Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Today Margaret and Craig met us again and we spent the entire day touring Prague. It was wonderful to have them with us since they have lived here nearly two years and know a lot about the city. Ross and I would not have seen or done nearly as much as we did without their help!

We had a really yummy lunch at this vegetarian restaurant (amazing since this country's cuisine isn't generally vegetarian an friendly) and then headed up to the castle. I saw it from a distance last year and saw it very hurriedly the year before that so I was quite excited to get to properly see it and spend some time there. It didn't disappoint, that is for sure. The place is huge and the views impressive. You don't really realize how huge this city is when you are inside of it, but looking down on it, it just stretches on and on. We went in St. Vitus but didn't pay to take pictures. I tried to capture the part of the outside that wasn't behind scaffolding, but it was quite difficult to fit it all in the frame because it is so monstrous. 

Then we went to Vyšehrad cemetery to find Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana. We saw other graves, of course, but these were the two I was most excited about. The graveyard was dense, much like the one I saw last year in Vienna and the graves were just crammed one next to another next to the church. 

We enjoyed dinner together and then found some gelato, then walked to the TV tower and looked at the huge baby statues crawling up it. They looked kinda strange, almost like ants. Then we went back to the hotel quite tired. We saw so much and I am very glad we allowed several days to see this city this year!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Goodbye, Germany. Hello, Czech Republic!

Today we got up and began our journey to Prague. We traveled by regional trains because it was cheaper. The other advantage is that it allowed us 3 hours in Leipzig where we had to change trains. We put our our luggage in a locker and took the three hours to go through this great city one more time and to visit Bach's grave once again. It never gets old. One is never prepared for it. It catches your breath every time. I'm glad we could see it again. 

From Leipzig we went to Dresden and We arrived in Prague about 8:00. We we met by Ross's friend Margaret and her boyfriend Craig and after we deposited our luggage at the hotel we went out to dinner and for a short walk in the town. I'm excited to have a few days here and hoping that I can properly see the city this time!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

Today Ross wanted to sleep in a bit and run some errands around town getting stamps and such so I woke up early and headed to the train station alone. I rode the train out to Niederndodernleben and arrived without any trouble, except that the train was 5 minutes late. Once there, I enjoyed several hours of time tousle to practice. I love to have friends with and share organ time, but there is something peaceful and wonderful about being completely alone in a cold, musty old church and filling it with music. Just me, God, and any dead people in the floor and walls, and music. Love! I got some major good thinking done and some really solid practice. Ross met me around noon and we ran a few registration things. Then Barry came and I held keys while he did a 20 minute reed tuning. Once Barry left, I played a bit more, listened to Ross play a bit and we headed back to town. 

Once there we enjoyed lunch, and then headed to the grocery store. It was comical. We got a cart and found the chocolate isle and went crazy. Ross and I are both pretty cautious and sensitive about trying to blend with the locals and not stand out as tourists. Except when we do our once-a-trip candy shopping. We couldn't stop smiling and laughing as we received funny looks from people passing as we loaded box after box into our cart. At one point Ross joked that he felt like a something in something and knew he was referring to the old "kid in a candy store" expression. This immediately resulted in more laughter. Ross said we should buy something besides candy so it didn't look so bad so we got one box of Korny. I don't think that really helped our cause. We opted to check out together to save on the embarrassment factor and get out of there ASAP, plus the particular grocery store we were in has been known for really rushing and being impatient if you don't get out of there as soon as you pay, despite having to bag it all yourself. We checked each line, looking for the most cheerful and goodnatured clerk to check us out. Once we decided, we got in line to finish the job. The woman who me checking us out found this highly entertaining. She would scan several items and then sneak a glance at us with a big smile as if to say "you all are crazy". We loaded as fast as we could, filled our shopping bag to the brim, paid the ridiculously large bill (and this was a grocery store so it was cheap prices compared to other places to get chocolate!!!) and got out of there fast, still laughing. The bag was much heavier than we bargained for and the whole way back to the hostel we wondered if this would all fit in our suitcase and figured we better pray hard that Prague isn't too hot because if this much chocolate were to melt, it would be awful messy. Once back, we spread out our loot just to see it all. 

