Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homeward Bound

Apologies to all for no post the time our full FUN and wacky day in Munchen was over, I simply had no energy to write the blog and post our photos.  The alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. as we left our hotel at 5 a.m. bound for flights from Munchen to Frankfurt and Dusseldorf.

As I write this from the plane over Hudson Bay, I can tell you that it appears things are on time for all three of our flights; and that with continued luck we will arrive in the cold land of South Dakota on schedule.

Promise to finish off our tour tomorrow.  Or the next day.    Do come back - there are some stories yet to tell!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Hills Are Alive, with the Sound of Rain......

Salzburg Dom (Cathedral)
Salzburg.  Home of mountains, salt, salt, mountains and oh, so much more.

Today gave the students a chance to learn more about this beautiful city situated in the base of the Alps.  Sadly, however, the Alps were obscured for most of the day by rain, fog, and more rain and fog.  Last night, as we headed home from dinner, we saw the full moon and believed that this must be a foreshadowing of things to come.  Alas, we were wrong.

Even so, off the group left, umbrellas in tow for a 2.5 hour walking tour of Salzburg.  As we’d run into one other in the hours following, it was obvious that everyone found this town very much to their liking.  How could you NOT love Salzburg?

Dome of the Cathedral
We returned to the hotel to load up and leave for Berchtesgaden and our final concert of the 2013 European Tour at the Christuskirche, the only Evangelical Lutheran parish in this lovely mountain town.  Our buses parked in the parking area of the main square which meant we had to walk through the rain for a few blocks to get to the church.   We entered, found seating in the pews and awaited our welcome and information of what the plans were for the concert from our host.   After a few minutes, however, it dawned on us that we just might be in the wrong church.  Sure enough, we were!  Imagine – we were ready to perform in the wrong place!

Chirstuskirche, Berchtesaden Germany
Evidently there are not many Lutherans in this part of Germany as we asked four – five people where the Christuskirche was and we got different directions each time.   J  Seriously.   After slodging through the elements, we finally saw the church we WANTED – just up the top of the hill.  Say what?  The staircase isn’t cleared of snow?  We have to climb this mountain to sing?   Well, WHY NOT?

As it turns out – a beautiful place, high atop the mountain with a wonderful audience and a perfect way to end our tour.  It was another very special night.
"Ain't Got Time to Die" and soloist Travis Miller....a crowd pleaser to be sure!

Gotta get packing…..we leave at 9 am. for Munich and won’t see our suitcases until late tomorrow night.  As we leave for the airport at 5:00 a.m., who wants to pack tomorrow?   Have a great day!

Couldn't resist.  After all, one of these guys could be Christopher Plummer!

Moments before, I received a call that I had become a Grandpa for the first time!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dear Abbey(s) and on to Salzburg!

Stift Melk
The Baroque Marble Room at Stift Melk
Our last morning in Vienna began with an earlier start – cramming breakfast in the body and clothing/stuff in the bags to be on the road by 8:30 a.m.  After three nights in one hotel, one can easily make quite a mess to clean up – but it does feel good to not be in a different bed every night.  One of our jokes is to line up for the inevitable question each morning:  “Room number, please?”  You stand and look at the person and for the life of you can’t remember….207?  No, that was yesterday….313?  No, I’m on the fourth floor – hey wait, that IS the fourth floor (Europeans count the ground floor as G or O, NOT as 1.)  Anyway, it can get confusing!

A gentle snow of great big old flakes was falling upon the city as we departed, and so it continued for most of the day.  This did not, however, stop us from visiting both of our scheduled stops on the way to Salzburg, Stift Melk and Mondsee Abbey.

The abbey was founded in 1089 , and a a monastic school, founded in the 12th century.  The monastic library soon became renowned for its extensive manuscript collection. The monastery was also a major site for the production of manuscripts. In the 15th century the abbey became the centre of the Melk Reform movement which reinvigorated the monastic life of Austria and Southern Germany.

Abbey Church
This impressive Baroque abbey was built between 1702 and 1736. Due to its fame and academic stature, Melk managed to escape dissolution under Emperor Joseph II when many other Austrian abbeys were seized and dissolved between 1780 and 1790. The abbey managed to survive other threats to its existence during the Napoleonic Wars, and also in the period following the Nazi Anschluss that took control of Austria in 1938, when the school and a large part of the abbey were confiscated by the state.  The school was returned to the abbey after the Second World War for nearly 900 pupils of both sexes.

Dome of Abbey Church
We had a really wonderful tour of the abbey; saw the rooms where Maria Theresia would stay when she visited the area, the magnificent library, and, of course, the Abbey Church.  The Choir was allowed to sing there for approximately 30 minutes – minutes which it seems they will cherish the memory of for many years to come.

