Monday, June 3, 2013

A long (but exciting!) update

I realize it has been a few days since my last post, but I have been so busy I haven't had a chance to share what I have been doing. Here's an update through till our last day in Brussels, I have so many exciting details about Italy already, I'll make it a separate post. Ciao!

We started our day on Wednesday by touring the Hofburg Palace (also called the Imperial Palace) where we learned quite a bit about Maria Teresa. During her reign over the Austrian Empire from 1740-1780, she had 16 children.  Luckily we were able to sing in this palace underneath a beautiful fresco painted ceiling. We then saw the Schönbrunn Palace, their summer residence. In Maria Teresa's later years as queen, she built the Gloriette, a gorgeous memorial atop a 200 foot hill outside of her summer palace. She would be carried to it where she would enjoy hot chocolate and a slice of cake. Talk about royal treatment! We drove next to St. Stephen's Cathedral where we sang for the noon mass and following that, we sang a recital there.  The gorgeous stone ceiling was quite a sight.  With a few of my friends, we then went to the Hotel Sacher where we had a piece of the world famous Sacher-torte. Not only was the chocolate cake amazing, but the coffee there was fantastic too.  I then got some much needed shopping done for myself. After walking around the city for a bit, we had dinner at the home of Dr. Jutta Unkart- Seifert. Not only is she a noted, former professional opera singer, but she is also hugely invested in community outreach.  As part of her efforts to spread classical music to a generation which seems to be uninterested, she now entertains young musicians in her downtown apartment.  Gwen and I sang for her the first duet in Schumann's Vier Duette opus 34.  That was a really remarkable evening. 

We started Thursday morning visiting the Central Cemetery in Vienna, where we saw the graves of Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, and Wolf.  We then explored the Haus der Musik museum in Vienna. This is a really fun, modern environment that bridges the gap between classical music and current technology. Not for nothing, students from MIT helped to build this museum.  I enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with a few friends and then on my own. Figuring out the public transit was a lot easier thanks to some help from my friends (pic). Dinner at a French restaurant was a nice change of pace from the sausages and beer.

Early Friday morning I was able to fit in a jog, something that helped me get focused to enjoy the next few days. After a few hours in the bus, we stopped at the boarder of Austria and the Czech Republic for lunch and to take out Czech crowns.  I was spoiled converting my spending to euros, here in Prague the conversion rate is about 1:20. We arrived at the hotel for dinner once we quickly toured the city. 

Saturday  we explored Prague on our own.  Many of us saw Don Giovanni in the Estates Theatre, where the opera was first premiered and conducted by Mozart himself.  Although the staging was slightly modern (with ballet, stage effects, and costuming) being in such a historic building was really exciting (pic.). Afterwards we grabbed a quick snack of Staročeské trdlo.  This is the Czech version of an elephant ear pastry, only it's in the shape of a cylinder (pic.) It was such a yummy treat. We then had dinner in one of the oldest pubs in Europe.  We enjoyed the traditional music from an upright bass and a singer with an accordion, both dressed in period dress. The trip seemed to come full circle from our lunch in München with the um-pa-pa band.

Sunday was my final day of my choir tour in Europe. As excited as I was to meet up with Wade in Brussels, I knew I would miss all my school friends and our performances in these stunning venues.  Luckily we were able to sing three times our last day.  After touring the Lobkowicz Palace, and seeing manuscripts of Beethoven's most famous works, we sang for a bit in the music room. After a quick lunch we headed to the St. Vitus Cathedral, where we sang two songs and I knew then how much I would miss the perfectly constructed acoustics in these old buildings (pic.)  We drove to our final recital (in the Na Marjance Hall) where I think we sang our best recital. There were very special moments on stage when I felt I was connecting with the choir one last time. After our farewell dinner we got back to the hotel where I finished packing quickly and got right to bed, a taxi was to pick me up at 3:45 am and I didn't want to miss it!