We met Manfred then at 20:00 and took him out to dinner to thank him for all of his help on this trip. He has saved us a ton of money knowing about special tickets and deals on the trains, not to mention he made a few calls for us and is letting us stay at his place tomorrow. We enjoyed a great meal at a potato restaurant and returned to the youth hostel for one more night there. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

One happy girl

Today was a good day. Basically, it went something like this:

Wake up
Eat breakfast
Drop off luggage at next hostel (no availability last night so we had to move)
Get on train
Walk to church

About 5 hours of organ playing!!!!! We took turns playing an listening and I was end very happy girl by the end of of this. Ross was super helpful with registrations and such.  It was nice to be able to sit and listen when he played since I have played the organ in past years but not always gotten a chance to hear it. 

Once we were finished we went back and checked in at the youth hostel. Compared to some of the hotels  we stayed in with the choir, this is every bare- bones but it is saving money. Our rooms were each only 33 euro which included breakfast. Score! 

We met Manfred at 7 PM and  went to the SELK church we will be going to on Sunday. We met met the pastor and his wife who are super nice and planned out Sunday's exchange service which I am really looking forward to. It was great to get to know them a bit and we figured out which hymns I will play and which hymns Ross will play. Again, we got back to the hostel pretty late but it was worth it because we did so many good things today. 

Sorry for no pictures but I didn't take a single one today. Not really much to photograph here that I don't already have pictures of. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The key is mine!!!

Sorry for the extreme lack of updates but Internet has been quite hard to come by. I've been blogging off-line and hope to soon post all of these in the days to come. Be sure you check back often and scroll down as I work to fill in missing days! 

Today we left Hamburg and headed to Magdeburg. My friend Manfred found an amazing ticket for Ross and I to get there so it was super cheap. Once we were there, we checked into our hostel which was awesome. It is family run and our rooms were gigantic! Ross's room had a balcony so I was totally jealous of that. My room. Had a huge living area separate from the bed area.  It is kiddy corner to the train station so very easy to get to. It was sometime 42 euros for the night which included breakfast in the morning. Te only downside is that it was a shared floor bathroom but for that price, I think it will be just fine. 

Once we were settled we headed to the Dom and met Barry to get the key for Niederndodernleben. It is a big skeleton key. I am pretty pleased to be able to have that big honkin' key in my possession the next few days and get to go play that organ whenever I want!

 Immediately, we hopped on the train and to it two stops to Niederndodernleben  and I walked the very familiar path to the church. We played several  (4+) hours and once again I didn't take any pictures because I have been here so many times I already have a ton of pictures from this church.  

Around 8:30 PM we headed back to town and met up with Manfred and 3 of his friends at a Czech restaurant  where there was pleasant conversation, we learned and asked questions of each other's cultures and the men at the table enjoyed a great many beers. I stuck to my bitter lemon. We stayed until pretty late before heading back for the evening. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A lazy day in Hamburg

After so many days of running all over we decided to take a slower paced day. I slept in until 7:30. After getting ready we headed to Starbucks for breakfast. Normally I do not support them ever but when in Europe it is one of the few places to find free Internet. So, we sat there for an hour while I uploaded the last several days worth of blog entires that I had prepared off-line in the days before. 

Once blogging and email were more or less up to date, we walked around the city and went in several more churches. The goal was to get to all five of the major ones, which we did over the course of our time here. At noon we went back to the Katharinenkirche for a noon time concert. The only thing played  was Bach's Toccata Adagio and Fugue but it was indescribable to sit there and listen to this instrument. Of course, I generally only like old instruments but since this is a replica of an older one I like it very much.  It is so wonderful it would have been fine to leave it at just the rückpositiv but now it is even better. It is so sweet to sit and listen and the space is very bouncy and you can hear the sound ricocheting off the walls. In that short 20 minute concert I must have gotten chills at least 10 times. It was a wonderful experience and I was glad for the opportunity to hear it. Some day I will go back to play it. I am also anxious to get home and try to talk to Paul Fritts who helped voice it and see what he has to say about the whole project. 

