Monday, July 8, 2013

Closing one chapter and opening the next.

We have been in Paris for about five days now, and this is our last official day in Europe before we get back on a plane and hop across the pond. We have seen many famous things here, like every single subway stop in Paris. Just kidding, although it feels like it. 
We started out our adventure by going to Versailles and seeing the palace of King Louis XIV. After traipsing around palace, we got to see a concert opera in his own personal theatre inside the palace. That was pretty cool! 
The rest of the days we have roamed the city doing whatever we could find to do. Kaitlin and I spent one of our free days roaming the 5th avenue of Paris (Champs Elysee) and looking in all the big stores. Yesterday morning we met up at Notre Dame and heard the Oklahoma State University Chorale sing inside the cathedral.
 That was really amazing. The echo in Notre Dame is unbelievable, although normally you wouldn't get to hear it because a respectful silence is expected. 
After leaving Notre Dame we all went to the Louvre and saw some amazing artwork. Jordan, Meredith and I stood in a mob of people for about 15 minutes to see this famous lady. 

Even though the Louvre is famous for all the paintings it has, we have seen so many that we were ready to see something else. I took the advice of my friend Corey (who went to the Louvre about 3 months ago) and we directed ourselves toward the Egyptian and Grecian art. After walking through the Islamic art as well (which had some really pretty pottery) we decided that the Louvre had beat us, our feet hurt, and we were ready to get out of there. 

Today we will see the Eiffel Tower tonight before having a farewell dinner. Then tomorrow we board our flight at 10:45 and leave for America. I don't think I have ever missed my country so much as I do now. 
Even though my adventure through Europe has come to a close, this traveling music teacher isn't done yet. In just a few short days (July14) I will start my two week adventure at Camp Caudle in Arkansas. I am very excited to see what God has in store for me there, and I am ready to serve whoever God puts in my path. 
Blessings from Paris!

Monday, July 1, 2013

The hidden parts of Prague.

As I mentioned before we have been studying these past two weeks in Prague, and have been hitting the books pretty hard. We had only one free day here when we didn't have any class at all, but everyone decided to take advantage of it. 
When I first got my map of Prague, The Prague Botanical Gardens had caught my eye, and from then on I knew I had to go there. Thankfully my friends Emily and Alli were game for going with me, so on our free day we set out to have a grand, flower filled, adventure.
The Gardens themselves are outside of Prague proper, and close to the countryside in one of the suburbs. There are many parts to the Gardens, but we entered through the vineyard, and made our way to the Japanese Garden where we sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet. There was probably about 15 to 20 acres of gardens, but we only saw about the first third in out 4 hours we spent. I don't really have words for how beautiful and peaceful it was, but I hope some of my pictures can speak for me.

 Alli enjoying the view.


Adventuring through Austria

Well as I'm sure you could tell, I haven't posted in a while. We've been in Prague for almost two weeks, having classes and tests almost everyday. I am done with all of that except for one final and it feels AMAZING. Summer and studying just don't go well together. But for the sake of my readers I will go back in my mind to my experiences in the great country of Austria.
My first memory of Austria is from the train. After we left Venice, I became very excited to see how the landscape would change as we switched countries. I noticed the towering mountains first, and then the tall apartment buildings disappeared replaced by small, perfect houses built like cuckoo clocks. We spent about 7 hours on trains that day, so I certainly got my fill of the Austrian countryside.
The next day a small number of us attended The Sound of Music Tour, which was definitely had memories of a lifetime. We visited some places from the movie like the gazebo and the grounds of the house (where Maria and the children fell out of the canoe).

My favorite part of the tour by far wasn't any of the places from the movie, it was the long ride out into the Austrian countryside while singing along to the music from the movie, and the small fishing village we visited while there. The movie came alive to me while our whole bus sang "Do Re Mi" while gliding through the alps. At the village I got to venture off by myself (because the whole town was tourists and it was basically like an American Resort for campers & backpackers) and take some pictures of the breathtaking lake, mountains, and harbor.

Austria is my favorite place I've been so far, and I would love to return to this little town to hike the mountains, sail on the lake, and just breathe the air.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A ride through the sinking city.

