Real Talk: My Year in New York City

Recently, I attended a wonderful event hosted by Jane Jourdan, creator of Fit for Broadway. FFB is a blog for which Jane interviews Broadway performers about their daily lives and fitness. At the amazing event that I attended, Jane spoke about how looking at performers without the shadow of their success, but as everyday people, is a beautiful, empowering thing. There is nothing more beautiful than reality. I think that so often we only show our best selves to the world, especially on social media. That’s fine, but can be problematic because that leads to the belief that people don’t struggle or have problems. So, here I am. I’m going to be frank and honest about what’s been going on, in the hopes of finding closure for myself and maybe even helping someone else.
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On our last day all together in the dorms. (L to R: Olivia, Sam, Ari, Liz, and I).

Ever since I was a child, I have dreamed of being an actor and living in New York City. I don’t know exactly where this ambition came from, but it’s definitely been there since I was really young. So, when I finally had the opportunity to move here to the city and go to school, I was so excited.

I had started my schooling in Minnesota and then after I didn’t get into my chosen major, decided to take a year off to travel. If you’ve read my blog at all, you know that I had an absolutely incredible trip to Europe that was wrapping up around this time last year. I learned more about myself and about the world in those two months than I could ever put into words.

While I was traveling, I believe that I stumbled upon my true home: Austria. I love the culture and the people and of course, it could not be more beautiful. As soon as I left, I wanted to go back. Even now, hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about Austria. Honestly, my friends are probably really sick of hearing about it. While I was exploring Austria, I received an email stating that I had been accepted to a school in New York City. I could not have been more thrilled. It was a big step and I was so excited to finally take it.

Fast forward three months and I was living here in the city in an over-priced, tiny dorm. For about a month, it was magical. I was getting to do everything I wanted. I was in school full time, trying to find a nanny job, and had a fun roommate. But by my 21st birthday, reality set in. All of the novelties started to wear off and things I once loved began to annoy me. While I used to be fascinated by all the people, I began to feel suffocated. I started to resent the fact that I didn’t have money to do the things I wanted. I did find a great job, but it was only occasional. Definitely not enough money to live on. I started to feel really homesick, something I only experienced periodically and mildly while I was in Europe.

I missed my friends a lot and was hurt (because I am sometimes very sensitive and take things too personally) when they didn’t make an effort to stay in touch with me. Even though I could understand that they weren’t deliberately hurting me and were just busy, it made me feel very sad and alone because I hadn’t made very many new friends yet. But, it was also difficult for me to reach out and tell them how much I needed them because I didn’t want to admit (more to myself than to them) that this wasn’t turning out to be everything I’d hoped it would be.

By the end of the semester, I had made a couple of friends in the city, but only really connected with one of them. My professors were decent, but I felt like no one really had the time for me. My classes were great though, and I really learned a lot. I had a couple of friends from home living here, but we were all scattered throughout the city and were too busy to hang out.

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An adventure on Roosevelt Island with some of the friends I met at school, Olivia, Ari, and Liz.

I went home and to Florida for winter break and by the end of it, knowing I was moving into a new dorm by myself, I was ready and excited to come back. I landed what I thought was a great job within two weeks of being back and was so happy. I was now living in the same building as a few if my new friends and that really helped.

My classes were really great and challenging, but my professors simply didn’t feel that invested in me as a person. That’s to be expected in most classes, but even within the theatre department, I didn’t feel like they really cared all that much. Don’t get me wrong, they were all great people, but I need more individual attention. The main problem with my school (at least for me) was that everyone is just passing through. It’s simply a steppingstone to the next thing. It feels like no one wants to be there and for the first time ever, I didn’t feel like being at school either. If you know me, you know that that is super strange. I was always (and still am) that kid who looks forward to school during the summer and gets excited about school supplies. Until this year, I have always wanted to be in school and learn more. In fact, I want to go to grad school, earn a PhD, and maybe become a professor. I love school. But, I’ve also always been around people who love learning. Once I was out of that environment and suddenly in a poorly-run and over-crowded setting, I had no desire to stay longer than necessary. Huge red flag.

