Hi hi hi!! I am back from two weeks in Vienna, Bratislava, Paris, Interlaken, and Padova.
I hadn’t really intended to suddenly go backpacking around Europe. But I had a few things lined up, and since I have a limited Eurail Pass, it’s better to string trips together than to go back to Berlin in between.
I took my first ever overnight train! Berlin-Vienna. I had to pay a little extra to get a sleeper car, but I decided it was my first time so I should spring for it. It was weird. Actually quite comfortable, but awkward. Like, you’re in a little room with supposedly two other people, although in my case only one. Thank goodness, as it was tight enough in there already. I was in the top bunk (actually the middle, but the top one wasn’t out since there wasn’t a third person), and it was difficult to get into and out of the bed. The ladder was weird. Which sucks, ’cause I’m the kind of person who decides they need to get up and pee like 5 times before they fall asleep. (Probably because I drink so goddamn much water. And other beverages.) The other girl in my cabin seemed very nice, we didn’t talk too too much but it’s hard not to have interchanges when you’re climbing over each other, and the train is delayed and you’re trying to figure out where you are, and we can’t figure out how to work the lock… Anyways, like I said it was comfortable, but I can’t necessarily say I slept well. I kept waking up, I think mostly out of paranoia of oversleeping. Like, if you oversleep in a hotel, you might miss your train, but you won’t wake up in the wrong country.
I’m glad the train arrived in Vienna 90 minutes late (though I wish I’d known sooner so I could have slept in), because 6:20 am was going to be wayy too early to get anywhere you don’t live. At least at 8am I could hit the Starbucks (you scorn- but it can be really comforting when you’re in a new foreign city, to go somewhere you know they will be nice, take credit cards, have soy milk, free wifi, outlets to charge your phone…), then head up to my hostel and at least drop my bags off. And put on my pretty dress and make-up in one of the downstairs bathroom and close myself in the baggage room and warm up and practice. Haha. Nobody said anything.
I’d been to Vienna before, but not in 11 years, so I didn’t like know where to go or anything. I had a double-header audition lined up (straight from one to the other, which I love- I’m already warmed up for the second, and I have an excuse to sing early at the first so I’m not sitting around for hours). Anyway, you know I’m very finicky about talking about auditions, so I’ll refrain, and skip to later that night. I met a friend of a friend who’s an opera singer, and we had a really long conversation about music and singing and Europe and careers and stuff. I love meeting new people, especially people who I can talk to about opera.
My youth hostel was outside the city center, way up on a high hill with views of Vienna. Next to some crazy mansion hotel where rich people stay.
I spent an extra night in Vienna ONLY so I could take a day trip to Bratislava the next day. Why Bratislava? Well, a large portion because it’s a place- city and country- I’ve never been, and that’s always exciting to me. Also because it just sounded cool. Like a less touristy Prague.
Also, very weird coincidence- a traveling buddy from my trip to Bolivia two years ago was still traveling the world, and was in Bratislava, about to come to Vienna. So we decided to meet there and hang out, then take the train back together.
It’s only like an hour from Vienna to Bratislava, and only 14 Euro round trip (which includes public transportation in Bratislava), so I got there really easily, met my friend (an American guy named Rob) and some of his friends from the Youth hostel, and we went up to the castle and walked around the city center. There was honestly not really much to see. It was cute and all, but I can see why it’s not a major tourist location. But the best part was, it was CHEAP! Rob and I went in search of fried cheese, since that’s the one thing I missed in Prague- we found a little restaurant, and the friend cheese was good, but the best part was my half liter of beer was only 1 Euro. What?
So we met up with a few more people from the hostel, took some pictures, swung by their hostel, and all headed to the train. Oh, did you know Bratislava is Pressburg? I never knew that. So if you read old stuff about Mozart or wars or whatever and they talk about Pressburg, now you know.
I went straight from Vienna to Paris, which was a long day. I arrived just in time to catch the American Cathedral Choir’s post-rehearsal imbibing at the local bar, where I met up with my host and mostly people I didn’t know. An ex-pat community like that has a lot of turnover, you know- people moving into and out of the country- so every time I go back, like 60% of the faces have changed. Even the music director finally moved on to work in LA.
So I stayed at my friend Nancy’s incredible apartment, and we got to hang out, and I went shopping, and had some shopping adventures. I also went to a really nice Renaissance ensemble concert (featuring some staff singers from the American Cathedral) and met up with an opera singer friend and dragged her to Passage Brady for Indian food. So fun! More people should go to Passage Brady.
