Salzburg: Yes, McDonald’s hamburgers do taste better here.
Posted on 19 July, 2011
One whole week in Salzburg feels a little too surreal. Schedules, students, songs, and schnitzel are falling into place, and so now all that’s left is to sing, drink, and be merry.
Being on a bus to Salzburg with a bunch of singers was comparable to being on a bus with a bunch of teammates for an abnormally long period of time when everyone is tired, hungry, and trying to be polite without exhausting themselves further. In other words, those of us who didn’t fall asleep with in the first ten minutes on the bus had just about had it after ten minutes. Upon arriving in Oestereich (aka Austria), a petite, extremely enthusiastic woman ran up to me with open arms. Of course, the one time when I can totally bust out my Deutsch and sound cool, I am at a loss for words [Editor’s note: a rare occurrence indeed] and struggling with luggage. It should be noted that I was one of the light packers for this trip, and I had at least 80lbs of luggage total.
My host mother, Martina, was more than gracious to bear with my bumbling German (and bumbling luggage). Her daughters, Laura (age 6) and Lisa (age 3), were also in attendance as was the daughter of a close family friend, Anna (age 16). Anna is ganz cool, and it was incredibly refreshing to talk to someone who wasn’t musically involved. She and I are planning a party week when the Geistbergers (my host fam) are on family vacation in Italia. By “party,” I mean we’ll probably bust out the itunes, strudel, and a soccer ball.
Martina and her husband Martin (cute, no?) have been extraordinarily welcoming, as have the two kids. In fact Laura has graciously lent me her Disney Princess book auf Deutsch to improve my German. Laura gets a kick out of the fact that she knows more German than I do, so pop quizzes in Liz’s room have become popular. These consist of Laura walking in, picking up and object, asking “Was ist das?” and if I don’t know, I get a “Nein! Das ist [insert the correct German title]” Lisa has taken a shine to mein Handy (aka cellphone) because it has games like a piano, a pitchpipe, a hippo that flies through the air, and painting. So she’ll typically come in my room when the sun is up saying “Handy Spielen, bitte.”
Life in an Austrian household is, understandably, very different from the typical American household. In America, we are very informal to the point of almost being sloppy or even rude by international standards. Here, even kids understand that if a person’s door is closed, it’s not to opened. And when entering a room, acknowledgments must be made to other people in that room. Water is precious and never wasted, so say goodbye to those luxury fifteen minute hot showers. And at the dinner table, one doesn’t pile heaps of food on a plate—take only as much as one can eat, but never more.
And I know that to a lot of people, what I’ve just written seems really silly, and you’re thinking, “Well DUH, Liz, I’d never do that. My parents brought me up right.” And I say, that’s chill man, but, even so–as much as I pride myself on Southern upbringing I know I have been guilty of some of these. You know, walk into a room, get something, overlook the parental in the room, walk out. Or how about that one night when I completely forgot about world hunger could only think of myself as I pigged out on a giant container of frozen yogurt and literally growled at anyone who tried to take it away. So just something to consider next time abroad. We need more ambassadors for POLITE American tourists. We also need more frozen yogurt, but, that’s another issue entirely.
Austria’s clean energy campaign is also significantly different from America’s–mainly because it’s a) in place and b) extraordinarily effective. As I mentioned in Manners 101, water conservation has importance. The tap water here is exceptionally good. Why? Go look at any body of water in the area–perfectly clean and clear. Might as well fill up your cup at the river–but don’t, the river is actually pretty dangerous because of strong currents. Thus far, my family and every other native resident I’ve encountered is very conscientious about there water usage, even with hand washing. The greatest novelty and challenge I’ve been faced with here, though, is toilet flushing. Yes, ew, gross, what the heck could be so difficult about flushing a toilet? But with toilets here, a person has total control over the amount of water used in flushing the toilet (why waste more water than necessary?). The appropriate amount of leverage on the usually button levers is an art form, as is knowing when to stop the giant WOOSH of water. I myself have been overzealous with the initial flush only to find myself unable to stop the water. This then leads me to hop up and down, simultaneously shouting out silent curses and prayers while I try not to waste any more water than I already have. Truly, it’s an art form, folks.
