The Journey of a Lifetime

In seven hours I will be getting into my taxi to take me to the Vienna Airport to begin my return journey to the States.  It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the last four months has gone by strikingly quickly- it definitely feels like I’ve been in Vienna for quite some time and that it has truly become one of my many homes.  Likewise, it feels like the initial orientation in Mariazell, the IES 10 day trip, and my gallivanting off to Oktoberfest all took places ages ago.  I’ve grow so much since then, both personally and in world perspective.

But at the same time, it’s hard to say goodbye to a place that I have fallen in love with.  One of the hardest things for me, surprisingly, is actually saying goodbye to my favorite buildings in Vienna.  Partly from my Art and Architecture class, and partly from simply living here, I’ve grown attached personally to buildings like Stephansdom, the Staatsoper, the Karlskirche, the Belvedere etc.  All of Vienna’s most iconic buildings, as well as the ones that mean something personally to me. Even my overcrowded apartment and my roommates, I will miss.

Something else that I honestly hadn’t anticipated was making many truly great friends here.  Coming to Vienna, I anticipated that the music scene would be phenomenal- which it has been- but I wasn’t sure what kind of people I would meet here.  It’s a kind of goodbye that’s rather different than many goodbyes I have had to say in the past.  Saying goodbye to college friends at the end of a school year isn’t really saying goodbye forever, just for 3 months or so.  It’s likely, however, that I am saying goodbye to many people here possibly forever: My German professor, Frau Summesberger, the IES faculty, many Austrians I have met, and some of the students who have come from all across America to study here in Vienna for the semester.  I’m proud, however, to say that I believe I have made many friends here that I think will be life-long friends.  I look forward to seeing them again State-side.

One of the former IES presidents of Vienna told students that, “The first half or institutional part of your study abroad experience ends as soon as you finish finals.  The ‘second half’ of the experience is going home.  This is what helps start putting the experience you have had abroad into perspective.”

I’m anticipating for myself that the re-entry into America is not going to be as easy as it was coming to Austria four months ago.  I’m not looking forward to the reverse culture-shock.  However, it will be interesting to see how this experience has affected me once I’m away from Vienna.  It’s hard to anticipate what exactly I will be feeling 18 hours from now.  I’m confident that the personal growth I have felt I have made as a person will not diminish once I arrive in the states, however.

Here is my final goodbye to Wien, for now.  I know I will return, it would be impossible not to.  Although when exactly life will take me back to this city is uncertain at the moment.  All I can hope for is that it is sooner than later.  Ich liebe dich Wien, und Auf Wiedersehn…!

A Time for Self-Reflection

During our initial orientation in Mariazell, the faculty had all of us fill out a survey about ourselves.  It was one of those surveys that you think is incredibly silly at the time, and at orientation it seemed like just another piece of paperwork to fill out.  However, as our semester is coming to a close, the faculty had us fill out one last survey- the same one we filled out at the beginning of the semester- to map out how we have changed, and to self-reflect upon that.

I found it really interesting to read that in my initial survey four months ago I had written that I didn’t want to change as a person.  It’s entirely clear now, however, that the changes one makes while studying abroad are an absolute gift.  Obviously I can only speak from my own experiences, but studying abroad is not only about experiencing a foreign culture, traveling, eating, and sightseeing- although it is, of course, all of those things as well.  For me it has also been about taking risks, trying new things, putting myself out there, and learning about myself as a person away from everything that is familiar.  It sounds cheesy, but being away for four months in a country where everything is different- the language, the culture, the food, the people, etc.-  gives you the opportunity to examine yourself in a brand new setting.

Only after reading my initial survey have I really realized how much I have changed over the past four months.  Changed for the better, that is.  I am infinitely more self-confident, and have developed much stronger opinions about many aspects of life.  I’ve also realized that I’m much less afraid to offend someone when sharing my opinions .  I have a much firmer understanding of my strengths and weaknesses- and am less afraid of publicly acknowledging my strengths and admitting my weaknesses.  Studying abroad makes you realize who the important people are in your life, and who the type of people are that you want to be surrounded by.

Overall, I’m finding that I’m a much more adventurous, self-confident, and open individual.  Some people don’t view change as a good thing- especially when it comes to something like your personality that has changed.  I, however, view it as one of the best parts about my study abroad experience.  I feel like four months is just about the perfect time to be away from what is familiar.  Any less and your opportunities for change are lessened, and any more the adjustment back to your home culture is probably strikingly difficult.