My stay in Paris was over way too fast. I did some nice things, like stop into Notre Dame and sit in the Arènes. Would have liked to have time to go to the Buttes Chaumont, where I haven’t been in years. But anyways, I bought some nice clothes and hung out with great people!!
I had a few days before I had to be in Padova. I had never been to Switzerland. It was on the way. I’ll go to Switzerland! Brilliant, right? Except: it was not only the weekend, but the beginning of Paris’s All Saint’s holidays (a week off or more), so everyone else had the same idea. I had a very hard time getting both a place to stay and a spot on the train. I looked in Zurich, Geneve, Luzern, everywhere. Finally I found a reasonable hostel in Interlaken. Figures- Interlaken is very much catered to the college and backpacking crowds, so they probably have the most hostels.
For the train: it was “reservation obligatory,” but I found out at the last minute that the train was sold out, so I couldn’t make a reservation. Turns out this is not an insurmountable problem. I was advised to just get on the train, pay for my reservation there (it was the same price- in this case- when I was in Italy it was way more to pay for the reservation on the train), and hope to find an empty seat. Which all worked out.
Switzerland was painfully expensive. But I got what I wanted: mountains!!!!! I love mountains!!! I got there late, freaked out because AT&T was texting me that I was racking up insanely high data roaming charges (last time I racked up like $400 and they didn’t text me)- i had hardly used it!! argh!!- but I called them and got it straightened out (they let me buy a data roaming package and let it act retroactively- thank you AT&T!!!!), and I was pissed because happy hour at the hostel bar was retarded. Swiss strictness: You get two for one. Oh cool, well can I have one small of this? Two small is same as one large, why don’t you get large. Well can I have two different kinds? No, same kind. Fine, whatever, I’ll have that one. You get two. Well can I get the other one after? No, you have to get them both together. That’s retarded. Sorry, that’s the rule. ARGHH! I ended up only taking one and never going back.
The weather was nasty nasty nasty, but the next day I took train and cable car up to Mürren, which a friend had recommended. I met a guy from the hostel going the same way, so we went together. There was an option to go straight there, or to go somewhere nearby and hike the distance. The ticket seller recommended going straight there and then hiking on the way back.
If somebody asked me if I recommended Mürren, I would say I had no idea. It was Sunday, so everything- EVERYTHING- was closed. We hardly saw another person, though we heard a woodcutter at work. I suspect it’s more lively during the week. Also, it’s not high season for them, so I don’t know how much of it was deserted for that reason. So we walked around and looked at the snow. Oh yeah, it was snowing. My first snow of the year! Reminded me of last year, also October, when I was on tour and swung by the Black Mountains of South Dakota and there was a huge blizzard- October first, also my first snow of the year, also while traveling in the mountains for fun between musical appointments.
Hiking back to the town where we had to catch the bus took way longer than we expected (we probably went the wrong way), but we got some great views.
Finally, for the last leg of my trip, I went to Padova, where my friend from Paris, Veronica, lives. I hadn’t seen her in several years. Full disclosure: I went to Padova to do the competition there, even though I mostly chose to do it as an excuse to see her. But I totally completely bombed the competition. It was the 2nd worst audition of my life. Weird for me, as my voice is very reliable. Not sure what happened- maybe because I hadn’t sung a note in a week until that morning, maybe because I had to wait 8 hours in a freezing cold room before it was my turn to sing. But yeah I knew in the moment I didn’t have a chance of even making the first cut, I sounded like shit. Only one other time this happened to me, and that was an early morning competition the day after my birthday, and I wasn’t hung over but I must have had a bug or food poisoning or something because even though I didn’t think I was sick at the audition, after I got home I spent the rest of the day throwing up. So at least that one was easy to explain (and since then I don’t do morning auditions, I always ask to be switched to the afternoon), as I was sick plus the whole birthday party and early morning thing. This one could be a number of things, but still I was really taken aback because stuff like that never happens to me. So I got out of the theater as fast as I could and never went back. (Yes I did email them to make sure I didn’t make it to the next round, which I didn’t.) Funny, I don’t want to talk about auditions most of the time, but this sort of case it’s different- it’s like, it was so obvious that it was a bomb that I’m not the least bit embarrassed that I didn’t advance (would have been more embarrassed if I had, like “I don’t wanna show my face there again”). Well there were a lot of important people there, so my only hope is that they forget me very quickly, and if I ever sing for any of them again I’ll change my hairdo or something.
