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.)