Vacation, all I ever wanted

We’re back in Vienna after 12 amazing days in the Netherlands and Belgium. After a year and a half of being together, I finally got to really spend time in Jacco’s home country (Holland), so this was a meaningful and special trip for the both of us.

We visited Amsterdam, the Hague, and Amersfoort before heading south and seeing Bruges.

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Shameless selfie stick usage in Amsterdam

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The most amazing tulips of my life in Keukenhof

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Keukenhof

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The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer, The Hague

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Brugge, Belgium

I think I’ve experienced more history, art, and culture in the past few days than I have in my previous 24 years combined.

We visited the Anne Frank house and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, walked through Mauritshuis in the Hague, and said a prayer over the cloth stained with Christ’s blood (yes, really) in Bruges.

If you love old things as much as I do, you might understand why the past week and a half has been so exciting for me. The architecture from the Middle Ages, the paintings preserved for almost a thousand years, the streets that Van Gogh himself walked had every history-nerd bone in my body tingling.

The cities are also filled with stuff for the younger crowd, of course. I’m pretty sure no one parties like Amsterdam. I think the coffee shops, restaurants, and bars may be worth the trip just by themselves, but I’m glad we got to experience at least a little bit of a lot of different attractions.

And now we’re back! Returning to Vienna really felt like coming back home… it’s great to be here again.

Austrian National Library

…aka my heaven!

Yesterday, I took advantage of our day off and headed over to Stephansplatz, where I wandered around and discovered some alleyways I’d never seen before. As one would expect from exploring in Vienna, I stumbled upon some really charming places.

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In Vienna, every corner of every street in the city center gives visitors something to see. As if the architecture and color weren’t enough, shop owners decorate their stores with fairy lights and flowers, making the streets an overwhelmingly delightful mass of cuteness.

When I found the Austrian National Library (which, unbeknownst to me, I had passed several times already, just thinking it was some beautiful governmental building… whoops. Sometimes I’m a dumb American living up to my stereotype), I discovered that the famous State Hall with the beautiful painted ceilings and mountains of books is actually located in the entrance off Josefsplatz (good to know for future visitors), so I walked a bit longer, but was absolutely not disappointed. I totally fell in love.

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The Library is part of the University that was founded in the 12th Century! The room also acts as a museum of sorts, housing original documents and heavily-bound leather books from as early as 1200. Appealing to my inner (and outer) music nerd, the Library even features a handwritten piece of Gregorian chant.

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The best part is… I’m only just cracking the surface of what Vienna has to offer. I can’t wait to see more.

Vienna

Grüßie!

I’m finally beginning to settle a bit more here in Vienna, where I’ve been living for about a month. Things have been hectic, crazy, and wonderful. I’m falling in love with this city — I’m a 20 minute metro ride to Stephansplatz, where you step off the train to the sight of massive Stephansdom, where Mozart and Constanze got married, and the bustle of life in the city center. All the shops and restaurants in this area are in buildings of 1700’s-era architecture… even the McDonald’s (no joke!). There are music shops galore and tourist shops that feature items from shot glasses to wall clocks, all with Mozart’s face plastered on them. Around the corner, you can buy real sachertorte from the Sacher Hotel, or if tasty gelato is more your style, you can get that, too.

I think I’ve found my heaven.

Last week, we opened our run of Die Hochzeit des Figaro (aka Le Nozze di Figaro, aka The Marriage of Figaro… in Austria and Germany, I’m learning everything should be performed auf Deutsch). I’m working with fantastic singers and orchestra musicians. I’m also in the unique situation of living with several of my coworkers! It feels very home-y here, and it’s nice to work and live with such talented musicians who also happen to be great people.

I plan to post updates much more frequently than I have over the past couple months; now that the dust has settled a bit (and my visa application has been approved!), I’ll have more time to dedicate to writing about my experience here.

One of the things that strikes me most about Vienna is that the people are extremely friendly and willing to help (I made this observation to a Viennese coworker who said, “Really?!” and laughed, but it has truly been my experience!)

Even applying for my visa was pretty pain-free. Granted, I had taken the time to make sure all my documents were present and organized, plus I took my German-fluent boyfriend with me to help translate things I couldn’t say, but still— it’s nice to know what’s involved with this expat process, because there’s really a ton!

Anyway, here’s a pic of me in my costume from last night’s performance. The audience was fun and responsive! It helped that Mozart really slayed comic opera during his time…

Susanna costume

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo… had to take it with an iPhone because I didn’t have my camera!