My last week in Vienna begins today with our final IES concert.  I’m looking forward to performing with Ross in my trombone trio especially.  I love my trombone professor here, and he’s helped me to improve so much this semester- so it should be a fun performance.  And tomorrow I’m going to see Dudamel- conductor of the Los Angeles Phil and perhaps the most famous American conductor- conduct the Vienna Phil!

On Sunday, my German professor is throwing us a party in her home in Baden, Austria, and monday I have my two final exams.  After that, my week is open for my remaining exploration and souvenir shopping.  There are still a few things on my Vienna list, but I’m proud to say that I’ve done everything that I set out to do in Vienna, and more.  I won’t have any regrets about my experience here when I leave.

This semester has held so many phenomenal surprises that I never anticipated, and I’m going to miss Wien a great deal.  However, it does feel like the time is approaching in which I should return to the States.  It’s always revealing when you return to an old, familiar place and see how you, yourself, have changed as an individual.  I’m excited to return as an evolved person.

Time running out…

The realization has hit my fellow classmates and I that our time in Vienna is unfortunately coming to a close.  With less than three weeks left, I’ve been determined lately to wrap up my remaining unfinished business in Vienna.  There’s so much to do, and so little time…

In the past two weeks, however, I accomplished a lot of things that I hadn’t done yet in Vienna.  My parents came for a week to Vienna, which gave me an excuse to do many of the touristy things I hadn’t done yet.  We spent a lot of time in Vienna’s Hofburg, which was home to the Habsburg Dynasty.  The Habsburgs were one of Europe’s longest running empires- for about 750 years from 1278 to the end of WWI.  They housed the Holy Roman Emperors for much of this time as well.  It was great to finally check out the Imperial Apartments, where Emperor Franz Joseph lived, as well as the Imperial Treasury (where a supposed shred of the wood from Jesus’ manger is, as well as Charlemagne’s crown) and other museums within the Hofburg complex.  We also were able to see a performance of the famous Vienna Boys Choir, as well as the Spanish Riding School!

My parents also arrived in Vienna just in time for the legendary Viennese Christmas markets.  Approximately 11 Christmas markets opened in Vienna throughout the week that my parents were here, and we hit six of them.  Not bad!!

It was really great having my parents here, and having someone to share this experience with in person.  This has easily been the greatest and most enlightening semester of my life, and I have gained so much perspective and knowledge from it.  But that gained perspective wouldn’t be important unless I could share it with others, so it was nice to have them here.

The beginning of Thanksgiving week was also kicked off to a great start with a phenomenal performance by the Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Musikverein.  The Concertgebouw Orchestra is consistently ranked as one of the world’s top orchestras and I can tell why.  It was one of the most musical performance I’ve heard given by an orchestra not only here in Vienna, but in my entire life.  It was absolutely phenomenal, and that performance will stick with me for a long, long time.

Thanksgiving may have been a bit different this year, but IES threw us a rather nice feast to compensate.  130 of us traveled to an 800 year-old Heurigen, one of the oldest in Austria.  Home-cooked turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and other typical thanksgiving food was all present as expected.  But it was actually a really neat experience to reflect with others who had been given this opportunity and celebrate our thanks with them.  I’m going to miss a lot of people here from IES.

While people at home were undoubtedly doing their Black Friday shopping, on Friday me and 50 other IES-ers drove 5 hours to Western Austria to ski in the Alps.  This was my first time skiing, so as you can imagine…it was a mixed set of experiences, haha.  I’ll admit that after the first day I was about ready to give up. My ankles, knees, bones, and back were in severe pain.  It was the first time in my life I can ever remember feeling old…haha.

However, one of my roommates here is a native of Colorado and gave me a heads up that the second day of skiing is much easier.  And he was completely correct.  My second day skiing was infinitely more successful, and totally made the trip worth it!! 🙂  With the occasional fall, I was having an awesome time.  I can see why people who have been skiing their entire lives LOVE it.

It should also go without saying that skiing in the Alps was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS.  After skiing for a while, it was nice to sit down, look around, and remember that you’re in the Alps.  It provided such an amazing backdrop to the entire experience.

One Ring to Rule them All: The Ring Cycle

Last Sunday concluded the series of events that anyone who has talked to me in the past half-month has undoubtedly heard me speak about: Richard Wagner’s The Ring Cycle.  To help inform people about what I’ve been so excited about, here goes:

The Ring Cycle is a series of 4 operas written by Wagner that he wrote over the course of 26 years, from 1848 to 1874.  What makes this set of operas stand out  from every other opera?  Everything.  For starters, the story has numerous parallels to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  The story of Wagner’s Ring Cycle follows the origins of a ring that has the power to conquer even the Gods, that corrupts its bearer, and that everyone else yearns to possess.  Furthermore, the first bearer of the ring uses it to build a helmet that allows him to turn invisible.  Sounding familiar?  To go even further, Albericht (one of the main characters in the first of the four operas, Das Rheingold) is the first to obtain the ring and has several resemblances to Gollum.  Tolkien was once asked in an interview how much he had been inspired by Wagner’s work.  However, Tolkien’s response was, “Both rings were round, and there the resemblances end.”  I don’t know if I buy it.