As I haven’t had internet (or rather I refuse to pay 3 euro for 1 hour of Wi-Fi at our small hotels for a week and a half) I realize you readers  get to read all of these posts at once, which I personally don’t find fair, but I shall give you a taste of my adventure just the same.
After a 3 hour train ride from Milan, we gathered our belongings, and our wits, and set out to find the front of the train station. Even though we had passed over a good chunk of ocean on a long bridge before the train station, the fact that we were in Venice hadn’t truly kicked in until I got my first glimpse of the Grand Canal. The excitement I felt to finally be in Venice was indescribable. Granted, when you are hot, sweaty and trying to carry everything you own with you down a large staircase… the excitement is a little less visible. But all said and done, it felt amazing to see the water. After a good 20 minute mass “stroll” through the streets of Venice with everyone dragging at least 70 lbs of luggage with them, we arrived at our hotel.
To be honest Venice was my favorite place we have visited so far. I really didn’t like Italy a whole lot until we came to Venice. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful!, but I wouldn’t have been sad if I never saw it again. After spending two days in the sinking city, I am almost positive I could live there for the rest of my life. The sea gives it such character with its changing moods and tides, and the lack of street traffic is a definite plus. Although Venice does not have cars and trucks, it does have all the same modes of transportation, just in boat form! 

They have buses, taxis, cars(peoples personal boats), bikes(gondolas), delivery trucks, refrigerated delivery trucks, ambulances, construction trucks… its really amazing to see all the different boats and how they work. I got to ride several as we traveled in between islands. While in Venice we visited St Mark’s Cathedral and square, as well as the Doge’s(Duke’s) Palace, the prison, Murano(famous for the glass blowing), and Burano(famous for the lace makers). It is truly a LOT bigger than people think!
I mostly just loved being on the water, watching the gondoliers, and soaking it all in, but let me tell you my two most favorite parts. 
The first was my first, and probably last, gondola ride through the inner canals of Venice. We all got in groups on our second day to split the cost of the most amazing memory ever.

I never caught our gondoliers name, but he took us to see all the famous palaces, Marco Polo’s house, and the bridge of sighs(where prisoners would get their last sight of Venice before they were executed). 
We asked him lots of questions while he explained the ins and outs of Venice to us. Apparently there are only 425 gondola licenses for all of Venice. Training is different for everyone, but it can take up to 3 years, where you have to know 3 to 4 languages as well as many other things. He told us that out of several hundred applicants every year, only about 2 or 3 are chosen. When you are chosen a gondola is custom made for you according to your height and weight. You see the gondolas are not made symmetrically, because the gondolier always stands on the same side of the boat, and it must be balanced perfectly. All the gondolas are made identically by gondola makers, and they cost around 35,000euro($50,000). That is one nice boat! The ride was incredibly relaxing, because although the canals are very narrow, our gondolier was so skillful that we never hit a single corner. 
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the water, and was very grateful to the kind man that gave us such a wonderful memory.

My second favorite memory happened early on the last morning of our stay. I got this crazy idea to get up super early and take pictures of Venice while it slept in its watery grave. Thankfully my friend Meredith was willing to accompany me, and we set out at 6:15am to see what we could see. I had been hoping to find some fish markets to photograph, but what I found was probably much better to frame in the future. We wandered into the Jewish Ghetto taking pictures as we found the occasion to. The perfectly still, quiet waters stirred something inside me, and I soaked in every second of silence I could. As we wandered, more and more people got up and got ready for work, hurrying by us and disturbing the calm quiet streets. After about an hour we headed back, but I have not lost that amazing quiet rest that I soaked out of the reflective waters and bobbing boats. What a wonderful way to spend the last morning of my stay. 

I have been using my time on the Austrian trains well, and I have completely finished another blog! We arrive in Salzburg in about 30 minutes, and we will be spending 2 nights and 1 day there. Next on the list is the Sound of Music Tour and Mozart’s house! I will be back in the states in 4 weeks exactly!
Blessings from the train!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gelato, gelato, and more gelato.

Well we have hit the ground running about as fast as we can, and we have been having grand experiences one after the other. We left Scandicci around 6am and headed for Milan. In Milan is a huge city about equal to our New York City, so it was harder to find our way around. Even though it was technically one of our “free days” to do whatever we wanted, we decided to take our favorite tour guide, Dr. G. We caught an old fashioned trolley and our first stop was, of course, a cathedral. On the way to the church we found the midnight oil(a hipster coffee shop in Searcy where we go to school) of all gelato shops and we just had to try some. The shop was a small chocolate shop, but had caught our eye because of the delectable chocolate fountain calling to us in the window. 
Inside we waited in line to order cones of gelato that they would fill with melted chocolate before they filled them with gelato. 

