June 30, 2011


One thing I love about Vienna, or all of Austria for that matter, is that you can just go for a walk and stumble across something really cool.

We took the students on a little walk through downtown to help them get a little oriented. Outside the Stefansdom, we arrived just in time to see the procession celebrating Corpus Christi day. Corpus Christi, a Catholic and national holiday, celebrates the Body of Christ, consecrated in Mass. In German, it's called Fronleichnam. As a Mormon missionary 25 plus years ago, I got the spelling mixed up and thought it was Frohe Leichnam (happy corpse). I thought a great way to commemorate the day would be to lie happily in bed like a corpse. We didn't, of course, but my companion and I had fun joking about it.

We watched the procession pass. I liked seeing all the outfits and listening to the band. We came across the procession a couple times as they traveled throughout the city from cathedral to cathedral. I really like the pomp and circumstance and tradition.

In the middle right photo, the man under the canopy is Bishop Schönborn. (click to enlarge)
In the next few weeks, I plan to become a flâneur. I learned this term from Professor Rob. It's a person who strolls about the city in order to experience it. Stay tuned for photos, and hopefully, I'll stumble across many more surprises.

A Day at the Opera

During the first week the students are here in Vienna, we are taking them to several performances. This is due to the fact that most of the performing groups are on break or tour during July and August. After "The Magic Flute," Katie chose something a bit lighter. We got tickets for Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" at the Volksoper.

The Volksoper was built in 1898 for the 50 year jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef. The building was completed in only ten months. Comparing it to the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitor's Center which went up in one year with the aid of modern machinery and technology, the building of the Volksoper is a very impressive feat. However, to build it so quickly greatly added to the cost, and the theater shortly after went bankrupt. After WWII, the Volksoper became the main opera stage in Vienna while the Staatsoper was being rebuilt from damage incurred during the war.

We originally thought we had purchased tickets for the evening performance. It was a good thing Katie decided to check the tickets one more time. It turned out our tickets were for the 11 a.m. matinee. When we arrived, we were met by thousands of Viennese school children also attending the opera. My first thought was, "Please let them be better than audiences of American kids." And by comparison, they were. But, it was obvious that near the end of each act their attention spans were only so long. If anyone knows me, they know that I'm a magnet for people with poor concert etiquette. Why do they ALWAYS have to sit near me? This time it was one of the teachers. She sat and read her book with light from a cell phone, and when some of her kids would get a little unruly, she would yell-whisper at them loud enough to be heard throughout the hall. I finally gave her a very stern "shh" and my best "evil eye." She got the message.

The opera was amazing. First of all, I made sure to read the synopsis carefully before going. I wish I had done that with "The Magic Flute." It's also great to attend an opera where every single person on stage is fantastic. The BYU operas usually have great leads but then there are always a couple of cast members where I think they must have been desperate. 

In addition to the excellent performances, one of my favorite parts of the experience was Tomas telling me during each song which Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry cartoon it came from. Ahh, the old cartoons taught us so much culture.

The Volksoper,–rather plain by Viennese standards, but still beautiful. It's not possible to get a decent photo of the building without streetcar wires in it.

The view of the stage from our seats—no partial view this time.

Liam and Tomas were so well-behaved during the opera and really enjoyed it. I'm not sure if Chloe will show up in very many Vienna photos this time around. She's always off hanging around with the students.

I was surprised they allowed me to take photos without flash. It never hurts to ask. But then, I noticed all the school children brought their lunches with them. At first, I couldn't believe it, but after the opera, the hall was clean. Very different from what you experience in an American movie theater.

Ballet dancers performed in the party scene.

The curtain call. I think my two favorite characters were the maid (in the middle with the red dress) and the jailor (on her right). She had a beautiful voice and was very funny, and he was downright hysterical.
For the remainder of the day and much of the next, we found ourselves singing the music from "Die Fledermaus." It's the kind of music that gets stuck in your head, almost worse than Rebecca Black's

We're grateful we were able to see these few performances, but it would sure be great to be in Vienna throughout the entire performance season. Tickets can be had for fairly cheap. That will have to wait for the next time.

