Travels, Tangents, & Tribulations (with some Libations)

a chapbook of wanders and wonders

Bavaria: the Kentucky of Europa.

Posted on 13 July, 2011

This was my first Eurotrip alone, and this was also the first time I’ve landed in Flughafen Muenchen and been able to stay longer than a couple hours for a layover. In fact, this time, I got to stay for close to six hours in Flughafen Muenchen (otherwise known as Munich Airport) while figuring out how to tell my parents at 3AM that my card had been denied and that I had practically no money, a one-way train ticket, and close to 80lbs worth of luggage (for anyone who doesn’t know how much music anthologies weigh, feel free to come try on my music bag).

So the good news was I was in Europe; the bad news was, despite my best thorough planning efforts, something still went wrong.

In the end, thanks to the kindness of an Albanian woman giving me ten Euro and a Siberan woman giving me her sandwich and granola bar for lunch, I managed to reach my parents via skype who, through the wonders of Western Union, wired me 199 euro—plenty to get around Munich for three days.

Here is a map of Munich’s train system. For those who find the London Underground overwhelming, I recommend going to Munich with a friend. Even the locals here aren’t always 100% sure on the right route, as demonstrated by an elderly couple having a heated argument on the S-1. But really, it does get easier, and the public transit in Munich hands down is the best public transit I’ve ever experienced. A three day pass for 19,90 euro will get you everywhere you need to go.

Hostels have a bad rap in the States, and they shouldn’t. The general impression of a hostel in Europe is one that’s dirty, possibly in a sketchy part of town, and tends to have creepers lurking around. This is not the case at all with hostels in Bavaria, particularly Munich. The hostel experience can be a great one—firstly, because it’s cheap, but secondly (and more importantly), you meet a lot of different people. And it’s reassuring that even if you do come alone to a foreign country, it doesn’t mean you have to be a solitary explorer. After such a stressful morning, this was a great comfort to me, and I put my social skills to work (thank you, Centre College, for reassuring me that yes, I can make friends).

I teamed up with a Cannuck, an Australian, and a guy from Oregon that night in order to try and attend a live outside concert by the Munich philharmoniker—unfortunately, the rain (and HAIL!) managed to put a damper on those plans (pun totally intended). So, instead, we did the next very European thing to do—we watched the womens’ World Cup and drank a lot of beer. Fact: did not think France had it in ‘em to beat England. That was a bit odd.

Seeing and exploring Munich and Bavaria was not what I expected on a couple levels. There was a lot I wanted to do in three days, but that just wasn’t enough time to see everything. Nevertheless, what I did experience reminded me a lot Kentucky, of all things. Bavaria has substantial agriculture, and so when one drives outside of Munich, there are rolling hills and fields with a lot of cattle and horses (and some sheep!). And booze is a primary attraction for their city (much like Bourbon is for Kentucky). Additionally, Munich has a similar feeling to Louisville. It is a big city, yes, but a very welcoming city with a lot of attractions. The people I encountered in Munich were also exceptionally nice and willing to chat, beit in English or in German.

I tried to practice my German as much as possible, and at first, even when I addressed a person in German, they would respond back in English. Gradually, though, more people began conversing with me in German. Unlike the French, the Germans are delighted when you try to speak their language.

After considering my options given money and time, I decided to go–with two of my Hostel comrades– visit two Schlössern (castles/palaces) of Ludwig II of Bavaria. Ludwig was a pretty cool dude, albeit he really idolized the French, especially Louis the XIV and Louis the XV. This was very apparent in the architecture and decor of Linderhof. It was about as close as one could get to experiencing France/French history without actually being in France. The swan was Ludwig’s leitmotif (remember that keyword, y’all?), and it was prevalent throughout the small yet ornate schloss. The gardens, too, were exceptional. A lot of classical influences with golden sculptures of Aphrodite and Athena, and the mountain-scape in the background just made for some breath-taking photos (see slideshow).

