The trip started at Saratoga High School, where the choir participants gathered and loaded their luggage into buses that would be transferred to San Francisco International Airport. Once we arrived, I got to check in my luggage and collect my boarding pass on my own for the first time! This was such a cool experience as I had seen my parents do it multiple times and was finally able to learn how to do it on my own.
Afterward, we went through security and grabbed a quick lunch at Valencia in our terminal. We boarded the flight and flew for 10 hours to arrive at Charles De Gaulle International Airport in Paris, France. We spent about 4 hours in the airport and ate at a sandwich shop, making it our second lunch on the same day!
Finally, we boarded another plane and flew 2 hours to Vienna International Airport where we were greeted by Kyle Brands, who would be our tour guide for the next 2 weeks in Europe. Upon retrieving our luggage from the baggage claim, we headed to the Wien Hauptbahnhof, one of the central train stations in Vienna where my friends had an Austrian delicacy known as a “wiener schnitzel” while I enjoyed an amazing falafel at a nearby store, complete with pineapples, sour cream, and many other elements that made it easily one of the best falafels I have ever eaten.
We then arrived at the Arcotel Wimberger, the first out of many hotels that we would be staying at on our journey. I was shocked by how few amenities European hotels have compared to those in the states. However, I definitely prefer European hotels over ones in the US as hotels are only supposed to be for showering and sleeping in during a vacation. The rest of the day should be for exploring the city and experiencing all the wonders that it has to offer. Once we checked into the hotel, I took a shower and slept, thinking about what the next day had in store.
The next morning, I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the hotel lobby and we took a bus to the Votivkirche, otherwise known as the Votive Church, where would have our first concert the following day. The venue was extremely beautiful, with tall ceilings and huge stained glass windows that depicted different stories of Christianity. However, the real magic started once we started to sing in the church. When we sang, the echo extended for at least 5 seconds after each phrase due to the enormity of the walls and ceilings and the time it took for the sound waves to bounce back against them. The history of the church is also very unique as it was founded after a failed assassination attempt of the Hofburg emperor. In the year 1853, Emperor Franz Joseph was stabbed in the back by Hungarian nationalist János Libényi. Even though he survived, he was bleeding badly and once he recovered, Joseph’s brother decided to build a church in honor of his survival.
Afterward, we transferred to the Naschmarkt, where we saw many different shops selling everything from lederhosen and local Austrian food to even selling drugs. We also saw many street vendors including one who invited us to eat at his restaurant, which served local Austrian food. While my friends enjoyed delicacies such as wiener schnitzel and horse meat, I ate a pancake stuffed with spinach and sour cream, an Austrian staple that tasted amazing!
After lunch, we went walking to the Vienna Museum of Natural History. The museum was beautiful with two buildings facing each other, one being the museum of art and the other being the museum of history. We visited the art museum and saw many beautiful statues of historical figures such as Hercules. We also saw many beautiful glass sculptures and unique towers made of a variety of different figures.
After a 10-minute visit, we headed back to our meeting location where we had a 1.5-hour walking tour around the city of Vienna. We saw many different highlights of the city such as the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which contains the second—largest bell in all of Europe. We learned that the bell sounds during special days in the year such as New Year’s Day and several other occasions. St. Stephens Cathedral was also the place where Mozart, arguably the most popular composer from Austria was buried but was then transferred. Now, the location of Mozart’s body is unknown but there is a memorial of him in Vienna’s cemetery. I also saw that Vienna had many of the same stores and shopping complexes present in the US in addition to clean water stations around the moat or downtown area of the city.
We had a great dinner in the Zwolf Apostokeller, a restaurant that had two levels, one that was essentially underground in a cave-like room. The restaurant was great but unfortunately didn’t have the best vegetarian options. A salad with potatoes and greens was given that tasted decent but the highlight of the dinner was the apple strudel, a popular dessert complete with sugary bread dipped in apple sauce.
Afterward, we were ready to head back to the hotel and rest up for our first performance the following day. The next morning, we dressed up in our concert attire and headed for the Votivkirche to perform as a part of the Sunday mass. I am not Christian and never attended a mass before, however, I enjoyed listening to the music and the speeches that the pastor gave to the audience. I especially enjoyed his delivery as he emphasized the inclusion of people from all walks of life and explained that success in life is attained through hard work, faith, and a love for god. We performed songs at different points in the service according to the messages that the sermon delivered. In all, I feel like this was one of our best performances throughout the tour, which would extend for another two weeks and was an enriching and enlightening experience. After the concert, we ate lunch and visited the Haus der Musik, a high—tech museum that portrayed the history of music through several interactive exhibits. Some of these exhibits include learning about the history of different Austrian composers such as Mozart and Schubert, who composed one of the pieces that we performed. We also explored an exhibit in which we were able to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic and were able to choose which piece we wanted them to perform. I chose the Redetsky March and unfortunately was not able to complete the whole song as my tempo changed in different intervals. Many of us weren’t able to complete it successfully, blaming it on software issues. However, we were able to see our conductor. Ms. Nitzan, complete it flawlessly. Overall, this museum was amazing and enabled me to learn so much more about music through the ages in a fun and interactive way.
After the museum, we headed to the Musikverein, one of the most beautiful stages in Vienna in which many operas and plays have been performed, to watch our band and orchestra perform. We had a quick dinner then took our seats for the concert. A local Viennese orchestra was the first to perform and gave me goosebumps during every piece they performed. I was surprised when I heard them perform the theme song of Jurassic Park as well, something I was not expecting a local orchestra to learn. Our band and orchestra came next and also performed very well. After the concert, I got a chance to speak with the conductor of the Viennese Orchestra and learned a lot about how he trains the orchestra to play so beautifully in addition to how he also teaches people from little children to adult musicians and passes down the art through generations in order to keep it alive.
This was the last day we spent in Vienna, as we would travel `to Ljubljana, Slovenia the next day. I hope you enjoyed this article and visit Vienna to make your own memories!!