June 27, 2011

Schönbrunn Cabin

I often call my parents' recently purchased condo in Midway the "cabin." I've always wanted to say, "I'm spending the weekend at the family cabin." Actually, my parents' condo is the perfect "cabin" for me since I'm not really into the rustic life.

Of course, we took the students to the Hapburg's little "cabin", Schönbrunn. The royal's summer palace consists of the palace, beautiful grounds, children's museum, carriage museum, labyrinths, and a zoo. They also hold concerts and marionette shows. Last time, we visited the palace complex three times. If you're interested, click here, here, and here. It's by far the best palace I've ever been to, and it was just as exciting this time around. Schönbrunn is kept up nicely, and the tour is well-done. I'm glad I had forgotten a lot of the details because it was almost like a new experience. I also really enjoyed seeing how excited the students were to see everything. Even though we got sprinkled on a little, the weather was just perfect—nice and cool.

I really wish they allowed photography inside the palace, but at least they have a website with panorama shots of many of the rooms. Two of my favorite rooms aren't on there though. I really like the two small Chinese-themed salons just off the large ballroom. The inlaid floors and floor to high ceiling wall decorations are beautiful. Empress Maria Theresa made some great choices when it came to those rooms.  

After the tour, we walked through the gardens and hiked up to the Gloriette.

The front of Schönbrunn. I love the Photoshop tool that merges several photos into one. I think I'll be using it a lot this trip. (click to enlarge)

And, here we have the back of Schönbrunn with a group of students.

This is the view up towards the Gloriette from the palace.

Here I am with a bunch of the students. I'm always a bit leery of who to ask to take a photo, especially when I'm using my fancy-schmancy camera. This photo is courtesy of a very nice Chinese tourist. I chose him because he was also carrying a Nikon.

On the hike up to the Gloriette, we stopped for a photo-op in the little alcove behind the waterfall. I made the comment that it was just like Disneyland. They, too, have the back side of water. Nobody got it.

The Gloriette stands on a hill at the end of the gardens opposite the palace. The royals would often enjoy meals up here.
The view from the Gloriette.
Katie, the boys, and a few of the students at the Gloriette.
A bunch of students wanted me to take a photo of everyone jumping at the same time. I'm not sure who needs the practice more—me with my camera or them with their jumping. Anyway, we'll have to try some more.
We plan to go back to Schönbrunn with Grandma Jo and Aunt Bita when they arrive for a short visit. Liam and Tomas are especially excited to do the labyrinths and playground with Aunt Bita. The boys have something special in store for her. I'm sure I'll get a great photo for the blog.

A Night at the Opera

When we were in Vienna two years ago, we took a tour of the Staatsoper (State Opera House). Unfortunately, we didn't get to see an opera because their off season is July and August. This time we arrived the end of June, so we booked a tour of the opera house and purchased tickets for Mozart's The Magic Flute for the students' second day in Vienna. What a great introduction to this wonderful city and a way to keep the students busy to help them quickly get over jet lag.

The opera house was built during the reign of Franz Josef II in the mid-nineteenth century. When it was completed, it received criticism from the emperor and the press for not being grand enough. I guess there had been a palace across the street that was even more amazing, and the opera house didn't match the grandeur. Sadly, the palace was destroyed during WWII, and also sad, one of the architects was so depressed by the criticism, he hanged himself. His partner died ten days later of tuberculosis. The opera house was also damaged during the war, but I'm so thankful they decided to rebuild it. (This gives me hope for the Provo Tabernacle.)

Not grand enough???

Beautifully decorated on the inside as well.

Here's our group outside the opera house. You may notice there are only two male students, and one is married. Lucky Daniel!

On the tour, we got to see their backstage, which is massive. Here, students are looking at the snake from "The Magic Flute."