The thing people who aren’t from New York say about New Yorkers is that they’re not nice. Now, on an individual basis, they have the same varied personalities as anyone. But, as a whole, they aren’t the nicest. Because this city isn’t nice. And being nice won’t get you anywhere. Everything is a battle here: the fight to stuff into a subway car, the competition in hailing a taxi, the intensity of just walking down the street. Everything here runs at triple speed and there’s no time to be nice. I even notice how angry and frustrated I’ve become since living here: I have no patience for people who walk to slowly, even if I’m not running late. When I’m in Minnesota, I find myself rudely ordering immediately at a coffee shop, skipping the niceties. Here, actually responding to their polite “how are you?” gets me impatient looks from the cashier and other customers. I don’t want to be an impatient, borderline rude person. I don’t like that this city has turned me into that type of person, even a little. I’m accustomed to passive-aggressive, non-confrontational, Midwestern, Minnesota Nice. I want that back.

That’s not to say that it’s not a good place to live. I know a lot of people who LOVE it. I do love some things about it, but I don’t like the kind of person it makes me. The pace of this city brings out a very anxious, stressful side of me. I have learned that I need more quiet, more peace. I have learned that I don’t want to go at such a quick pace. I want space and time to breathe. Clearly, NYC is not the place for that.

That’s why I’m leaving.

I want to live in a place that inspires me and sustains me as a person. New York used to inspire me, it used to encourage me, but now it just exhausts me. There are a lot of amazing things to do here, but it’s extremely difficult to do them when I’m exhausted all the time, simply from the over-stimulation. Of course, there’s also the money aspect.

I always knew that New York was extremely expensive, but it’s especially expensive when I cannot be working full time because of school. Which is fine, but makes it impossible to take advantage of this city. Now, if I don’t get to fully experience the city and don’t LOVE my school, what it is the point of wasting my money and time?

This has been a really difficult situation for me because it feels like I’m giving up on a life-long dream of living and going to college in the city. For so long, I thought this was what I wanted, but clearly it is not. It is hard to let that go, but I feel confident that leaving is the right decision. A friend and mentor of mine gave me this profound and inspirational advice: “A true dream never goes away, it changes and grows with you. If you let it go, you’ll find it’s right there waiting for you.” When she said this, a light went on for me. It made me feel hopeful about the future and I started think about the dreams that have flourished over the last 21 years of my life and how they have developed.

I dreamed of attending school in New York City, not of graduating or living here forever. I lived here and attended school here and learned so much. What more can I ask?

This realization came after a lot of reflection and prayer, which is why I’ve struggled to share it. I needed time to process this and make a definite decision about what to do next. I’ve decided to attend a small, private liberal arts college in Minnesota to finish the last two years of school. I’m thrilled to be continuing my education and cannot wait for the next adventure!

Thank you for reading and thanks for your support. I appreciate it more than you can ever know.

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Thirty-One Days of Pink

Throughout the month of October, I have been wearing pink to support breast cancer awareness. “Pink washing,” as some call it, has been heavily criticized for glamorizing the terrible disease that breast cancer really is; touting that if a woman simply fights hard enough, she can overcome anything, even cancer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Some companies try to increase their sales by putting a pink ribbon on their products, saying that part of their proceeds support breast cancer research. Unfortunately, more often than not, the amount of money they give to the cause is far less than they make it appear to be. And then there are the organizations which sell products proclaiming such phrases as “Save the Tatas,” thereby over-sexualizing this awful disease. All of this makes it even more important to bring awareness to the truth about breast cancer. The ugly, disturbing truth.

That is why, each day in October, I wear pink. Especially in a fashion-forward city like New York, seeing someone who breaks the mold of neutral colors, is highly unusual. My pink has garnered at least a couple questions every day. Usually they’re along the lines of “why do you wear so much pink?” or “is that for breast cancer?” Every time I get one of these questions, I get to tell that person all about why I wear pink. Although I do often tell people about my reasoning, sometimes it is just not possible to articulate my feelings and ideas, which is why I will do my best to fully articulate them here.*

I wear pink for the people I know who have fought breast cancer. The ones who fought valiantly and have succumbed to the disease. The fact that they died says nothing about their will to fight or their efforts in fighting this disease. These women are some of the strongest I have ever known.

