14,500 steps (and counting)

That is the number of steps I have taken today and it is only 4 pm!

Last night, Variations held a concert in the chapel of Hospital de la Caridad, which is an assisted living facility for men. The chapel was lovely and the acoustics fantastic. I always enjoy seeing the faces of the choir when they first sing in spaces like this because is a treat for the ears of both the choir and the audience.

Since it was a lovely location, we took our final group photo of the tour there as well.

Today, we visited the Seville Cathedral (also called Catedral de Santa María de la Sede). It is the largest gothic cathedral in the world and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


It is also the burial site for Christopher Columbus. The tomb is an impressive work with four figures (representing the four kingdoms of Aragon, Leon, Castile and Navarra) carrying Columbus’s casket on their shoulders. Visiting this tomb was an interesting closing of a Variations loop as we visited the castle in Segovia on the first Variations tour of Spain back in 2011. The castle in Segovia is where Columbus requested the funding to explore the new world. And, Seville is his final resting place.

Tomb of Columbus

The cathedral also has a very tall bell tower, called Giralda, that is the symbol of Seville. It was built in the 11th century by the Moors as part of the mosque in the town. After the “Reconquest” of Spain in 1248, the mosque was consecrated as a Cathedral. Fortunately for us, part of our tour included climbing the 37 inclines (they used to be stairs – whew!) to the top which houses 24 large bells and provides wonderful view of the city.

After the tour and a quick lunch, we walked to Colegio de San Francisco de Paula for our last concert of the tour. The school audience gave the group much applause and, like the other school audiences, seemed to most enjoy the perennial favorites on the program this year: the contemporary a cappella and the spirituals.

Now, we are are working on repacking those suitcases and making final souvenir purchases before our VERY early ride to the airport tomorrow morning.


On the road again

This morning, we loaded up the bus and headed to the southern coast of Spain. We spend a little bit of the morning by the sea in a the town of Malaga. The ocean was very rough from storms yesterday but still very lovely to be at the beach. The sun even came out more to help with the day but it was still rather hazy from the humidity. After visiting the seaside a bit, we loaded up again to head to our next destination.

But, on the way, we stopped at Sunny View School for two concerts – one for the primary students and one for the secondary students. Both concerts were well attended and well received. The primary students even serenaded Variations with their own selections including four numbers from “The Sound of Music” which was a wonderful experience for everyone. The students really enjoyed the beatboxing by two of our students as part of the Pentatonic number. Both audiences demanded encores of beatboxing and in concert, Matt was able to explain how to get started learning how to beatbox. After the concerts, the Sunny View students bombarded Variations for autographs and photos.  And, one student said to me as she was leaving the auditorium: “They are the BEST choir in the world!”

It was a fun way to end the performances.

After the concerts, we headed out and have a three concert day tomorrow so we hope everyone is getting some rest tonight!


Panoramic photo of Alhambra

Rainy days and Mondays…

don’t get Variations down…

Well, the weather certainly changed on us today as the forecast was for rain most of the day and temperatures not climbing out of the mid 40s. That didn’t stop us, however, as it was the first day of concerts for the tour!

We gathered on the bus and headed to our first school concert of the tour at Ava Maria Casa Madre, which is located right below the famous Alhambra palace – our destination for the afternoon (and also the image behind the title of this blog.) This school was started years ago by a professor at the University of Granada who saw the need for a school on this hilltop, which was populated by Spanish gypsies, who had no rights or even citizenship. He bought up lot after lot in the neighborhood and built the school bit by bit. It is a sprawling campus and is now a private school. However, poor children in the local neighborhood still can attend for free to continue the purpose of the original school.

After two concerts (I hope to get some video edited soon from one of them), we headed to the world heritage site, Alhambra. This is a palace and fortress complex that was originally a small fortress built circa AD 889 on the remains of a Roman fort. Eventually, that original fortress ruins were renovated and rebuilt by a Moorish emir and it reflects this culture. It has also been a palace for other royalty. While we waited for our tickets, we enjoyed some time in the courtyard of the Palace of Charles. Since it was a circular courtyard, another attempt with the 360 degree camera seemed in order.

The rain really set in as we stood in line for our tour, but the amazing hand carved marble and plaster work in every room and through every door was enough to keep us fascinated through the afternoon. The gardens also look amazing but the weather really didn’t cooperate to allow us much time to explore those on this trip. I guess we will have to come back some day.

On to Granada

After breakfast, some of the group attended mass at the Toledo cathedral. Then, we bid adiós to Toledo and traveled through the heart of La Mancha as hit to road heading to Andalusia, the region of southern Spain. As we drove through the high plains of La Mancha, we passed blooming almond trees, grape vines galore and acres upon acres of olive trees. According to Marcos, some of the olive trees in the region were thousands of years old, being planted by the Romans.

We also passed by some of the original windmills that you may recall from Cervantes’ Don Quixote. After a few hours on the road, we found ourselves in downtown Granada, which is a major metropolitan city with a European flair much like Paris or Barcelona. After settling in, we took a walking tour down to the cathedral and the plaza in front. It was a beautiful day and when we got there, there was a band playing and many people singing. We eventually found out it was a marriage proposal. We hope she said “!”

After the proposal celebration was over, Variations decided to take the “stage” as it were on teh step of the cathedral. What was going to only be one song turned into a mini-concert with encore after encore being demanded by the crowd that grew after each number.

Variations singing in front of the cathedral of Grenada

It was a fun way to spend a lovely Sunday afternoon – which is typically spent with family in Spain, walking the city, eating cake and drinking coffee in a cafe and just spending time together. I did manage to get a 360 degree photo posted on the Facebook page (link is at the top of the blog) if you want to see what the scene was like for that performance. I hope to get some video up later on.

Later on, in that same plaza, we also were able to witness a Lenten march of corpus christi in front of the cathedral. It was an amazing sight for all of us to experience.

Tomorrow, the first of the school concerts begin and it is an early day.

Holy Toledo!

After our early departure from the Knoxville airport and a lengthy layover, Variations has arrived in Spain. We collected our bags (everything arrived!!) and headed out to Toledo (pronounced “tow-lay-doh”) – which is located in the central part of the country.

As is the custom for most Variations tours, we visit World Heritage sites and this year is no exception with Toledo. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage and historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures. It is an interesting walled city with layer upon layers of history and many Moorish, Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments and influences in its architecture. It is also the former home of the artist, El Greco, the Greek artist and sculptor from the Spanish Renaissance time period. Our guide, Marcos, told me that it is hard to build anything new here because when they start excavating something is often uncovered, like Roman ruins, so construction must halt while archeological excavation can occur. Such an interesting problem to have!

After getting settled into our hotel and having some lunch, we toured just a few of the major sites in the city including:

  • The Gothic Cathedral, dating from the thirteenth century. Inside there is the Clear from Narciso Tome, in Baroque.
  • Iglesia de Santo Tome. Mudejar style, the fourteenth century, which houses the famous Burial of Count Orgaz, by El Greco.
  • Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes (Monastery of Saint John of the King) which is built in an Elizabethan Gothic style from the 15th century.

Each site carried much history, artistic beauty, and quiet contemplation for the group. While there was no concert scheduled for today, they did manage to get in one song in front of the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes.

Unfortunately, the wifi gods have not been in my favor, so I will try to upload that video overnight and get it posted as soon as I can as well as some more photos from the day.