Inside the hall with our tour guide.

The box seats. The large one in the middle is where the emperor sat. For the Opera Ball held in March, you can rent a box for as little as EUR 10,000 and as much as EUR 18,500. Just the entrance price is EUR 250 per person, and that doesn't guarantee you'll get into the concert hall.

During our tour, they were setting the stage for the first act of "The Magic Flute"—very futuristic.

Here are the windows to the emperor's sitting room adjoining his box. If the lights were on, that meant he was in. And, if he was in, everyone wanted to be seen at the opera. It didn't take long for the management to figure out to frequently turn the lights on to boost sales.

The inside of the emperor's sitting room. This can be rented for special occasions. I forget how much it cost, but I remember it was an astronomical amount.

I'm always amazed at the ornateness and the detail. (click to enlarge)

They have busts of major composers throughout several of the halls. I took a photo of Mozart since he was the composer of the evening's opera.

One of the halls is lined with massive tapestries. Here is the Queen of the Night. I took this photo because I was really excited to hear her aria later that evening.
I took a picture of Gustav Mahler's miniature piano that he took with him wherever he went. Mahler was a conductor at the Staatsoper, and he also started the practice of dimming the lights during a performance to get the audience to quit talking and pay attention. Clever. That night, I didn't see a single cell phone out during the performance, and the audience was very well-behaved. Back in the States, I seem to be a magnet for people with poor concert etiquette.

Here we are just before going in to find our seats. Chloe is off with the students. Liam and Tomas did so well for their first opera. I should video Liam doing his version of the Queen's aria. He can really hit the high notes. It won't be long though before his voice changes.

The Vienna State Opera sells out 98% each season. They sell a lot of season tickets, so we had to order our tickets way in advance. And, we were only able to get tickets with partial view. Here is my view of the stage when I was completely leaning forward. There were a few times all the action was happening stage-left, so I just sat back and listened. It was more than enough to be in that beautiful setting.

A beautiful hall.

Most of our students.

You can see the rest of our student sitting across the way on the top row.

The cast taking their bows. The Queen of the Night is on the right next to the clapping hands. She was A-MA-ZING! Even though I was pretty confused with the plot, or lack thereof, during the second half (I even read the synopsis.), the Queen's aria was worth every cent, and more. We also noticed the hall has fantastic acoustics.

Our seats were so high up that I was looking straight across at the chandelier. I learned on the tour it takes two weeks each year to clean the thing.

A fountain outside the opera house. I think I'll have to go down town at night to take some night photos of the building.
I wish we had time to see more at the State Opera before they go on vacation. But, we got to see at least one opera, and in my opinion, the best one to see in Vienna. It was also fun to experience it with the students, who were equally at starstruck. Next, we get to see Die Fledermaus at the Volksoper.

June 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, AAIE!

The Austro-American Institute of Education teaches the German classes and arranges the host families for our study abroad students. All the people that work there are amazingly wonderful and have been so helpful in getting us all set up.

This year, the Institute turns 85. To celebrate, they planned a series of events. Katie and I were invited to attend as the representatives from BYU. Unfortunately, we had to pass on the opening dinner because we would have had to literally go straight from the airport. However, the following evening we attended a special concert at the Vienna Chamber Opera.

Tucked away down a tiny little side street in downtown Vienna, the Chamber Opera is in a lovely little hall. We listened to a violinist and pianist play selections from Mahler, Strauss and Saint-Saens. Once they reach a certain level, I'm not a good judge of whether an instrumentalist is good or not, but Katie assured me they were exceptional. I was very impressed with the violinist's technique with playing the high notes. She made those parts that were just a notch down from being only audible to dogs sound beautiful.

The small street where the Kammeroper is located. It was raining, and since we rushed out the door to the concert, we forgot umbrellas.
Here's a photo of Katie in the concert hall. She's debuting her new short hair and new green dress. Rrrow!

