A little back story: In May of 2007 my mom and sister Melissa left on a Odyssey Chorale singing tour to Italy. Without me. (sob) Though I had originally been signed up for the trip and had already begun making payments, shortly thereafter I found myself pregnant with Lilian and had to pull out of the trip. So it was with an envious heart (and a huge belly) that I read nightly emails from Melissa detailing their adventures in Italy.
Fast forward six years. Lyle Archibald, director of Odyssey Chorale, was proposing another singing tour. This time to Budapest,Vienna and Prague. There was no question of if I was going or not. I don't even think I even asked Bryan if he was okay with it, just told him I was going. (Luckily he was on board with the plan...even if he did turn down the offer to come with me. Which was fine because though it would've been fun to have him join the group, I had my mom, Katie and Melissa who were also coming. Girls trip!)
But then after the first few payments, the tour got postponed for a year. I was tremendously disappointed and started wondering if the trip would actually get off the ground and take off. I continued to make payments but had my doubts. It wasn't until we actually started rehearsals this past January that I started to really hope again. But regardless, the winter and spring were so incredibly busy with other family things that though I was going through the motions of going to Thursday and Sunday night rehearsals, learning my solo with Gary (my voice teacher) and turning in travel documents and money....it really wasn't until we got on the plane that it started to feel real. And not till we hit the ground in Budapest that I could truly wrap my brain around the fact that we were actually in Europe.
(Salt Lake City to Chicago to Washington D.C. to Frankfurt to Budapest)
Budapest was the city we spent the least amount of time in. I wish we'd had another day...especially because I would've loved to check out the famed thermal baths/spas. But we met our guide Nicole at the airport, she led us to the bus where Fritz was at the wheel and off we went.
Side note: We came to absolutely adore Nicole and Fritz...and fully claim them as a very integral part of our group. Both from Austria, they were both completely delightful and we were so sad to say auf wiedersehen to them when the time came.
After a few days of bus travel we settled into our traditional bus spots where we all felt most comfortable. For us, that meant near the front so as to combat motion sickness. Katie, Melissa, mom and I traded off days sitting together...working into the rotation also Ada, Linda, Shari and Barbara, good friends who ended up joining our little sightseeing group when we had free time for wandering.
After checking into our hotel we had the evening on our own to find some dinner and wander the city a bit. In her excitement for the trip, Melissa had done some previous research and discovered a cafe about a mile away from our hotel that looked worth checking out. We agreed to let Melissa be our tour guide for the evening and off we went to the Clock Cafe.
(We stopped for a little photo-op at this colorful apartment building wall.)
And the Clock Cafe was indeed quite charming. We were delighted with Melissa's choice and thought it made a perfect way to spend our first night in Europe. There were clocks everywhere, even a huge one on the ceiling. Because we were a bit off the traditional tourist beaten path, there was a bit of difficulty with the language barrier. We tried to make things as easy on them as possible...pointing and gesturing, and they did the same. Over all we got our food and they were happy to have our business. And they seemed quite pleased when we said Koszonom (kur-sur-nurm) or thank you in their native tongue.
Because we were so jet-lagged after our meal (and because it was already fairly late into the evening already) we decided to forego anymore sightseeing that night and go straight back to the hotel. But once there we did opt to take advantage of the hotel pool and sauna. Due to the exhaustion, a lot of "Oh-my-goodness-my-cheeks-hurt-and-I-have-tears-running-down-my-face-but-I-can't-stop-laughing" sort of silliness ensued....
The next morning we woke bright and early to begin our fully day...sightseeing in the morning and early afternoon, rehearsal and concert in the evening.
Budapest is split by the Danube River into two separate parts, Buda and Pest. Pest is flat and more commercial while Buda is hilly and residential. The Chain, Elizabeth and Liberty Bridges bring the two sides together and we traversed each of them throughout the day.
First things first....a breathtaking view of the city and the Blue Danube....(anyone else have Johann Strauss' famous waltz running through their heads?)
And then more sightseeing around the city by bus and on foot.
St. Mathias Cathedral and Fisherman's Bastian and the surrounding village were particularly neat.
(It was Fathers Day so we made sure to take a group picture of our awesome men...)
Also our first experience having to pay to use the toilet (or WC). If at a store you often had to buy something and show your receipt before being allowed to use the facilities. Or if at a public restroom, pay. We quickly learned to always have some coin with us...because either they could not make change, or in some cases, the door to the toilet was coin operated like a vending machine.
Statues of famous composers on top of the Opera House.
An early dinner where the restaurant was in the basement of a building that used to be a garrison...
....and then off to rehearsal.
Our concert for the evening was held in St. Michael's church. It was a beautiful building. We rehearsed for a little while and then changed into our concert attire in the back rooms.
Although we already had an audience taking their seats inside, we stood in the little courtyard out front and sang a couple of songs to more or less advertise ourselves and let passers-by know what was set to happen inside. We enticed a few more in that way...and it was actually a lot of fun to sing outside.