Since I last posted, life has not been what I would call terribly eventful. Thursday was a very encouraging day. I had an excellent lesson with Dr. Colòn, which lifted my spirits a lot. Guys, I'm improving so much! I can feel it every day! That night I and some friends went to the second orchestra concert. This concert took place at the top of the Graz Schloßberg, which Emily and I have been dying to go to but haven't been! There are about 260 steps to the top of the Schloßberg, and once you got to the top, the view was breathtaking. We had a perfect view of the rooftops of our city. The gardens were enchanting, and the view perfect. You couldn't ask for a more perfect city than Graz. Rooftop view.




Der Uhrturm -- the symbol of Graz.


Emily and I accidentally semi-matched.

Concert #2 took place in the Kasematten -- the old prison. It was a really cool venue for a concert: outdoors but covered, in this splendidly old building. Everything old is cool in my eyes. The orchestra played beautifully that night. Let me talk about Resphigi. The orchestra played his work Le fontane di Roma, a tone poem of sorts. I'm listening to it as I write. It was so gorgeous! I could see the fountains in my mind's eye through their playing. I'm not usually one for a lot of symphonic music, but this was my favorite part of the entire concert -- besides Daniel's performance of Leporello's Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni, which I and everyone else adored.

Inside the Kasematten



On Friday, an agent came to give us a lecture on finding and auditioning for agents, as well as auditioning in general. He discussed a lot of PR-type things for singers, which gave me a lot of food for thought. I think sometimes singers tend to focus only on the actual singing side of this business -- which makes sense, except that this is exactly that: a business. He gave me lots of good ideas. On Friday night there was a concert of Italian arias and duets, which I also enjoyed.

This week my friend Laura had the idea to go on a weekend trip to Hallstatt. Hallstatt is a short train ride from Graz: located in the middle of the Alps, in the shadow of the Dachstein, the highest mountain in der Österreich (Austria). It is situated directly on an enchanting, crystal-clear lake. Laura's voice teacher told her about it and suggested that she go, so on Friday night, Laura, Emily, and I made a plan to go to Hallstatt on Saturday morning. We woke up bright and early on Saturday -- ridiculously bright and early; I went for a run at 5:30 in the morning. We left the Heim shortly before 7, walked to the Hauptplatz, and caught the Straßenbahn to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). At the Hauptbahnhof, we bought our tickets from Graz to Hallstatt (which were way more expensive than I was expecting, but whatever). We changed trains once, but made it to Hallstatt relatively smoothly! Additionally, Emily got some fantastic pictures of me sleeping. For those of you who don't know, whenever I sleep in an upright position (in planes, trains, cars, etc.), my mouth hangs open bigger than Dallas (as my mother would say).

Since Hallstatt is located across the lake (Hallstättersee), you have to take a ferry from the Bahnhof to get to the actual town. The three of us missed the direct ferry by a few minutes, but shortly after we arrived, a tour boat docked. When we asked the guide if he could take us to Hallstatt, he said that they were going around the whole lake, but they would stop at Hallstatt. The ferry wasn't coming for an hour, so we hopped on the tour boat. I'm glad we did. We got gorgeous views of this lake, which was much more extensive than it had appeared at first glance. It was surrounded by little towns: in the winter, these are skiing communities. Hallstatt was obviously the main attraction, though. It is built directly into the mountainside, and sits directly on the lake, which was as smooth and clear as glass.


Look at the clearness of the water!




From across the lake.



While on the boat tour.


I got to look at this all day.



One of the surrounding towns.


God's beauty never ceases to amaze me.

Here we are!

When we disembarked, it was a little after noon, and we were starving, so we went to a café at a local hotel for lunch. The Austrians really know how to cook delicious fish. After lunch we went exploring. Hallstatt is filled with tourists, and therefore with seemingly hundreds of tchotchke shops. Everywhere you turned, there were postcards and key chains. Many of these shops, though, were filed with unique things you could only get there. Hallstatt is not far from Salzburg, and this area is known for its salt mines. We went to a shop that not only sold salt straight out of the mountains, but handmade soaps as well. I'm running out of soap, so I bought a bar for myself and a bar for my mom. There were lots of soaps in shapes: starfish, ducks, pigs, cows -- all kinds of animals, really, as well as tons of other shapes. I found this incredibly funny because of a family joke about what my brother Cooper calls "fancy soaps."

Fancy soaps!



