California, USA 1995

Our choir arranged a national boys' choir festival during the weekend 8th and 9th of April and already on the next Monday evening two busses were loaded with a total of 73 choir members and parents. We drove to Helsinki over night and our first flight was to London the next morning. We had to wait for a couple of hours before continuing to San Francisco, so we had time to entertain the people at the airport. It was probably our most multinational audience so far. The flight to San Francisco took 11 hours and for most of us it was the first time in the world's largest passenger plane, Boeing 747. Our guide in San Francisco was Anja Miller, who had taken care of all the arrangement for our stay, and she was at the airport to meet us. After adjusting our clocks 10 hours backwards, we were ready for the first walk around the city.

Anja Miller (left) who had made all the arrangements in San Francisco and Riku in the redwood forrest. As the first American dawn broke, the globetrotters were divided into minibuses and it was time for a little tour in the surroundings of the San Francisco area. Before leaving the city, we drove to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was a really impressive peace of a construction and a good place to take photos despite the fog. After the photo shoot, the buses drove us to the famous Sonoma wine region. There we had the pleasure to spend the afternoon as guests of the Finnish American Home Association (FAHA). In the premises of the association, we had a chance to have a meal, swim and go to sauna. As an appreciation of their warm hospitality we sang a small concert. On the way back we stopped at the Muir Woods redwood forrest. The largest redwood trees can be over a 100 meters tall and seven meters in diameter, so it was a really impressive experience.

There are a lot of interesting details in China Town. Next day was reserved for free circulating in downtown San Francisco. In small groups we strolled around the china town, took some photos of the curvy and floral Lombard Street, cable trolleys, etc. After seeing the many skyscrapers, it was obvious that San Francisco is a fairly big city, but surprisingly clean and altogether really beautiful. So, later that afternoon we returned to our hotel with bags filled with various souvenirs. However, the day was not over yet. We had to prepare for the Holy Thursday Mass in the Palo Alto Lutheran Church. Our choir assisted the mass with 13 songs.

A group photo on the Twin Peaks hills. On the background the city of San Francisco. Next morning, we participated in the Good Friday Mass in the Ebenezer Lutheran Church by singing a few songs. Shortly after the mass began our own concert. We were positively surprised of the large number of listeners because it was a normal working for the local residents. We got a lot positive feedback, especially for the beautiful and harmonious tone of singing, which was recognized e.g. by the director of the San Francisco Boys Chorus. After the concert, a delicious meal was served in the church hall. The rest of the day was spent on a sightseeing tour with Anja Miller and Hannu Hanhivaara as our guides. The tour included the Golden Gate Park, the University Aquarium, the world-famous Japanese Tea Garden and the Twin Peaks hills, which offered a spectacular view of the sunny city of San Francisco. Our tour ended at the Golden Gate Bridge, where we took a closer look at the wire cables, which consist of 80.000 wire strands and are 92 centimeters thick.

Our tour guide Carmela (left) and our bus drivers Wade and Bill. During the five-day stay in San Francisco, the accommodation was provided by the local YMCA. The hotel was located right near the heart of the city and offered a swimming pool and modern gym. Saturday morning we had to leave all this behind and load our stuff to the two buses that arrived to pick us up. The buses were quite different from what we ever seen, because they had small beds instead of normal overhead storage compartments. So, the ten-hour drive on the Pacific Coast to Los Angeles just flew by while sleeping and playing cards. One of the best sights of the day was the coast with its incredible mountain chain and expanses of field. Also the large number of oil-drilling derricks and pumps noted. For the smaller boys spotting large trucks was a good also a good way to spend time.

Lunch break of the day was in a small Danish style town called Solvang, near Santa Barbara. Paul Halme, owner of a local bakery, had arranged us the lunch. Before continuing the bus drive, we sang a small extempore street concert on the town's market place. Later that evening we arrived to the Hollywood Palm Hotel right near the center of Hollywood.

After a good night sleep, the choir was ready to sing in the Easter Sunday Mass of the Los Angeles Finnish Lutheran Church. Shortly after the mass, there was a full concert. The church was filled to the last seat and atmosphere was incredible as we ended the concert with the Finlandia Hymn. The many warm handshakes and the heartfelt thanks for the touching performance left us with very uplifting memories. As a conclusion for the occasion, the Finlandia Foundation gave our choir a grant, which was intended to cover a part of the traveling expenses in California.

Our choir also got a surprising offer from the representatives of an American company called Kanto Productions. They offered us a chance to be a part of the international television series Children of the World. Our choir would sing the theme song of the show and it would be recorded later that summer in Veteli.

The life guard towers were a good place to pose for a picture. Later that afternoon it was time for us to go "Hollywood". We e.g. visited the Mann's Chinese Theater, which has hand and foot prints of many famous Hollywood stars in the cement in front of it, and strutted along the Hollywood Boulevard. Next morning our tour of Hollywood continued to Universal Studios Theme Park. There we had a chance to see village and town sceneries, an earthquake in the subway station, Jaws himself and many other movie characters including Dracula, Frankenstein, etc., etc. The best thrill of the day was probably the Back to the Future 3D virtual adventure. That joyride was definitely worth of an hour of standing in the line. The action filled day ended with a bus tour around city in the evening. Our bus drivers Bill and Wade showed us Beverly Hills, where the rich people live, and gave us a lot of information about places, where movies had been shot. We also made a quick visit to the beach, so that we could take pictures of the famous lifeguard towers and get our feet wet, or socks and shoes, as some of us seemed to prefer for some reason.

We spent the last day of the trip in Disneyland. Last day in Los Angeles began according to the American custom by eating a good breakfast, with maple syrup. After packing our bags, we headed for, well you probably guessed, Disneyland. So, it was another day of sheer fun. Most of our group members probably remember the spectacular sceneries of Disney's fairy-tales, all the funny gadgets, the massive Lion King Parade and the long queues, which were everywhere.

At the end of the day, we checked that all of our group had survived from Disneyland and drove to the Los Angeles airport. There we said goodbye to our four new friends Bill and Wade, the bus drivers, Hannu Hanhivaara and Carmela Eager, our guides. The return flight was also via London and as we arrived in Helsinki the city lights greeted us in almost a similar way as the city lights of Los Angeles had wished us bon voyage the evening before. Two buses were waiting us on the airport and after driving most of the night we arrived to Veteli. We were home again.

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Photos from the trip