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Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of sketchandtravel.com, is delighted to have as our guest, Kirk and Anne Woodyard.



Kirk is a project manager and competitive writer and Anne is an accomplished pianist with over thirty years of teaching experience. Anne is also a food and travel writer specializing in France and Italy.

This delightful couple organizes under the brand name of Music and Markets music trips to Europe and they are here today to discuss these trips, as well as some of their experiences.





Good day Kirk and Anne and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.


Norm:

When did your passion for travel begin? What keeps you going? Could you tell our readers how and why you became interested in organizing music tours to Europe?


Kirk and Anne:

In the late 80's we hosted a music-related trip to the south of Spain, which sparked our interest in Europe specifically. Since then we've been to Europe more times than we can count, often for music workshops in fascinating places, such as Slovenia or Paris.

Several years ago we were sitting in a quiet wood beside a chateau in the south of France listening to a gifted pianist, accompanied by gentle birdsong and leaves rustling in the breeze. I (Anne) remember sitting there with my eyes closed, just reveling in the music and the marvelous venue, and thinking, I don't hear ANYONE speaking English and Americans would LOVE this if they knew about it.

We happened to be in Provence, one of our favorite regions of France, where we enjoy visiting open-air village markets exploring a different village and market each day of the week. The name Music and Markets jumped into my mind and I couldn't wait til the concert was over to tell Kirk my idea. He was as enthusiastic as I, and within a few days we had planned an entire week full of delights to launch Music and Markets the following year.

The next summer, our guests loved the week of wonderful music, scrumptious food and wine, cultural discovery, and friendly locals as much as we did. Each day they'd insist that THAT day had been the best of all. With guests like that, a trip is even more fun than just the two of us!


Norm:

How do you come up with ideas for your music trips? What methods do you use to flesh out your ideas to determine if the trips are salable?

Kirk and Anne

We are always looking for interesting festivals, usually of classical music. We look for lesser-known festivals, or ones that may be in an area or city that is not easy for people to get to know on their own. We hear about them from musicians and music-lovers we've come to know through our existing tours, or from the many travel and cultural newsletters we receive, and from travel sections of UK newspapers, which we review weekly. Just this week, we received a request to bring a group to a festival which we'd not heard of before in Canada.

Our other requirements are intriguing locales with lots of inviting, not necessarily music related, places to see and things to do and discover, really great local cuisine (appreciation of authentic regional fare is a hallmark of our tours - Gourmet magazine wrote about us recently precisely because of that), and charming upscale lodging that is typical of the city or area such as a canal-side boutique hotel in Amsterdam or an historic riverside hotel in Prague.
 
We spend a lot of time getting to know a city or area that we think will work for a Music and Markets tour, staying in several hotels until we find just the right one, trying recommended restaurants, scoping out best-buys of a place, trying the local specialties, and getting to know people - the local people add so much to our time in a place. So a lot of elements have to be there to make a destination a good fit for Music and Markets.


Norm:

As a follow up to the last question, what can travelers expect from these trips?


Kirk and Anne:

I think it would be best to let our guests tell you  here are some quotes from previous clients:

"It seems like a dream, but one from which I did not want to wake! Our trip to Prague with you both showing us the many special things about that city, will always remain one of my very special trips. Thanks a million - again. It was wonderful."

"Our experience with Music and Markets was terrific! Our trip to Provence with Music and Markets was one of the most memorable of our many travels. The richness and variety of activities and the quality of the planning were simply unmatched, and the intimacy of our group was like traveling with family. What joy! There couldn't be a more direct and satisfying way of submerging oneself in a regional culture than markets in the morning, music in the evening, and spectacular food before, during, and after with new friends in the Provencal. The sweet and exquisite essence of France was at our fingertips (and on our lips) for a blissful week!"

"Just wanted to let you know that we had a wonderful time in Amsterdam. Both you and Kirk so impressed us with your commitment to us and desire to make it such a special time."


Norm:

You have traveled to many of the European capitals over the years, if you had to choose 6 of the most romantic cities in Europe, which ones would you choose and why?


Kirk and Anne:


***Well, Paris isn't that everyone's favorite romantic city? We love strolling the streets day and night, at any time of the year, wandering through Luxembourg Gardens, enjoying a decadent hot chocolate at Angelina's on Rue de Rivoli, sipping a glass of wine in a smoky bistro, watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle at night&.


***Amsterdam  it's so romantic to walk the cobble stoned lanes beside the canals after dark, with the lights outlining the hump-backed bridges glittering in the water, gazing into the elegant rooms of the historic canal houses, their curtains open to let us enjoy the interiors with their intricate ceiling moldings, ornate mirrors and lush flower arrangements&on a cold winter evening we'll stop by a candlelit café, so warmly welcoming. The Dutch have a name for the cozy comfort of their cafes and homes gezzelig.


