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Ring in the Christ 2004 was a journey through different cultures, traditions, foods, economic conditions and climates.  The Southminster Ringers returned on July 5 and are now fairly well-rested and recovered.  We wanted to share some of our travels with you, our Southminster family.  For even more details and a chance to ask questions, we hope to see you at the presentation on Sunday, September 19 during the Sunday School hour.

Following a great Bon Voyage concert on Sunday, June 13, everyone headed home to frantically pack for our 10:00 departure on June 14.  Several parents and friends drove us to Baltimore for our departure and we arrived in plenty of time.  We flew to Stockholm, took a quick tour of the city and arrived at our ferry for the evening crossing to Helsinki.  This crossing gave the ringers a chance to relax and recover from the flight.

The ferry docked at 10:00 in Helsinki, we greeted our bus and driver, Jussi (whose favorite English phrase was: "No problem!"), at 10:30, checked into the hotel at 11:30, and arrived in time for our sound-check at the 2:00 open-air concert.  The sun peeked through the clouds for the whole performance (as it did for all of our outdoor performances).  After a brief stop back at the hostel, we were off (minus one ringer...) for our 7:00 concert at the Church of the Rock (Temppeliaukionkirkko) and the outstanding acoustics of stone walls.  (The ringer found her way to the concert.)

Next stop was Ylivieska where we played to an audience of about 350.  Enthusiastic rhythmic clapping, an encore and 26 CDs later, we traveled north of the Arctic Circle to Sodankylä for a few days.  In addition to our concert and worship service, we worked with the newest handbell team in Finland: Lapin Käsikellot.  We shared music, techniques and fellowship with this small and enthusiastic group from Rovaniemi.

We motored south via Taivalkoski to spend a few days in Kuopio working with ringers from Käsikellokuoro Dolce (Käsikello = handbell and kuoro = choir), directed by the energetic Seppo Kirkinen.  We performed together with these ringers in concert at the Kuopio Cathedral and made some lasting friendships.  (A couple of the Dolce ringers later came to our final concert in Helsinki.)  This group rings with four octaves of Malmark handbells and is very musical.  We hope to see and hear more of them soon.

Russia was the next stop where we stayed with families in Vyborg.  Vyborg is a smaller city that is off the usual tourist path.  A visit to St. Petersburg was a welcome delight since it had recently been spruced up for it's 300th Anniversary.  Vyborg had none of the window-dressing despite its more than 700 years of history.  This was a rare opportunity to see how Russians survive with so little.  Our two concerts at the 711 year old castle were enthusiastically received by the locals and they were most gracious hosts.

After two bribes (30 Euros and 20 Euros) and one fine (110 Rubles), we were finally allowed out of Russia and into Estonia where we settled in Pärnu for two days.  We worked and performed with the Agape Handbell Team at the Methodist Center and again had a chance to share music, techniques and friendships.

A ferry crossing from Tallinn to Helsinki was fast (only 1 ½ hours) and we almost felt like we were home upon arrival.  Accommodations were the same as for the first day of the trip and concerts were again successful.  We traveled to the fortress island of Suomenlinna for our first concert and another "Rock Church", Kallionkirkko, for the final concert of the tour.  After so many concerts and much packing we found that the kilts were in need of serious attention: they were truly "Rumpled kilt skins" (thank you Peter Henry).

The flight to Iceland was uneventful, but we were greeted with a bus that whisked us off to the Blue Lagoon upon arrival.  (A welcome afternoon of relaxation and warmth.)  We played for worship the next morning, visited Reykjavik in the afternoon, swam in heated pools the following morning and flew home in the afternoon.

What a trip! Many of the ringers were like sponges and soaked up the local flavors.  After seeing some of the sleeping areas, I now have more sympathy for their parents.  The most frequent question was: "When is lunch?" It is amazing to see what can be done with 5 Euros for lunch: Six girls pooled their resources to get loaves of bread, meat, cheese, juice and dessert to have at least 3 hearty sandwiches apiece.  The rest?  A small can of Pringles, a beverage and lots of groans about the inadequacy of 5 Euros!  Some are more flexible and creative travelers than others!

Thank you to all who helped make this trip such a special time for all of us.  We wish we could share every moment and detail with you, and perhaps, over time, we will.

Richard Pinkerton