A few days later, we got all gussied up again for the next AAIE celebratory event and made the trek out to the American embassy for a reception. We were quite excited having never been inside an embassy before. Katie summed up the evening nicely with her Facebook status where she wrote,
Went to a reception at the American Embassy in Vienna tonight. Scorecard: grounds, A+; embassy architecture, C-; food, A (they had smoked salmon); Ambassador's German, ummmm... no comment. But he was VERY nice.
Along with schmoozing with a bunch of people, we spoke with Ambassador Eacho for quite a while. I told him I would love to have his job. That is, until he told me more about his job. I think I just want the hosting duties, the big house in a beautiful part of Vienna, the paycheck, and being treated like a dignitary. I'd rather skip all the boring meeting stuff. Maybe they might have an event coordinator position open.

All in all, it was a great evening—one to remember.

Outside, the embassy is quite ugly, especially compared to all the beautiful stately homes in the neighborhood. It looks like something you would find on a military base.

The back side of the embassy. The hors d'oeuvres turned out to actually be a full buffet. Katie loved all the seafood while I, of course, loved all the desserts. They also had a free-flowing bar, and since it was a warm and muggy evening, we downed many glasses of orange juice.

And, the backyard. In addition to what's shown in the photo, they have a manicured forest. (click to enlarge)

Here we are posing for a photo. Katie is looking double rrrow in her new red dress (scored on sale at Macy's for $24). She's also wearing her new sparkly gold high heels. Her feet paid the price afterwards, but not once did she stumble navigating the cobblestone walkways and subway system. That's talent!

June 23, 2011

Vienna 2011

We're back!

This time, however, we are the directors of the study abroad program, so I'm not just along for the ride. We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity, but it does mean a lot of work. Hence, the lack of blog posts.

The flight over was pretty uneventful. We took Delta from Salt Lake to Paris. While cutting out that one extra layover was nice, Delta did live up to our very low expectations. All food was inedible, the movie screens did not work for most of the flight, nor did the radio stations, and it was very no frills. From Paris to Vienna, we flew on a new plane with Air France. Everything from the attentiveness of the flight attendants to the gourmet snacks was a major improvement.

We quickly settled into the BYU apartment. It's very nice, but we kind of miss our old place. We still feel like we are camping out at the Mc's place. I will write up something about our apartment and neighborhood and post some pictures later.

We had about a day and a half before the students began arriving. I certainly needed that time because jet lag hit me like a semi-truck and put me in a deep coma.

All the students made it safe and sound with only a couple stressful moments on our part. The AustroAmerican Institute, who teaches the German courses and arranges the host families for the students, has been incredibly helpful, and they took the entire group to dinner at a nice Italian restaurant our first night together.

Tomas hadn't really recovered from jet lag.
Since one of our students won't be arriving till Sunday, Chloe has taken her place and has been staying with another BYU student as a host family's home. She's having a great time and fits in well with the students.

Here is my remedy for jet lag—ice cream from Schwedenplatz. It solves a myriad of problems.
So, now I've got the first post finished. There will be many more to come recording our Austrian adventures. In the meantime, here is an article about our program published in the Daily Universe.

Are we lucky? Are we blessed? Most definitely!

Stay tuned.

June 02, 2011

Budding Photographer

Tomas asked me if we could do a photo shoot together. A few years back, he got a Fisher Price camera for Christmas. Up till now, he's played around with it, but seeing me take my new camera virtually everywhere, he's wanted to try his hand at photography. We decided to go the Nielson's Grove Park hoping there would be some ducklings to photograph.

Here are my photos of Tomas.

We found some duck eggs with no mama duck around. Does Tomas have a future with National Geographic?

And, here are Tomas' photos. This is the first time we've ever actually taken anything off the camera and put it on the computer. The camera is virtually indestructible, and the quality is comparable to a cell phone. But still, Tomas did a pretty good job.

Click to enlarge.
I think I'll ask Tomas to take his camera on our Vienna trip. I can imagine some awesome and amazing photo shoots there!