From the Abbey looking at the Danube
At Mondsee Abbey
Back on the bus, and after a stop for lunch, we arrived at the famous Mondsee Abbey Church in Mondsee.   We are now seeing the Alps for the first time (sort of – through the clouds) and they are as impressive as this quaint little village.   The cathedral church which dominates the small village of Mondsee was once the heart of an important monastery. Founded in 748 A.D. on the ruins of a Roman settlement, it influenced the culture of the region for more than a thousand years. The oldest German translation of the Bible was written here - the Mondsee 'Matthew'.

The basic Gothic structure of the cathedral was "modernized" in the 17th century. The baroque sculptures and altars were made by the famous sculptor Meinrad Guggenbichler. The monastery was dissolved in 1792. The properties belonging to it were given later to Napoleon I.

The wedding scene in the Sound of Music was filmed here. Maria, led by Liesl, walked down the aisle to meet the Baron on front of the stairs of the main altar. The cathedral organ could be seen and heard during the wedding ceremony.

And yes, the Choir got to sing here too for about 30 minutes.  It was kind of one of those “pinch me” moments for some of our gang – we have several “Sound of Music” fans, and whether some of it was filmed in Hollywood or here, it just “is” still the “Sound of Music” country!

Our arrival in Salzburg about 4:30 this afternoon allowed time for an hours worth of “wrap up” with the class and then transportation to  our group dinner at St. Peter Stiftskeller – the oldest restaurant in central Europe, founded in 600 something.  We were told that Charlemagne himself dined here.   It was GREAT.  Perhaps the biggest news of the day – it was 6 degrees C this afternoon.  We’ve not seen a 6 on anything since we got here!  Hooray!  And tonight, high over Salzburg, a beautiful full moon.  Let’s hope we have a clear day tomorrow as we have a guided tour around this magnificent city and our final concert in Berchtesgarden –just down the road.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Art and Frozen Feet. Our Sunday in Europe.

The Grand Mercure Biedermeir Hotel
I have an idea.   Let’s add yet another country to our list today……Slovakia!

We are scheduled today to sing at the 5:00 p.m. Mass at the St. Martin’s Church, site of the coronations of 11 Kings and Queens of Hungary.   In other words, a pretty famous place.  But I’m getting ahead of myself….we had some other things to do first. 
Dr Nesheim hauling his tuxedo to the bus

Like breakfast.  And a stop by what our guide Hans calls “the most beautiful palace in Austria,” Belvedere. 
Belvedere is a historic building complex in consisting of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower Belvedere), the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a Baroque park landscape south-east of its centre. The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.
The Belvedere was built during a period of extensive construction in Vienna, which at the time was both the imperial capital and home to the ruling dynasty. This period of prosperity followed on from the commander-in-chief Prince Eugene of Savoy's successful conclusion of a series of wars against the Ottoman Empire.

Waiting for our entrance tickets at the Belvedere...might as well take a group photo!

Interior ceiling, second floor.

Today, the Belvedere is one amazing art gallery with exhibits ranging from medieval church artwork to impressionists of the 20th century.  At the moment, it is hosting the largest collection of Gustav Klimt works – truly awe-inspiring.  Truly!

Crossroads of southern Europe!
An hour was not enough time to explore all there was to see, but we needed to get moving toward Bratislava and our evening there.  It’s about 90 minutes by bus, and while the sun wasn’t out (surprise!) we could tell that there is some interesting scenery between the cities.  We’re along the Danube River in both cities, and yet our first “full view” of the width of the Danube is found at Bratislava.  Of course it’s colder than all get out today, but we drop at the river’s edge and head on a “really quick” walking tour of the center of the city.  Atop the hill is the palace where the Hungarian royals lived and below are the State Theatre and Slovakian Orchestra Hall.   It was time for a late lunch and several of us found delightful authentic Slovakian restaurants wherein the food was FAB – U – LOUS.  

We have entered Slovakia!
Off then to rehearse at St Martin’s.   A few more things about this church…..the priest is a great guy….. there is a sacred altar containing the remains of a saint who died in 632….. as I mentioned before, this is where they crowned the kings and queens AND, finally, it is (according to vote by the choir) the COLDEST interior of all the cathedrals in which they’ve performed.  They looked like a large choir today….underneath their robes were every stitch of clothing they had brought along today.  But nobody cared – our generous sized crowd (wrapped in full length minks and other warm items) hung in not only through Mass but also our full concert.  It was especially wonderful to hear the response to the “Nunc Dimitis” sung in “church Slovanik.”  
St. Martin's
All that said, there are now many of us sitting in the hotel lobby using the free wi-fi system…..and we’re still in “thaw” mode.  Hot showers are sure to follow – 

Tomorrow we leave Vienna and head for Salzburg………..look out Alps, here we come!

Amazing meal....chicken, ham, cheese and peaches.  PEACHES!