Monday was our first day in Brussels. After an early morning flight we visited La Grand Place.  Lunch was fabulous and we were able to enjoy the first sunny day in quite some time.  We then headed to a family's house whom Wade has known for years.  After I met the family and Wade had a chance to catch up, they took us to the Castle of Beersel and  Gravenhof Castle, where we were able to enjoy a drink on a beautifully manicured patio.  Wade's friends took pride in their traditional Belgium cooking and wouldn't give us any hints as to what we were eating until we finally got back to their house.  We enjoyed one of the best meals I've had yet, so it was well worth the wait.  We started out with a chilled, small-shrimp and mayonnaise salad in a hollowed heirloom tomato. It was just phenomenal. We then tasted what I call their version of chicken pot pie- only this mixture has meatballs, mushrooms, and shredded chicken served in a warm croissant. They called this "the queen's dish," and I could tell why she liked it so much! Dessert was dark-chocolate, amoretto mousse with a whoopie pie. Needless to say the next day I didn't need much for breakfast!

Tuesday I finally had a chance to catch up on some laundry.  I revisited the Grand Place on my own to explore a bit more and have lunch. I was able to find a beautiful patio where I relaxed and watched all the activity in the square.  As soon as I saw the dark storm clouds I was all too familiar with, I quickly got on a train back to the hotel and avoided the rain.  Wade and I went to a Belgian pub for dinner where I had mussels and beer- two of Brussels favorites. Although I don't eat mussels often, these were steamed in a Dutch oven with white wine and root vegetables. They were so yummy. 

Wednesday was our last day in Belgium, and after a quick work out I met up with Wade and his coworkers for lunch.  I had a blast meeting two of his outgoing colleagues and also seeing his friend, Kaj, from the other night. Luckily for us, one of his coworkers grew up in Rome, and she was able to make a reservation for the two of us for a Saturday lunch at one of her favorite restaurants. I'm excited to tell you how that goes.  Wade and I packed and went to the restaurant, Lola. The food was superb. Wade had a steak and I had lamb chops with chèvre on top. It sounds weird but at our next barbecue I'm going to try to recreate it, it was so good! We then walked around the city for a bit, took an underwhelming picture in front of the Maneken Pis, and grabbed a Belgian waffle from a street vendor (pic.) Mine had banana and chocolate and Wade's came with strawberries and whipped cream (pic.) 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I've been having so much fun, I haven't even had a chance to pick up my iPad.  Saturday morning we started our drive early to get to the Neuschwanstein castle. Driving through the rural farms in Germany was stunning.  We took a lift up the mountain and viewed the castle from a bridge suspended over a running river.  The view was magnificent (pic.)  The coolest part of the tour was being able to sing in the King's Singer's Room.  After lunch we headed to the Wieskirche. This small church is nuzzled into a hill in the middle of a beautiful meadow. The inside was richly designed in the florid Rococo style (pic.) The miniature recital we gave sounded great. Afterwards we drove back to Munich one last time, and I was able to make it to The Tales of Hoffmann. We were able to find tickets for €5.50. That's cheaper than a movie in the States! Of course The Doll's aria was stunning, but even more exciting was how many of the other arias I already had in my ear. The overall experience was awesome.  After a quick bite we headed back to the hotel.

Sunday we drove to Salzburg. After a coffee in Cafe Mozart we toured Mozarts Geburtshaus, which was Mozart's birth house.  I was actually able to see a few locks of Mozart's hair (maybe a little gross but still totally cool!) we walked by the Mozart Wohnhaus, which is where Mozart lived later. Then we sang in the Salzburg Dom. Singing in this incredible space was awesome. (Pic) We walked through the Mirabell garden in front of the palace.  Hidden to the side of the garden is Salzburg's oldest theater.  Just a few benches and a stage built into a hedge maze created a fantastic atmosphere.  (The following day I would come back here with a few friends and sing. That was one of my favorite parts of the trip so far.)  We visited the Festung Hohensalzburg, the white fortress atop a mountain watching over the city.  At the bottom of the mountain we walked through St. Peter's Abbey.  This cemetery has flower beds  commemoratings each grave. The fragrance of the flowers and the chirping of birds as we walked through the abbey was very cool.   (Pic)
After the tour, we drove to St. Gilgen to get ready for our concert in the Mozarthaus.  Looking over a lake under layers of mountains was yet another stunning view. Our concert bookended a mini-recital given by a local choir. Being able to share music with other musicians was such a humbling experience. They even sang a yodeling piece, but I promise it wasn't what you are thinking. It was a local folk song, and I could see and hear the the passion behind the music. 