The second schloss was Neuschwanstein, aka the Cinderella castle, aka the castle that the Disney logo is based on. Our tour guide for the trip was not the greatest–my best guess is she hadn’t been anticipating giving the tour on the English bus, so our info was limited and repetitive. After getting off the bus, we went off to find lunch and beer (which, yes, one can drink happily with every meal). I had schnitzel for the first time ever, and it was delicious. Crispy, flavorful, wonderful with the giant .5 Liter Weiss Bier. The drink sizes here are insane in comparison to the US. One can get a half liter for simply a couple euros. Beer is basically what Bourbon is to Kentucky.

Here’s another big similarity Bavaria-Kentucky similarity–Das Wetter aka the weather. One minute, it will be lovely with the sun shining and the sky perfectly clear. Give it ten minutes and then there’s a tropical downpour. I got to experience this sudden change in weather every day I was in Bavaria, and while Kentucky weather should have prepared me for it, a rain jacket simply wasn’t enough. On the day we visited Neuschwanstein, the rain hit hard and fast–and of course, it would hit as we had a 20 minute walk up a hill to get to the castle. I think “sewer rat” would be an accurate description to how I looked by the time I got up to the castle.

The castle itself truly was like something out of cinderella. The highlight for me was probably the singers’ hall at the top of the castle that depicted scenes from Wagner’s opera. Ludwig loved Wagner, and he was big on having musical performances, so he made sure there was an appropriate hall (with awesome acoustics) for such. Talk about a view!

After touring the castle, we set out to then to walk a bridge that overlooked the castle from above–yes, the inspiration for Disney is clear. The bridge itself was incredibly narrow overhanging the gorge; I was amazed it held as many tourists as it did. By the time we made our way down the hill (much easier than up) and onto the bus, it was nap time.

That night–after watching the USA women totally dominate Brazil after some horrendous faking and fouling–

we went out to hostels closer to the Hauptbanhof (main train station) and partied like we were still in college. Oh wait–oh no. No, I’m not in college any more. Shooby-doo. Regardless, I would like to thank the Irish contingency from Belfast for funding my night. It was quite a mix of people from France, Germany, Ireland, and the USA, and pool was the game of choice for the night.

The next day I returned to the airport to meet up with the other singers in the program and take a bus to Salzburg. It’s surprisingly easy to spot singers, and I couldn’t tell you precisely why. Might be how much they project their voices. Might be their swag. We all sort of just came together at the airport and went from there.

Let me “Lied” you “Oper” here.

Posted on 4 July, 2011

Voltaire, that sassy Frenchman, quipped that “the opera is nothing but a public gathering place where we assemble on certain days without precisely knowing why.”

Yeah, OK, Voltaire. Whatevs.

But you know, Voltaire has a point. I recall the blank stares of friends’ faces when I’d say something like, “The Schubertian line in some Goethe Lieder is suitable for both light-lyric soprano and lyric tenor—although some of it just sits continually in my passagio like in ‘Gretchen am Spinrade.’”

K that probably made sense to 4% of the people I know.

So. Goal of this post: a quick opera 101 so that when I throw out fancy jargon, there won’t be the wide, glassy-eyed stares of confusion directed at me. Or at least they’ll be reduced.

You may say, Liz, I love you, but there’s no way I’m loving opera. I’ve never even listened to the stuff. And I shall respond “FALSCH! Du hast die Oper gehoert!!” Fact is opera music is the foundation for any and all film scores, commericals, and cartoons you’ll still remember a half century later (just ask your parents).

You then may say, ok, yeah, I’ve heard opera, but it’s boring. It’s archaic. It’s for old people. So watch this.

No, that is not British version of “Gossip Girls.” But yes, that is the plot summary of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” Not what you’d expect.

See, most people think opera is this:

She will come after you if you're not careful.

Really, these days, opera is more like this:


For more opera hotties, go here. You then will need to youtube them, and I promise, you won’t be disappointed in the least.

According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music,

“Opera is a drama set to music to be sung with instruments, accordingly, by singers usually in costume. Recitative or spoken dialogue may separate the numbers, but the essence of opera is that the music is integral and is not incidental, as in a ‘musical’ or play with music.”