This is the basic premise of the Ring Cycle, although the story is almost unbearably complex.  This complexity, however, makes the Ring Cycle so much more interesting than any other opera that exists, in my opinion.  The plot moves SO much more quickly than normal operas.  What’s important to understand is that most composers of Wagner’s era were writing operas about, for simplicity’s sake, love affairs between men and women.  (Cue stereotypical operatic plot where man and woman sing about how much they love each other for a few hours)  And then, almost out of nowhere, Wagner releases an 18 hour fantasy opera of epic proportions.  In terms of plot, no other opera compares.  Hands down.  Due to its complexity, I won’t go further into the story but for those who are more interested, here’s a link to the synopsis.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Ring_des_Nibelungen

The four operas last a total of approximately 18 hours, and when you add in the amount of time I waited in line for standing room prior to each opera (sitting tickets for the Ring Cycle sold out in April, and in order to obtain a good standing position you needed to arrive 4-5 hours prior to the opera), it adds up to…close to 35 hours. That’s a lot of standing.  But totally worth every second.

The story, however, is only one side of the coin that makes The Ring Cycle so damn epic.  For brass players especially, Richard Wagner’s music is the epitome of operatic music.  To give an example, the second opera in the Ring, Die Walkure, is where the famous Ride of the Valkyries piece comes from.  Youtube it if it doesn’t ring a bell.  When you hear it, you’ll recognize it.  Wagner’s orchestra also features the greatest assembly of low brass seen in any opera pit- a full trombone section, contrasbass trombone, wagner tubas, and bass trumpet section.

Perhaps the most incredible part of the Ring Cycle, however, are the innovations of Wagner’s music for its time.  Wagner is quite famous for his use of leitmotifs in his music.  For non-musicians who are reading this, think themes from Star Wars, like the Imperial March.  Leitmotifs are the basis for many film scores today, and John Williams is an example of one who features them in his movie scores very often.  Wagner’s score for The Ring Cycle features HUNDREDS of leitmotifs, which may seem a bit overwhelming at first.  However, you can imagine that by the end of 18 hours of opera, these leitmotifs very much resemble old friends- ones that you’ve spent a lot of time seeing/hearing develop over time and that you will miss after the conclusion of the opera.  At least, that’s been my experience.  Wagner’s themes themselves are also exceptionally solid, and Wagner was a master of developing his themes so that the audience doesn’t grow bored of hearing them.  For these reason, I strongly feel that if Wagner was alive today, he would be writing music for films.  Coming up with themes and developments is film score writing 101.

Because hearing the music itself is worth a thousand words, here’s an example of one scene from The Ring.  This scene comes from the end of Act 3 of Die Walkure, perhaps my favorite act of the entire cycle.  In this scene, Wotan (the ruler of the Gods) is punishing his Valkyrie daughter Brunnhilde by putting her to sleep for disobeying him, and surrounding her with a magic fire.  This act was my favorite musically, because it’s where many of Wagner’s greatest leitmotifs come together.  Also, just listen to the brass.  Those trombones are THE SHIT.

As a final note, for my non-musician friends who are reading this, some of you may be surprised that I’m dedicating an entire blog entry to an opera.  I understand the stereotypes that some people have about opera, but here’s my challenge to all of you: go and give it a chance before dismissing it.  In fact, give it a few chances.  Wagner, among many other musicians and philosophers, have often described opera as the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk, which translates to, “total work of art.”  Opera combines the art forms of drama, music, and visual art in one complete package.  There’s something there for everyone.  I’m proud to say that I’ve gained an appreciation for opera this semester- it’s hard not to when they only cost 4 euro for a world-class performance, and a different one shows every night.  Most definitely, completing Wagner’s Ring Cycle will remain one of my proudest accomplishments and fondest set of memories from my time in Vienna this semester.

Quick Update: Downtime in Vienna

After spending the majority of my semester out and about throughout Europe (I’ve traveled nearly every weekend since arriving in Vienna in August) I’ve decided that I’m spending the remainder of my 6 weeks abroad within Vienna.  The amount of traveling I’ve done to other European cities has only solidified how incredible of a city Vienna is.  Every time I return to Vienna from a weekend away, I fall in love with this city all over again.  Its incredible art and architecture, its impeccable public transportation system, its cleanliness, its nightlife, and most importantly Vienna’s musical culture really define this city, in my mind, as the perfect city.  Vienna is perfection.

