we all threw rocks into a river- Waterhouse chucked rock across the entire width of the river,  got food at convenience store, ate manju and rice balls, witnessed cormorant fishing (talk to Amy about the side story of that experience), little kids were saying hello to us (English), sprinting for our lives to the ferry




Day 3

Himeji- second time on Bullet train (except Wade and Sakiko), rented bikes- Justin tried to jump with it (it didn’t work), Adah failed completely,  almost everyone almost hit someone (Adah succeeded), Went to Himeji Castle, went to lunch- Dreeg got tempura, and failed at eating it so badly that the waitresses had to tell them how to eat it correctly after laughing at them in the corner, went to different temples, one of them had a million more steep stairs, and at the top was a cool view, went to Daiso- Trevor got hair clips, and is rocking them, but he couldn’t  figure out how to put them on, so we had to help him


And now we’re in Kyoto!



Day 5: Encore, Encore – A Concert for the Ages!

Day 5:

Some of the kids had a bit of jetlag over the last couple of days, but with the extra rest between last night and this morning they are all feeling rested and on top of things today.


This morning we went to the Viking Village -similar to the castle yesterday. My students learned how to fight by handling weapons from the “viking era”. At the end of our “tour” we had a viking “fight” and everyone had to “fend” for themselves. Matthew was the winner, however Emma Sun was truly the champion with her awesome fencing skills. I love how no matter the age – we all like to “play” and are truly “kids” at heart.

The focus of today however was our concert and what an amazing concert it was.

Simply put, the students outdid themselves tonight. They played brilliantly with beautiful tone and a great deal of musicality. It was outstanding from start to finish. They even received two standing ovations and we played two encores!! They had great stamina tonight and I was extremely pleased and I know that they were as well.


We performed in the St. Nicholas’ Church (Niguliste Church) in the center of Tallinn. It was a packed house tonight!

This hall was very different from our last venue.

“Niguliste” used to be one of the wealthiest churches in Tallinn during the medieval times. Now the church is actually a museum and a concert hall. It has different acoustics and the sound bounces off the walls quite a bit. It’s exciting when we finish a big chord because it rings out for more than 4 seconds. My students were in awe when we started to rehearse and get a sense of their surroundings. When they played the opening of Vivaldi’s Summer (3rd mov’t) and their sound rang out all my students stopped playing and just reveled in the “ring” of their sound. I wish I could’ve captured their faces for everyone. It was just pure happiness.

We changed things up a bit for tonight’s concert and didn’t play March Slav or Scheherazade and instead played Tchaikovsky’s Elegie. We also performed Bach’s Arioso and it was performed by Clark (Clark and Ford will trade off) and the Vivaldi Concerto for 4 violins performed by the two sets of sisters – Sophie and Haley and Abby and Samantha.

Both pieces were well performed. Bravo.

The concert went exceptionally well from start to finish. The students played with incredible energy and spirit. There was depth to their quality and they all had excellent showmanship. When you go on tour it’s neat to see your orchestra adapt and perform in different venues and under different circumstances.  So far my students are exceeding my expectations and I’m very proud of all of them. Well done to all for a fantastic concert tonight. For me the highlight was that they performed as one ensemble….one “team” with character and heart. I’m so proud of them all.




Tomorrow we have a very crazy travel day. We will be in three countries in one day. I know it’s Europe and things are closer however it will still be incredibly busy. We will have breakfast at 5am, catch a ferry that leaves Estonia at 7:30am and go back to Finland – arriving in Helsinki at 9:30am and then catch a 11:00am train to Russia and arrive in St. Petersburg around 2:30pm. It’s a bit of a stressful day, but I’m hoping that everything will go smoothly. I have the carnet and everyone has their passports and visas so we are ready to go. I am very excited to go to Russia. I can’t wait to tell you all about it tomorrow.

Stay tuned………………………

Day 4: Old Castle & Old Town a perfect match!

Today we kicked off an incredibly fun day by going to the Rakvere Castle. It was about an hour outside of Tallinn, but well worth the drive. The countryside of Estonia is stunning. Fields of yellow lined our pathway as we made our way to the castle. The yellow fields represent rapeseed which is used for commercial mustard and canola oil. When you look out to the fields, it’s simply breathtaking.


When we got to the castle we split up into two groups and got a guided tour. We went into a torture chamber and the guide went through all the instruments and what they did and why. He also talked about the Divine Comedy and the 9 rings of hell. It was interesting and for our students who read Dante I thought that this was a great lesson. There were many activities for the students today. We did jousting, archery, cannonball shooting, a gauntlet run, and they spoke in Latin. After our activities we sat down for a traditional medieval lunch. We started with soup and bread, salad and chicken teriyaki skewers. (Craig said that he didn’t think there was teriyaki sauce back in the middle ages…..….Kikkoman and Yoshida sauce was NOT invented yet!)IMG_1514

Everyone had a blast and loved their day at the castle. We even had some girls recreate the castle out of rice during dinner.

The late afternoon was spent in Old Town, Tallinn, where our concert will be tomorrow night. We ran into kids shopping and buying souvenirs – hopefully something to bring home to all of you! (hahaha) Although it seemed like the gelato shop was the most popular amongst our clan. And I don’t think any of that is going to make it back to the States. I myself had 3 scoops today – chocolate, strawberry and MANGO! Good thing we walked a lot today! I may not fit into my concert clothes tomorrow night.


Dinner was in an old converted barn near the hotel. It was nice that it was close enough to walk and we could enjoy the good weather that has been with us all day. We had pork schnitzel, chicken “supreme”, several salad choices and rice, potatoes and yummy desserts.

IMG_2059Bed check tonight was at 10:30pm and I will let the kids sleep in tomorrow since we have some busy days ahead of us. Tomorrow we have one activity in the morning and then a concert tomorrow night at the Niguliste Church at 7pm. No promises, but if you have facebook, Craig will try to do some snippets of facebook live during the concert.

Today was a good day!

Cheers –

Kathy and Craig