After this we went to the hotel to drop things off and walked around the city for quite awhile. Then, to satisfy my almost week-long craving for European pizza, we had pizza for lunch. YUMMY!!!!! Then another long walk and then we went to the Kunsthalle where we at and stared at old art. Ross likes all art but knows I like old art so he was nice enough to let us start there. We literally sat and stared at some of the things in there. The was someone absolutely gorgeous stuff there, and even another Cranach painting for me to see!! Once finished there we peeked at the modern art. Things like a canvas painted green with a brown rectangle on it. I could doom that. Especially after seeing old art that is so intricate and detailed, I just don't care for this so called "modern" stuff. We then went to the hall displaying art from the 1700 and 1800s so I liked that a little better, but I still like the old stuff best. We stayed until they literally kicked us out after closing time. Hurray format museums!!

We took the long walk back to the hotel and I watched some German TV for awhile which was rather entertaining. By the way, since it was grey ugly skies all day and it was forbidden to take pictures in the museum, I didn't take many pictures today, so sorry for the lack of visuals today. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Total overload

Today we got up and made the very tedious and long journey to Neuenfelde. I've been here before but it is is one of my favorite organs. The last time I was here, I was so excited by the organ that I forgot to look for Arp Scnitger's grave. Don't ask me how I could be such an idiot. Anyway, here's the skinny on the organ. It needs repair, but it is a two manual, short octave, meantone amazing little instrument. You can tell by listening which stops are original and which are new. I was thrilled that I did so well with the short octave and wish I could practice this in the states. This organ also has stop with a little joke, since it is  not even a real stop. Ross and I got a good laugh over that. In addition to the organ being good, the church is drop dead gorgeous.

After playing a tiny bit I could stand it no longer and ran downstairs in search of my beloved Schnitger. I found the grave. My heart started POUNDING and I knelt down by the grave and sat there staring at it wondering if this was real life. I made several trips back there in the few hours we were there trying to wrap my head around it. 

Talk about a deep place. Between the organ and the grave, it will knock the socks off anyone with a pulse. 

As if this wasn't enough for me to process, we went back to Hamburg and visited the Jacobikirche and stared at the organ and brought some CDs. I played this organ many years ago and remember like it was yesterday. I was sad not to play it but nice to be back. 

Then (if you aren't sitting, sit down before reading on) we went to the Katharinenkirche. On study tour, the rückpositiv was finished and it was drop dead amazing. I knew that it was recently complete and was dying to see it. I walked up the center isle slowly with my heart racing. I tried to gain composure and be patient until I got to the front. When I thought I could handle it, I turned around. My breath caught and I immediately had to sit down. This picture doesn't even do justice. 

 We saw a sign that said the is a concert tomorrow so I will even get to hear it. 

My brain is now on total overload. It will explode at any moment. I can't process fast enough the things I am seeing and experiencing. Someone, please! Pass the oxygen!

Random thoughts from Emmy

After traveling to Europe every summer for the last zillion summers I feel I am somewhat of an expert on traveling here. I have made some general observations to share. Please note this is more to myself than anyone, but feel free to take any wisdom you see and use it for yourself. 

1. Europe is not full of third world countries. Even most budget hotels and hostels provide you with shampoo and soap. AND YET every year I pack enough shampoo for about 95% of the entire population. Shampoo is heavy. I don't use a ton at home yet somehow when packing feel the urge to pack a truckload. Note to self: leave shampoo at home. 

2. When it comes to clothes, I have tried it all.  Exoficio often looks like it came straight off a farm. Royal Robbins often looks like old lady clothes. REI tends to be 295% polyester, hot, unbreathable, and stinky. LOFT is cute but does not dry or wash well in the sink. I could  go on and on. This year I found the perfect shirts. Horny Toad. I bought 3 different shirts in all different styles. Love. Love. Love. Made from organic cotton, tencel, and a hint of spandex, they breathe, feel good and seriously dry super fast. I've washed them in the sink and there is no pilling, they hold their shape and are ready to wear the next day. They don't hold any smells and get impressively clean in the sink. They do not wrinkle. You can literally wad them up in a ball in your suitcase, shake them out and they are ready to wear. They are not cheap but they are worth it. I will be buying 2 more before my next trip and they will be all I go with. Ever. Love. Love. Love. Cannot emphasize enough how great these are. 

