Summer ’05 The AFO Went Stateside!
In late June, the orchestra boarded flights to take us to New York, followed by journeys to Vandalia in Ohio (twinned with Ayrshire’s own Prestwick), Atlanta and Newnan in Georgia and finishing in St. Pete’s Beach on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida.
WHAT WE DID……
July 1st – Arrived 3 hours late due to flight being delayed. However, got through immigration extremely quickly – no horror stories to tell!
Arrived at the hostel located in an area called Manhattan Valley and checked in. After a pizza dinner – imagine a feeding frenzy at the zoo, we all took the subway to Times Square.
Quite a journey with a group the size of the AFO but we managed it successfully. The orchestra were amazed at the sights, sounds and smells.
A ride back on the metro to the hostel and straight to bed – without having to be asked!!! Everyone out for the count after around 24 hours being awake.
Next morning woke for breakfast and again took the metro, this time to the Empire State Building. Rode the “Skyride” – a virtual helicopter trip over NY, before actually going up the building. Spectacular.
Next was lunch then a visit to Ground Zero – very sombre and poignant. Trip back to hostel, via Central Park for some of the groups. A quick change into concert dress and then a walk to the church for dinner and rehearsal before the concert. A small (holiday weekend so everyone goes out of town) but appreciative audience enjoyed a great concert. After dessert provided by the church walked back to hostel.
The morning of the 3rd, again took the metro to the UN building for a guided tour visiting the Security Council and the General Assembly amongst others. After that divided up into groups for shopping at Macy’s, 34th Street, 5th Avenue, Sony World, Tiffany’s, Gucci, Saks – huge credit card bills…….
Met at Grand Central Station for dinner, before walking to the port for the Circle Line ferry tour around Manhattan as the sun set behind lady Liberty. A bus and metro ride back to the hostel ended our NY extravaganza.
Sunday morning saw an early rise to be met by our drivers and top of the range coaches. We set off at around 8 and drove through Harlem – no Globetrotters to be seen – before crossing the George Washington Bridge out of New York and in to New Jersey. Drove through Pennsylvania where we had lunch and a tiny part of West Virginia before arriving in Ohio. Had an Oriental ‘all you can eat’ buffet for dinner. The drive seemed to go by really quickly. Arrived slightly late at 8.30 to be greeted by Saltires at THE Crossroads (Vandalia is known as the Crossroads of America) and flag waving hosts. Said goodbye to one of our drivers, Jesse who was going back to NY. Really nice guy who kept us infomed of any interesting info along the way. Everyone departed with their hosts without any problems. That night Vandalia held its firework display for 4th July so most players went with their hosts to watch it before retiring to bed.
Next day (4th) was spent with host families sleeping late/shopping/swimming (some hosts had private pools and hot tubs). In the afternoon we all met for some football, rounders, shuffleboard, frisbee, volleyball in a park before having a BBQ. A really hot day with beautiful weather – a few slight sunburnt shoulders but no scottish lobster syndrome. After the BBQ we had a ceilidh – quite hard work for some in the heat outdoors!! Around 8.30 we all departed again with hosts.
On the 5th, we met with Jesse’s replacement Calvin, who would be with us for the rest of our trip, and then drove to Paramount’s Kings Island Theme Park. We spent around 11 hours there. Not only was The Beast tamed, but its Son as well. So too were Vortex, Face/Off, Flight of Fear and Top Gun. The park also had a waterpark in it which the orchestra went to in the afternoon. It was overcast for most of the day and in the afternoon it rained on and off for a while which was helpful in meaning there was no burning of skin. Arrived home just before 11 to go straight to bed!
Wednesday night, saw a great concert. The church was nearly full and the audience were great. The orchestra played extrememly well – 2 standing ovations for Innovation and 2 for the orchestra as well at the end. Merchandising did a great trade – so champagne all round for the adults!
Thursday morning saw another early start for our trip to Atlanta. Said our goodbyes to our extremely hospitable hosts and boarded the buses. Travelled through Ohio, Kentucky, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, Tennessee and into Georgia. Arrived in Newnan around 7.30, to be met by very few hosts……
We assembled in the auditorium and heard a few speeches from the mayor, the host commitee and Wallace before we were told it was time to meet the hosts – at which point the curtain raised on the stage, banners came down from the stage ceiling including the saltire and there were our hosts with balloons, streamers etc!!!! Amazing. After meeting our individual hosts we had our photo taken with them by a professional photographer, received a T-Shirt each and then made our way through to an ‘all you can eat’ ice cream bonanza! Everything imaginable that could be put on ice cream was there – strawberries, bananas, m&m’s, gummi bears, nuts, chocolate, fudge, peanut butter cups, cream, cherries – and that was just the first metre of the 5 metre buffet. After we had filled ourselves we left for out new homes.
The next day saw our Atlanta tour. Started at the Capitol Building and were met by representatives from the senate, the house of representatives and other dignatories. After a quick tour, we were taken to the CNN world headquarters for an Inside CNN tour to see the nerve centres of the cable network news. Had lunch in the huge food court before going to the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre for a quick self – guided tour. Extremely interesting. Then on to the World of Coca-Cola to learn about the history of Coke and to taste different drinks from around the world made by Coca Cola.
