From Paris to St. Peter, the Journey Reached its End

Posted on February 1st, 2015 by

After concluding a fantastic 16 days with a stint in the lovely city of Paris, the tour has returned home safe and sound.

Wednesday, the day began with a panoramic tour of the beautiful city of Paris, ending at the entrance to the Musée d’Orsay. Tom, one of our group guides, explained that while the Thames in London divides the city, the Seine in Paris binds its two halves together. Driving across the two river islands (île de la Cité and île Saint-Louis) and weaving between the Left and Right Banks in bus and on foot, it was apparent how the Seine remains the heart of Paris, offering views of the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Champs Elysee, Musée de l’Orangerie, Champs-Élysées, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame.

The Musée d'Orsay is a heavily-renovated train station, and features a stunning collection of Impressionist masters.

The Musée d’Orsay is a heavily-renovated train station, and features a stunning collection of Impressionist masters.

After arriving at the fabulous Orsay Museum, the group dispersed for the day. Popular visits that day included all the destinations above. Paris is a remarkably walkable city, and, like London, includes a navigable metro system (once you figure out what “sortie” means).

Thursday, the choir arrived at Notre Dame for a morning concert. We were greeted on the side of the cathedral and moved to a basement room with vaulted ceilings and pillars supporting the immense weight of the 12th-14th century cathedral above. After hearing a devotional on the multiple definitions and uniqueness of every musical performance, the choir processed up into Notre Dame. We lined up in front of the altar at which Napolean I crowned himself Emperor of France, facing the world-class 7,300 pipe organ, beneath the tower in which Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo lived and loved, and on the spot on which French Revolutionaries built an altar dedicated to reason, atheism, and humanism.

Our Notre Dame performance was the best-attended of the trip, drawing hundreds of cathedral visitors  from their visits to the cathedral into seats for the one-hour performance. Each piece was followed by over five seconds of reverb in the soaring vaults of the cathedral. The emotion of that incredible performance peaked with Dr. Aune expressing his affection before starting “Praise to the Lord,” the traditional Gustavus Choir finale.

After Notre Dame, the choir had a few hours of free time before meeting at the base of the Eiffel Tower for group entry to the industrial monument. During this window, many climbed the bell tower of Notre Dame and grabbed lunch in the vibrant Latin Quarter.

David Lim, Cameron Jarvis, and Allison Schmidt with Sacre Cœur visible in the background.

David Lim, Cameron Jarvis, and Allison Schmidt with Sacre Cœur visible in the background.

The view from the Eiffel Tower beautifully demonstrated both the size and accessibility of Paris. While the yellow stone buildings sprawled beyond view in the misty weather, many of the city’s most beloved sites could be seen in one cluster around the Seine. The tower view also showed how flat the Parisian landscape is, with the dramatic exception of Montmartre and the church of Sacre Cœur, a Byzantine-style church accessible by a steep climb up several hundred steps.

The Eiffel Tower as seen from a boat on the Seine.

The Eiffel Tower as seen from our Seine cruise.

After the Eiffel Tower visit, the choir and companion tour enjoyed an evening cruise along the Seine, offering a unique view of the city and a dynamic look at the city’s splendid bridges.

The altar at La Madeleine, a building originally designed as a temple to Napoleon's armies.

The altar at La Madeleine, a building originally designed as a temple to Napoleon’s armies.

Farewell Dinner (1 of 1)

A group of close friends at the farewell dinner.

On our last full day in Paris, the choir enjoyed a few free hours before heading to La Madeleine, a stunning church with an incredible view of Paris’ 8th arrondissement (administrative district). Our performance at La Madeleine was a fitting emotional capstone for the tour. The enthusiastic audience was particularly receptive to the dedication (delivered by Addie Konad ’16) of Stephen Paulus’ “Pilgrim’s Hymn” to the city of Paris in solidarity with the terrorist attacks of 7 January.

The day came to a close with a stunning five-course meal at a formal restaurant, complete with escargots, cheeses, pastries, and an accordion player serenading the party with French music.

The dinner ended with a series of toasts and short speeches from members of the choir and companion tour, verbalizing the strong emotional bonds built up over the last 16 days. While the choir has been enjoying increasing closeness since the roster was finalized last May, relationships  between members of the choir and alumni and friends on the companion tour were a perhaps unexpected experience, as reflected in the number of times choir members remarked to one another about the friendliness and reliability of the alumni crew.  The choir will remain forever grateful for the support of the companion group and the countless memories we shared while venturing across London, Bath, Cardiff, Flint, Stratford, Oxford, and Paris.

This tour exceeded expectations on all fronts. It was the cultural, musical, and relational experience of a lifetime. Our hearts overflow with gratitude for all those who made the trip possible, from college admins, to tour companions, to our fantastic trip guides. Above all, we are filled with affection for Dr. A, Julie Aune, and Professor Joyce Sutphen, the brilliant, patient, and loving leaders and educators of the tour, for the life-changing month they planned, enhanced, and supported.

The Gustavus Choir, Gregory Aune, conductor

The Gustavus Choir, Gregory Aune, conductor

 

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