Til next time…

2015

I have been SO bad about updating my blog over the past few months. Since my last post, things have happened at a whirlwind pace: I traveled back home to the USA, I celebrated a birthday (24 — does this mean I’m mid-twenties now?), I performed the soprano solo in Mozart Requiem (a bucket list piece!!!) at my Alma Mater, I subbed for a week in the Fine Arts department of this really amazing private high school (that I wish I could rewind and attend as a teenager), I was visited for a week by my sweet Jacco and by my best friend who lives too many states away, and I started the advanced classes in the yoga app on my phone (shamelessly adding this as a “hashtag humble brag” moment — I’m just pretty proud of this accomplishment).

One of my most exciting updates is that I’ve been hired to sing Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro (auf Deutsch!!! yayyy Germlish!) in Vienna, Austria, this coming year, and to make things even more miraculously wonderful, Jacco has been hired to play in the orchestra, which means we get to be together — and really be TOGETHER — for at least nine months this year. We’ve said a lot of prayers last year that we wouldn’t continue to be kept apart in 2015 due to life’s many obligations and necessities, and we’re very thankful for this opportunity. Things have seemed to fall into place beautifully — and not to sound pessimistic (I like to think of it as realistic, thank you), but I’ve had this persistent thought in the back of my head that something is bound to go wrong at some point, since things have seemed so right.

Sadly, my grandmother was diagnosed with advanced brain cancer last week, which makes the prospect of leaving soon seem very bleak and uninviting. I’m constantly amazed at how much willpower this woman has — she is still as sassy, funny, and sweet as ever, and she is determined to fight this thing out as long as she possibly can. I’m so inspired by her, and always have been, but these past few days have made me realize that, as someone who is carrying her genes, I have an obligation to my family to remain strong, positive, and thankful for God’s blessings as long as I live. I recently gave her a hard-carved Christmas decoration from Dresden, which she thankfully loved, and she told me with a wink to bring her another one from Austria next year. She’s never flown in a plane, let alone been to Europe — but she has arguably been the most supportive person about my travel experiences over the past few years. She told me she would live vicariously through me this year as I explore Austria, so I intend to have the fullest adventure I possibly can, if only to tell my grandmother the stories when I get back.

So, here’s to 2015! I look forward to the adventures you bring.

It’s the little things…

So today, my German tutor gave me a new vocabulary word:

Straßenverkehrsordnungswidrigkeitsverfahren

And she taught it to me as kind of a joke, but what struck me is that this word is actually NOT a joke and that it really, truly exists in the deutsche Sprache — I mean, this is 43 characters worth of words that could have made a perfectly good sentence, but for some reason unknown to this Amerikanerin, they grace the German dictionary with their presence as one impossibly syllabic word.

I don’t know whether to be impressed, intimidated, or both.

Anyway, the word means something like “a letter to notify you about upcoming construction in your neighborhood and the resulting road blocks and how you can get around them.”
(….actually, after typing all that, I have to admit that the German version is more efficient… so, ich verstehe…)

My praise report is that every day, my German language skills are steadily improving, and I’m able to get around pretty independently these days via the tram and intercity train systems, and I went to the German movie theater and watched a German movie and wasn’t totally lost! Wooo! It’s the little things…

But really — I’m happy, and things are coming together. I’m really enjoying taking voice lessons with my wonderful teacher here in Germany, learning new music, and preparing for the coming months. I’m excited to see what the future holds. Ich freue mich 🙂

Germlish

My weekend was full of my favorite new language, Germlish. Communication in a new language can be equal parts rewarding and confusing, and these days, my goal is for conversations to be mostly rewarding and just a little confusing.

My Germlish skills vary depending on the scenario and/or with whom I’m speaking — sometimes it’s basically nothing but English and the classic smile-and-nod, sometimes it’s a really “creative” German-English combo with sign language for extra clarity, and sometimes – the times I like the best – I manage to chirp out some German sentences with decent, or even clear, understanding of what the other person is telling me.

Friday, Jacco and I walked through the farmer’s market in Dresden and concluded the shopping trip at Karstadt, where I bought a postcard and some other touristy things. In an effort to “learn the money,” a.k.a. figure out which fancy coins are which in the Euro system, I checked out at the register without allowing myself to ask Jacco, “Ok, so can you find €7.68 for me?” 

I dug through my Katze-shaped coin purse for the closest change I could find while I stood in line. I could tell Jacco was watching my progress. The line in front of me shortened. I’m panicking. Honestly, it’s like I’m back in Kindergarten learning the difference between a nickel and a dime — except now I’m 23 years old and feeling extremely humbled by this ridiculous challenge. Finally, it was my turn to hand the clerk my merchandise and my exact €7.68. I smiled to myself and thought, “Nailed it.

