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Milan, Paris, and Copenhagen

Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013


My daughter, Madeline, and I went on a 2 week trip with Heritage Ballet (Haliburton) to study ballet in Milan, Paris and Copenhagen. The group that did the trip spent a year preparing, fund raising etc.  Below is a letter that I wrote to a friend, the summarizes the experience.  We had a great time!

This was written Thursday Feb 21, 2013

We got home from our trip last night and are having a quiet day of unpacking, doing laundry, relaxing and pausing over and over again to let the trip wash over us.  We have so many stories and memories.  I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this experience with Madeline and the group.  And Madeline is so appreciative and animated and also feels so lucky to have done it.  She has thanked me so many l times and told me that she is so glad that I was on the trip with her and how much fun she had and that she learned so much.  So it was worth the year of saving and planning and working to make it happen.

Madeline and I agree that there were so many  highlights of the trip.  First, all of the ballets were divine.  We were in some of the most beautiful theatres in the world.  It was breathtaking.  In Milan, at La Scala ,  we sat in a box (box 12 on the first level) and we watched Balletto Notre Dame de Paris (a premiere performance) and it was about the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Italy’s most famous/ loved male dancer – Robertto Bollo performed and he took our breath away.  We were close to the stage and could see all the muscles in his legs.  His leaps were so high..  It was contemporary ballet with incredible costumes and music and sets.  Christine, Madeline and I shared a box with 2 people from Milan and they were lovely.    Prior to the ballet we toured the museum of the theatre and learned the history and saw many beautiful old costumes and props.  On the same day of our ballet we visited the Last Supper by Leonardo De Vinci and that was stunning.  We also met Gepetto (that is the name that I gave him)… a very kind, gentle  man who owns a little gift store and he was a book binder. When we walked in to his store he was holding a journal and said to Madeline “this was just born” and it was a journal covered with pictures of horses and so Madeline immediately bought the journal for Natalya.  I took a picture of Madeline and the man… he had a lovely spirit and eyes and smile.  On this same day, Jenny and I wanted a coffee after the ballet,  and  while the rest of the group went back to our hostel, we went to a café.  We had so many handsome Italian waiters on the trip, and on this day we had another one.  We sat in an outdoor beautiful gazebo  by a fire and had coffee and split a piece of cake. It was so much fun, and when we got the bill it cost us 24 euros which is about $33.12.  I don’t regret it.  I felt so incredibly lucky to be there! 

In Paris, on Valentines Day, we went to the Paris Opera ballet performance of Kaguyahime  which also had the most famous French ballerina in it…. I can’t remember her name.  The story Kaguyahime, The Moon  is about Kaguyahime, or Princess Kaguya, who lived in the 10th-century. It is a  Japanese folk tale.  The orchestra  were Japanese drummers and they also were on the stage.  The ballet was influenced by Japanese martial arts like kung fu and so it was athletic,  contemporary and so energizing.  The dancing was unlike anything we had ever seen.  The theatre was so beautiful.  We were seated at the very top and had a great view, and again the theatre wasn’t too big and so we were able to see everything.  On that day we had also gone to a famous café where the movie Amilie was filmed and again we had such good coffee!  Madeline danced in Within Reach to one of the pieces of music in that movie so she was really excited to be at the café.  We then spent the rest of the day at the Louvre… which of course is a highlight of everyone’s trip to Paris.  We enjoyed every minute of it!

In Denmark we ended up having 2 dance experiences.   Madeline and I connected with Armita Afshari, who was our Rotary exchange student who lived with Jim and I in 1997.  She is beautiful and delightful as she was back then.  She is married now, has a 3 year old son and has  another boy due in April. Both she and her husband are dentists.  They live in Copenhagen in a 900 sq foot house!  Armita has a patient who is a well known  British Choreographer who does a lot of work with the Danish Dance Theatre in Denmark.  He was working with a group of dancers on a show called Love Songs, which will tour to the USA and through Europe this spring.  Armita.  arranged for us to go to a rehearsal.  There are a bunch of dance studios in the old Carlsberg factory and so we went there and spent 2 hours watching these amazing dancers.  It brought tears to my eyes.  It was contemporary dance again, with such emotion about love.  Incredible leaps and so many interesting moves to very moving music.  It was such a treat. 