With this extra downtime, in the last week I’ve basically been living at the Staatsoper (Vienna’s most famous opera house) and the Musikverein.  I am currently in the process of completing Richard Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle- a 4 opera series that takes place over the course of 14 days, and in many ways, has parallels to the story of Lord of the Rings.  I’ll save the rest of my ranting about the Ring Cycle for another blog entry, when I’ve successfully completed the last of the four operas.  So far this semester I’ve seen 7 operas, and I’m far from being done.  One of the things I’ve loved most about being in Vienna is the exceptionally cheap, yet world-class concerts.  Operas cost 4 euro for standing room.  AMAZING.

 

I also had the amazing opportunity to sit in on two rehearsal of the Vienna Phil. this week.  Tickets for actual Vienna Philharmonic concerts are rather difficult to obtain- season ticket holders are allowed to keep their season ticket subscriptions for…essentially eternity.  Not only do subscribers get to hold onto their subscriptions for life, but they’re allowed to pass these onto their kids when they die.  This makes it pretty impossible to obtain seated tickets for the Vienna Phil, and standing room is not super easy to get a hold of either.  The two rehearsals that I watched the Vienna Phil this week was the first time I was able to see them play in Vienna, which was really exciting!

This week we also experienced a great case of the Fohn winds, leading to some sunny, phenomenal weather.  These winds come up from the Mediterranean every so often and raise temperatures by about 20 degrees.  It allowed me to do some more exploring that I wouldn’t have been willing to do had it been colder.  I finally visited Vienna’s famous and gorgeous Stadtpark, and a group of my friends and I went to a Heuriger, one of the many traditional Viennese wine-taverns that serve some of the best wine in Austria.

 

Also of note, the Viennese Christmas markets begin this Saturday.  They’re the mot famous ones in Europe and from what I hear they’re pretty epic. I’m super pumped.  Also, my parents are coming to visit this Saturday for a whole week!  It’s pretty much perfect timing! 🙂

Art Horizons Broadened: Rome and Firenze

One of the things I love most about this semester is the sheer amount of free time that my study abroad program allots for traveling.  During my week-long post-midterm break, I made the journey to the city I have been most anticipating since before I even left American soil: Rome.

Before leaving for Rome, I admit that my expectations for this legendary city were quite high.  It is, in my mind, the epitome of not only ancient Roman history, but also the high Renaissance, two subjects that I have grown immensely interested in during my time abroad.

Thankfully, from the standpoint of Rome’s art, the city did not disappoint one bit. Easily, my favorite part of my trip to Rome was visiting the Vatican.  I woke up at 7:30am on Wednesday morning to attempt to beat the inevitable daily morning rush of tourists heading to the Catholic capitol of the world.  Little did I know, however, that Wednesdays are the busiest day of the week in terms of tourist activity at the Vatican.  But for good reason.  I ended up arriving at 8:30 and being greeted with a series of long lines.  Being alone, confused, and speaking no Italian whatsoever, I decided to enter a random line.  I had heard, after all, that in the Vatican “all roads lead to the Sistine Chapel,” so I wasn’t too worried about missing out on it.

However, it turns out that I accidentally entered the line for…an audience with the Pope!!  Apparently, the Pope gives mass every Wednesday morning, an amazing and unanticipated surprise.  Sadly, I did not make it into the actual mass itself (the audience chamber became full when I was about 10 people away from gaining entrance).  However, the Pope graced us rejects (who migrated to St. Peter’s Basilica) with his presence as well. 🙂  So, in short, I saw the friggen Pope.  A moment I will NEVER forget for the rest of my life.

 

As a side note, St. Peter’s Basilica is my new favorite church.  Constructed by Michelangelo and Bernini, I have never been in as awe-inspiring of a church.  Bernini’s bladachin surrounding the altar is absolutely astounding, and Michelangelo’s Pieta was Michelangelo’s first “big break” of sorts.  And Peter issupposedly buried there.  Pretty damn cool.