Later, Jacco asked me, “Did you know the cashier at Karstadt was talking to you when you were in line?” 
Me: “What? No, I had no idea…”
Jacco: “Yeah, she told you to move up and use her register! You were so concentrated on finding your money, you didn’t hear her!”

Jacco apparently thought it was endearing and cute, but I was embarrassed. I felt like an idiot. The difference, I’m learning, between a second language and a native language is the active listening involved in the new language. Understanding German, at this point, is not without its effort. It takes energy and attentiveness — but that’s what leads to those rewarding conversations that I’m learning to appreciate so much.

Today, Jacco and I visited a friend and his wife who agreed to teach me German lessons this fall! I’m so excited. I can’t wait to turn my Germlish into actual, grammatically accurate, legitimate German!!!! 

Last night, Jacco performed with the Robert Schumann Philarmonie in Chemnitz for their open air concert, the beginning of this year’s season. The finale was “Themes aus Star Wars” — and someone put an incredible amount of time and planning into a perfectly-timed firework show, which had me completely geeking out. It’s great to know Star Wars and fireworks transcend all languages. 

Here’s to an awesome week of new experiences.

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Theaterplatz, Chemnitz

Rip Tide (Days 17-19)

It’s amazing how much can happen in three days. Do people live in fast-forward here in Germany, or…?

Anyway, I’m so thrilled and proud to announce that my sweet Jacco has accepted a new orchestra position, on top of which, our trio has two new concerts to add to our schedule! Our first is at the Palais Sommer festival in Dresden, which consists of a string of outdoor music performances by the Elbe, and our second is a castle concert in The Netherlands! I’ve never seen Jacco’s motherland, so I’m especially excited for that one.

I’ve spent the majority of the past few days watching the Chemnitz Philharmonie rehearse and perform Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9, which Jacco told me was composed in hopes of converting atheists into believers — it’s really an astounding piece to listen to, and after the hour-and-a-half run time, it left me feeling a little emotionally strung-out  — but after hearing three complete run-throughs, I got used to it. I can’t say for sure if the symphony succeeds in converting people since I already believe in God as it is, but I can say that the second movement is really fun, like watching Pirates of the Caribbean, except the video doesn’t work so you just listen to the audio. Anyway, I was very impressed by the performance and decided I was a fan of the work.

I don’t know if it was the German-sized (read: generous) glass of wine I chugged in the ten minutes before the concert started, or if generously large glasses of wine make me feel a little snarky or whatever, but I compiled a mental list of concert etiquette *OFFENSES* that I spotted last night, and if I don’t vent them out here, I might implode.

So….

1. Wearing large, fancy hats to a symphony concert. This is not so hard to comprehend. Hat-wearing-lady sitting toward the front of the stage = three rows of people who can’t see Scheiße. For the love of all that is good and decent… save the headwear for the Kentucky Derby or Prince George’s christening.

2. Candy wrappers. If you think you might need to pop something sweet in your mouth during the softest (or even loudest, actually, because it’s all distracting) part of the concert, just…. don’t. Unwrap that mess before the concert or something. I have to admit, I am really skilled and well-practiced in making facial expressions to let someone know I disapprove of their concert etiquette (a.k.a., I’m kind of a snob, sorry), but I always feel a really guilty when that person is over the 75 y/o age bracket (and I’ll probably upset someone by saying this, but candy-wrapper perpetrators seem to populate that generation…). But ok, I digress… Just don’t do candy.

3. LEAVING DURING BOWS. I can’t even. This goes for curtain calls at the ends of operas, as well, and it’s the etiquette breech that offends me most. Applause is a way for an audience to say THANK YOU to the performers, and unless you totally hated the music and don’t want to say ‘thank you,’ then please stay in your seat (or stand if you feel compelled) and give the musicians an extra two minutes of your life since they just worked really hard for you. Bows are also a way for performers to say ‘thank you’ to the audience in return, and would you disregard someone’s ‘thank you’ in everyday life? Probably not. Also, clapping isn’t hard. It’s possibly the easiest thing you’ll do all day.

And that’s all I have to say about that. *drops mic*

So today, Jacco and I visited the office that tells all the foreigners what to do, and we got some good information on visas and such for when I come back in August — my options include applying for either a freelance artist visa, which enables me to stay in the country for a year, a language course visa, which extends until the end of my German studies, or a job search visa, which lasts for three months. The freelance visa and the job search visa require me to have a solid knowledge of the German language before I’m approved…. so, uh…. I’m hitting the books for the rest of the summer.

I named this post ‘Rip Tide’ after the song by Vance Joy that I’ve listened to on loop this evening… It’s so catchy, it will have you singing about rip tides and cowboys running from themselves. Disregard any and all misspellings of ‘you’re’ in this lyric video. Enjoy!