On the last night of our trip we went to the Royal Danish Ballet performance Dans2Go which was 3 pieces. The first one , Chroma, was again contemporary with really passionate music and fast, intense movements.  Ballerinas doing the coolest moves with such precision.  We loved it.  The second piece , The Unsung, was done in silence and the cast was all men.  It was on the edge for sure.  At times we were all uncomfortable.  The silence was cool, but didn’t really work because people in the audience and off stage coughed.  Someone had a cell phone go off in the performance.  A few people laughed.  It was so raw…. I could feel the audiences discomfort.   And yet, Madeline and I both really liked it.  Beautiful bodies,  no shirts….. cool moves…. I do think that music might have really added to it.  But it was, what it was.  The final piece of the evening, La Bayadere,  was a classic ballet with 30 ballerinas in white tutus moving in unison.  It was breathtaking.  Again the theatre was so beautiful.  Earlier in the day we had visited the Theatre Museum in the Christainsborg Castle and it was very cool.  Armita also took Madeline and I to visit the Copenhagen Opera House one afternoon… so we certainly saw the love of the arts in Copenhagen. 

Attending the ballets in each of the cities was just such a beautiful addition to the adventures we were having.  They filled us up and inspired us and let us experience beautiful culture.  We loved every performance and felt so lucky to be at them.  We will remember them forever.

Of course the food, coffee and wine was a highlight.  We had some really incredible meals and coffee breaks in beautiful places.  There are so many I could tell you about.   We had coffee in a café in Café Del Tasso (has been a café since 1581) in the Piazza Vecchia area of Bergamo.  All of the coffee and treats were incredible.  I enjoyed them and so did Madeline, every day.  Julie had done the research to find the oldest, coolest places and we were so lucky.  We had one of the best dinners of the trip in the Latin Quarter of Paris (by the Notre Dame) at a little Italian restaurant called Lat Petit Saint Benoit…. It was a hole in the wall with the most delicious Italian food.  We ate out of pewter bowls and I had fish soup and Madeline had sheppards pie.  Other kids had duck etc.  We also had another incredible meal in Copenhagen at a restaurant called Café Wilder which is one of Copenhagens oldest restaurants.  The kids had ox, fish etc.  I was so proud of Madeline because she ate good food the entire trip and tried lots of new things.  We ate our way through the trip enjoying  pastries, baguettes, crepes, gelato coffee,  and wine.  It is a good thing that we walked everywhere and all day long because we wore it off.  There were times when we had to wander and find a place that would accommodate 12 people… we only had reservations a couple of times.  It was good for the kids to learn to look and explore and be flexible.

Another highlight were the 3 hostels that we stayed in.  The first one in Milan, Ostello Bello, was very organic, homey, free spirited, laid back.  People from around the world.  A common room where wine was available all the time.  Locals and tourists came every night to take advantage of the cheap dinner they served.  A party every night.  It was old and lots of Italian nick knacks.    The second one in Paris was a new hostel that catered to school groups.  Big entrance like a museum.  No nick kancks.  Very clean and formal.  Strict rules.  No outside guests. It was very clean and quiet.    The highlight were 2 french women who spoke no English, who served us breakfast every morning.  They were so kind and fun and generous and they loved us.  Madeline talked French to them the whole time.  It was such a great lesson for Madeline about loving what you do and the impact that it can make.  They made us feel so welcome and special. 

The third hostel in Copenhagen was called Generator.  It was also new.  We felt like we were living in Ikea.  So clean and  colourful. Huge hang out area with couches and fireplaces.  People  from around the world.  It was fun.  It was great for the kids to experience such variety and see the possibilities of meeting people from around the world.

Another part of the trip involved the girls going for dance lessons at the Pavlova International Ballet School in Bergamot (about a 1 hour train trip from Milan).  The  school  is owned and run by a woman who is from Russia and she studied and danced in the Bolshoi in Russia. Kids attend the school and dance as well as do their studies.  Students from this school perform at La Scala.  It was quite an experience for the kids.  There were put into 2 classes with students from the school.  First they did a stretching class (2 hours) and it was challenging.  The teachers spoke no English and they did a lot of hands on adjusting (sitting on the kids to get them to go deeper into the splits for example).   They did a 2 hour class of classical ballet and folk dancing (that was soooo cool and Madeline loved it). 