Let’s start with the two big element: aria and recitative. An aria is a fully developed solo piece. Early (Baroque) arias typically start with one section—let’s call it A—then introduce new materail—we’ll call that B—and then go back to A. So we have a form of music called ABA, where the last section of a piece is the same as the first. An aria like that is called a “da capo” aria, or “from the head,” or “from the beginning.”

An old-school musician by the name of George Frederic Handel was fond of da capo arias, like the stunning piece “V’adoro, Pupille” (translates as, “I love your eyes”) which the sexy Cleopatra sings. Note how when she starts singing the beginning again, she adds more notes; there’s slight variation from the beginning. That’s called ornamentation—you ornament the music by making it fancier. (Want to know more of what goes down in Handel’s “Guilio Caesare? Click here)

So then the other part—recitative. It’s essentially speech-like singing. The porpoise of recitative is to provide dialogue/interaction between characters as well as flesh out the narrative of the opera. This example here is recitative that then leads into a duet. It’s amusing, it’s in my rep, I thoroughly enjoy singing it.

[Side note—you may be going, well the opera thing is OK on youtube because there they at least translate what the heck is going on. Well guess what? They do that on the stage, too where, thanks to technology, the subtitles are scrolled across an LED screen that frames the stage.–The Editor]

Duets and choruses are also used to help further the plot as well as add more emotional depth, not to mention simply add more great (and entertaining) music.

Some opera composer trivia:

Early on in the pioneering of opera (17th century), you have Lully, who beat down his staff (used to keep count) upon his foot one day, busted it open, and refused to get it treated, so he died of infection. He had to write special ballet/dance numbers in his operas because his patron, King Louis the XIV, liked to get his groove on in front of his court.

You then have Handel (18th century). He was German but had residence mainly in England. He liked to write for castrati—or castrated male singers. Young and gifted boys would go through the dangerous procedure since, if you made it (health-wise and talent-wise), you were set for livin’ the good life–in all areas, surprisingly (read at your discretion, gentlemen). . A castrato kept his high, male treble voice into adulthood.

End of the 18th century, you get Mozart. At this point, da capo arias were disappearing because they held up plot development, and the seriousness of opera (opera seria) had to scoot over for Mozart’s comic operas (opera buffa). Mozart was a naughty, naughty boy. He liked dirty humor. He loved women. He lived wildly. The themes that Mozart and the librettist (someone who writes all the words for opera) Da Ponte collaborated and produced on stage still resonate strongly with pop culture today.

In the 19th century, Italian composers like Rossini, Belliniand Donizetti kept up the wit and humor of the Mozartian era.

Verdi and Puccinikept up the lyrical quality of Italian music, which at this point was the standard for opera, much as France and Germany tried to rival.

Then along comes this revolutionary German called Richard Wagner in the mid 19th century. He wanted opera to simply engulf the audience not only with the music and story line but also with staging and lighting. He really upped the ante on the theatrics/drama of opera. The dude is best known for his “Ring” Cycle which is an epic consisting of three operas that are very, very long, and you don’t want to try watching them all in one go. You will inevitably go crazy and eat a tub of cookie dough (ask me how I know). Wagner’s operas are where the stereotypical helmeted horn-wearing Brunhilde opera singer comes from.

Wagner also came up with the Leitmotif, which is a musical theme that is used not only to depict characters but also to reveal their emotions. What’s cool is that an audience gets so engrossed with the opera that even when a character is off stage, if you hear that character’s Leitmotiv, you go, “ohhhhh ok—that character is involved somehow even though they’re not up on stage yet ‘cause the music says so.”

At this point, I hope you’re feeling like opera is a bit cooler (or should I say hotter?) than you thought originally. Here are a few extra links if you want to go out of the way to really sound like you know what you’re talking about when it comes to operas and singing.

52 interesting facts about opera

Just “fach” it (vocal classifications)

Book recommendation

Stay tuned for the next entry—Oratorio: Opera’s good Christian conservative mother and Art song: It’s like 2-D poetry.

‘Wo ist Salzburg?’ ‘Hast du eine Karte?’ ‘For groceries?’