3. Souvenirs. The list of people I buy for is long. This fills my suitcase with random things and makes my small and light travel not light by the end. So this year I tried something different. I found a store where I could purchase stuff for 90% of the folks on my list and I bought a ton if stuff and shipped it all back home. By shipping it, I was exempt from the ridiculous 19% tax rate, so basically it didn't cost that much more. The question is a matter of do you want to support the German government and lug all that junk all over half of Europe or do you want to buy tax free by taking that would-be-tax money and put it instead towards shipping and bid farewell to your purchases and not have to worry about things breaking or smashing or weighing you down. Why did I not discover this sooner?!?!?! This is brilliant and I will do it again for sure. They even insure it so if anything breaks you're safe. I bought way more fragile stuff than I would ever try to get back normally. I am loving I this plan. I will have some small odds and ends and lots of CDs to bring back but my main stuff will simply show up back home. 

4. Traveling light. Really. Each year I pare down my list a little. The first year I came I had something ridiculous like 25 shirts, 4 skirts, 4 pairs of pants, several shoes, and a small mountain of pajamas and socks and underwear. Seriously I had five pairs of pajamas packed my first trip here. The next year I did a little better but still too much. HELLO. When in Europe a few things should be taken into consideration.  First, it is perfectly acceptable to wash in the sink, especially when you have clothes that work for that. Second, it is OK if you have the same outfit in in more than one day of your travel log pictures. Third, you can totally wear a shirt more than once before washing. It's not generally hot here so you don't get super stinky, and even a little stink by American standards is nothing compared to some people on the trains. (I don't think Europeans shower as often or use deodorant. I'm not judging, just observing.) The long and the short of it is that no matter if you are going for 1 week or ten, a pair of jeans, a pair of pants, a skirt, and 5 shirts is all you really need. And that mountain of pajamas and socks and underwear? If you wash in the sink you only need a speed bump size pile instead of a small mountain. Ok, so you will want a sweater and jacket and scarf but you get the idea. One pair of shoes, one pair of sandals. DO NOT OVERPACK. You will regret overpacking far more than discovering you forgot to pack something. Trust me. I know. 

5. A traveling pharmacy is not really necessary. In an average year, I use approximately 3 band aids and take maybe 2 Tylenol. When going to Europe I plan for the next Black Death. Sort of like my shampoo problem, I run out every year and buy all sorts of stuff to pack. Band aids of every kind, gauze, a whole bottle of Advil and Tylenol (remember, I only average 2 a year, so of course it makes perfect sense to pack a whole bottle for 3+ weeks in Europe) Neosporin, alcohol wipes, burn ointment, tums, and a whole other variety of junk. I never use it. It expires. I throw it away. Seriously, Emmy, figure it out. Leave the junk at home. It is not a third world country and if something is needed, you can go to the Apotheke or the Krankenhaus. 

6. Hand sanitizing options. So, I'm a bit of a freak about germs. Therefore, I pack enough sanitizer to wage a small war against the microscopic world of German germs. I pack sanitizer, wet ones hand wipes individually wrapped, wet ones hand wipes in packages, Kleenex splashers, and Clorox wipes packs. Again, I only ever use a fraction of this stuff and carry it all over. (Amazing my luggage is under 25 lbs in the first place!)

7. My Osprey Porter is my best friend. I will not travel with any other suitcase. Ever. 

8. My iPad is my other best friend. It is so small but holds all my books and music and lets me blog and email and save maps and train schedules and I don't know how I ever traveled without one in my early trips. 

9. Self control. I have none. I never will. I should accept it and move on. I have a ton of self control at home and am ridiculously frugal. But for the few weeks I a here I have no self control. Today, for example there were a lot of organ CDs at the church I played. How can one possibly choose, or worse, walk away from such treasures? I bought six. Yep. And I don't even feel guilty. When there is a CD I will buy it. Yet I continue to try talk myself out of the purchase and be reasonable. I should just give up and buy it. Because I will anyway. My CD box always comes to Europe full of snacks and comes home completely full. I have no self control when it comes to organ CDs. Don't judge. Jesus still loves me. 