So I spent the rest of the week hanging out with Veronica and her husband and daughter. Padova is a great town!! It’s like, the perfect Italian small city- it’s got all the old-world charm, the old buildings and cobblestoned streets and narrow alleys and churches, but it is not touristy at all. It has one really famous church with some relics, so it attracts like the religious pilgrim type, but except for that one little area its all locals (and students). So I recommend it for people who want to get the flavor of Italy but who are irked by tourists.
Veronica took me out for dinner on my last night, and I had the best pizza of my life. It had regular mozzarella (REALLY GOOD) but also burrata cheese on top, which was really something. Just to show how much I liked it- I ate the whole damned thing, and Veronica, who is PREGNANT, didn’t even come close to finishing hers. Yeah I was hurtin but it was worth it. Oh man.
The next day I spent 14.5 hours on trains and finally got back to Berlin. Whew!
hello! I have just been in Paris. now I am in köln, blogging from my iPhone. I won’t have my computer til I go back to Berlin in a few days, so I thought I’d fill you in on Paris before it’s old news.
Paris rules. I need to go there more often. I know I was very happy to leave it when I moved away in 2004, but even then I knew it was a better place to visit than to live, when one can’t afford to live well. and it’s a wonderful, wonderful place to visit!!
a little drama because I had no place to stay. I thought I’d never be without a bed in Paris, but I guess I was wrong. not only have many friends moved away, but others were out of town or already hosting guests. so I asked around and ended up with one of philine’s friends, an American lawyer & dancer who’d been in Paris for 20 years. he had a wonderful apartment up in le blanc mesnil, which is a subrub to the north, on your way to Charles DeGaulle. he was a wonderful host, especially to a stranger!
I flew into orly, which is on the opposite side of ile-de-France, unfortunately, and the train ticket to the north suburbs was so expensive that I opted instead for an all-day ile-de-France ticket, so I could jet around on the metro more than I usually budget for.
I had woken up early and by the time I got settled at my host’s place in the boonies, I had a raging caffeine-withdrawl headache, so I went straight to st michel and sat in a cafe with a cafe crème and my notebook and wrote in French to myself. and once I was done there, I headed straight to my favorite store, des filles a la vanille.
actually, there are two branches close together in the Latin quarter, the one I prefer was “back in 5 minutes” and the other was maddeningly packed with tourists, so I eventually waited it out and got into the one I wanted. it has a larger selection, and the saleslady, while slightly pushy, is very talented at what she does. last time I was in Paris, a few years ago, I tried on like every dress in the store, and she just pulled something out that looked really lame on the hanger and was like- this will look great on you, trust me. and she was right and to this day it’s one of my favorite outfits. so we went through the same story this time and I got a dress and I’m sure you’ll see it soon.
I spent the rest of business hours at my 2nd favorite store, jennyfer- the big one at place d’italie. I didn’t go quite as nuts shopping there as I usually do- partially budget and partially packing restraints- but I got some wonderful little things that make me smile. sadly they no longer have a separate underwear shop across the corridor. also closed, unless I just couldn’t find it, was my fave jewelry place, reserve naturelle. though now that I think about it it might have been closed last time I was here. on the other hand, I can never find that place, it blends into the hustle and bustle of rue de Rennes too easily.
i had a fabulous wonderful penne ai quattro formaggi at place d’italie that i am still thinking about, then I walked around the mairie a little and decided I was too tired and my feet too sore to head to the Kata Bar. so I headed back and called my friend for her birthday and slept really really hard!
the next day I woke up later than planned, but still got to enjoy a good cafe over rive gauche and do a little fruitless shopping before heading over to the American cathedral. somebody I didn’t know was getting married and the choir was singing, so I volunteered to join them, just for old times’ sake. the music was good, more French stuff than usual, though the choir was in reduced numbers so I didn’t get to catch up with as many people as I’d hoped.
I had been carrying my stuff around with me all day as I’d be moving to my friend nancy’s apartment that night. she hadn’t been available the night before as she was just getting in from new York herself. they have an amazing apartment right next to the Eiffel tower. so we headed there after the wedding reception in the cathedral garden (it was way too cold but we all stuck it out with the help of some champagne), I used her computer to book a hostel in Köln (I had been holding out for some help on Couchsurfing.com but nothing came through), and she took me out to dinner at a very nice French restaurant, the kind i’d never go to on my own.
my trainto köln was way to early, but me voilà, back to speaking German. I was actually surprised how easy French is for me after struggling with German all month. I shouldn’t be surprised- two years in France vs. two weeks in Germany- mostly on a comprehension level. when people speak French to me or to each other, I get it without thinking. German it’s still a little panicky.
that’s all for now, talk to you soon!