Public transit, like in Muenchen, is amazing. Here, buses reign supreme. But these aren’t just any buses–these are electric buses. Throughout the Strasse (aka streets), there are a bunch of wires hanging above. Take a look at the photo below.
|From Salzburg Week I|
See the wires? The buses run nearly 24/7 and are always on schedule; consequently, I have been motivated to be more on time, lest I miss my bus and have to wait another ten minutes. Who knows, by the time I’m back in the states I might actually be ten minutes early to most engagements [Editor’s note : pigs do not have wings].
If you checked out the fahrplan (the map with all the bus lines), I live right near Theodorstrasse. Every day, I take Bus 7 down near Baerenwirt and then walk the rest of the way to school. Salzburg is a walking city. If people aren’t riding public transit or their bikes (it’s also very bike-friendly), then they walk. Fingers crossed, I will walk enough to work off all the beer I’ve been drinking on a fairly regular basis. In fact, the owners of the Irish pub two doors down from school know me by my first name and will chat me up as I walk to lunch, inquiring if I’ll be by for Happy Hour.
Truly though, I swear I have done more than drink beer. I’ve also been drinking some Irish whiskey, thank you certain person I know with a well-stocked liquor cabinet for introducing me to the stuff. More seriously, alcohol here is a part of daily life and even the sixteen year olds are mature about it. It’s not like Beerfest where everyone drinks for the sake of getting drunk. Admittedly, I’m currently visiting when a lot of the university students are on vacation, so surely they have some frat house moments, but yeah. Enjoy a good beer. Oh and most Austrians mock American beers ruthlessly–can’t say I blame them after my beer encounters here in Europe.
School overlooks the river, and although we have limited practice space (mainly because lessons are going on a lot), we have super nice facilities at our disposal. Just check out where I get to have my lessons twice-weekly! I am incredibly fortunate and blessed to be working with the incredible Patricia Wise. She is very energetic, demanding, and invested both in her students and in their music. I am striving to meet and surpass her expectations for me, and admittedly, she has high ones for each person in her studio. My faculty audition was a bit “deer in headlights,” but I rebounded in opera scene auditions with a strong and sassy Despina (who nearly fell flat on her face last few measures of music due to a faulty ankle). The sagacious faculty overseeing auditions gave me the roles of Marie from La Fille du Regiment and Rosalinde from Die Fledermaus. Wanna see the two scenes I get to perform? Watch the vids below–they even have English subtitles!
Also, I hope y’all checked out Florez in the above vid. If not, go stare more at him. Or google him with his shirt off.
So far, we’ve had two brief walking tours to acquaint ourselves with the city. The first tour we got a better idea of where things were–Billa (the local grocer), ATM, Apotheke (pharmacy), etc. The second tour we learned where some of the more famous places in Salzburg are, like where Mozart lived, Getreidegasse (the shopping street), various places where The Sound of Music was filmed.
Hopefully y’all will check out my photos, because they narrate themselves. Mirabel Gardens has probably been my favorite site thus far. The flowers and fountains are simply breathtaking–more so than Linderhof, I think. And the smell is incredibly, especially from the rose bushes. Truly, it’s a landscapers dream, and I only wish I had ariel photos.
Also, I had two breakdowns this past week. The first was that yes, finally I gave into pastries and ate Torte–at Cafe Thomaselli, no less. And oh the tears of joy and shame that were shed at eating that rich goodness. The second breakdown was that after eating Torte, I found the tackstore in Salzburg and got the most beautiful Pikeur breeches. As posted on facebook:
An open letter to my new Pikeur breeches–I’m as smitten with you as I am with the insanely good looking German prof here. You’re possibly the best thing that has come into my life recently, and I have no intention of ever letting you go. You’ve also converted me to full seat breeches, since you manage to compliment my backside way too perfectly. And you’re far better than any American brand I could have gotten.