10. Souvenirs in the form of chocolate. This cannot be shipped for obvious reasons. One day each year on my trip, I head to the grocery store and get chocolate to bring home for family and friends. It is a wonderfully amusing experience. Note to self: when one gets a cart and buys bags and bags of chocolate (as in enough that you have to hand over a 50 euro bill to pay for it all....) you will ALWAYS get a funny look from the store clerk. Ad the people in front of you in line. And the people behind you in line. And everyone you walk by on the way out. It is part of the experience. One is never sure if one should be embarrassed, excited, humored, or what. Try it sometime and let me know your reaction. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday #2

Today we got up and went to church. It was another disappointing service and I cannot wait to go to a SELK church next week! There wasn't even communion at this service.  The organ tempos were all over and the saddest thing was that when we went to the balcony we saw that the organ was rebuilt, but the original was there enough for us to see what it was. Such torture! Another organ destroyed! I really fear for the historic instruments here. I wonder if any of the ones I played will end up destroyed in my lifetime. It's such a rich treasure trove here but so few people realize how wonderful it is. 

From here we grabbed a quick lunch at the American Embassy (McDonalds) where I had falafel, fries with mayonnaise, and apfelschorle.  I wish McDonald's were like this at home. Then I might actually eat there. 

Finally it was off to Worms. I was so exited to finally get here and disappointed that we didn't have more time to look around. We saw the largest Luther statue in Germany which was super awesome. 

Then we said our goodbyes to the group and got one last picture and headed for the train station. Looking back, I would say that while there were challenges and it is very different traveling with a group, I do not regret the experience.  I met new people and got to see more Luther places than ever before and some that would be impossible to get to by public transportation. 

We were on a train for several (5+) hours and arrived in Hamburg around 10 PM. It is just as I remember it- a questionable train station  filled with all sorts of characters and one questionable block followed by a nice blog followed by a questionable block. Here is one place where it is worth paying a little more for a hotel to make sure you are in a good part of town. I am eager to get to the main part of town and look around and see things again.   

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Churches, snowballs, and one dead pope

Today we had the entire morning (until around 13:00) to spend however we wanted in Rothenburg. I spent a great deal of time in St. Jakobi. Holy moly. The organ was nothing to get excited over but the art in there and the altar and stain glass was spectacular. I sat there and stared and stared, unable to wrap my mind around what I was seeing. 

I eventually left to walk around the city some more. I did a lot of shopping for gifts and just enjoyed the sites of the city. Right before I left, I had to try a schneeball which this city is sort of famous for. Basically it is scraps of pie dough mashed into a softball size ball and fried and covered in sugar. Now they have every flavor imaginable but traditionally it was just powdered sugar. It was good, but I decided not very sweet and would have been much better with some hot tea to dunk in. I was glad I tried it, though, since it is a local thing. 

Then it was back on the bus for a long drive. Fortunately, since my friend Julie is on this part of the trip ( she is the one who invited me to join her choir for this) the drive sped by since we were chatting away and making jokes. Ross and I and Julie and her family claimed the back 3 seats of the bus for the entire trip. It was great fun and I enjoyed getting to know her family better as well. We joked that the cool people sat in the back. :)

We ended in Bamberg and got to go walk around the city a bit. I don't much care for this city, I decided. Very touristy and not that much to see. They have a "Little Venice" which was nice, but I wouldn't go all the way the just for that. When we went in the Bamberg Cathedral, there was a men and boys choir practicing. I'm sorry to say, but I am totally biased when it comes to boys choirs. Boys voices are so pure and they are different from girls choirs or mixed choirs. It was absolutely delightful to sit there and listen to those voices effortlessly soaring to the heights of the cathedral.  Like a bit of heaven on earth. This cathedral is famous because Pope Clemens II is buried here and it is the only papal burial spot north of the Alps. 

We had a great dinner then back to the bus and to our last hotel of the choir part of the trip. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Naughty cartoons

Today we arrived early to the Veste and took a walk around the castle. It was very beatuiful and quite a long way to get around. 

Once it opened, we took a guided tour where we saw the rooms where Luther was in hiding during the Augsburg Confession. If that wasn't great enough, there was a Cranach painting in the room. Granted the rooms probably looked different when Luther was there, but it was fun to be in there.