All of the transportation on the trip was a big adventure.  Airplanes and almost missed connections.  A train from Milan to Paris through the French countryside that brought tears to my eyes because it was so beautiful and we saw all these very old little villages spread throughout.  We took an overnight train from Paris to Copenhagen via Germany.  We were standing on the platform, in Germany at 10:00 pm  where our train to Copengagen was to arrive, and it arrived and went passed us and we stood there wondering if it was our train and we started walking towards it and all of a sudden it started moving and it was leaving.  The conductor started yelling at us and we had to run like crazy to catch it.   We did have coach where 6 of slept in triple bunk beds and that was fun.  The biggest part of the transportation adventures involved using the subway systems (especially in Paris), sometimes during rush hour, while pulling our rolling suitcases.  One wheel fell off of my suitcase on the first day of the trip so I had a challenged suitcase the whole trip.  We hoofed the suitcases up and down stairs, through turn styles and on and off crowded subways.  It was an adventure to keep the group together, to ensure everyone got off and on  and to navigate the subway systems.  We only took 1 taxi on the entire trip and that was because the subway system didn’t run early enough for us to get to our train.  Madeline had a funky pink rolling suitcase that friends gave to her for her birthday, and to them I am eternally grateful.  Madeline was able to take care of her stuff through every adventure.  Madeline and I also got to take a water taxi when we were on adventure with Armita when we were in Copenhagen, and that was fun!  

There were 12 of us that did the trip.  Julie was the leader and planned everything.  She was at the head of the line and off we would go every day.  Her Aunt Jenny came from BC to do the trip with us and she was lovely.   Jordyn Brown (Archer) was the 4th adult and close to the kids in age and so that was great.    The 8 kids (7 girls, 1 boy) ranged in age from 12 – 18.  My role in the group was at the back of the line. I made sure everyone got across the streets, got on the subway, got off the subway.  I looked after the 3 younger kids in terms of just being supportive.  And mostly I just had fun with Madeline.

Copenhagen was both Madeline and mine’s favourite city on the trip.  There was so much open space, parkland. Thousands of people cycling everywhere even in the cool weather.  The food was so healthy and organic and everything was presented so beautifully.  I loved the old buildings.  And I think most of all we loved connected with Armita.  She is such a beautiful bright being and she went out of her way to welcome us and host us.  She told Madeline a bunch of funny stories about when she lived with Jim and I (things I had forgotten) and talked about her year as an exchange student as the best year of her life.  It was great for Madeline to listen to her and to experience the long term impact of something like an exchange.

I have so much respect for Julie and what she did to put this experience together for the group.  She worked for a year and planned such a full and interesting and diverse schedule.  We had time to climb up the Eiffel tower, explore the Catacombs, visit castles, shop and shop,  go up the Round Tower in Copenhagen etc.  We visited a number of really beautiful churches.   We walked so much and had time to look around and explore areas that we were in.  Madeline bought herself a couple of souvenirs on the trip.  She bought a pink beret in Paris, and wore it from the moment she got it.  She bought herself a Pandora charm in Copenhagen (friends gave her a Pandora charm bracelet for Christmas and told her to get a charm as a souvenir).  She also bought herself a pair of beautiful ballet slippers in Paris at a really great dance store.   And she bought souvenirs for her friends.

Jim and Bella were well looked after while we were gone.  They ate dinner at Barb and Ed’s every night except for 2.  Thom and Sue also took him out to dinner. Val and Janine walked Bella every day which was so wonderful.  Madeline really missed Jim on the trip.  At one point she told me he was her best friend.  She was so glad to get home to see him.

I guess the last thing I want to say is that what I loved about the trip, and will remember (besides everything I have written about) are the moments when Madeline and I walked arm in arm at night in Paris after the ballet, or when we first saw the Eiffel Tower after looking at pictures of it for years.  I will always remember sitting in cafes eating really yummy treats together,  laughing at all the dogs in Milan that wore clothes (we saw dogs in tights, snowsuits, dresses etc.) and had lots of good laughs.  We both kept journals and loved sitting together to work on them. Madeline was so strong on the whole trip.  It was wonderful for me to watch her try new things, speak French confidently, take risks, be uncomfortable and not complain.  She is growing up!   I think both of us will remember this trip forever.

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