Concert tonight at St. Martin's

Vienna - more than sausages.....

Interior of St. Stephen's
It was a particularly exciting day for your editor today as I awoke with the recognition that our students were going to learn and experience some things today that they would simply not quite be able to comprehend…..or at least expect.  I mean, geez, it's we're becoming icebergs!

Vienna is a simply beautiful city – even in the depths of winter – it comes alive with the sounds of festival balls – dances – waltzes – and music unlike any other time of the year, and in complete opposition to what one would expect.  First of all the city is amazing in and of itself.   

Our hotel is right next door to one of Beethoven’s homes….he wrote the 9th Symphony there.  Before we get too exited about that,  however, we did learn that he moved 69 times in the 35 years he lived in Vienna.  Seems he was a bit of a “wear out your welcome” kinda guy.  Still its cool to know that we are in his neighborhood.

The Choir performed a 30-minute set at the Cathedral
Breakfast in the “Breakfast Room” was like most of the others; with the exception of the availability of fried eggs and or/omlettes made to order.  Mmmm good!  Students were told to “sleep in” if they wish, but be at the entrance to St Stephen’s Cathedral (in the heart of Vienna) by 11:45.   They had an opportunity to warm up in the adjacent Music building while the “fun people” wandered the streets, shopping, observing and enjoying the sights of Vienna while working toward St. Stephens for the 12:45 performance by the Choir.  Need I say that The Choir did not disappoint?
Maren Engle's "Beautiful Savior"
Exterior of St. Stephen's

Following the noon mass, at this most famous venue in Vienna (built in 1210) the Choir marched in and took their place at the appointed space for visiting choirs.  When they began to sing, people came forward, and came forward, and came forward.   Paul Nesheim told me, “Every time I turned around, there were more people there!”  And it was true. 
Hundertwasser-Krawina House

The gentleman host from St. Stephen’s remarked to Paul, “Oh my, finally…basses!”   I guess he’s heard a lot of “bottomless choirs” lately.  J  He presented the Choir with a certificate of appreciation and acknowledged that he had no idea that the Choir would be this good.  (What a nice thing to hear, eh?)

Just too funny.  :-)
Imagine.  Only in Vienna!
We had a break for lunch, then headed to meet up with our guides for an informative and fun three-hour tour of the city which included the “RingStrasse” home to gorgeous Baroque buildings formerly housing the ruling families and now serving as government operations.  We also stopped a the Hundertwasser (a crazy housing and development area based on the idea that there should be no such thing as a stright line!) then as well as the Schonbrunn Palace (1642), summer home of the Hapsburg rulers.  How many “p’s” in “Oppulance?”   (Dr. Johnson failed when he answered “Three.”  HA!)  What a beautiful place, and what wonderful stories of the families who lived here.  Maria Theresia, who ruled over this part of the world for sixty-some years, had 16 children, the most famous (and perhaps the most unfortunate) was Marie Antoinette.  She was the “wild” child as eventually she lost her head.  (Get it?)   MT’s bed coverings took many years to make and included silver and gold threads; they’ve just recently put her bed back on display after a celebration of the anniversary of her reign.   The pictures taken for this blog are highly illegal (so they were snapped from under my coat….) but I was encouraged by several students to face the music (jail) if necessary for the sake of you, our readers.   J

In front of Schoenbrunn
How fun it was for Bus One to have Ulrike as our guide today.  Ulrike led the choir 11 years ago during our tour of Italy and Austria.  She is a wonderful guide, and LOVES Augustana people. 

We had visions of the Band in Cairo today when our bus made detour to avoid a demonstration.  Two groups were protesting today.  The first was against “rigged” soccer events and the second, more vocal, was a group demanding that Austria “get out” of the European Union, I guess you can’t please everybody…..

These are the illegal interior photos......

Choir member Ben (“I wear shorts in winter”) Winkler was in charge of tonight’s activities as he single handedly arranged students tickets at the StatdtsOper (Vienna Opera House) opening night of La Cenerentola (Cinderella).  We got back to the hotel and almost thirty of our group spiffed up and took off for their “big night” on the town.  Dr Nitz led another group of 15 or so to a Beethoven restaurant a train, bus and walk from the hotel.  Both groups returned safely, and happily – although some of the opera folks complained about neck pain from their “partial view” seats.  Still, it was a wonderful evening for all.

A note about another day I’ve been told I forgot to mention in an earlier blog… of our fondest memories of Prague was St. Havel where the man who let us into the church also did the following:  led the Choir to the balcony, turned on the lights, lit the candles, brought a chair our to the altar – took off his shoes – climbed up on the altar to light the bigger candles– got down from the altar and disappeared.  Two minutes later, he reappeared in vestments to assist the priest, served as cantor, took up the offering, helped serve communion, well… get the idea.   Seems to us that this church knows how to stretch it’s budget.  J

Ben Winkler has this t-shirt, below the face, it says "Pizza Hut."  Oddly enough, it looks like Kyle.......