Monday we were able to explore the city on our own.  I found a small group to have espresso with in the Café Tomaselli  in the old part of Salzburg. ( Pic) After a little caffeine we walked through an open air market.  Seeing local art and goodies was a refreshing break from the many souvenir shops.(pic) We walked through the abbey again to spend a little more time with the beautiful tributes. We walked up to a beer garden named Stiegl where this popular brand was created in 1492.  After another delicious sausage, pretzel, and beer lunch, we walked to a the Fürst chocolate shop- the original maker of the Mozart ball truffles.  Filled with marzipan and pistachio paste, this was an awesome treat!  After some more walking we revisited the Mirabell garden where the nine of us sang an impromptu song.  We walked around the inside of the Mirabell palace and on our way to the bus we braved the worst hailstorm I have ever been through. (Traveler's tip: the weather changes very quickly in Salzburg so always pack a jacket and an umbrella!) After a warm shower, three of my friends and I went out for dinner in the city.  This was the perfect way to end such a busy day.

This morning we packed up and headed to Mondsee to see the St. Michael Basilica. This is where the wedding scene from The Sound of Music was filmed. We were able to sing a few pieces and it was a blast. We then headed to the abbey at Melk. Singing in the cathedral was an awe-inspiring experience- a true once in a lifetime moment. On the way we passed Linz, the city where Anton Bruckner (a composer of a piece in our program) was born. Being able to sing one of his pieces in the cathedral was really cool.  After dinner we sat in on a professional choir rehearsal and seeing how their rehearsal etiquette varied and was also similar was an important thing to learn.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

This morning our tour guide shared some fun facts about Munich and, before I get into my day, I thought I would indulge you with a few. The name München comes from the German word "mönchen", meaning monks.  Making his first visit at six years old, Mozart went on to visit  München a total of 5 times.  This morning we went to the Schloss Nymphenburg- in this case Schloss meaning "palace" and not "lock"!  As soon as we got off the tour bus we immediately smelled the lilac trees, which, combined with the stunning view of the palace created an incredible experience- even at 9 in the morning! The palace was rich with artwork from Renaissance, Rococo, and the eighteenth century periods.  It was amazing to contrast the different styles and characteristics between rooms.  The artwork on the ceilings, rich textiles in the bedrooms, and chandeliers were my favorite parts!(pics to come!)
I watched the glockenspiel at 11, which was a lot of fun. I can say that is probably the biggest coo-coo-clock I will ever see, and the figurines were quite entertaining. (Pic!)
By law, no building may be built higher than the  Frauenkirche in Munich.  We were lucky enough to sing in this incredible space.  The ceiling is about 120 feet high, so you can only imagine the incredible sound in the space. 
Afterwards, I thought a visit to Munich would be incomplete without visiting the Hofbräuhaus. This was the Bavarian court brewery, and having a liter of their beer with wollwürste and pretzels on a long wooden table created what felt like a true German experience. It was so delicious, and the the tuba and accordion in the um-pa-pa band were wonderful!   After a quick visit to the city opera house called the"Bayerische Staatsoper",  we headed to our next performance in Erding.  Here I finally got a picture with a linden tree- a tree referenced in German poetry and lieder. (pic!) The audience at our concert was super responsive and it was a great way to kick off our European tour. What a day! I'm looking forward to getting into my hotel bed and waking up early.  Tschüss!
I started writing this yesterday from a Bavarian restaurant called "Zum Franziskaner."  Having my first beer in Germany in the first Bavarian restaurant I've ever been to, I ordered a sausage plate, "natürlich!" I can't describe the flavors of these sausages- it was an experience. (Photo to come!)

To get here I took the S-Bahn and I felt like a true German.  The fields are filled with canola flowers and the view from the train was even more gorgeous than from the plane (photo!) After that we roamed around Munich for a bit, got settled into our hotel, and had dinner, we went to bed.  I was too exhausted to post this yesterday so I will post today's just below!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Awaiting my flight to Munich at the JFK airport. I promise the next post will be more exciting! For a copy of my itinerary through May 27th please visit

The rest of my trip (including Brussels, Pisa, Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Copenhagen, and Malmö) will be included in this blog as well!

If you're looking to get in contact with me, my email will always be best (

I will also have an international plan if you're looking to call me.

Until München, tscüß!!