On Spring Break, while many Eckerdians went off to exotic places like Venezuela or Nicaragua on service trips, I stayed in the U.S.
While that sounds like it could be a real bore, I actually had some cool experiences of my own thanks to Eckerd College Concert Choir. Directed by Marion Smith, the ECCC and Eckerd Ringers go on a Spring tour every year. Each year switches off between and national and international tour. Being from Vermont, the South was not exactly in my backyard so I was particularly excited for this trip.
On the morning of March 15, we piled into our 53-seater coach bus and waved goodbye to Eckerd. Our current destination was Atlanta (about a 9 hour drive) and we had a concert that night IN Atlanta so we had a bit of a
time crunch. The drive to Atlanta was the longest drive I had ever been on so I was pretty nervous since I have some serious motion sickness problems. Thankfully the trip passed without any major hiccups! We stopped about 3 hours outside of Atlanta for lunch and were given an hour to eat. I hopped off the bus in a hurry because I saw an Olive Garden a little while up the road and I wanted to make sure I would have enough time to eat.
Without waiting for anyone to come with me, I went over to the restaurant. When I walked in I walked up to the check-in desk and asked if I would have time to eat in under an hour. The hostess assured me it could be done and I was escorted to my seat by the second hostess. Promptly, my server showed up and brought the delicious breadsticks and salad, and I ordered my meal. It was my first time eating by myself at a restaurant but I can honestly say it was one of the best restaurant experiences I had in my life. My food came out quickly, was delicious, and everyone was so attentive and sweet to me. I ate quickly and was very sad to leave but left a generous tip and a nice note for my server and hostesses. After "the best lunch ever," I got back on the bus and
shortly we headed off. We finally arrived in Atlanta and I was just amazed by what I saw. I come from Montpelier, VT (population 8,000) so the size difference was quite apparent for me. it was beautiful and
there was so much to look at!
We arrived at the hotel and Marion gave strict instruction to put our stuff in our rooms and come right back
down since we did not have much time and we had to get to the church (where we were performing). I put my travel pillow and blanket in my room but brought my suitcase down to the bus. Lucky for me, my roommate is actually from Atlanta. She took off Thursday and Friday before Spring Break and flew home that afternoon so she could watch us perform in her home city! I was very excited because Marion gave me permission to stay with her at her house the first night in Atlanta! We arrived at the church and proceeded to lug multiple giant foam pads and giant heavy cases full of bells and their equipment up 4 flights of stairs. I seriously thought I was going to die of exhaustion. We finally got it all set up, ran through a couple songs, then Marion said we could head downstairs for dinner.
Still full from my Olive Garden lunch, I just had some grapes and water and it was delicious! It was finally time to perform and we did pretty well for having traveled since 7 that morning. The stage was awfully hot and I was grateful when we had finished, I felt very accomplished. One person in attendance was a woman who had attended Eckerd herself and done chorus all 4 years. She was now very involved with the church and
it was really great to see her great enthusiasm.
I promptly met up with my roommate and her family and headed to her house. I spent an awesome night and got to meet my roommates best friend and I was very sad to leave the next morning. My roommate's mom and I dropped us back at the hotel the next morning so that we could both go to the Georgia Aquarium (largest in the world) and Coca-ColaWorld with the rest of the group.
There was so much to see and do and at around 3 p.m. my roommates momcame and got her. I wished her a good rest of her vacation and she wished me luck on the rest of the trip. Marion had told us that after
we were done at the Aquarium and Coke World we could go to whatever we wanted just as long as we were on the bus at 8 a.m. I couldn't believe it! No chaperones? In a city of this size? I was completely dumbfounded. I had never been on a trip like this before! I headed back to my room with my friend and we decided it would be good to take a nap and catch up on some sleep. After that we went to the gym and a huge group of us went onto the main strip and split up to go to different restaurants.
I came home with my group at around 10 and went to bed shortly after. The next morning we headed out and said goodbye to Atlanta. Next stop? North Carolina.
Around 11 a.m. we arrived at our destination: The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. The Vanderbilt's
had this home built and it is now on display. The extravagance of the estate is breathtaking. We spent a good couple hours just walking through to see every room. After enjoying the Biltmore and visiting their sandwich, pizza and ice cream shop located on the premises, we got on the bus again for another 90 minute drive to Highlands, NC.
As the name would suggest, Highlands is HIGH UP, about 4,000 ft to be more specific; it is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. Since I have motion sickness, this ride was not a pleasant one for me. Windy twisty roads require slow turns in a car, but on a coach bus must go painfully slow. Needless to say, I had to watch the road at all times and when we arrived at the hotel, I breathed a sigh of relief.
We had about 25 minutes to rush up to our rooms, change, and make ourselves look nice before getting back on the bus to head farther into Highlands for our dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Eastman at a restaurant in town. Still on the windy twisty roads, it was an unpleasant 20 minute drive into town. Once we got there, we proceeded to load the bell equipment into the church we would be performing at the following morning (across the street from the restaurant where we
Since I was in 3-inch heels, I really couldn't be much help. I was having a hard enough time balancing myself on the hilly land let alone while carrying some heavy things. After everything was put in the church, Marion told us to head over to the restaurant. Now, let me say this restaurant was no "Denny's," this was a fancy place.
We were all escorted into a private dining room that had been reserved and introduced ourselves to President and Mrs. Eastman on the way in. What a pleasure it was to meet them! Since the President and his wife
have a house in Highlands, it made sense for us to tour up there.
In the morning we headed to the church and had our concert which was very cool because were actually part of the service.We were greeted by many people after the concert congratulating us and thanking us for performing for them. It was so nice to feel so appreciated.
After, we were all pretty tired and headed back to the hotel to rest and freshen up before dinner. There wasn't too much around in walking distance for dinner but thankfully Marion was able to convince a restaurant to let us go there, even though we had such a huge group. The restaurant sat us in shifts because we would overwhelm the place if we all sat at one. Since it was kind of a frenzy, I sat with some people I didn't know too well, a few of them upperclassmen. I then proceeded to have one of the funniest dinners I have ever had. It was really a great time. We were all joking and laughing and the food was warm and tasty.
Our tour had finally come to an end, it really flew by. The following morning as we boarded the bus, I took a minute to walk in front of the hotel to take a few more gulps of fresh air. I could even see my breath it was so early in the morning and I felt a wave of homesickness wash over me. Being from the Green Mountain State, fresh air is something we take for granted. But living in Florida and then traveling up to Highlands I really could feel the difference. Looking around at the mountains and the rural surroundings, I really felt like I was at home
again. We finally headed out and my longest ride in a car record was about to broken by the 14 hours ahead of us back to Eckerd.
Thankfully, the day passed quickly and we were able to watch a couple movies to pass the time on the bus. We stopped for lunch but not for dinner and were very excited when we passed the Florida state line! The trip was one of the coolest experiences of my life and it gave me such an awesome excuse to visit these places. I really enjoyed everything and am very excited for the International Tour next year.