Intimate smaller towns lend themselves even more to romance, for us  here are a few favorites:

***We spent Valentine's Day in Brugges, Belgium, one year, and were surprised to see how packed it was in the middle of winter. Many couples come there to get married, then return to celebrate their anniversaries. Strolling the winding canals, appreciating the ornate Flemish baroque architecture, riding a bicycle-built-for-two along the cobbled lanes, sampling fabulous chocolates from one shop after another a delightful lover's weekend!

***A quietly romantic favorite is Bellagio, on Lake Como in northern Italy another eminently strollable town, lush with flowers, with tawny-hued houses lining the stepped and cobbled streets  no cars in most of the center. We love sitting by the lake just relaxing, or riding the ferry from one village to another. The lake side walk in the neighboring village of Varenna is definitely a local lover's lane.

***A little seaside town in the Puglia region of Italy, Polignano a Mare, is home to the romantically-located Grotta Palazese Hotel. Our room was perched on the cliff side, with the huge sea grotto, into which the hotel summer dining room is built, below. The view out to the iridescent peacock-feather blue ocean, and the sound of the surf at night are two romantic memories. And tiny Polignano a Mare has a fabulous gelateria Super Mago del Gelo loved their caffe-nocciola gelato.

***Picture-postcard Annecy, in the French Alps, with its meandering flower-lined canals is another romantic spot. We love packing a picnic and renting a paddle boat to take out into the middle of Lake Annecy. We lie on the deck, gazing at the dramatic mountains surrounding the lake, watch the paragliders overhead (Kirk tried that ran off a cliff top and flew over the lake quite an experience!), bake in the sun, and jump in the crystal clear water to cool off. It's like our own private island - relaxing and romantic&

Norm:


Would you recommend one of your tours as a honeymoon or romantic getaway? If so, why?


Kirk and Anne:

The three current tours that would best fit the bill for a romantic getaway are Prague, Provence, or Amsterdam. As you can tell from our previous answer, we really enjoy strolling romantic lanes together, and there is lots of opportunity to get off on your own in those locations and the places are inherently romantic as well.

Since we travel as a group, we don't see Music and Markets as a prime option for honeymoon travel  though our groups are small, they're too large for a honeymoon!


Norm:

How have you used the Internet to attract people to your trips?

Kirk and Anne:

The internet is the main way we let people know about Music and Markets. In addition to our site, we are listed on Culturaltravels.com, and Shawguides.com, which promotes educational travel.
We handle the majority of our correspondence, including Press Releases and notification of upcoming trips, by email as well.

Norm:

As travelers and music trip organizers, what are your biggest challenges on the road?

Kirk and Anne:

When we're leading a tour, it's always a challenge to get the entire group out the door at the same time  and we have to be sure to do this so we can get to events on time! Getting enough rest is a challenge for us too the days and nights are so full of fun and exciting things that it's sometimes hard to wind down at night, and there's always prep work for the next day.

When we're researching a new location, it's a challenge to fit in everything we want to in the time that we allow. We often tack on trips to new locations after an established Music and Markets tour, and those days are PACKED with so much moving from hotel to hotel, eating more than we usually do, to check out as many restaurants as possible, meeting new people, and touring museums and significant sites.

Norm:

Have you ever had any unusual experiences with some of the travelers who have participated in anyone of your trips?

Kirk and Anne:

One lovely lady had her purse stolen in one city just before getting on the train to come join us in another country she was allowed to travel to join us, but ended up spending much time getting a replacement passport, canceling her credit cards, etc. She was determined to enjoy the tour, though, and she did!

On our Provencal tour, we arrived in Aix-en-Provence, where we were staying, and during our introductory walk in that lovely city, found that there was a rally of historic cars beginning on the main street. One of our guests was a classic car buff and was overjoyed to see all the classy old vehicles. He rattled off their obscure make and model names and snapped photo after photo - thrilled to have such an exciting extra to the trip.

Norm:

What preparations would you suggest to someone who will be participating in one of your music tours?

Kirk and Anne

Go to the library or bookstore and pick up at least one book about the area. This basic familiarity will keep everything from being altogether new, and give you an idea of what you'd like to do or see in your spare time. Seeing in person what's been described in text is delightful and hearing the stories twice aids the memory. Those who are so inclined could also read up on the featured composer or period of music being performed at the festival.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Kirk and Anne

Yes access is a major benefit of Music and Markets tours. People who couldn't imagine going to Prague, for example, alone, could enjoy Prague with Music and Markets along side them. We make it easy for our guests to spend time with local people, and to enjoy concerts in amazing venues, from cloisters of ancient abbeys, to private gardens. And any attempt to make classical music more accessible is always greatly appreciated.
 
One guest who came on our Provence tour said that she had always wanted to go to the La Roque d'Antheron Piano Festival, but didn't know how she'd get around, and was thrilled at the opportunity to enjoy the festival with Music and Markets.
However, seasoned travelers, expert shoppers, and experienced classical music lovers fit right in as well. It's great fun for our guests whatever their level of expertise in travel or music may be.

Thanks once again and bon voyage!

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