Posted on 30 June, 2011

1) Wo ist Salzburg?  / Where is Salzburg?
Clarification:  Salzburg is not in Germany, it’s in Austria (oder Österreich auf Deutsch).

2) Hast du eine Karte?  / Do you have a map?
Clarification: I’m flying into Munich (which is in Germany) first and staying for two days until traveling to Salzburg, Austria.

It’s 4,777 miles from Atlanta to Munich. So roughly a ten hour flight.

My flight leaves 4:25PM on Friday July 8th from ATL, and I arrive 7:50AM on Saturday July 9th in MUC.

Return date to the States is August 16th.

The time difference is six hours ahead.

This famous dude was born here.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Salzburg literally translates as “The Salt Castle”

A pie to whomever can name which famous movie was filmed in Salzburg.

3) For groceries?
Clarification: die Karte: n. fem. Map.

And yes, I do have a map. Fidget the mouse around to see all three spots (Atlanta, Munich, Salzburg)

Testing the waters

Posted on 29 June, 2011

There is a porpoise to this post.


Can everyone see that? I hope so. I like posting pictures of various places, and panoramas just to keep things interesting.

This is my first blog endeavor. Normally, upon adventuring to a location outside of my norm, I prefer to to document my journeys with a pencil and my mole-skin travel journal. Additionally, anyone who expresses an interest in wanting to know what I’m doing will get a rambling letter. Most of the writing is stream of conscious with some relevant information.  Nevertheless, these letters (sometimes postcards for those that aren’t postcard haters as I know one among you is. Yes. You. But I think we’ve had our come-to-Jesus-moment and it will be OK) get across everything I have to say in paragraph fashion and with headers and footers to alert the reader whether or not they may want to read what’s written in that giant middle paragraph about how painful the tattoo was or just skip to the paragraph of what the tattoo looks like.

While no tattoo has been inked upon my body, there has been–as my departure time to the states let alone to leave the bluegrass draws near–a not-so-normal overwhelming outpouring from friends and family (and adopted family) to communicate with them while I am overseas. After having a stare-down with technology and roaring loudly with my new notepad and favorite ballpoint pen until the pen (which was not new) ran out of ink, I relented and looked into more practical options than writing a dozen or so letters a week.

Option 1: don’t communicate at all. I actually liked this option a lot. It would be so peaceful and easy-peasy. But there was a particular parental who did not and made it clear that option 1 was only an option if I were deceased, and even then she expected some rustling of the wind chimes or something to let her know I was hidin’ with Haydn or whatnot.

Option 2: giant group emails. While I myself have and continue to do group emails, I have my issues. Firstly, people skip email frequently–particularly when they realize it’s a group email. Secondly, people feel less special and loved when they’re in a giant group. Thirdly, you see who all is on that recipient list, and you’ll see a name and you’ll go, “HE’S on there?! She’s still talking to HIM?! WHAT IS SHE THINKING?!” And so then you worry more about your friend’s future wedding and fretting that he/she/it from the recipient list will turn up instead of actually considering the content of your friend’s email about how she and the Prime Minister worked out how to feed the whole of Africa using 1.2 billion dollars of golden dollar coins from the US Treasury.

Option 3: selection process to narrow communication to a few chosen ones. But making choices had never been a strong point for me (anyone ever eaten out with me?  Probably not because I was still back in the parking lot behind Pearl hyperventilating over which restaurant.  We only have like, four in Danville).

Option 4: do the thing I said I’d never do since just because everyone and his mother can create and write a blog, doesn’t mean they should. Up until three seconds ago, I deemed myself one of those people that shouldn’t write a blog. Yet despite my verbosity and lack of focus on (most) occasions, this option remains the best.. Fast and easy access to see where I am and what I am up to. I don’t lose sleep or practice time over handwriting a dozen plus letters. And I’ve even got a secret weapon for this blog–an editor. Shhhh. He/She/It plans to remain anonymous, but He/She/It has vowed to keep my writing in line for y’all’s sake [no promises—The Editor].