My dear friend Chris was one of the greatest mentors I have ever had. When I was in sixth grade, I was invited to sing in a group at my church on Wednesday nights with Chris and another talented musician, Deb. I had known Deb for a very long time, but I had never really met Chris before. Chris taught me how to sing; really, REALLY sing. She taught me how to sing in a way that moved people. She had an amazing ability to harmonize and that was a skill she taught me as well. Chris gave me the gift of music as well as the gift of God. I don’t recall her ever specifically saying anything to me about God and faith, but she led by example. She was kind to everyone, had an open heart, and was the most generous person I’ve ever known. She took me under her wing and helped me grow into the person I am today. It has been five years since Chris died, but I still think of her often, and especially when I sing. I think about the years I sang with her quite often. I was so lucky. Now that I’m older and I am much more trained in singing, I would love to sing with Chris. I would love for her to hear my voice and for our voices to unite once again. There is an incredible bond when two voices come together and that is something I long to have with Chris.

And she loved pink. Especially after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, everything was pink. For my 15th birthday, the last one I celebrated before she died, she made me a pink scarf, which I treasure. Every time I see something pink, I think of her. Everyday in October, when I put on my pink item, I take a moment to think of Chris; her love of pink, her amazing faith, and her undeniable impact on my life.

One of the other people I wear pink for is Deb, whom I mentioned before. I’ve known Deb since I was about 5 years old, when my family started attending our church. Deb was the children’s ministry director, so I first knew her as a teacher and then as a musician. As I mentioned, I sang with her and Chris on Wednesday nights. Soon after that, I joined the youth choir Deb directed. Deb was one of the smartest musicians I have ever known. She could play anything on the piano and had an amazing ear and a talent for improvisation. Deb and I became very close over the years. She always supported me and encouraged me.

That’s not to say that Deb and I got along perfectly. We had a very close relationship and it was very common for us to have small disagreements. We had differing opinions about music and lots of other things. But we both appreciated good music and good people. Deb challenged me in ways that no one else could. She was so smart and knew so much more about music and about life than I’ll ever know. And sometimes, she drove me crazy. But, I drove her crazy too. We were such different people, but somehow we were friends. We loved each other, and that came first. Always.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to think about all of the times when Deb and I disagreed, but I have to remember that it was those disagreements that brought us closer. And in fact, it’s those moments I miss the most. Deb was the only person who I could have a friendly argument with about music. We shared so much nerdiness, and I haven’t ever known anyone else I can fully share that with.

Since I was older when Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer, and had already lost a few friends to the disease, I had a very different perspective on her illness. I was closer to her because I had known her for almost my entire life. I was there when her hair started falling out from the chemo, took over choir practice when she wasn’t feeling well enough to attend (though most of the time, she just pretended she was fine. Probably more frequently than I will ever know), celebrated with her when she got good news, cried with her through the pain and neuropathy, and played a hilariously difficult game of Bananagrams with her during her chemo.** Deb and I shared everything. My relationship with her was one of the most honest I have had and ever will have. But, when I went off to college, things changed, as they often do. We fell out of touch a bit, but we did make a point to speak on the phone fairly frequently. I thought she was feeling better. The last I heard, the treatment was working and she was going to be ok. She never let on that things were getting bad. I was home for Christmas, sang with her on Christmas Eve and things were fine. I went back to school and became busy as usual. Pretty soon I was hearing that Deb wasn’t coming to church, that she hadn’t been in touch with anyone in quite some time. This was highly unusual. Deb was never one to be overly private, so we knew this must be serious. I found out that she hadn’t been answering her phone. I happened to be home for the weekend and was driving home from church, so I called her. When she answered, I was surprised. She sounded sick, but other than that, just like her normal self. We chatted about little, unimportant things. I asked her if I could come visit her the following weekend. She said she would love that and I promised her that I would be there. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition. Two days later, I received a call that Deb had passed away. It was devastating and completely unexpected. I was angry. And it is difficult to admit I am angry at someone who is dead. Yes, it’s selfish, but it’s true. I’m angry because Deb didn’t tell me how sick she was, she never gave me a chance to say a proper goodbye. I know that it wouldn’t change the fact that she is gone, but at least I wouldn’t feel so angry with her.***

But, as time has passed, I have started thinking about how Deb must have felt. For someone like her, someone so open and honest, to feel like she had to hide this from people she loved, she must have been so scared and upset. As difficult as it is for me to cope with her death, I can’t imagine what she must’ve felt. I only wish I could’ve been there for her, that she would’ve let me in. And that is why I wear pink for Deb.**** Because no one should ever have to feel that alone. No one should ever have to hide their pain in the way Deb did. That is what breast cancer can do. It can isolate a person and harm them in so many ways. And I believe that should never happen.

But, I take comfort in the fact that Deb and Chris are singing together in heaven now.

I also wear pink for those who have “won” their battles. I celebrate with them and I am so grateful that they are still here to share their stories.

The “31 Days of Pink” Project is about so much more than raising awareness for breast cancer. Most people are perfectly “aware” of it. This project is about taking at least one moment every day to remember that this is a horrible disease and that someone out there is fighting it. There are people like Chris and Deb who are experiencing the pain of this disease. Not to mention their family and friends who are hurting along with them. And I am not content with that. This project is my way of showing that. It is my way of offering support.

Nothing I do will ever bring Chris or Deb back, but I can hope that there will be a future where people who don’t have to fight this disease. Maybe someday, there will be something more I can do. But for today, this is what I have to offer.

*This post took a more personal route than I anticipated. Thank you for reading.

**The tiles kept falling off of the little table we were playing on because it was attached to her chair and was slightly tilted. Hilarity and giggles ensued. The nurses were highly entertained. It’s the little things, people.

***Typing this out makes me feel even more horrible about this, so please don’t judge me too harshly. This is me being honest.

****Which is particularly ironic, since Deb HATED pink. Her favorite color was red, so naturally, she didn’t like pink. It makes me chuckle when I think of all the pink I have worn in her honor and how she would react.

As usual, these are my opinions. This is my grief and the way I have experienced things, I don’t claim to tell any stories except my own.

I Dreamed a Dream

Last night, I saw Les Miserables for the very first time. I mean, I’ve seen the movie version and the concert recordings and heard the soundtrack countless times, but I’ve never actually seen a production live onstage. I was very eager to see what all the hype is about, especially to be able to see it in London where it premiered.

I was blown away. It was a stunning production and I loved every second. I had the pleasure of seeing Jean Valjean’s understudy which made it even more special. There is a fantastic quality about understudies because they usually don’t perform the role very often. They usually seem so thrilled to be doing it and it’s fun to watch that energy onstage. Besides, this actor was fantastic. At the end of the show, after the curtain call, he was high-fiving the other actors and getting lots of hugs from them as they left the stage. He had done well and his peers recognized that this was a special night for him.

I was equally impressed by every member of the cast, an unusual feat. Though I love theatre, studying it can sometimes ruin the magic. I find myself constantly watching, analyzing, criticizing every performer, simply out of habit. That is what I’m trained to do: watch others perform and figure out how to learn from them. So, with my critical eye, it’s not often that I can honestly say that I loved every single member of the cast. Every ensemble member, every child, every principle actor. They were all stunning. When you’re dealing with material as well known (both in the theatre world and outside the theatre) as Les Mis, that’s how it has to be. And they did justice to the score, while still bringing individual uniqueness to their roles. The way it should be.

I am inspired by the performance I saw. That is what I strive for. This production is a great reminder of why I love performing and why I love theatre.

I simply could not have asked for a better way to spend my last night of my trip.

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The Magical World of Harry Potter

After a wonderful night seeing Julie Andrews speak, I headed out of Birmingham and off to Warner Bros Studios to take the Making of Harry Potter Tour. It was magical.

Honestly, amazing.

The tour starts in the Great Hall of course, which is stunning and huge. Then you make your way through stages J and K (JK Rowling, anybody?) and through the magical world of Harry Potter. There are props (thousands of them), sets, interiors, exteriors, costumes, designs, videos, pictures, and so much more! Possibly the coolest part was seeing Dumbledore’s office. It’s amazing. Also, the Burrow (my favorite set from the movies), was awesome!

Everything was so detailed and creative. I was very impressed.

After seeing Stage J, you go out onto the backlot for a view at the outdoor sets, like Number 4, Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, the house in Godric’s Hallow, and (my favorite HP outdoor set) the bridge. I tried some really delicious Butter Beer here as well.

Then it was back inside for Stage K. This was largely made up of the creatures area, where they showed how they made all of the creatures for the movies. After that, they had original graphics and designs for the movies. There was a hallway full of scale models of all of the sets, followed by possibly the coolest thing ever, the model of Hogwarts. It’s gigantic and incredibly detailed.

I was extremely impressed and glad that I was able to visit this remarkable place. I highly recommend it for Harry Potter fans of all ages.

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Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

On Saturday, I had the enormous pleasure of attending “An Evening with Julie Andrews.” It was AMAZING!

Julie Andrews has been an inspiration to me since I was a child. I have admired her as a performer, but also as a person. She is modest, classy, hardworking, and generous. Of course I’ve seen almost all of her movies and read most of her books. I even went to a book signing when I was 12. But, I’ve never heard her speak, other than in videos, so this was quite incredible.

As an actor, I have met lots and lots of celebrities (both local and international) over the years, but it fazes me less and less as I come to realize just how “normal” they are.

The evening started out with a little video introduction featuring many notable moments from her career. Then she came onstage and spoke about everything from her childhood to performing professionally revolving around the theme of travel and how much that has impacted her life. How perfect. She even talked about Salzburg a little bit, which was great because I knew exactly what she was talking about.

I was very moved when she began speaking about her late husband Blake Edwards, who passed away three years ago. Obviously, that’s a very personal thing to share with a group of fans. It was quite touching when she said that she carries him in her heart wherever she goes. That is such a “normal” feeling and the fact that she chose to share that made me like her even more.

She spoke about meeting Walt Disney in her dressing room and singing for the Queen, as if they were every day occurrences, yet always pointed out how lucky she is, how lucky we all are to be as fortunate as we are.

After the intermission, Ms. Andrews was accompanied by a host who then conducted a Q&A. He asked her about her work as a child, as a mother, as an author, and also the films she worked on with Blake Edwards. She answered the questions with grace and humor.

To my absolute delight, she said her favorite song from the Sound of Music is “Edelweiss,” which is my absolute favorite!!

It was particularly fascinating when she described the filming of Darling Lili with Blake. He had decided he wanted the opening song to be all one shot. She then talked about how challenging this was, as the camera moved around her and she timed her lip-syncing. Then they played the scene for us on a screen and she described it as it played. How surreal.

The best part was definitely at the end, when the host asked Ms. Andrews if we could all sing “Edelweiss” with her. Of course, she said yes and suddenly, as if by magic*, a piano started to play. Then we proceeded to fulfill my life-long dream of singing Edelweiss with Julie Andrews. I thought I was going to pee my pants. I cried like a baby and got chills when we all started singing. I was sitting in the fourth row, so I was close enough that I didn’t really hear anyone but Ms. Andrews singing. It was magical. It will always remain a truly unforgettable experience.

I have no words to describe how I felt, except: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. After all, it is what you’re supposed to say when you don’t have anything else to say.

*She is Julie Andrews, after all.

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“As long as this exists, this sunshine and cloudless sky, and as long as I can enjoy it, how can I be sad?”

While I was in Amsterdam, I had the pleasure of visiting the Anne Frank House and Museum.

I don’t know that I have ever visited a more interesting place. It’s certainly quite surreal that I was actually able to visit.

I’ve read Anne’s diary several times now and have had vivid images in my head of what it must have been like, stuck in the Secret Annexe for so long, but actually visiting is quite incredible.

The museum begins in the storerooms and offices of Gies & Co., highlighted with pictures of the eight people in hiding and their helpers, as well as video interviews with Miep Gies. Then, after a short video containing Anne’s description of the Annexe, you actually walk through the famous door covered by a bookcase. The stairs directly through the door are staggeringly tall. When I saw them, a passage from the diary came to mind: “I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs, and feel like a song bird whose wings have been ripped off, and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. ‘Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!’ a voice within me cries!”

Instead of walking up the stairs, you go to the left and into the rooms of Anne, Mr. Pfeffer (Dussel in the diary), Margot, Otto, and Edith Frank. The rooms seem too small to hold so many people, but overall seem decent. Around the corner is the bathroom and the toilet. How amazing to stand at the sink where they all freshened up and where Anne did her hair.

After a trip up the massive stairs, you are in the main common room, also used as the bedroom for Mr. and Mrs. van Pells (van Daan in the diary). It’s quite remarkable that such a small building has such a huge room. Finally, after another set of stairs, you are in Peter’s bedroom. Looking up through the stairs into the attic, there is a mirror reflecting the view from the window above. This was a place of solace for Anne. She writes: “The two of us, Peter and I, looked out at the blue sky. The bare chestnut tree glistening with dew. The seagulls and other birds glistening with silver. They swooped through the air and we were so moved and entranced that we could not speak.” It’s one of my favorite parts of the diary and actually seeing the view from the window brought me to tears.

Finally, you walk over a walkway into a neighboring building, which houses an exhibit on the fates of each person in hiding. It also features a video of Anne’s friend Hanneli, who she saw at the death camp and who tried to help Anne by bringing her food. It’s really emotional and touching.

Back downstairs, there is a permanent display of the real diary, which was incredible to see.

What a very moving and emotional place. It’s one of my all-time favorite museums.

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The Horrors of Auschwitz

On Monday, I arrived in Krakow at 7AM. I spent some time in the train station catching up on wifi and having breakfast. Shortly after 8, I caught a bus to Auschwitz and this difficult, emotional journey began.

I arrived at Auschwitz at a little past 10 and joined the next guided tour. The tour began at the infamous gate of Auschwitz I.

We then made our way through the camp, stopping to see the exhibitions featured in various cell blocks. Along the way, we heard the stories of the victims. I nearly puked when I saw the hair collected from the victims and became very emotional at the sight of the prayer shawls worn by the victims as they were led into the gas chambers. It’s not pleasant to see or to think about.

Oftentimes, it’s easy to remove yourself from these sorts of things: to look at them with hardened eyes and a guarded heart and not really feel them or experience them for what they are, especially when it comes to tragic, incomprehensible acts such as the Holocaust. But, at Auschwitz, it becomes more difficult. It suddenly becomes easy to imagine yourself or your loved ones in this place and to think of how horrible it must have been. Of course, we can’t always feel emotions as strongly as we should. It’s not healthy or productive and would simply lead to a lot of frustrated, angry, depressed people.

One of the most difficult parts to see is the Gas Chamber. It is even difficult to step through the door. So many people lost their lives here that is unbelievable to fathom.

After spending about two hours in Auschwitz I, we moved on to Auschwitz II-Birkeneau. This is where the majority of the death existed. People arrived and were selected, either to work or to go to the gas chambers. Those who were sent to the gas chambers were not registered. Some of them remain unknown to this day. We began our journey at the train stop where people were separated and walked the path to the gas chambers. This is the same path that these people walked. There is something insane about that and I have a difficult time wrapping my head around it.

Today, the gas chambers of Auschwitz II-Birkeneau are in ruins, destroyed by the Nazis and rebellious prisoners. They leave a powerful monument to the terrible acts which occurred there.

Following the very moving tour, I took a brief break and had some coffee. When I had emotionally prepared myself to return, I began by walking through Auschwitz I, stopping in several of the exhibits not covered in the tour. The first was a beautiful history of the Holocaust; well explained and well illustrated. The most moving part was the Book of Names, where they have printed the names of all of the known victims of the Holocaust.

This was a really interesting way to end this long and challenging day.

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“Sometimes When You Dream…

Your Dreams Come True!”

In my last post, I made a reference to meeting up with some friends in Vienna. Well, here’s the story.

Awhile ago, I posted about my friend, teacher, and mentor Grant, who passed away nearly five years ago. He was one of the people who inspired me to become a performer and who also encouraged me to follow that dream. So, when I found out that Grant’s sister lives in Vienna, I knew I had to meet her if I could.

On Saturday, I indeed got to meet her and her daughter. What wonderful, lovely people. I’m so grateful that I was able to meet them.

It was great to be able to hear stories about Grant from before I knew him and to be able to share some of my memories as well. Meeting them was seriously one of the highlights of my trip and one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.

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To make all of this even sweeter, I recently received me acceptance letter to Hunter College in New York City. I will be continuing my theatre major there starting in the Autumn. This is something that I’ve always dreamed of doing and I know that Grant would be proud of me for continuing to pursue this dream. It hasn’t been an easy road, but everything that has happened so far has happened for a reason. It’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about how many times you get back up and keep moving forward. This is a belief that Grant instilled in me and showed me through his life and his work.

I remember one time in rehearsal, we were really struggling with the opening sequence for our show. We were exhausted and frustrated and so was Grant. He wasn’t angry with us, because we were trying, but he said that we would either have to cut the number or we would have to figure out how to fix it. We didn’t want to disappoint him, so we stepped up and refocused and worked even harder. We rehearsed that piece for hours and hours and failed many, many times. But, one time, we did it right. And then again. Eventually, it was easy. And it was beautiful. We were all so proud of what we had created. Grant showed us that perseverance and determination can overcome anything. No matter how many times you fall, you have to get up, brush yourself off, keep moving forward with strength, faith, and courage.

XOXO

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*The above quote is from Little Women The Musical

Watching the Rain Fall in Vienna

I really enjoyed the three days I spent in Vienna. Though it was raining most of the time, it’s a really lovely city.

On Friday, I took a tram ride around the center ring, just to get acquainted with the city. Then I walked around for a bit, venturing into the stunning Cathedral. What an amazing and beautiful place.

I also stopped at the Jewish Memorial. It’s a large stone block, carved to look like a bookcase. It is meant to represent the knowledge lost in the Holocaust. It was really fascinating and quite beautiful.

After some coffee and lunch, I headed to the Haus der Musik. This is a museum all about music and composers of Vienna. Perfect for me. The first level is about the Vienna Philharmonic and it’s remarkable conductors. The second level is about music and sound and making everyday sounds into music. The third level is a history of famous composers. It was really fascinating and quite fun!

On Saturday, I met up with some new friends (more on that later). Afterwards, I visited the Hundertwasser Museum and Apartments. They were so interesting to see. I was totally fascinated by the art.

Sunday was my last day, but my train wasn’t until 10pm, so I had the whole day to explore. I started at the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments. They were so beautiful and ornately decorated. And Sisi was such a fascinating person. Her life was so interesting as somewhat controversial. After that, I found some coffee and breakfast (a challenge on Sunday), then I went to see the Mozart statue. Then I took the tram to the gigantic cemetery just outside Vienna. It was absolutely beautiful and the church was stunning. I found the graves of several famous composers, which was pretty interesting. Mozart, however, is actually buried in a different cemetery, not too far away. I visited it afterwards. It’s much smaller and there were only three other people there. I sat for awhile and just enjoyed the peacefulness. I used this relaxing time to catch up on my journal.

That night, I caught the train to Krakow. I was very sad to leave Vienna, as I was starting to fall in love. But someday I will return. 20140520-165505-60905334.jpg

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The Sound of Music in Salzburg

One of the main draws of Salzburg is seeing the sites from “The Sound of Music.” Obviously, this was a major priority for me. I took two Sound of Music tours and visited a lot of the sites independently. Here is my guide to the different sites and my opinions on the tours. I’ve ranked them in order of the things I enjoyed most.

1. The Sound of Music Meadow

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This site is a little difficult to get to, but definitely worth the hour-long hike. This is the site where they filmed the opening scene with Julie Andrews spinning on top of the hills. And, yes, they truly were alive with the sound of music. It was the most gorgeous place I have ever visited. Yes, I did some singing and twirling. One of the best parts of this place is that there are no tourists there. Most people don’t take the time to visit it or don’t know it exists, so it makes for a great get-away.

How to get there: Take the #840 Bus from the city center toward Berchtesgaden. Get off at Marktschellenberg (it’s about 30 minutes from Salzburg). Follow the signs through the town and toward Mehlweg Mountain. It’s a fairly easy hike up the mountain. I highly recommend using a map, but the path is clearly labeled. Some of the walk can be done on the paved roads, but if the road is under construction (it was when I visited), you have to use the hiking trails for some parts. Near the top, you’ll reach Mahlweg Street. At the end of the street is a parking lot and a couple of houses. You’ll recognize the meadows and the view. Bring hiking boots, an umbrella, a picnic lunch, and of course the “Sound of Music” soundtrack.

2. The Gazebo

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I actually visited this site several times because I liked it so much. Most Sound of Music tours stop here. This is the Gazebo used for the exterior shots in the movie (the inside was filmed on a soundstage in Hollywood). You can’t go inside, but it’s fun to see and of course take pictures in front of! The Gazebo is now located within the Hellbrunn Palace which also has a lovely park, a palace, the trick fountains, and a zoo. It’s a fun place to visit for a few hours, in addition to the gazebo. All of the activities at Hellbrunn are included in the Salzburg Card, but it’s free to visit the park and the gazebo!

How to get there: Like I said, it’s part of pretty much every Sound of Music tour, but it is easy and fun to visit on your own as well! Just get on the #25 bus toward the Untersbergbahn and get off at Schloss Hellbrunn. Or you can rent a bike, it’s not far.

3. The Untersberg Mountain

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Speaking of Untersbergbahn, you should definitely visit this stunning mountain. The cable car carries a hefty fee (about 22 euros), but the hike takes 5 hours and is in the snow, so, it’s worth it. This site is included in the Salzburg Card though! This mountain is the natural border between Germany and Austria. In “The Sound of Music,” Maria says that this is where she has been singing, though once you see it, you will understand how that is not possible. It is a 45-minute bus ride from Salzburg and it is also rocky and covered in snow. It is also supposedly the mountain where the family in the movie hiked at the end (again, not true). Nonetheless, I still consider it a movie sight and the view is definitely worth it.

How to get there: Take the #25 bus to the Untersbergbahn. Get off the bus and walk straight into the cable car station.

4. Winkler Terrace (Schloss Monchstein)

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THE BEST VIEW OF SALZBURG! This is where part of Do-Re-Mi was filmed (the part where Maria says, “Now children, once you have these notes in your heads, you can sing a million different tunes by mixing them up!” and so on). The view is absolutely incredible. I visited several times because I loved it so much.

How to get there: The easiest and quickest way is via elevator. The signs say that the lift is to the Modern Art Museum. It costs about 3.50 euros round-trip. Once you reach the top, turn left and go up the stairs leading outside. This is the terrace. The steps that Maria and the children walk down are on your right. I highly recommend walking along the paths. For a better view of the city, walk up past the museum and keep going (away from the fortress). You can also take the stairs to reach the terrace, though they can be slippery in the rain.

5. Mirabell Gardens

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The majority of the Do-Re-Mi Montage was filmed in these gardens. You’ll see the Pegasus fountain, the dwarf gardens, the vine tunnel, and several other statues. The most recognizable part is probably the steps where they filmed the last bit.

How to get here: This is just a short walk from the city center, across the river in the “new” part of town.

6. St. Peter’s Cemetery

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Though the filming did not actually occur here, the set was definitely inspired by this cemetery. It’s a lovely place to visit and is very peaceful. While you’re there, be sure to see St. Peter’s Church (the oldest in Salzburg) and visit the bakery. It’s absolutely delicious.

How to get there: This is in the city center.

7. Schloss Frohnburg

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This building provides the exteriors of the Trapp Villa in the movie as well as the road in the final sequence of “I Have Confidence.” It’s definitely worth at least a short visit and it’s along a very nice road near Hellbrunn Palace. There are also spectacular views of the mountains.

How to get there: This is included in the Sound of Music bike tour (and as a “drive by” on the bus tour). If you go by yourself, you can just walk to it from the Hellbrunn Palace. Walk past the gazebo entrance and turn left on Hellbrunnerallee. It’s kind of a long walk, but it’s nice. It will be the yellow building on the right. You can also bike there easily from the city center. If you want to take the bus, take the #25 toward the Untersbergbahn and get off at Morzg (a couple stops before Hellbrunn). Look to the left across the field, it’s the yellow building.

8. