As part of our Upscale Excursions & Discovery Tours custom, escorted group vacations product, we operated a MYSTERY TRIP back in September. The trip was a complete mystery to the guests except for the date and starting and approximate ending time. The guests signed up and paid for a trip that they had no idea what they were going to see and/or do for that whole day.
Even without knowing details, the trip sold out in only a couple days after it's release and we had a waiting list of people hoping to join the tour. (Maybe we should make every trip a Mystery Trip).
Some guests that attended the Mystery Trip, Jan and Jack Vogelgesang, were kind enough to provide a very thorough and enjoyable review of the entire trip. We love to make our trips special and add extras or visit sights that most group tours don't do. This trip provided some extra special moments for Jan and Jack that even we could not have envisioned.
We hope you enjoy this review as much as we did! Thank you very much Jan and Jack for taking the time to put your thoughts into words for our readers to enjoy.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12 -- We had an 8:15 AM departure from the St. Michael Church parking lot after having been served hot coffee and a pastry. There were 51 people on the trip plus escorts Pat Schrader and Mustafa Saraclar who handle the tours through the Palmer Travel Agency. These two personable tour hostess and host previously used to set up the trips for PrimeTime for the Aultman Health Foundation. Their trips were very popular. Thus they have a very loyal following, and their trips sell out quickly. Their tour itineraries are excellent, and this one was no exception.
This trip involved four different venues over the course of the day. A hint to these four activities was provided on the itinerary: Elegance, Patriotism, Culture & Fun Entertainment, not necessarily in that order! The first hint stated that "we would be truly surprised to find more than 1 or 2 people on our coach that has ever experienced the event offered at our first stop, something unique for sure. (The event sponsor even mentioned that they have never been visited by a group so they had to make special arrangements for us)."
As a prelude to this event we viewed a DVD of Yakov Smirnoff, a comedian who immigrated here from Russia. It showed this hilarious entertainer at his naturalization ceremony holding a small Statue of Liberty. He waxed eloquent about becoming a citizen of his adopted country. The DVD ended just as we pulled into the James A Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, OH. Garfield was our 20th president and was assassinated in 1881 before he was in office even a year. Once a year his home, Lawnfield, is host to the September naturalization ceremony presided over by a federal judge from Cleveland.
We had excellent seats to witness this emotional event where about 25 people from around the globe became US citizens. Countries of origin included Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine, India, Canada, Ecuador, Syria, Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Philippines, Cambodia, Portugal, Tunisia, Pakistan and Bhutan. The ceremony began with a color guard entourage dressed in colonial military uniforms presenting the flags. There were several short speeches by local politicians, and then the candidates were asked to come to a map set up on an easel and place a pin on their homeland. They then walked across the staging area to receive their papers, handshakes, and flags and other memorabilia from representatives of the DAR and other patriotic organizations. One newly naturalized citizen ended up standing near us while the closing ceremonies took place. We both looked at him thinking he looked very familiar. Then next to him was a fellow who also looked very familiar. As we were walking over to speak to them, they both looked at us as if they likewise recognized us. Long story short -- the young man was Briam Montoya Londono from Colombia. We got to know Briam when we attended the baptism of his immigrant mother several years ago. Briam, now age 27, has since become baptized into the sect that we embrace, although these people attend services at a different location. We learned that his mother will become a citizen next week at the ceremony for naturalization that will take place in Akron. The other man we recognized was the sponsor for this mother and son, and several years ago became Briam's stepfather! We were able to see the mother a short time later, and she remembered us from her baptism. So this was truly a joyous affair that we serendipitously became a part of.
Following the ceremony the park ranger gave a talk to our group about the historic site. We missed that since it took place while we were in conversation with our friends. Garfield's home is closed to the public at present due to renovation efforts; however, we did have time to browse the excellent
museum on the grounds.
As we began the trip to our next venue, our escort Mustafa told his "story". He too is a naturalized US citizen, his country of origin being Turkey. He regaled us with the story of his coming to this country, marrying a girl from Stark County, and taking her back to Turkey to live. They eventually came back to the US, and he told us anecdotes similar to some that Yakov had recounted in the DVD. His story is truly heart-warming and inspiring. Would that our natural-born citizens here felt as passionate about our country as Mustafa and Yakov do!