Then we had our devotion in the Luther chapel. I got to play the organ. I was initially quite excited but when I got up there, well let us just say that it was not the historic organ type I love to play. It was sort of a Rodgers or Allen type of organ. I was a good sport and played it anyway and the acoustics were nice if nothing else. The chapel itself was quite beautiful. 

After devotions we had a bit of free time to look about the museum. There were lots of wonderful things and the special exhibit was cartoons of anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic propaganda. Let it suffice to say some had me laughing out loud and others had me shaking my head wondering how humans can be so cruel to each other. 

From here we traveled to Rothenburg. We will be here until tomorrow and had some time to look around the city. After dinner Ross and I walked all the way around the city. This was especially neat because it is a walled city. We took nearly 100 pictures because it was so gorgeous. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Another scorcher!

Today was HOT. It was another 2 shower day. It has never been this hot for this long while I've been over here. Hot or not, we loaded the bus and our first stop was Erfurt. This is near the little town I gave my recital in last year and I've been to this city several times. When we got there, we went to see the Augustinian monastery where Luther was. I hadn't seen that, so I enjoyed getting to visit. The chapel was gorgeous, though they were working on the windows so you couldn't see them. It seems there are more restorations this year than previous years. Fortunately they had coverings on the windows so you could be an idea of how it should be. 

There was also a wonderful crucifix which I liked very much even though it clearly was too modern to have been there when Luther was. 

We also saw the little chapel and gardens in the monastery and someday I'd like to go stay overnight there and do the whole tour. Even the walkways were awesome. 

From here we went to Arnstadt where I had been before and have already played the organ. Then we did a quick stop at Doernheim where Bach was married the first time, but w didn't get to see inside the church. 

From here it was off to a wonderful dinner where I nearly died from the heat and then we sat outside singing German drinking songs which proved quite entertaining to watch. Seem people enjoyed their beer a little too much. There were lots of bugs. Ross and I decided the influx of bugs is likely related to the flooding and extra water. So many mosquitos where there usually are none! We ended the evening singing the Reformation Polka and right as we we finishing the lightning did strike and rain came. Oh, sweet rain! With it there was a noticeable temperature drop. Thank God for the rain and hopefully the weather will return to normal cool and rainy!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Roasting in Leipzig

This morning I slept in until 8:00. The heat yesterday really wiped everyone out. Then it was off to the Mendelssohn Haus which is one of my favorite places. Of course, I ended up buying a bunch of stuff. Then we went back to the hotel to cool off for awhile. 

From here we took a walk around town and headed to the Thomaskirche. We spent a good deal of time here and even though I have been here many times before, it has the same effect as Wittenberg in that you can't help but stand in awe and it is nearly impossible to wrap your brain around it. Since I have been here before I did not take nearly as many pictures as the other times but I will share with  you a few I did take. Excuse the way I look, but it was so hot I was pretty much melting!

After this we returned to the hotel to cool off. It was well over 90 which is very unusual for Germany and the heat was exhausting. I felt like I was in Chicago rather than Leipzig. After 30 minutes of relaxing the next stop was the Nikolaikirche where Bach also worked. Granted this one is not nearly as interesting, but fun to visit anyway.  

After another short break from the heat (Thank God I our hotel had air conditioning! Not all of them do of course...) we went to meet Chris and Elizabeth and had a nice visit with them. They even let me hold their baby and I enjoyed talking with their older sonThomas. Then we all attended an organ concert together in the Thomaskirche. Oliver Latry Was the recitalist. Ross and I had quite a conversation about this concert afterwards. 

It was fun to be here during the Bachfest and especially wonderful since it is the celebration of the Thomaskirche being 800 years old.  Yes, you read that right. 800 years old. 

Once the concert was done we met the choir for an excellent dinner at a famous restaurant and I must say at this point in the trip I have gotten to know the people better and rather enjoy visiting with them. While traveling with a group does have some drawbacks overall I would say it has been a fine trip so far. 

After dinner Ross and I took one final walk around Leipzig since we leave tomorrow. We stopped by to visit Felix on the way back to our hotel. 

All in all it was a good day spent in one of my favorite cities. I wish it was a little longer but I was grateful for the time we did have and I'm confident I will be back many times in the future!