Let’s go ahead and mention this German Prof. I don’t care if he reads this blog, as probably every single lady and tenor that has attended Salzburg College has fallen for him. He is a beautiful man. Tall, dark, and handsome, but then add a little more handsome with those eyes. More towards the refined yet softly sculpted David that Donatello so delicately crafted. He speaks German clearer than most in Salzburg. He speaks better English than a majority of the population in Kentucky. He likes football (the real kind. Not the American kind) and likes the outdoors. He thinks I’m funny, or at least he’s laughed at my remarks a number of times now. And wait for it–he plays cello. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is what it takes to see Liz smitten to the point that when asked a question in German, she responds in German, but with an answer that is entirely unrelated to the question. He is the talk of all the sopranos and a few tenors, and they all have the same question–is he single and straight? To find out the answer, stay tuned for next week’s blog entry. I am determined to find out by asking him myself–although I will possibly need a drink afterwards (and/or before), and I will sure as heck need a prayer beforehand for my cheeks not to turn red as roses.
German class itself is fine and dandy. I’m in IntermediateII with six other girls, and we all have different strengths. I can speak well enough and I’m a strong writer, but I’ll be the first to admit my comprehension can be off the mark. Part of that is because of the accent in Austria. Just like we have different dialects and accents in the states, so do the Germanic speaking countries, and Austria is the South. Of course, the only thing to do to improve is practice, practice, practice, and then listen to a lot more German. My host family had a BBQ with friends on Sunday afternoon that I was invited to, and although there was plenty that was lost on me, slowly but surely the extended exposure to constant German dialect is helping my German. That has been the most frustrating part of the trip–the fact that I want to be more comfortable with German conversation, but it’s a slow process (much like singing).
Sunday morning I attended mass at the Dom, which is the cathedral in Salzburg. It is, by far, the most impressive cathedral I have ever been in, and I have been in a lot of cathedrals in Italy, Greece, USA, Britain, and Ireland. And the organ– well ok, my organ playing friends and family, it’s all that and more. The Dom organ was built in 1703 by Josef Christoph Egedacher. And more impressive, there are twice-weekly organ recitals. Here’s a taste of what it sounded like. I hope I will be able to get more interior pics of the entire pipe set up–it is simply vast and massive. Dom Organ
Check out the sound of the boys choir at the Dom. Truly, I had goose bumps when I heard the Hosanna. As a singer, I’ve always joked that I am affiliated with whatever church is paying me to sing. Sometimes this attitude leads me to forget just what an important role music plays in enriching spirituality and leading one’s faith closer to God. At mass, I got that reminder.
The best and fondest memory I have of my first week in Salzburg was coming home Thursday after school, cranky from waiting around for a practice room and then having a not-too-good practice session, and having my host father invited me to a game of pickup soccer after he saw my wide-eyed enthusiasm at the soccer ball in his hands. We took bikes, and it was fairly evident that I hadn’t ridden a bike in six years, but hey–it’s for the love of football.
The weather was perfect–low 70s with some misty rain. We played three on three, and while I was the only girl and hadn’t played for a few months, it could have been worse. After two hours of playing football with the alps as our backdrop, we jumped in the lake next to the field to cool off and swim around in. After that, Martin and I quick hopped back to the house to change and met up with his friend Robert (one of our players) for drinks and to finish watching the fussball match (Salzburg won, btw).
Now, as stated at the very beginning of this entry, things are settling down into a routine. I am still trying to feel out my place at my host family’s residence–it’s difficult. On one level, I’m a guest; on another, I’m here longer than a few days so I have some kind of role in the family. This upcoming week, though, the real work–the actual singing and learning–begins in earnest.
And yes, despite my better judgment, I must hang my head and confess that I did eat at a McDonald’s here in Austria. However, the burgers are infinitely better because of the strict government policy that real meat—from Austria—with no chemical additives be used So what exactly is going into American burgers at McDonald’s? Frankly, my dear, I think we’d do better not to know.