Friday, January 31, 2014

Weekly Interlude 28: (And-a-Half)

Bryn Terfel!!!
It's taken me so long to get my act together and write this blog entry that I've decided to simplify matters and make a series of bullet points. MUCH has happened in the last week-and-a-half, and MUCH MORE is coming up in the next week!
  • I met Bryn Terfel last week! The Welsh bass-baritone played Scarpia in the Wiener Staatsoper's latest version of Tosca. If you remember, Tosca is my absolute favorite opera; I've seen it at least five times in the last two years, and I can say that Bryn Terfel is my favorite Scarpia thus far. He was brilliant in every way -- powerful and sadistic and mesmerizing all at once. Afterwards, he signed autographs in the bookstore, as opposed to coming by the stage door. He sat at a little table with a beer and a pen, talking to everyone while one of his CDs played in the background. He had a great sense of humor, and I felt bold enough to ask for a picture with him!
  • On Saturday night, I went to a ball with two of my friends, Susanna and Lizzy. It was Susanna's high school ball, though alumni often come back. Let me just tell you how wildly different it was from any kind of school dance you'd find in the States. There were three rooms: the main room with live music, round tables, and a ballroom dancing floor; a smoky lounge upstairs (complete with cocktail bar); and a disco room off the ballroom (also filled with smoke, as well as strobe lights and a DJ). A school event condoning smoking?!?! Well, this is Europe. Central/Eastern Europe, to be precise. They haven't exactly picked up on the latest news that smoking kills. But nonetheless, it was lots of fun, even though I had to shower at 3:30 a.m. in order to get the stench of cigarettes out of my hair and skin. I'd also like to add that these high schoolers can DANCE -- and I mean waltz, salsa, foxtrot, cha cha, you name it. They can waltz in the ballroom just as well as they can grind in the disco room. I danced the Quadrille at midnight -- a huge success, despite the directions being tossed out in German (eins, zwei, drei, vier, ZUR√úCK! zwei, drei, vier...)
  • Musical Munchkins hosted its end-of-term recital over the weekend. Although my kids are too young to play/sing in the recital, I saw a few of them there to watch their older siblings. One of them even gave me a lovely lilac bulb as a thank-you for the semester! Now I need to hunt down a pot and some soil in this frigid January...right now, I'm substituting with a large wine glass.
    Graz's Clock Tower
    The colorful city of Graz
  • I went to Graz on Tuesday (returning Thursday) to visit my friend Lizzy, who currently lives there and teaches English in a nearby town. Graz, the City of Design, is the capital of Steiermark, one of the nine states in Austria, and lies a two-and-a-half hour train ride south of Vienna. In fact, Graz is the second-largest city in the country (Vienna is, predictably, the largest), boasting a whopping 250,000 people. It's a very student-friendly city (there are six universities), and it reminded me of a Soviet-influenced Bologna. Much of the architecture in Graz sports Italian influence, particularly the archways so common in Bologna. To give you some idea of what Graz looks like (beyond the pictures featured here), imagine Renaissance architecture given a facelift with Baroque architecture, interspersed with surprisingly colorful Soviet cinder-block apartment buildings (thanks to the post-WWII reconstruction).
  • Graz's main attraction is the Clock Tower, which resides on Castle Hill. You can see it from almost anywhere in the city. Apparently, Napoleon once wanted to take the bell from the Clock Tower, but Graz's citizens stole it the night before Napoleon planned to get his hands on it. Well done, Graz! Since it was so snowy when I went, the stairs up to Castle Hill were closed; we took the elevator instead, not that I minded... Castle Hill affords the most beautiful views of the city, made even more so, I think, by the layers of fluffy white snow.
    A pit marking the center of Graz
    Overlooking Graz from Castle Hill
  • The picture here that looks like a giant parking meter is actually a giant, fake pit -- as in, peach or nectarine. A fruit pit. It marks the very center of the city, a "point zero," if you will. We found it hiding inconspicuously off in a courtyard, but there you go.
  • Lizzy and I went to a cafe and ordered hot chocolate. But not just any hot chocolate. You choose a flavor (I chose Cashew-Caramel; Lizzy chose Cinnamon-Honey), and they bring you a cup of steamed milk and a chocolate bar in your desired flavor. Then, you melt the chocolate bar into the milk, wait two minutes, stir it up, and experience a tiny sliver of heaven. I cannot begin to say how amazing that hot chocolate was. In fact, it was so good, I drank too much at once and promptly started choking. But it was worth it.
  • Today marked my last day teaching at Musical Munchkins for the semester; classes resume in a week. Tomorrow I'm flying out to London, where I'll stay for a few days with my cousin, and then I take the Chunnel over to Paris to visit a friend there. I can only imagine how chock-full Weekly Interlude 29 is going to be...perhaps I'll have to resort to more bullet points. Or a blog entirely of pictures!
    The Steiermark coat-of-arms

    Inside the Graz Cathedral

    The city of Graz

    An outlook from Castle Hill
    A pathway on Castle Hill

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