The First Entry of European Tour Coverage ‘016!

And so it begins! The Minnesota Orchestra leaves on its European tour a week from yesterday (!), and now seems like a good time to start writing.

I’ve decided to head entries with the date they were written. I won’t always be able to post them as I write them, but I will get them online as soon as possible. (Entries will also be supplemented – Internet connection permitting – with short videos and images and status updates and Tweets on social media.) I may also cluster shorter entries together, like I’m doing below. I’ll be experimenting and learning as I go along, so your patience is appreciated!

As for hashtags, the Minnesota Orchestra is using #MNOrchTour, so I’ll be following their lead.

If you want to contribute financially to making the coverage happen, I’m not going to stop you. ;)  Link to the Gofundme here. A hearty thank you to everyone who has donated. I’m so frickin’ moved by your generosity.

If anyone has any questions about what the tour is like, feel free to ask!


– E

August 7

This month, I am going to Europe for the first time. I will be going with some of the greatest musicians in the world. I’m going to write about it. And I’m a little nervous.

I’m a little nervous I’m going to forget my passport. And my toothpaste.

I’m a little nervous about my boots. Will the boots I have be okay? Should I buy new boots? What about the backpack I just bought? Did I buy the right design? There were two designs that I really liked at the store. I went with the elephant design. Was it okay to go with the elephant design? The background is white. Will it show stains? Will I stain my bag? How would I stain my bag? Am I overthinking this?

I’m a little nervous about packing twelve days of supplies into a single suitcase (and an elephant backpack).

I’m a little nervous about the temperatures abroad. I’m a little nervous I will get there and feel like I need more sweaters.

I’m a little nervous about feeling lonely in foreign hotel rooms late at night.

I’m a little nervous that the ghost of my mom will be simultaneously too close and too far away for me to bear. Because we always dreamed of going to Europe together.

I’m a little nervous people are going to ask me about my country’s presidential race. Should I just wear an oversized I’M SORRY t-shirt the whole time? Do I practice a Canadian accent? Come up with an extensive Canadian backstory? Could I pass as Manitoban? Help me out here.

I’m a little nervous at how much I’ll miss my cats. I’m a little nervous at how much they’ll miss me. I’m a little nervous at how concerned I am about this, because they’re just going to nap for twelve days anyway.

I’m a little nervous about catching flights on time. Because there are six of them.

I’m a little nervous about somehow getting lost and having a train conductor (…not an orchestra conductor…) drop me off in rural Finland, even though I’m pretty sure that’s not actually possible. (…Right?)

I’m a little nervous about the 24 hour clock. It twists my brain more than I am willing to publicly admit.

I’m a little nervous I’ll come back from this trip a different person.

I’m a little nervous that by the time I return, the Minnesotan summer will be nearly over. I’m a little nervous – and unnerved – at how quickly time passes.

I’m a little nervous about exhaustion. I’m a little nervous about tiredness that will ache in my chest and throb in my head. I’m a little nervous I won’t sleep well before the trip, during the trip, after the trip. I’m a little nervous about other people being bright and perky while I drag my half-conscious body around.

I’m a little – no, I’m very – nervous about not writing well on the trip. I’m very nervous about letting my readers down, after they’ve been so generous. I’m very nervous that in the buzz of excitement I’ll miss the little details that will make people feel like they’re there. I’m very nervous my readers won’t ever understand how much I love them, and how much I love writing for them.

I’m a little nervous I’ll write a dumb blog entry about being a little nervous.

I’m a little nervous because, now that I write them out, none of these reasons seem to be reason to be nervous.

So I guess, to sum, I’m a little nervous about being a little nervous.

But there’s one thing I’m not nervous about at all: the way the Minnesota Orchestra is going to play. They are going to be very impressive to a lot of people. I’m not even a little nervous about them.

August 9

When I was young, my mom recorded and released a CD of original piano pieces. The seventh track on the disc was called Journey. She wrote in the liner notes: Life’s journey, always rushing by at an ever quickening pace. We don’t always know where we are going, or when we are going to get there. Life is the journey. Embrace this moment and be sure to enjoy the scenery! Maybe it sounds cliched because it’s so damn true.