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Wonderful Vienna awaits!

Hello from Vienna, Austria!

Early departure was a challenge for the  Augustana Choir today – I hope this is not a harbinger of days to come.   When we departed at 7:20 a.m. instead of 6:45 a.m. only two words were shared:  “Air Port.”   Ok, maybe one word, but if said in two words, it helped to illustrate the fact that if we mess around our 5:00 AM departure for home next week, there may be a few members finding themselves alone in a foreign land.   (Don’t I sound tough?)  J   

Sadly, our late departure, snow, and need to stop twice for “comfort stops” in a 180 mile journey caused us to be more than an hour late to our concert at Brno, in the Czech Republic.  As we had an audience awaiting in yet another very cold Cathedral,
Dr. Nesheim threw caution, warm-ups, and robing, to the wind and began what turned out to be a wonderful 60-minute concert to a very appreciative crowd.

Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic but only has about 100,000 residents.  At the top of the tallest hill in this city rises this gothic cathedral of
St’s Peter and Paul, another structure with 13th century roots.  Beautiful indfeed, and luckily for us, surrounded by restaurants for a hungry crowd of Americans. 

Following the chance to eat, we departed once again, this time bound for Vienna – our home for the next three days.  We are now in the Grand Mercure Biedermeier Hotel, a lovely place, full of character and “old world charm.”  (Not sure how else to describe it, but a “Biedermeir” structure is a type of architecture where you find a narrow front and back of the building but a nearly two-block long double corridor of housing between the two.  It’s really interesting but creates long, long hallways!

The group walked to a restaurant near the City Park, not far from here, and enjoyed a feast of the biggest slabs of wienerschnitzel (chicken this time) many of us had ever seen.  We are in Wien – so “go big or go home” I guess! 

Tomorrow, a concert at the most famous cathedral in Austria, St. Stephen’s, right in the heart of this beautiful city.  Then, off to see the area and a real Palace…see you later!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

And just a bit more from Krakow....

I could swear that was the sun up there......Oh my, it was!
You've read about the group trip to Auschwitz, and hopefully you have made your way through Courtney's account of her experience there.  Suffice to say, if yesterday was difficult, today was the complete opposite.  Although tired, everyone rose to head out on a walking tour of this city at 9:00 a.m.   Three of the "greatest guides ever" (student words, not mine) turned the sorrows of yesterday into the joys of a most wonderful city with incredibly warm people and beautiful things to see. 

Couldn't resist.  But didn't go in.
Perhaps the best part of the day came at about 1:00 when we saw the sun.  THE SUN.  There it was, breaking through the clouds and giving hope to all of us below.  It was as if everyone got a boost of vitamin D - life was back - the chocolate had been found - word flew through the town square that the best hot chocolate in the world was to be had "right there" and it seems as if most everyone managed to get some.  Indeed, our day was full.  Fun, and full.

Edge of main square of Krakow
St. Mary Basilica
I'm sharing some photos of the magnificent St. Mary's Basilica that stands in the main square.  Built in the 13th century, it is what they call the "perfect example of Gothic architecture in Poland."  The alter is the largest of its kind in Europe and was created in the years 1477-1489 and carved from oak and linden wood.  The ceiling of the Basilica is stunning.  Ah gee, the whole place is overwhelming.  By the way, this was not Pope John Paul's church, although he served Mass here often.  His church was the Cathedral which is in the castle complex.   As Krakow was the Pope's hometown, however, there are many references to him throughout the city.

Ceiling at Basilica
Main altar at Basilica
Crucifix above St. Mary's

In concert at St. Catherine's

Rehearsal time at St. Catherine's
Tonight we have returned from a formal concert at St. Katazyna Church (St. Catherine's) here in Krakow.   It is perhaps the most oft-used church for concerts and even on a splendidly cold night, we had a nice crowd of locals who came to listen to a choir from South Dakota.  (It still amazes me that anyone comes, really.....I mean, who has heard of Augustana and/or South Dakota in a place like Krakow, Poland?  :-)   "Jack," the organist is a dear man who welcomed us warmly - and even turned on the overhead heat lamps.  "They will not warm the building, but they may warm your face" he said.  Well, not so much.  Maybe a bit, but a least it was not as cold as our first church in Prague....remember, the "fire breathing choir?"  None of that tonight.   This church was also built in the 13th century, and while not far from the main square of Krakow, it was, in its day, standing in a whole different town. 

We have an early to be on the bus at 7 to make our concert at Brno.  It will be interesting to see if we can get everyone on board on time.....we've been pretty easy on the morning hours this entire trip!

Tomorrow - a report from Vienna!