Now it was off to our second venue after our escorts offered us a beverage of choice when boarding the coach. The next clue read: "Our next stop will be a treat to your eyes, ears, and tummy (I know you are thinking food but....not so fast, maybe just good old tummy tickling laughter and fun)!!" This next venue would be our lunch stop, the Anatolia Cafe in Cleveland Heights. Mustafa had arranged for this marvelous midday meal at an authentic Turkish restaurant operated by friends of his. He described the meal thoroughly so that no one would think the fare would be so exotic that they might have trouble eating it.
The meal began with a shepherd's salad which consists of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers and parley tossed in an olive oil and vinegar dressing. The main course was shish-kabob (cubes of beef, deliciously seasoned chicken and tiny grilled hamburger chunks) served with rice pilaf and shredded red cabbage, carrots and parsley. Dessert was a plate with a small wedge of baklava, another similar item made with a shredded wheat-like material and a flan-like custard. (Sorry, but we just don't have the technical names of these wondrous creations!) We chose hot Turkish tea as our beverage. Entertainment was a half-hour performance by a belly dancer. Everyone seemed to enjoy this tasteful and talented finale to our dining experience.
Our next clue read: "Then we are off again to enjoy another kind of beauty, something to amaze the mind". We made our way down from the heights to University Circle in Cleveland. Our destination was Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra. Jack felt right at home here, having had season tickets for four of his five years as an undergraduate at BW. Jan felt a bit of nostalgia here too since she and Jack had attended a performance here the night he proposed to her almost 50 years ago!
We gathered in the Smith Lobby which had been the area where chauffeur-driven symphony goers were dropped off in the '30s though the '90s. In the renovation that took place in the 1990s, this area was enclosed and turned into the lower lobby. We were divided into several groups, and our first visit in the building was the Reinberger Hall which is a 400+ seat small chamber music auditorium. (Reinberger was the founder of NAPA and not the Rheinberger who was a German composer.) Then we visited the 2000-2100 seat main hall which was newly renovated and decorated about 20 years ago into the world class venue that it is today. We got to sit in front row seats, then climbed the steps to visit one of the box seat areas, and then on to the dress circle and upper balcony. On the way up we visited the main lobby with its Italian marble decor and Egyptian theme wall paintings. Then it was on to the original board room, no longer used for that purpose. Finally we made our way to the back stage area where we walked through the 6035 pipe organ chamber that has been placed in an extension to the building erected in this last building project. The organ was originally placed in the ceiling above the stage. It spoke through openings down onto the stage, but the sound never got out into the auditorium to any degree. When the long time conductor George Szell had the "Szell shell" erected for acoustical purposes, the organ was effectively sealed off permanently. A later conductor was interested in having the organ resurrected, and with the total renovation to the hall, the organ was removed from the ceiling area, totally refurbished for a cool million dollars by the Schantz Organ Company, and re-installed two years later in the addition at the rear of the stage where it could be heard finally as had been intended in the early '30s when the hall was built.
But it was time to move on. Our non-clue read: "Is that our last stop? We are sworn to secrecy and cannot tell". We made our way through Cleveland Heights, passed St. Paul's Church where Jack had a year's worth of organ lessons, passed Fairmount Presbyterian Church where Jack played his graduate recital, on through Shaker Heights and finally arrived in Aurora, OH for a tour of the Thorncreek Winery. We each had our choice of one of three wines, a beer or a soft drink. We both chose a delicious Aurora cream red wine. The owner, who is a landscape architect, has had this property for eight years. He has created 8 or 9 different garden areas where over 50 weddings took place this past summer. Each garden has a theme and is decorated with recycled "stuff" that he has claimed from around the area. We walked through the gardens as he narrated interesting facts about them. From here we walked down two flights of stairs to the wine cellar where the real work of the winery is done. We would have to say that this is one of the most unique wineries we have visited in our travels.
But all great trips must come to an end as we made our way back to St. Michael's, arriving back about 7:30. Our escorts had yet another treat for us as we disembarked, a bag of munches like pretzels or trail mix.