 

My morning in St. Peter’s Basilica was followed by a trip to the Vatican museums, which may be my new favorite museum complex in the world.  I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to see art in my life than when I walked into the Vatican.  I had the goofiest grin on my face the entire time, not gonna lie.  And it did not disappoint whatsoever!  Easily, my favorite parts were seeing the Rafael exhibit, where his famous School of Athens is held, among many of his other most famous paintings, and my time spent in the Sistine Chapel!  Thanks to the series of free Rick Steve’s audio tours (danke, Rick Steves) that I downloaded before leaving Vienna, I learned an incredible amount about Michelangelo and his famous Sistine Chapel ceiling, as well as the absolutely astounding Last Judgment, during my visit to the chapel.

 

 

 

My day at the Vatican ranks high among days that I know I will remember for the remainder of my life.  A series of unforgettable, and inspiring experiences all in one day.  🙂

 

However, this was just one of my 3 days spent in Rome.  My other favorite parts of my stay include: morning spent in one of the most iconic structures found in Europe, the Colisseum; having an incredible dinner with Emily where I had the greatest lasagna of my life; enjoying the best gelatto of my life at a place called Galatti; admiring and learning about the ancient Pantheon; and in general, museum-ing and spending the week basking in the glory of the greatest artists in history, Michelangelo, Rafael and Leonardo.  Art horizons = broadened like no other.

 

 

My 3 days in Rome were followed by a 3 day trip to Florence, the true birthplace of the Italian Renaissance.  Florence, however, turned out to be quite smaller than I anticipated.  In all honesty, the things worth seeing in Florence could probably be accomplished within 1-2 days.  However, the things that are worth doing were exceptional.

My favorite part about Florence was my visit to the Ufizzi Museum, the ultimate Renaissance art museum.  Rooms filled with works by Leonardo Da Vinci and Botticelli were aplenty. 🙂  My favorites: the Birth of Venus, Botticelli’s most famous work, and Boticelli’s Primavera.  With honorable mentions going to a lot of the medieval art and altars (that I’ve been learning about in my art and architecture class) and the works by Leonardo.

A trip to Florence would also be incomplete without visits to the Accademia, where Michelangelo’s David is held, and the Duomo, Brunelleshi’s domed basilica that officially gave birth to the Renaissance.  Michelangelo’s David did not disappoint at all.  I probably stared at David for a good 30-40 minutes.  It’s that damn impressive.  Michelangelo = most impressive artist of all-time.  Hands. Down.

 

 

With the addition of my week practically living with Renaissance art and architecture, my appreciation for and understanding of art continues to grow exponentially.  It’s a part of my life, although missing before, that I’m glad is gradually filling in.  Before coming to Europe, my knowledge about visual art and architecture was a sad sight.  Now I feel like I could lecture on it for hours on end.  Not that I will- no one wants to listen to that, haha.  But it’s something that will live with me forever- a new love for art.  It’s just one example of how this semester abroad in Europe is going to have an eternally lasting impact on me as a person.  I’m so thankful to be having this incredible opportunity.

Austria: Conquered

So my last three weekends here in Vienna have consisted of doing a bit of traveling to the more quaint regions of Vienna.  After doing quite a bit of traveling throughout Eastern Europe, and to Munich, I thought some time in the quieter parts of rural Austria might be a nice change of pace. 🙂

Here’s a map to help:

Wachau

A few weeks ago I traveled to Wachau, located within the Lower Austria region. This area is home to a few cities of note: Melk, where a famous Baroque abbey stands; Krems, a city that has unfortunately become quite globalized in today’s world; and most notably (for me at least) Durnstein.  Durnstein is a town that runs right along the Danube (the same river that cuts through Vienna and…fun fact: it cuts through ten different european countries and is the second longest river in Europe!).  Durnstein is home to an ancient castle that, really interestingly, was where King Richard the Lionheart was held when captured by Austria in 1192.  That’s right, Austria totes captured one of the greatest European military strategists of all-time. 🙂  But don’t worry- Austria released him for the steep price of 65,000 pounds of silver.  And then they built an entirely new town- the Wiener Neustadt- with that money.  Austria rulers…are awesome.

Anyway, the best part of Durnstein was the hike up to this castle where King Richard was held, and the amazing views the castle lent.  (Oh, and the Apfelstrudel jam that I bought from the castle town.) OM NOM.  Anyway, take a look at the view!

The trip ended with my very first wine tasting.  Austria is extraordinarily famous for its Vineyards! Oh, and fun fact: Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was responsible for starting the production of wine in Vienna.  (Marcus Aurelius is the roman emperor who dies in the beginning of Gladiator)

Styria

My next weekend trip was to the region of Styria, in southern Austria right on the Slovenian border!  Also, for some perspective, Graz lies in Styria, which is the birthplace of America’s favorite Austrian…Arnold Schwarzenegger!  We spent most of our time in Styria within Graz, and another fun fact- Arnold himself was in Graz the same day as me!!  He had opened a museum in his childhood home the day before, and was flying out of Austria the day I got there.  I would love to lie and say that I saw him…but alas, I did not.  Graz itself is home to many students, as a major Austrian university lies there. However, Graz was a surprisingly quiet city for its large student population.

