July 17 to 31, the Ayr-Paris Band marked their tenth International tour
with their most ambitious, interesting, and adventurous trip yet. The
tour was mostly centred in formerly Eastern-block countries. Today, they
go by the names of Czech Republic, Slovenska, Hungary, Poland; as well
as stops in Germany and Vienna, Austria.
Saturday afternoon, the group had a soggy start from the Ayr News
parking lot. Fourty-four band members, their spouses, parents, and
guests, totalling 70 in all made trip down the highlight to Pearson’s
new Terminal One. After the usual (complicated) check-in of instruments
and baggage, it was easy to navigate the new terminal and find a very
comfortable hospitality zone to toast the adventures to come. We were surprised
to be greeted
personally by our pilot as he boarded the plane, Roger Allison. Roger is
formerly of RR 3, Ayr and the son of well-known Paris area couple, Jack
and Pansy. Jack and Pansy have been seasoned travelers in past years
with the Band. By the smile on Roger’s face and his friendly greeting,
it would be suspected that his parents had nothing but good things to
say about their previous trips with Band members. Roger has been flying
for Air Canada for 32 years and gave the group and smooth ride into the
First stop, Hofbrauhaus, Munich
We were on schedule and met our guide
Aachim Koenig and driver Hermann
(the German) who introduced us to our home on wheels for the next two
weeks. It was a brand-new double decker bus complete with luggage
trailer. As we would find out very quickly on our tour, the double
decker allowed all of us (group and Band) to enjoy each other’s company together;
however, there were many logistic challenges of such a “monster” bus.
Lots of adventures including missing permits, missing spare tire when
there was a flat, toll charges, low bridges, police stops, roads missing
from GPS, roads missing altogether -- allowed for lots of time for the
group and Band to get to know each other very well.
We made a detour into Munich for a visit to the
famous Hofbrauhaus. The
well-known meeting place was bustling with tourists enjoying vast steins
of ale, sauerkraut, and all things German, including a notable tuba
player whose performance was amazing – both visually and her playing
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
A general observation for the tour was the effect of WWII, followed very
shortly by fourty years of Communism on all of the formerly Eastern-bloc
countries. We were fortunate to have tour guides who told us of their
lives both before and after the fall, which began in 1988.
Cesky Krumlov was our first overnight and is an amazing success story of
reimergence into a beautiful and interesting town. Dating back to
medieval times, the Unesco-designated city, is located in the former
heart of Bohemia. The group enjoyed an extensive morning tour which focussed on it’s rich culture and history down narrow cobblestone
streets, and enveloped in beautifully restored buildings. Their castle
and fortress is the most priceless historical monument in the Czech
The Band was very greeted
enthusiastically by an afternoon crowd in the town’s central square. It
was a stand-up concert, which in the brutal heat proved too much for
some band members, but the rest were able to soldier on and give a
performance that would make many Canadian very proud.
On Tuesday morning, suitcases and instruments were cobbled down the road
to the monster bus and it was off to Vienna. This was the Band’s second
visit to Austria and as with many European Community cities, the flavour
has changed. Many talked of Vienna being a “romantic” and green city.
That has been mostly replaced with vast developments and equally vast
construction sites. Construction was everywhere. Were we challenged by
the construction project in front of our hotel and well as an illness
which gripped some Band members, and a orientation problem which gripped
another long-time Band member. However, all’s well that ends well, by
the time we left Vienna we found both our health and Fred.
historial centre of Vienna remains untouched and an interesting walking
tour was enjoyed on a hot and sunny Wednesday morning.
Band travelled outside the city for a performance at a Spa/Relaxation
Centre run by Cistercian Nuns. Again, heat was a challenge, but Band
members played alternate instruments to fill in gaps left by
ailing/lost/finding the lost band members.
Bratislava for the Day
Bratislava is another beautiful and ancient city in new country of
Slovenska. To reach the city, the tour travelled by boat down the
Danube. Again, a walking tour, and free time made for a relaxing day.
The city is under heavy reconstruction, again to rectify the effects of
negligence during the Communist years. The cruise back to Vienna
provided time for some to relax and others to take the opportunity to
finish of a quantity of schnapps and beer. Those who relaxed on the boat
enjoyed an evening of Austrian folk entertainment with their dinner.
On Friday, the tour was on the move and as with each move, they entered
another country. It is interesting to note that there are no longer
border stops, the inspection buildings are desserted, passports are not
required. This is a recent change, as the tour company was expecting
guards at each border.
smooth trip and expected arrival time made it possible for the group to
explore some of the city on their own before leaving for an evening
concert at the Millenarispark amphitheatre. The location of the park is
the former Ganz plush toy factory.
Saturday was a guided bus and walking tour, again through beautiful
reconstructed streets, to their palace on castle hill at the top of
“Buda” and other historic sites. The palace and nearby Church was
destroyed during WWII as the palace was the headquarters for the German
troops. The castle district has been designated as a Unesco world
heritage site and a portion of the palace has been restored as the
office of the Mayor.
