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!