While in Styria, we also went to the more rural parts- which provided for some of the most spectacular views of Austria I have seen thus far.  You just don’t get rolling hills of vineyards like this in America.  ANYWHERE.  We finished our trip by stopping by a wine festival- with parades, and some of the best food I’ve had since being in Austria.  I’m becoming a quick lover of Kartoffelsalat (potato salad).  For some reason, Austrians know how to make some damn good kartoffelsalat.

Salzburg

Last but not least, Salzburg is easily the second-most (after Vienna) visited city by tourists within Austria.  Salzburg was home to the filming of The Sound of Music, and, more importantly, is where Mozart was born!!  Easily one of my favorite things in Salzburg was Mozart’s Geburtshaus- Mozart’s birth house.  Now turned into a museum, it houses Mozart’s very first violin, one of the clavichords he used to write music with, some of his hair (kinda gross), and just a ton of information about Mozart’s life that I was unaware of.  LOVED. IT.

Also high on my list of things to do in Salzburg was our visit to the Salzburg fortress.  This is where to get the best views of Salzburg, hands down.  It wasn’t until I ascended the hike up to the castle that I realized Salzburg is as beautiful as everyone says.  For some reason, a lot of times cities just look more beautiful from above.  Check it.

We also did the obligatory viewings of the sets where The Sound of Music was filmed.  My favorite part- the garden setting, as well as the pavilion in which they sang, “I am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen.”

Moral of this blog post: I have officially conquered Austria.  I LOVE the balance between the city of Vienna and the rural escapes that Austria possesses.  Also, Monday marked the halfway point in my semester’s travels. I can already tell that Vienna will forever be my home away from the States.

Munchen: The Beer Capitol of the World

Last weekend I embarked on the one trip I intended to make even before setting foot on European soil- an excursion to Munich, Germany, which for three weeks every year is the host of the world’s LARGEST festival.  Interestingly, the population of Munich during the three weeks of Oktoberfest soars from about 1.2 million to 7 or 8 million as millions of Germans, Aussies, Brits, Italiens, etc. file into Munich to celebrate.  What’s also funny is that hardly anyone who goes to the festival (myself included) really knows the origins of the festival, until they get to Munich.  The festival actually originates from the wedding of Prince Ludwig and Princess Theresa back on October 12, 1810, where the city celebrated by drinking for 3-4 days straight.  The locals of Munich enjoyed it so much that they decided to repeat this event the next year, and the next…and the next.  I celebrated the 251st anniversary of this event last weekend.  Also to clear up any confusion, Oktoberfeset now takes place during the latter half of September.  It was moved up several years ago due to weather.

The train to Munich from Vienna took about 4 hours, and upon arriving in Munich we met the person we were renting an apartment from for the weekend.  Fun fact: all of the hostiles in Munich during Oktoberfest actually become fields and fields of tents to accommodate as many people as possible.  This means sleeping in 30-40 degree weather for the steep price of…50 euros.  Thankfully, we chose not to do this, but we did have friends who suffered through it- and they were mighty jealous of us.  Instead, we met up with a contact my friend Howard made and did what is known as couch-surfing.  For all you skeptics out there, it’s really not as dangerous as it sounds.  Our contact was the nicest guy- he gave us recommendations for where to eat, which tours to take, etc.  It worked out exceptionally well, especially since we were only two U-bahn stops away from the Oktoberfest grounds.

My trip to Munich also reinforced something that I simply love about Europeans.  For dinner on Friday night we went to a traditional Bavarian restaurant, and were seated with a British exchange student and her aunt (this is a very common thing in restaurants in Europe and Asia).  We ended up talking to them for at least an hour- I love how Europeans are so willing to share their life stories with the strangers that they meet.  It makes life so much more exciting, and just makes the world seem exponentially friendlier.  Why can’t Americans be like that?

On Saturday we got up very early in order to be first in line for one of Oktoberfest’s many beer tents.  Now when I say tent…picture the biggest friggen tent you can. (Or just look at the picture below, haha)  There were at least a dozen of these, and they are where the heart of the festivities occur at Oktoberfest.  Each tent serves its own unique beer, as well as assortment of pretzels, half-chickens, oxen, etc.  Yes, I said oxen.  Fun fact: over 100 oxen and about 2 million chickens are eaten every Oktoberfest.

 

Some of the highlights of my Saturday at Oktoberfest include: running into a group of German students and chilling with them for much of the morning (they were impressed with my German-speaking abilities, or they were just drunk), watching 16 year-old Germans consume about triple the amount of alcohol as me (Germans can realllly hold their alcohol), and getting a view of the Oktoberfest ground from the top of the ferris wheel.  Look at all those people!!! haha

 

On Sunday morning we took our host’s advice at went on a free, 4 hour walking tour of the city.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was the most enjoyable, informative, and sensational tour of my life.  Hats off to Munich- it is a much more historically significant and interesting place than I had ever imagined.

The tour began by meeting in front of Munich’s “top” tourist site- the Glockenspiel. However, our tour guide informed us that it consistently ranks high on lists of Europe’s most overrated attractions, so we spent our time mocking it.  It is a pretty pathetic tourist attraction.  Youtube it if you want to see what I’m talking about.

What’s interesting about Munich, that I learned, is that it has both a dark history, mixed with a culture that marks beer as one of the most important staples of life for the people who live here.

In short, Munich was the city that Hitler began his conquest in taking over Germany.  In 1923, Hitler led the first physical act of the Nazi Party by attempting to overthrow the government of Munich.  He failed, however, as the National Guard was alerted in time.  20 were killed, Hitler’s bodyguard took 11 bullets for Hitler, and Hitler was arrested.  It was in his 9 month sentence that Hitler realized that instead of taking Germany by force he would have to work his way up the political ladder, which he accomplished in 1932.  Anyway, I learned an incredible amount about why the Nazi Party made sense for the people at this time in German history, how Hitler manipulated his way into power, and how the people of Munich served as the city that resisted Hitler during his command over Germany during WWII.  There are over 120 subtle memorials around the city commemorating Munich’s resistance to the Nazi Party.  Quite astounding.

On a much lighter note, I’ll leave you with this anecdote about Munich’s love of beer and partying.  The picture below is called a Maypole.

There are a few of these throughout Munich, and it is a tradition for the people of Munich to “steal” each other’s Maypoles.  Now, as you can see, these poles are absolutely enormous.  Impossible to steal you would think.   The last time one was stolen was in 1995, and it was stolen from the Munich Airport, of all places.  Naturally, the airport security called the police and said they had a problem- their Maypole has been stolen!!  Their call was received with laughter- the police force has been the ones to steal the Maypole.  Tradition says that in order to receive your Maypole back you must throw a PARTY for the group that stole it.  So…one day in 1995 the entire police force forwarded all of their 911 calls to the airport security while they enjoyed free beer and partying.  Only in Munchen!

Lastly, some other fun facts about Munchen: it’s legal to drink beer on the job, even if you’re a policeman or bus driver; Pope Benedict (our current pope) is from Munich, and he has his favorite beer, Augsutiner beer, imported to him from Munich; and last, approximately 7 million liters of beer are consumed during Oktoberfest each year. 🙂

A Vacation Within a Vacation: Part 1

Hello everyone!  So I’ll be honest…I’ve procrastinated on making this obligatory blog entry detailing my 10 days of travel on the IES trip to Prague, Krakow, and Budapest.  It’s quite daunting to even scratch the surface of everything I did on this incredible excursion into Eastern Europe, but here are some of the highlights!  I’ll start with an entry about Prague, the prominent city of the Czech Republic.

First of all, let’s get rid of any stereotypes that people may have about Eastern Europe.  In all honesty, my own stereotypes and expectations about these Eastern European countries, before this trip, consisted of views of desolate, cold, and unfriendly cities.  I couldn’t have been MORE wrong.

Our first stop on the IES 3-city tour was Prague.  One fun fact about this trip was that each city we went to used a different currency.  Although all three nations are in the EU, all 3 are new members and thus haven’t conformed to the Euro yet.  In Prague, the currency we used was Crowns!  The conversion rate was 24 crowns per Euro.  Not bad, especially as the currency in Budapest gets crazy.  But more on that later.

With out first night in Prague, we wasted no time and embarked on a Disco Boat cruise on the Vitava River, which cuts right through the city.  Looking at the city for the first time, Prague showed its unbelievable beauty, something that really astounded me.  The architecture of Prague was one of the highlights- even normal apartment buildings were of vibrant colors and elaborately constructed.  Simply gorgeous.

The next day we took a guided tour of Prague Castle, and the Charles Bridge, two of Prague’s monumental landmarks.  The highlight from this excursion: St. Vitus- a Cathedral that took 600 years to construct, and one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen.  (And I’ve seen a lot of churches here in Europe)

Also entertaining was the Prague Castle’s band-in-residence.  They were a DAMN good band, on par with the best military bands in America I’d say.  I was suuuper impressed!!  And they were playing Bilik’s Lord of the Rings Symphony for Wind Ensemble, for anyone out there who is familiar with that piece!

St. Charles Bridge was next, where we crossed the bridge to get to the Old Town Square.  The Old Town Square only re-emphasized the beauty of Prague’s architecture.  My stereotypes about Eastern Europe: squelched.

The next morning we took a tour of the Old Jewish Quarter, a very significant area for Prague.  Prior to the 20th century, over 300,000 Jews lived in Prague.  Now, less than 2,000 live there.  One thing that virtually all Eastern European countries have in common is this shared bit of Jewish tragic history.  Krakow also possessed a very prominent Jewish Quarter, but the city shares a similar story to Prague’s. Less than 10% of Eastern Europe’s Jewish population survived the atrocities of the 20th century- something that will forever have a profound effect on these cities’ histories.

We also had a good amount of free time in Prague, in which I had the opportunity to do some exploring with friends!  We had an unsuccessful venture into a Prague cafe, where we ordered milkshakes that were virtually just plain milk.  We also ventured around the shopping areas of Prague, which aren’t hard to find at all- Prague was easily the most touristy of the three cities we visited.  We also witnessed the nighttime projection show on Prague’s Astronomic Clock tower.  For an idea of what this was, feel free to follow this youtube link!

On our final night in Prague, we paid our dues to the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and went to a memorial concert, featuring an underground band called the Plastic People of the Universe.  The band was less important than the atmosphere itself, where it was interesting to see an exhibit of photos and newspaper articles from 9/11.  Particularly interesting was reading international news articles from ten years ago that detailed coverage of the events that took place on 9/11.  One Chinese news article, written on September 12th, predicted that America’s response to 9/11 would be similar to that of Pearl Harbor- that America would need to retaliate by taking its anger out against Pakistan and the rest of the Middle East.  Not too far off, huh?

Before I finish with my account of Prague, one quick side note on Prague’s food.  What I learned from my dining experiences in this city is that a traditional Czech meal consists of lots of meat, and lots of starches.  Pork is the meat of choice here, and either bread or potato dumplings as prominent side dishes.  Also very delicious was the Czech goulash.  One meal that stands out in particular was one very rustic restaurant that served us Pork knees, along with pork ribs.  It felt almost like Medieval Times, and amongst our entire group, we must have eaten the knees off of about 10 pigs…om nom.

Stay tuned for coverage on Krakow and Budapest in the coming days!

Beyond Austria’s Borders

I am officially within grasp of the end of the 3 week Intensive German portion of my study abroad program!  I completed my oral final today and at 12pm tomorrow, I will have successfully finished phase 1 of studying abroad.  Directly afterwards, at 1pm tomorrow, I embark on Phase 2- exploring outside of Vienna’s borders.

At 1pm tomorrow, I leave with approximately 40 other IES students who will be traveling by bus to Budapest, Prague, and Krakow on a 10 day excursion further eastwards into Europe. Although the full itinerary is still a work in progress, I am beyond excited to visit these 3 iconic cities.  To top the list of things I’m excited for during this trip is a visit to Auschwitz.  Some may question my excitement for this, but I’m looking forward to have the experience- which is sure to be a sullen, yet sobering visit- of witnessing an actual Concentration Camp myself.  After being berated with information about World War II since early middle school, I think it’s an important experience for everyone to undergo at some point within their lives.  Thus, I am excited to undergo this emotional visit.

This week was, overall, a very good one.  My IU trombone professor, Peter Ellefson, arrived with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last Sunday, and Ross and I were able to meet up and have dinner with him here in Vienna.  Monday and Tuesday night were dedicated to seeing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s performances in the Musikverein, one of Vienna’s premiere concert halls- and in some musicians’ opinions, the world’s BEST concert hall.  The orchestra gave two different performances, night 1 consisting of: a piece by Bernard Rans (composer of IU’s original opera, Vincent), Death and Transfiguration by Strauss, and Shostakovich 5!  Night 2 consisted of Hindemith’s Symphony in E-flat and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

To continue with the positive note, I am recovering very quickly from being sick for the last 2 weeks with the help of 74 Euros worth of antibiotics.  My reason for communicating this is to express that even though European drugs are expensive, they certainly do not dick around.  I felt better within hours of taking the first dosage.  Crazy.

Anyway, feel free to enjoy these picture as I take off from Vienna for the next 10 days.  Wish me safe travels!