After our bellies were full of sweets we visited the church and then headed to La Scala, which is an opera house that anyone who is anyone in Italy, performs in. We visited the Museum for the Opera House, and I wasn’t really sure what we would get to see. Once inside we got to look out from a few of the boxes of the opera house. Everything was made with gold and red velvet. Very royal. The walls were made up of boxes in a horseshoe around the floor seating in front of the orchestra pit and stage. In the center of the ceiling was a ginormous chandelier that reminded me of nothing other than the Phantom of the Opera. I didn’t want to leave the crammed box to let others soak in that grand experience, but eventually I had to. The rest of the museum was not as great as those few minutes I got to peak into the theatre, but we did get to see Franz Liszt’s piano and some really ornate costumes from Aida. Several of us visited the Home for Retired Musicians dedicated by Verdi, which is also where Verdi and his wife are buried. It looked like a pretty grand place to live, but you have to be a famous Italian musician… so I suppose it’s out of the question. All in all, it was a good day in Milan. Up next… a visit to the sinking city: Venice!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A day in the life.

So before I tell you about our awesome trip to Assisi in my next blog, I will answer some questions I have been getting. I know you have been taking awesome trips every few days, but you are studying right? Yes, I have actually been working my tail off. On our trip we have been studying Music History and Hymnology(which is like church history through music) and actually we are taking 2 semesters of music history! We finished the first semester of music history today, and we will be taking the final next Sunday while we are in Vienna. An average day for me begins at 7am with getting up and getting ready for breakfast at around 8. I don't have the very first class, so I get to relax until 10am when we have music history. Lunch is usually around 12:30 with Hymnology beginning at 2 and my last general class at 3:30. We have tests every few days (we had three just this week) and we definitely work really hard while we're here. Classes with Dr G are always a blast. We gather around crowded tables in the Bible School's small classroom and listen while he tells us everything there is to know about Gregorian chant, the Thirty Years War, and Handel's church music. He mostly just lectures on one topic for about 15 minutes and then he'll remember something else that was going on at the same time in history and he'll say his famous phrase, "Meanwhile...back at the ranch.." Of course we all know there were no ranches in 17th century Venice, so we all crack up while he pretends not to notice. Although some are getting bored of music history, or pass the time in class on facebook, I find his classes incredibly interesting and I'm glad we've finally made it to composers that I have heard of!
Within a few days we will be hitting the ground running our last four and a half weeks traveling across 4 more countries before we make the long trek home. I miss my family a lot and although this summer is amazing, I will be happy to see them again and tell them of all my adventures. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The horror of one thousand shrieking ring wraiths..

Last Thursday we all got up early and boarded the slow train to visit Pisa and Lucca. It is called the "slow train" because it stops at every stop, and is slightly less classy than the fast trains. Something else we quickly found out is that the breaks on these trains are far from quiet or calming. When applied to slow the speed of a thundering train, they sound like shrieking ring wraiths(for my fellow Lord of the Ring lovers) or like one million small children screaming simultaneously on a tall roller coaster. Seriously. It is one of the most blood curdling sounds I've heard in a long time.(And thats saying a lot, because I've listened to my share of terrible beginner clarinet and oboe players.)
Once on the train we had about an hour long trip to Pisa where we saw the famous leaning tower(which is actually a bell tower, I never knew that) and the cathedral that goes along with it. 
We wandered around and took goofy pictures for a while before we got the real experience. You see, they still let people climb it and explore all around the top. The hallway around the inside is narrow and gets narrower as you get closer to the top, but that wasn't the weirdest part. It's a super weird sensation to be climbing a spiral staircase and to feel your angle change the further you climb. At one point the wall to your right will be pushing into you and in a few steps the whole building will shift to the left. I should probably also mention that the ancient stone steps we took to the top were worn down in the middle at least 3 or 4 inches, so not only were the walls "moving", but you couldn't decide were to place your feet either! 
It took a good 5 or 6 minutes to climb to the "top", and by the time we made it up 8 stories, the wind had picked up into full blown gusts. That day I just happened to be wearing my longest, flowy-est, billowiest skirt. Bad news bears. I held on to my camera with one hand and my skirt with the other so Marilyn Monroe could keep the skirt blowing award. The views from up there were great, and I tried to just soak it all in. 
After walking almost all the way around the tower, we entered a small opening in the tower and I realized...we weren't all the way to the top yet. Yikes! We climbed another story or two to where the church bells were kept and where I definitely gave ol' Marilyn a run for her money.(Lets just say that by the time I got back down, my hand was pretty cramped.) The views from this point were even more breathtaking, and the bells were amazing as well. I'll never forget one of my friends whispering in my ear, "Can you imagine running up here every time the bells had to be rung?" I definitely cannot. It was quite the hike, let me tell you!
After we got all the heights and sights we could take, we caught the next train to Lucca were we visited the home of Giacomo Puccini, who was the composer of many a great opera. After visiting his apartment, we tasted our first Italian hot chocolate before we crowded onto our last train of the day that would take us back to Florence.