Arrived back around 6 to be met by hosts.
The next morning was a lazy one spent with hosts. The concert in the evening in the 999-seat auditoruim in Newnan was a near sell out, including a few VIPs from the Capitol Building. Another great concert with standing ovations at the end.
Afterwards, a gala evening was held where we all had the chance to mingle with some of the audience while eating huge Georgian Shrimp, served on massive platters.
The next morning and lunch was free with hosts before we had to arrive at the performing arts center once again for an afternoon concert which was possibly an even better one than the night before. Many more children were in the audience due to it being in the afternoon which was a nice thing to see. Back home for a quick change before we all met for a Hoedown with a DJ and a BBQ. The weather deteriorated due to the hurricane in Florida and the area was put on tornado watch, so around 9ish we all left with our hosts to spend time with them.
The following day (11th) saw us up early once again to take a trip to Callaway Gardens. The weather threatened all day, but managed to stay dry for the Birds of Prey exhibition (although some of the birds struggled in the strong winds!). We also walked to a giant butterfly kingdom to be surrounded by hundreds of huge butterflies. After this, Innovation played a short concert in the main visitors’ centre and were joined by some local scottish country dancers, who did a few dances.
After this we made our way to the man-made beach for some R&R – swimming, volleyball, frisbee. Had some dinner – a BBQ/cookout, followed by a visit to the Circus by Florida State University in Callaway Gardens. A bus ride home and then off with our hosts again.
The next day saw us leave Newnan for our short (~4 hours) drive to Savannah. Checked in to our hotel followed by some free time to explore the town centre – very beautiful place. Had lunch during this time before heading over to the Lucas Theater – a vaudeville-style venue. After a short rehearsal we headed back to the hotel for some free time whilst some seniors went to the local hospital for a short performance. The rest of the orchestra joined them there for dinner before heading back to the Lucas. The orchestra played very well to a smaller audience, but again, received a standing ovation. After the concert the orchestra were split in to 3 groups for a guided Ghost Tour of the town centre. A few creepy places were pointed out but I’m unaware of any sightings……..
After a lazy morning (13th), we left Savannah around midday and headed for Florida. Luckily we managed to miss Hurricane Dennis who had left the state a couple of days before. The drive was very picturesque coming over the bridges to St. Petes and we arrived around 9 to be met by our last set of hosts, who were all members of the Pass-a-Grille church community – right at the end of the Clearwater peninsula.
The 14th saw us venture to a theme park again – this time Busch Gardens. The newest ride, Shreikra was perhaps the favourite but a few others like Montu and Kumba were up there as well. Late afternoon saw the heavens open and we were caught in a downpour while trying to get back to the buses for our drive back to Pass-a-Grille. Arriving back we had a quick change in time for the Tour Awards. Many great moments – highlights including ‘The Burn’s Shoe’ by Douglas Gibson, Alistair presenting Jim Connor with a newly written tune for him entitled “Connor’s Welcome to Grand Central Station” which Alistair, Douglas and Blair proceeded to play, and the awarding of Mr. and Miss. AFO to Ian Edmond and Lorna Wilson. A very special moment came when Ian Lindsay gave a very moving thankyou to Wallace. There were very few dry eyes.
After the awards we were met by our hosts and headed home after a great day.
The next day was a free day essentially. The orchestra had the option of staying with their hosts or meeting up for a day by the beach with the usual sporting activities available. That evening we had our last concert on tour with some in jokes and pranks being done. The end was also a sad moment for many of the seniors as this was their last official performance with the orchestra. After more standing ovations we all left on a high with our hosts.
The next morning (16th), the orchestra had the choice of doing their own thing with hosts or going to Tampa to an outlet shopping mall for some last minute shopping. After 3 hours of shopping it was back to the Pass-a-Grille. Had a few hours with our hosts before going to the church for a farewell ceilidh with them.
After everyone was exhausted we returned with our hosts for the last night in the States…..or so we thought.
The 17th saw us say our fond farewells to our hosts. Before we left we also said our goodbyes to 2 of the nicest and most important people on tour – Calvin and Will, our bus drivers. 2 of the best drivers the orchestra has ever had. We headed for the airport for our last bus journey and checked in on 2 separate flights to New York. However, we were told we would be delayed. The first flight boarded but then were asked to disembark again. We eventually arrived in New York at around 10pm – having missed our connecting flight to Glasgow which left around 7.30. However, because we were such a large group the airline were very helpful and put us in the Marriott Fairfiled Inn nearby for the evening. Once we all arrived in the hotel after getting ferried to the hotel by small hotel buses, pizza was ordered and we were in our beds for 1.30am.
The airline put us on the 10pm flight the following day which meant we had another day in New York. As all our luggage had already been checked through to Glasgow we only had our small carry on bags and violins. We went to the airport to leave the violins in a locked room whilst Wallace made a quick call to Stagecoach in New York.They very generously laid on 2 coaches to take us in to New York city centre and 2 open top buses for the entire day along with guides. We spent around 90 minutes on the tour before stopping for lunch at one of the piers. We then had another 90 minutes or so before having a brief walk through Central Park, where we visited the John Lennon memorial.
After this we were taken back to our coaches and then back to the airport to collect our violins and check in again. A few more hours waiting before we boarded for the flight home.