Saturday evening the Band and Group enjoyed an exchange with a local
music school. The 20 musicians who take lessons at the Hubay Jeno school
gave an enthuasiastic performance then joined the Ayr-Paris Band for
Instant Concert and the Lion King. The percussion section brought the
Lion King to life. Their conductor was very animated and was impressed
by the number of young people in our Band.
Roads from one country to another were a challenge. The Band had been
waiting for almost 20
years to make this trip and they knew before now,
these countries were not in a state to welcome tourist. Even today, they
are barely in a state to welcome a “monster” bus. While the bus had two
state-of-the-art GPS systems, the information provided by the these
developing countries was not available. The good old Michelin quite
often showed the very round-about route that we were taking, when our
guide and driver expected the GPS to perform.
weather turned cool (a real relief). This came in handy when the
"monster" bus once again reared its ugly head and was almost navigated
under a bridge. A kind cab driver was trying to help our lost bus
driver. A 99-point turn and many assistants got us turned around –
was a highlight for most on the tour. Krakow has endured the darkness of
the 20th century and is now a UNESCO protected city. It is
one of world's 12 most important cultural monuments. Most members took
the 70 km. trip to Auswitz-Birkenau death camp and witnessed the horror
of the WWII extermination camp. One million, three hundred thousand were
murdered. All tour guides are direct descendants of Auswitz prisoners.
The camp was crowded with tourists, many waving Israeli flags. Those
remaining in Krakow took advantage of the time to take the "Jewish" in
what had been the Jewish quarter and Ghetto. Some eerie statistics:
65,000 Jews lived in Krakow at beginning of WWII, only 100 reside in
is a beautiful compact city with the old section being very walkable and
containing a beautiful square, outdoor cafes; surrounded by a park, old
city wall and the prerequiste castle. It was not especially crowded and
provided some relaxing free time. Some took in the Pope John Paul II
sites – home/school/cathedral, where he was a priest prior to becoming
Pope. Others enjoyed perogies, perogies and more perogies, topped off
with more ice cream.
was anticipated as the longest stretch of the journey, 550 km. However,
a superhighway and accurate GPS delivered the group on time! The hotel
was very modern, ideally situated beside a huge shopping centre, and a
15 minute walk to the edge of the old city.
One aspect of the tour that was essential was the presence of a
different tour guide in each of the countries, who could both speak the
language (Czech, Hungarian, Polish, German), act as a concert MC, and
guide the bus driver.
was untouched during WWII. It was considered Hitler's "jewel". The
result is breathtaking architecture. It has emerged as a tourist centre
drawing in crowds of many nationalities. There was an extensive tour,
both walking and on the bus from the top of the city (Prague castle),
walking down to the St. Charles Bridge and then onto Wenceslas Square.
Be careful, there is a bit of a scam if you are waiting to see the
"spectacular" horoscope clock. One tour couple paid $50.00 for two
sandwiches and two small beer in anticipation of the big show. They
found out at 12 noon that the cuckoo clocks at Rothenburg were just as
spectacular as the somewhat dismal figures that sort moved around on the
final concert performances were given first at a spa town, Podebrady;
then, at Namesti Miru square in front St. Ludmila church. Both concerts
were very well received.
evening was the "last night party" (even though it wasn't). After three
different exits and two roundabouts the group joined an Australian party
who had been enjoying complementary refreshments waiting for the bus to
arrive. Czech folk music, dance, and singing was first-rate. Audience
participation was right up the alley of the group and must have had the
folk troup concerned that they might lose some instruments to our
The oval route was complete with a final night in Rothenburg, Germany,
one of the finest medieval towns in Germany. It remains virtually
unchanged since the sixteen century. There are towers, fortified gates,
two and one-half miles of battlements and the last chance for the group
to buy their dirndls, cuckoo clocks and/or schnapps. A frenzy of
shopping, eating and one last evening of beer put the finishing touches
of one of the most adventurous and interesting tours of the Ayr-Paris
Home At Last?
Well, not quite. A final police escort to a near-by service centre had
many wondering if they would indeed make it to the airport on time. Once
again, papers were not in order. A flurry of handwaving resulting in
fines and (probably) very colourful German had us eventually on the way.
Frankfurt airport should market its check-in technology and security
devices to Air Canada the US Customs in Toronto. The check-in, with no
prior special arrangements, was smooth and efficient. Flyers beware –
you need a boarding pass to get through the gate. This caused some tense
moments for one band member and the kind escort.
Final Thank You
The talents of Merry Schmidt cannot be surpassed. Language barriers
proved no difficulty when there is a smile on the face and good music
selection. The travel committee: Irene Adeney, George Schmidt and
Derrick Ostner were thrilled to see three years of preparation and
planning turn into the adventure of a life-time!
Ayr-Paris Band, Prague, 2010