We came upon a Spar and stopped in to get some snacks. This Spar was really nice, and sold clothes and lots of different kinds of chocolates. Emily bought a box of chocolate solely for the kittens on the box (Hallstatt has kind of a cat fetish -- everywhere you look, there are pictures or figurines or paintings of cats). This Spar also had a basement, which was exceptionally awesome because it housed all the fruits and veggies. Needless to say, this was my favorite place in the store.

As we wandered, we became overwhelmed by all the other tourists around, so we walked through the residential part of town, which was just down the main road -- Hallstatt isn't very big. What I love about Austria is how many flowers there are, blooming everywhere! There were all kinds of wildflowers on our train journey, and here in town, there were beautiful varieties of roses and daisies and other flowers. Everything smells divine.

The main square in town.

Laura wanted in on my picture.

This giant chess set reminded us of Harry Potter.

The World War II memorial in Hallstatt

After walking for a few minutes, we came upon a small park, right next to the lake. Emily and Laura were possessed of the urge to go swimming in the lake, so after some trepidation, they hopped into the water, which was apparently freezing. I dozed a little on the soft green grass. It was a beautiful, relaxing way to spend the afternoon.


The main part of town

Swans everywhere.

Panorama from the park


We wandered through the town some more, and visited the two main churches in Hallstatt. One, the Protestant church, was much plainer, but it smelled like wood (in a good way) and had a lovely carved ceiling. The Catholic church was up on the mountainside, and was reached by some stairs set into the mountain. There was a lovely cemetery next to it, somewhat different from cemeteries in the States: instead of simple, elegant headstones, these Austrian graves are covered in flowers. The names of the deceased are designated with wooden signs, and sometimes their pictures. The church was beautiful; I love going to all the churches in an area that I can see. Not only are the buildings gorgeous; it makes me feel close to Jesus to stand in a church.



The steeple of the Protestant church. This is one of the main landmarks of the city.



The cemetery behind the Catholic church

Panorama from the church in the mountain




Perfectly framed.




Rooftop view of Hallstatt

We caught the ferry back to the Bahnhof across the lake, but not before Emily and I grabbed early dinner at a food stand. Little did I know that when I ordered chicken, they would give me an entire chicken. I'm not kidding you: an ENTIRE CHICKEN. I peeled the chicken skin off and ate the entire thing with my hands; I was starving. When we got back to the Bahnhof, we went inside to buy our tickets from the machine, but as we were buying them, the train we needed to catch pulled up and drove away! Luckily, we had planned ahead: there was one more train that would leave for our destination, but we had to wait over an hour. I was annoyed, but my friends cheered me up: we walked on a path by the lake and made up a song-and-dance number based on our adventures for the day.



The train finally came, and we were relieved to be on it, until it announced that the first stop, in Obertraun, would be its final stop. Alarmed, we jumped off the train (when it had stopped, of course) and raced to ask the employee at the Obertraun station how we could get to Graz. He explained the schedule to us: another train was coming in half an hour that would take us to Stainach, where we could switch trains to go to Graz. We were incredibly relieved when this train did indeed come, and we did change trains and get home in one piece. Needless to say, we were incredibly exhausted, so after I had showered, I promptly went to bed.

This morning, Sunday, I woke up, had a breakfast of an apple and the rest of my cherry tomatoes, and went back to bed. I spent my morning in Bible study and didn't go out until lunch, when Emily and I were stormed upon as we entered the restaurant. I spent my day in practice and laundry, and I took a two and a half hour nap (in addition to my nine hours of sleep the previous night). I ended my day with dinner with my sweet friends Jen, Laura, Emily, and Taylor -- Jen makes the best chicken!

This weekend has been both restful and crazy, and I'm so ready to have regular classes this week. We're preparing for the upcoming Liederabende -- less than two weeks! -- and I'm so excited, because I can feel myself improving, both technically and artistically. On another note, I keep getting emails from Dr. Averill, the coach at Texas Tech (wreck 'em) about the operas for the fall semester, which makes me excited, too. I'm so happy and blessed to get up and do the work that I love every single day -- for it is work. AIMS is incredibly intense, but it's a lovely crucible of sorts: a way to refine through all this outside stimulation. Every day, I am beyond excited to learn and sing and grow. I bless God's great Name for this opportunity.

Still to come: lots of school, lots of good times -- and soon, the Liederabende! Stay tuned!

Bonus photo: the stairs to the Catholic church. "Salz der Erde" means "Salt of the Earth." Don't you love that?