Opera Language Circle is going great. ALL my “core” regulars cancelled this week, but I still had a full group- like 8 people I think again. People I had never heard of who just showed up. Most found us through NFCS, one through the Classical Singer Forums which I forgot I’d posted on. Way to represent, Amanda…. Our conversations were really successful even though none of those present were really bilingual in anything- closest was me with my French, which is far from flawless.
Oh, speaking of French, I had to call France again- I hate talking on the phone in French!- to talk to Dessay’s publicist about our interview. At least this time I knew her name and she knew who I was. She’s so nice! She’s supposed to contact La Dessay to figure out when we can do the interview and get back to me- I’ll call her Monday or Tues if I haven’t heard back by then… She thought we could just do it after a rehearsal at the Met. Kewl.
Opera on Tap was last night. The theme was dysfunctional relationships, which basically applies to everything in opera ever. That’s why we have opera? I wanted to sing A Serpina penserete for my first aria, but over the past month have not been able to think of what to do for the second! It’s like by now I’ve done almost everything, and I’m trying not to repeat myself too much. (Except for doing The Russian Nightingale both years we did “Music from Cold Countries.” But it’s such a crowd-pleaser!!!!!) Usually I try to make one of my arias especially flashy, but instead of going for the high notes, I finally decided (a few hours before the show) to do The Black Swan. Because no one would suspect it. Unlike most people I never sang it in school, I just taught it to myself for an audition. I really focused on how to use my consonants to make myself sound younger- more l and n, less hard g. It was a little experiment I did, recording myself and listening back. Anyways I nailed it, even got all the words right. It’s strophic, you know, so it’s hard to keep the verses in the right order.
I’m rambling about little happenings and not talking about the important stuff. So, I’m pretty unfettered right now. I have almost no definite upcoming engagements, for the first time in a long time. (I have a small definite one but it’s far in the future, and a big possible one but they haven’t updated me so I suspect my first Zerbinetta might be postponed again… sigh…) The group I did Pirates and Ruddigore with is currently auditioning for Sorcerer and I’m waffling about doing it. I probably will if they double cast, so the time commitment is not so heavy. I don’t have a decent day job… I can’t afford my rent anymore… My point is that I feel really free right now. And bored and stuck and frustrated. And unattached. I feel like moving back to Europe.
Funny because I’ve been talking to a friend about going auditioning in Germany for awhile, and I’m like yeah I should do that but I wasn’t really FEELING it, and then all of a sudden yesterday I’m like, “Yes, I want to go to Europe now. I want to audition in Germany, live in Italy for awhile, I’m not even sure what, but I am ready NOW.”
I was in a very different place when I first went to Europe. I needed to work on my technique and languages, and just wait for my voice to grow. I wanted to expand my horizons and see the world.
I was in a different place when I left Europe. I needed to flesh out my resume by doing some community opera, to network and meet people. I wanted to live in America again and earn a living (it was hard in France) and settle down.
Now I’m in another place once again. I’ve given up on settling down for now- I really did not set down roots here like I expected to. And I really, really fleshed out my resume with amateur and semi-pro gigs last year. Now I need to actually work as a singer. Or at least have a change of scenery.
So now I feel like (I say “feel like” because I’m really just going with my gut instinct, and if it changes I will change my plans- I’m not determined at this point) going back to Europe. Probs do an audition tour in Germany and/or try to sneak by in Italy the same way I did in France, doing the student visa/conservatory thing and working on the side. Or something. I am really undecided, but at the moment I feel like being undecided is best. It’s not time for methodical planning, it’s time for being open to opportunities. Anyways I’m actively practicing both German and Italian (and French!) at Opera Language Circle! All my languages are coming along well.
There are some other possibilities than those. The one thing that is NOT a possibility is to stay where I am and keep doing what I’m doing. These are just the possibilities I feel most able to act on, rather than rely on luck and timing.
Also working through how to record a rock album even though I have like no budget, and still no bass player. There are some possibilities…! I feel hopeful. Kind of excited. A lot of it is syncronicity, a lot of it is just thinking outside the box.
I knew my empty calendar would eventually open me up to new possibilites. Took awhile, though.