Oberammergau 2020

Oberammergau comes around every ten years. It is the most famous and visually stunning presentation of Christ’s Passion in the world.

In 1633, the villagers of Oberammergau made a solemn vow.

In the early 17th century, Germany was in the midst of the Thirty Years War. The bubonic plague had also swept through the surrounding villages. Violence, famine, and disease ravaged the region, and death and suffering were imminent. Fearful and desperate, the residents of Oberammergau prayed for God’s grace. They swore an oath that if God spared them from continued suffering and loss, they would produce a play depicting the life and death of Jesus. And, that they would perform the play every ten years until the end of time. The residents of Oberammergau performed the very first Passion Play that next year.  Afterward, not a single person in the village ever died of the plague.  Oberammergau was spared.  The villagers have faithfully kept their promise to perform the Passion play every decade (except 1940-WWII) for more than 380 years. 2020 will be the 42nd installment of the play.

More than 2000 people are involved in the production of the Passion Play.

All of them are from the village of Oberammergau.  All of them are amateurs.

THE CHOIR | over a hundred choristers will be a part of the 2020 performance.  In the upcoming Passion Play normally 4 vocal soloists and 44 choristers will be performing on stage, at some scenes there will be a total of 64 vocalists.

THE ORCHESTRA | 55 musicians will be sitting in the pit.  In 2020, once again, the music for the Passion Play will largely be based on compositions of Rochus Dedler (1779 – 1822).

THE PLAY | The Passion Play will be performed 103 consecutive days from May 16th to October 4th 2020.

Tours including the Play sell out quickly.  Join one today!

Croatia: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About

10 Things - Croatia

Of the 22 countries that I’ve visited (so far), Croatia ranks among my favorites. And although European vacationers have been coming here for a long time, Croatia has recently become an increasingly popular travel destination among American travelers. But there’s much more to this amazing country than meets the eye.

Continue reading “Croatia: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About”

Luther’s Legacy

Experience the Heritage of the Lutheran Faith

A Lutheran heritage tour gives believers an opportunity to enrich their spiritual lives in unexpected ways. Walk in Luther’s humble footsteps across Germany. You can see the house in Eisleben where he was born to the cell in the Fortress of Wartburg where he translated the New Testament into German.  Or, visit the Castle Church in Wittenberg where he nailed his 95 Theses. Experience the rich heritage of your Lutheran faith as you visit the world’s largest Reformation memorial in Worms, or stand in St. Thomas Church where Luther first introduced the Reformation in Leipzig in 1539.  Travelers return from Lutheran heritage tour refreshed in mind, body, and spirit; ready to share how the tour deepened their faith and enriched their lives.

In 2017, Germany celebrated the Reformation Jubilee, the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation.  More than 500 years later you can still go and celebrate Martin Luther’s remarkable legacy in the places where it all began!

Statue of Martin Luther

Where to go:

Eisleben | Where Martin Luther was born, baptized and died.

Eisenach | In 1522, Luther hid from persecution in Wartburg Castle. During his time here he translated the New Testament from Latin to German.

Erfurt | in July 1505, Martin Luther dedicated his life to God, joining the Augustinian Monastery.

Lutherstadt Wittenberg | Where Martin Luther, lived and worked for 35 years.  It was on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church doors that he posted his 95 theses.

Wittenberg Market Square Luther Heritage Tour
Wittenberg Market Square

Plan a Lutheran heritage tour today!

 

Cruising the Panama Canal in 10 Days

cruising the panama canal in 10 days

Can I see the entire Panama Canal on a 10-day cruise? The answer is Yes!

My husband and I left on January 14, 2016 for a 10-day Panama Canal Cruise on the Island Princess. This cruise was round trip from Fort Lauderdale, and it was our third time cruising through the Panama Canal.

Eight years earlier, we sailed from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles on a 14-day Panama Canal cruise. I wasn’t all that excited to go that first time—I thought it was a cruise only my husband would appreciate. Little did I realize how much I would enjoy it, too. Before our first cruise, my husband bought the book The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough and we both read it. The history behind the building of the canal is amazing; the financial issues, disease, failed attempts, and the relatively simple design that still works today! If you don’t have a chance to read the book (which is also for sale on the ship, though it sells quickly and costs a few bucks more), you will still learn a lot about the history and construction of the canal during the cruise. A historian speaks over the ship intercom during most of the 50-mile long transit.

By Thomas Römer/OpenStreetMap data, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19678675

The difference between the 10-day and the 14-day cruise is that you cruise through the entire canal on the 14-day—because the journey continues to either the west coast or Florida, depending on where you embarked. The 10-day (or partial transit) turns around in Gatun Lake, but you still have the opportunity to transit the entire canal by way of a Princess shore excursion. A full-day shore excursion is on a small ship limited to only 90 passengers, so it’s very important to book your cruise early and sign up for this excursion as soon as it’s open for booking. Although I haven’t taken the canal shore excursion, I talked to shipmates who have. Other than it being a long day, they loved it!

1 - entering the first set of locks from the atlantic
Entering the first set of locks from the Atlantic Ocean.

2 - going through the locks
Going through the locks.

3 - gatun lake ahead
Gatun Lake ahead.

4 - heading west toward the pacific ocean
Heading west toward the Pacific Ocean

5 - Calebra Cut on the left and the Millenium Bridge
Calebra Cut on the left, and the Millennium Bridge.

6 - Passing under the Millenium Bridge heading west toward the pacific
Passing under the Millennium Bridge, heading west toward the Pacific Ocean.

7 - bridge of the americas entering the pacific ocean
The Bridge of the Americas– the entrance to the Pacific Ocean.


Ready to cross the Panama Canal off your bucket list? Join us for an 11-night cruise adventure along the engineering wonder that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Along the way, Caribbean, South and Central American ports offer a wide array of cultures and sites. Find the tour brochure and additional details here!

Travel to Cuba: Who? Why? How?

Cuba blog postEverything you need to know about Americans’ new opportunities to travel to Cuba.  And if you don’t see it here – please ask in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond. As the United States reopens its embassy in Havana, here’s what you need to know about traveling to Cuba. Much has changed already since the publication of new regulations for travel to Cuba on Jan. 16, which loosened some restrictions on travel for Americans, though travelers still cannot just hop on a plane and go.

1. So we can go to Cuba now?

Yes. But that’s not what’s new.  Americans have always been legally allowed to travel to Cuba as long as that travel was done for a number of allowable reasons, like humanitarian aid, research or visiting family. What’s new in 2015 is that you no longer have to jump through endless hoops to try to secure the “specific license” in order to obtain permission to travel.  The new “loosened restrictions” means that you still have the same laws to follow, but as long as you know that your travel qualifies, then you just go ahead and travel.  That’s what’s known as a “general license”.  You are required to keep records of your travel transactions for five years.

2. So I can pack my speedo and go on vacation?

No. There are 12 categories of allowable travel, and tourism is not one of them.  Beach vacations are not allowed.  The most common category being promoted is educational activities known as “people-to-people”, which consist of a full-time program of scheduled tours and activities designed to provide participants an opportunity to interact and engage with the people of Cuba.  You’ll stay with a group the entire time – no optional activities. classic cars in cuba

3. How do I get there?

Flights to Cuba from the U.S. are run by charter operations that have been doing this for many years.  Most flights depart from Miami, but new options have already been started from cities like New York and Tampa.  Regular commercial flights already exist via other countries, like Canada and Mexico, so that may be an option for your tour.  It might even be cheaper and faster.

Major carriers like American, Delta and United all are giving indications that they will add more charter flight options and could be offering regular commercial flights soon (2016?).

4. What about cruise ships?

Cuba is the biggest island in the Caribbean and cruise itineraries are easier to adjust than airline routes, so yes, cruises are soon to be a big deal for Americans to Cuba.  Trips still need to qualify under one of the 12 licensed categories (think P2P), but the cruise lines are all over this new opportunity.  Carnival, Pearl Seas and other cruise lines will all be sailing in 2016.

There are also several ferry companies soon to offer service, and private yacht companies that have already started sailing.

5. I hear hotel space is an issue?

That’s true.  Not enough high-end hotels and the possibility of a LOT more visitors is going to be interesting to watch.  The first thing we do when starting to plan a tour to Cuba is secure the hotel space.  So plan early.

cuba street

For the right group, casas particulares make for an interesting option – staying in Cuban homes as a guest of the family.  This certainly nails the people-to-people component and gives you a much better chance at enjoying some awesome Cuban cuisine than you might get at a state-run restaurant!  Casas particulares can be found in any of the popular tourist towns and give the locals a chance to make a little extra income.

6. Can I use credit cards?

Yes, it’s now allowed.  No, it might be awhile before the banks get operational, plus most places where you might want to swipe will probably not have the equipment required, so plan on cash.  You’ll have to exchange to local currency when you get there.  The exchange rate is 1:1 with the US$, but it costs 13% in the transaction. It’s fixed, so exchange anywhere you come across – airport, exchange bureau, bank… just be sure to spend it all because there’s no changing it back.

7. What can I buy there and bring back?

Souvenirs.  Up to $400 worth of goods, including $100 worth of cigars.  Which is like 2 if you buy the good ones.

8. So where do I sign up?

Witte is going to offer several “open” tours in 2016 and beyond.  Stay tuned for that.  We are always able to put together a custom tour if you have a group of at least 10 people ready to go.  And one of our travel consultants would love to sit with you to discuss all the options there are to travel with operators such as Globus or Apple Vacations.

We’re having informational meetings here in Grand Rapids on September 23 and 24 – please plan to attend! Or call 1 800 GO WITTE to find out more.

What other questions do you have about travel to Cuba? Be sure to ask them in the comments, or let us know on Facebook!

vinales-valley

3 Reasons to Visit China in 2014

A web search for reasons to visit China brings up a variety of responses, with the food and culture on almost any list.  While I don’t doubt the food is excellent and the culture enticing, those two responses can be said about most foreign destinations.

Great Wall of China
By Ofol [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Travelers to China are ready for adventure, new experiences and stories to send home.  Often travelers to China have traveled before and seek a place more unfamiliar than Europe. If you ask me, my three reasons to visit China this year are:
1. Adventure – Adventure seekers to China have a wide definition of this word. Think of adventure travel in this case as anything exciting and thrilling.  This may mean hiking to Tibet or biking along the Great Wall but many find excitement in less obvious ways.  For a lot of people, adventure is found new cuisine, alternate forms of transportation such as rickshaws, trying to haggle in a foreign language, making their way back to the hotel after not being able to read the map, exploring local towns, going “unplugged” for the duration of the trip, or in making a new friend. Whatever your definition of adventure is, China has activities that will exceed your expectations.
Food of China
By Jakub Hałun (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
2. New Experiences – There is a quote from Mary Anne Radmacher that says “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” What an eloquent statement. Travelers looking for new places, venues, journeys are are looking to expand on what they know.  For those of us considered western, the language, culture, religion and food of China is often novel.  Exposure to unfamiliar situations creates life long memories.
3. Price – Right now it is cheaper to offer a comparable tour to China than it is to Italy.  Deals are out there to be found.  Witte and other tour agencies are offering China packages that have full itineraries, good hotels and include airfare, all for low prices.  This is an excellent way to see many of the sights of this big country.
Simply google tours to China or view our China Tour Brochure to start dreaming about your upcoming trip to China.  And if I may- my favorite thing about our China tour are the dates.  The outstanding itinerary, first class hotels, almost half your meals- don’t top the fact that this tour ends on the 22nd of November.  Just in time for a short work week! With Thanksgiving the week the tour returns there is plenty of time to rest and recover from your time overseas.

 

by Whitney Korstange | Group Tour Specialist

Performing in Great Britain

by Jane Larson
Manager, Performance Tours
WJane_Larsonhile France and Italy have been the top destinations for 2012 and 2013, Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will be number one for Witte’s 2014 performance tour schedule. This is consistent with statistics from “Visit Britain” who report a 14% increase in travel from North American visitors this year.
In the last few years, the Royal Wedding, the Olympics, and then the Royal Baby have kept Great Britain in the public eye.
But, according to “Visit Britain,” 67% of U.S. visitors to Great Britain do not venture beyond London. This is definitely not the case with Witte’s performance tours! Beyond London, our groups are traveling to and performing in great cathedrals throughout the isle, from sharing joint concerts with Welsh Choirs to exploring Presbyterian heritage in Scotland.
Whether you are planning a concert tour to Great Britain in 2014 or in the future, here are a few things to think about:

  • British cathedrals and their choral traditions are strongly linked. During medieval times, when many of the great cathedrals were built, the monks would chant the offices, comprised of eight services or hours (Matins, Laudes, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline). During the 12th century, many Lady Chapels were built, in many cases specifically for the boychoirs. The Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral is world-renowned for its acoustics and two of Witte’s touring choirs – First UMC Birmingham and Santa Barbara Madrigals – gave midday concerts there this past June.
  • Regular midday concert recitals at the cathedrals offer wonderful opportunities for visiting choirs. Our choirs have performed in many cathedrals including Canterbury, Chelmsford, Chester, Lincoln, Salisbury, York, and St Giles’ in Edinburgh. Most only offer concerts on certain days of the week and, while pianos or choir organs are sometimes available, choirs should plan on a sacred repertoire that can be performed a cappella.
  • Many of the great cathedrals have professional choirs as well as choir school. In addition to singing for the Sunday services, the weekday Choral Evensong is one of the most important roles for the cathedral choir. While most cathedrals do not accept visiting choirs except when their own cathedral choir is on holiday, opportunities do exist. Choirs who want to sing during an Evensong service need to know and be able to sing the appropriate music, including the proper psalms for the day. Or you could plan to attend a Choral Evensong service for a unique opportunity to hear a cathedral choir at work.
  • Beyond the great cathedrals, many American church choirs travel to England to explore their Methodist roots. The Methodist Churches in England are often much smaller than American Methodist churches, but many are very welcoming to visiting choirs and instrumental groups. Concerts are often done to benefit the church or a local charity, and a hosted meal or reception before or after the concert performance is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the local audiences.
  • Presbyterian Choirs often travel to Scotland for the same reasons that Methodists travel to England – St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and The Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling are two of the historic churches where groups can give performances. Even if you do not have Presbyterian roots, the spectacular Scottish scenery and smaller picturesque towns make Scotland the perfect destination for many groups.
  • What about Wales? This is the smallest of the three countries that make up Great Britain but unquestionably one of the world’s powerhouses of choral music. The country of Wales is even traditionally referred to as “The Land of Song.” There are excellent mixed choirs – both for youth and adults – but the Welsh Male Voice Choirs are truly special and unique. These choirs have their roots in the community choirs forged in the coal mines and iron works of the South Wales valleys and the quarries of the North. To hear a genuine Welsh Male Voice choir is a very special and moving experience. We have contacts with several such choirs in northern Wales who are very interested in having joint concerts with American choirs. The town of Llandudno is a great choice with several beautiful churches with strong traditions of choral concerts.

If you haven’t already brought your group to Great Britain, we hope you will consider visiting one or more of these very special countries on an upcoming performance tour!

Performing in France

When most Americans think of France, some images that probably come to mind are romantic views of the Eiffel Tower, fabulous cuisine and stereotypes about chic but slightly snobby people. Except for jazz musicians, France may not be a destination that immediately comes to mind for choirs, orchestras, bands and handbell ensembles. Well, quelle surprise!—for 2012 la belle France has overtaken Italy as the number one destination for our performing groups!
Jane Larson, Witte Travel & Tours Manager of our Performance Tour Division is also our staff Francophile. Jane is a French Government Tourist Office “France Certified Agent.” As a longtime student of French language and culture, she continues her French studies at the Alliance Française de Grand Rapids (where she also serves as a member of the Board of Directors). In her 18 years at Witte, Jane has developed an extensive network of contacts throughout France. She is the first to admit that our true VIP and the man responsible for the success of concerts in France is the incredible Mr. Gilles Daziano, fondly known as Mr. D.
Between September 2010 and November 2011, Jane made three trips to France—two were behind the scenes planning trips for our groups. From March 31 to April 7, 2011 she traveled with the Battle Creek Choirs while they were on tour.
Here are a few words from Jane with some tips on traveling to and performing in France:
One of the questions that I am frequently asked by clients, colleagues and friends is, “why do you love traveling to France so much?” I can honestly say that it all started with my first French class in 7th grade. The language seemed magical and I couldn’t wait to have the chance to use what I learned! Because I got “hooked” on traveling to Europe when I was still in high school, I am passionate about creating quality travel and performance opportunities and experiences for students.
From my first trips to France as a student, to the most recent trip in November, I have learned how much most French people LOVE to hear an American speaking French. I know that the French language (and yes, even the French people) can be intimidating to Americans. However, it is a grossly outdated and inaccurate stereotype to think that French people refuse to speak anything but French and make fun of people who don’t speak French perfectly.
On the other hand, I ALWAYS tell people who are planning a trip to France that if they can at least learn a few key words of French they will “open doors”—and often the hearts of the French people they meet. The absolute minimum every traveler to France should learn are these words: bonjour (good day), bonsoir (good evening), s’il vous plait (please), merci (thank you) and au revoir (good-bye).
This past spring, after working for over two years in planning their tour, I was fortunate to travel with the Battle Creek Choirs. On the first full day of the tour, for our independent lunch in the small town of Port en Bessin in Normandy, our large group of almost 80 broke into smaller groups. I was with about 10 from the boychoir. As we lined up in a small shop to individually order our freshly made baguette sandwiches, each boy asked me how to correctly pronounce the name of their sandwich and in turn, said, “Je voudrais (I would like . . .) ___ sandwich s’il vous plait— then politely said, merci and au revoir.” When I saw the smile and impressed look on the shop owner’s face, I could not have been more proud of these young people!
That evening, the Battle Creek Choirs gave their first concert in a Gothic style 12th-century church in a small town in Normandy. This concert was sponsored by a local choir, the mayor of the town and also the organization France États-Unis, (founded after WWII to promote friendship between the French and American people).
By the time the concert was about to begin, it didn’t seem as if they could squeeze another person into this church that held about 300 people. At the last minute, Mr. D. turned and said to me, “Of course you will also need to stand with the sponsors and say a few words in French.” Gulp… suddenly all my years of French hadn’t prepared me for this! My words, first in French and then in English, were short but heartfelt—“It is a great pleasure to be here this evening with the Battle Creek Choirs from my own state (Michigan) from the United States. Thank you for welcoming us here in Normandy, France.”
The beautiful singing of the Battle Creek Choirs enchanted the French audiences, who hosted us to a lovely reception after the concert. This was the first of five concerts and each performance was equally well received. One of the tour participants and singers in Ars Voce (the adult ensemble) was Brooks Grantier, former director of the Battle Creek Boychoir. In a post tour letter to me, Brooks wrote:

“I’m writing on my personal letterhead, as a tour participant, to let you know that I found my experience with Witte Travel & Tours one of the finest performance tours I have ever made (and I’ve made a lot of them)… Venues were superb, and nicely mixed from the prestige places, to the memorable parish churches. Arrangements by Mr. D. were perfect… I was exceptionally proud to be associated with Witte Travel & Tours on this trip. I have received so many compliments about the service and professional style of the operation.”

What other advice can I offer those of you who will be taking your group on a performance tour to France in 2012 or in the future? First—don’t just think Paris! The regions of France are tremendously diverse and the smaller towns offer more unique “people to people” experiences. Besides teaching your group the basic French greetings, teach them to be patient, tolerant and flexible. The French can be a bit more formal than Americans and they are very appreciative of polite behavior. Please be sure to bring some small gifts to give to the local concert organizers.
Post concert reviews also generally comment on the concert dress—so make sure your group looks professional and polished, even for informal daytime concerts. In preparing your repertoire, plan a primarily sacred program because the best venues are usually churches. When performing in cathedrals, a more “traditional” sacred repertoire is required. For the full concerts—the French audiences LOVE to hear American songs—especially spirituals and more upbeat songs.
If France isn’t in your plans for 2012, I hope you will consider this very special country for a future concert tour. To give you fair warning, be careful if you don’t want to get hooked! A visit to France is like the first spoonful of a delicious chocolate mousse—you’ll be back for more!
Jane Larson
Manager, Performance Tour Division

Performing in Italy

For the past few years—and especially for 2011, Italy is one of the top destinations for our groups performing and touring in Europe. Everyone who has ever traveled in Italy agrees that there is a sense of magic in the great cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice. The country is filled with beautiful churches that have fabulous acoustics—AND the Italian people LOVE music.
Witte Travel has found that a winning formula for most groups is to have some concert performances in historic churches—often participating in a regular Mass. When possible, we schedule the full concert performances in some of the smaller towns and cities where there is more opportunity to connect with local audiences. Here are a few words from one of our local concert organizers.

The deconsecrated church of San Bevignate is a wonderful place for concerts. The city owns it and has restored it. The concert was great—the Varsity Men’s Glee Club is really a very gifted ensemble and the audience called them back for an encore! Some of them were American students at the University. It was touching seeing them meeting in that occasion in Perugia!

— Daniela B., local concert organizer

Although churches are the most popular places for choral performances, we have other wonderful venues for instrumental groups or for choirs that want to perform secular as well as sacred music. For the 2011 season, we have also purchased a high quality electronic piano so that groups can take this on tour to use for full concert performances.
Here are a few tips for choirs performing in Italy:

  • If you are interested in performing in a Mass at St. Peters or another historic church, your repertoire should include some sacred works that can be performed a cappella—especially songs appropriate for opening, offertory, communion, and closing.
  • For full concert performances, we recommend including some American music and spirituals.
  • For historic center city venues, try to keep your concert dress simple and easy to carry and change into.

One of our experienced Sales Representatives or Group Tour Specialists will be delighted to talk to you about the destination that would be a perfect fit for your group’s goals. Request a Proposal or call us at 800 GO WITTE.