Fifteen years ago, we took the train to Virginia. It turned into a forty hour clusterf*ck of backed-up toilets and sleep deprivation. (I keep thinking about this whenever I feel nervous about the long airplane ride. You have already endured, I promise myself.) Mom brought along a portable CD player, curious if the clatter on the tracks matched the idea of restless travel she’d had in her head when she’d composed the piece.

After a while, she set her headphones down and smiled. She didn’t say much, but I could tell that it was one of the rare moments when she was satisfied with her own work.

I keep thinking of this moment again and again, and I don’t really know why.

August 10

A trip to Europe sounds simple enough in the abstract. America to Europe; Europe to America. And in my moments of badass bravado, I feel like it will be easy…or at least go smoothly. Surely sheer excitement will carry me through!

But the number of relevant details start multiplying like mice. And the more I catch, the more come streaming out of the walls. Needless to say, accompanying an orchestra tour is not a tourist’s typical European trip, especially when you’re not an official member of the traveling party. Everything comes fast and furious. Helsinki, Lahti, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Reykjavik: five new cities in four new countries over twelve days, and I want to be familiar with the basic geography and transportation options in all of them. Plus, for a couple of days, while the orchestra is in Scotland and doing outreach work in Lahti, I’ll be headed to Amsterdam on my own to sightsee and rest and get some writing done for you. At that particular juncture, it’ll be my Samsung Edge and me against the world. (Well, and my carefully constructed itinerary. And signs. And the thousands of kind Finnish and Dutch people all around me, I guess. Them, too.)

I spent most of today in a transportation daze, tracking down every last detail. I’m relieved that Helsinki’s massive central railway station is a block or so from our hotel. (I wasn’t looking forward to a long trek on foot after my first trans-Atlantic flight.) It won’t be a very long walk from the train in Lahti, either. I took note that Amsterdam’s airport express bus is going on a partially alternate route the week we’ll be there. (Funnily enough, there’s construction happening outside the Concertgebouw. Maybe they’re reinforcing the streets to withstand the raucous ovations they know will occur when Minnesota comes to town…?) Amsterdam has cabs and hotel shuttles, too, of course, but their prices are just as ridiculous as they are in the States, and besides, I want to experience the city. I’ve been advised that bicycling in Amsterdam is a must, so that goes on the transportation list. Copenhagen’s transit options appear relatively straightforward, at least to the hotel and Tivoli Gardens, where the orchestra will be playing. Reykjavik has a unique system in which day tour guides come to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. The public transportation in all of these cities is amazing, and certainly puts Minnesota and America to shame. (Duh.) I’m very grateful for that.

But it’s a lot to remember. My version of my itinerary with just flight, hotel, bus, train, and concert information is a full four pages.

Right now the lock screen on my phone is Erté’s Athena. According to Wikipedia, Athena is the “patron goddess of heroic endeavor.” After today’s itinerary intensity, I feel like I need her protection, haha.

But in the fairness of full disclosure, some planning is coming easily. Today I checked online for an Anne Frank House ticket. (I want to go not only for myself, but also to learn more about the Dutch resistance in the context of the history of musical hero Frieda Belinfante.) Purchasing a ticket online saves a person a couple of hours in line. Although the tickets sold out weeks ago, someone must have turned one back in, because one had just become available, at a perfect time and date for me. I snapped it up right away. I’m excited and terrified to see the house.

In fact, I’m excited and terrified to take this trip.


Dear Athena, It’s me, Emily.


Filed under Minnesota Orchestra

10 responses to “The First Entry of European Tour Coverage ‘016!

  1. Emily,
    I’ve never been to Europe. I’m 66 and I confess I don’t think I will ever get to Europe even though both maternal grand parents were from Poland (father) and Germany (mother). I know very little to nothing about my paternal grandparents other than the name “Ragsdale” is English.
    I envision that you will have a wonderful trip, meet and make new friends in every country, learn some new languages, enjoy (or not) unusual or at least uncommon food, and revel in the awesome concert halls and music making.
    The trains in all of Europe are wonderful and frequently (depending on the country) on time. (My mother DID manage to make two trips to Europe in the 1980’s). Try to relax and enjoy the trip.

