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Today was a great day for many reasons. We toured Florence, We sang our first concert, and best of all, the weary travelers who spent the last day and a half trying to get here after their cancelled flight finally arrived. There was great celebration by everyone once we were finally all together!

Florence, or Firenza, is an amazing city and the home of some of the most important artists and thinkers of all time. We started the day with a 6:00 wake up call. Every single kid made it to breakfast on time for check-in. (remind them next time they won't get out of bed for school). We loaded up the coaches and drove into Florence. Since it is mostly a pedestrian city, the coaches had to park outside the city and we walked about 15 minutes to get there. When we got off the coaches we met our local guides who set us up with what is called a "whisper system". This is one of the things we've told touring companies is a necessity. Every person gets a receiver with an earbud. The guide wears a mic and we can hear everything she says without having to crowd around her in a bustling city. It makes all the difference!

We went right to the Galleria dell' Accademia, which houses many great Italian artworks from the middle ages through the renaissance. The most iconic of these is Michaelangelo's "David".

Friends, I can tell you that you can see pictures, you can see replicas, and people can describe it to you, but when you are actually in the room with that statue, it is a sight to behold that you won't forget! I wasn't aware that there was so much anticipation of this work that Michaelangelo surrounded it with a hug barrier scaffold so no one could see him work on it.

After the Museum, we had a two-hour walking tour of the city. The forecast for today was 100% chance of rain all day, so we girded up for a cold, wet trek. But the magic of the SME choir trip kicked in and although a bit gloomy, it just spit at us a bit during the tour. (to be honest, it was sort of a cool way to see a medieval city.) On the tour we saw the Duomo (you can't go in on Sunday until after 2pm due to services), the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, the Piazza della Signore, and many other landmarks until we ended the tour outside the Santa Cruce Church.

From there we had a few hours to get lunch and explore. Most people took off to find an inside eatery as the rain seemed to pick up right after our tour. I had a cheese ravioli with boar meat sauce that was pretty terrific!

After free time the students met up to go to the coaches to get in our concert attire. The parents and chaperones had another hour to sightsee, as they were going to walk to our concert.

Let me just say that concert day logistics in Florence are a bit of a nightmare. The fact that coaches can't get near the heart of the city and there are so many of us that the churches cannot accommodate changing rooms, getting ready takes are fair amount of flexibility. Add in a pretty steady rain and I have to say our kids are pretty remarkable! (insert my Lancer Pride here) We went back to the coaches, split to ladies and men, and changed into concert dress, robes and stoles on the coaches while we were driving to a closer location to walk to the church. When we arrived at the church and went into the sanctuary, we could tell this would be pretty cool.

These cathedrals were built for choir sound! We got our bearings and had a short warm up. We had enough time to run a few spots in a few pieces to get a feel for the room. When we cut off at the fortissimo end of the intro to Vieni Nel Mio Cuore, I could see the smiles on the kids faces as they knew this was going to be a special place to sing. With all the adversity we had in travel, with 20 people getting to Florence 2 hours before our concert, and heavy hearts because we were missing the 13 people that weren't going to get there until it was over, we sang a beautiful program to kick off our Italian Tour.

After the concert we plodded back in the rain for 20 minutes to get to the coaches and headed back to our hotel in Montecatini Terme. We went back to our rooms, hung up all our wet clothes and reconvened in the lobby to enthusiastically greet the last group to arrive in Italy.

In case you aren't aware, our kids really love each other. There were hugs, smiles, laughs, tears and a corporate feeling of relief that we were finally all together. As far as I'm concerned, the 2018 SME Choir Tour officially began right then!

We went right in to a late dinner, had a short meeting about tomorrow, and we all decided to have room checks immediately because it was already 10:30.

The longest two days in my 5 SME choir trips has ended, it's 12:30 and I'm going to get some sleep!

Wait until I tell you about what we're doing tomorrow!!!

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