    Lisa R

  2. Jackie

    Have a wonderful trip! Relax and enjoy…you’ll remember (and tell stories about) this trip for the rest of your life.

  3. Ah, Emily! Just be yourself. You’ll be fine. You’ve really covered everything except… you have a Finnish phrase book with courtesy phrases like please, thank you, where is the WC?, and the like? Also for Dutch, Danish, and Icelandic. I have found it helpful in my foreign travels to use as much of the native language as I could as a show of respect, even if it’s to say that I don’t speak their language. I’m looking forward to your posts! Remember to breathe, and above all, ENJOY!! Cinda

    • Sarah

      I agree with Cinda – even if it’s just “hello” or “good day” to be respectful and acknowledge their presence (I didn’t do this in Paris once and it was not good). Most people will probably speak beautiful English (not American) and put us all to shame.

  4. I am looking forward to more! After my return from 16 days in Scotland and England, I recognize a lot of what you write. Nervousness: check. Packing nerves: check. (Where’d I put the passport? Oh, yeah. There it is.) Walking: check. Bicycling: check. Fast and furious: check, especially now, looking back on it. Enjoy your experience!

  5. Pam Thorsen

    Your Mom is so very proud of you as you know. Looking forward to journeying with you through your beautiful way of connecting. Feeling very blessed to know you and your Mom. I think over there you will call her Mum. Love you, Pam (and Dick and Britty too)

  6. You’ll have a fabulous time, Emily. My knowledge of Copenhagen is limited to a fly-through (returning from Russia–now there is an “interesting” place to visit. You’ll love Amsterdam, but be on the lookout for pickpockets, especially at the city center.

    Dutch people are quite friendly and you’ll encounter lots of English. The Reiksmuseum (Royal Museum) is a must as is the Van Gogh and they’re easily located very near each other, and across the square from the Concertgebowe.

    I wish you a most prosperous voyage with a fabulous orchestra. I know that Osmo and Co. will do the entire country proud.

  7. Kevin Kooiker

    I’m fairly familiar with Amsterdam; I’ve been there four times in the last ten years. Not so much the other cities on the list. I haven’t taken the airport bus; I’ve always traveled on the train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Central Station, (Centraal.) Depending on what hotel you’re in, the tram service is usually the way to get around Amsterdam; bus if there’s no tram. You usually use the train for inter-city travel. You will want a Chipkaart, which is a refillable card/ticket for the transit system. It’s surprisingly easy. You can rent a bike for an excursion, or just watch the bikes go by. When walking, you need to be just as aware of the bike lanes as the automobile traffic lanes, to avoid being run over. I understand that Copenhagen is much the same way: both crowded cities with trivial hills, so thousands of people commute regularly by bike. The typical family doesn’t own a second car; you will see hundreds of moms with two-three kids in little bike seats or loaded into literal cargo boxes on their bikes. Google Amsterdam mom on bike for examples. They don’t need the gym to get their cardio in! The language is a minimal problem; the majority of Dutch people are fluent in English. And the Concertgebouw is beautiful! I’ve been there twice; a minor problem the second time because part of the program included an extensive narration by a comedian, in Dutch, so we missed all the jokes. But virtually everywhere you go, everyone from the ticket sellers to the shopkeepers will be able to accommodate you in English. It will be great!

  8. EHI

    You will have such a good time, Emily! We all seem to agree: you’ve got this. And anyway, you only really need your passport and credit card; all the rest can be sorted because there’s toothpaste everywhere, right alongside all those English speakers who are delighted to help when asked. I bet you will be yourself when you return home but the world will feel a little bit smaller. I’m sorry you had to skip Edinburgh but I will do my best to keep the fangirling levels up for you (and I’m using the phrase in its most positive and dignified sense). In the meantime, I’m very happy for you and look forward to reading how it all unfolds. Enjoy the music, and safe travels!

  9. Dane

    As someone who has only ever flown once, and that only from the middle Midwest to Detroit then Minneapolis and on to San Francisco through connecting flights, you sum up the early stages of travel quite nicely here. I felt the same way.

    I hope you get the chance to take in a museum or two while your there.

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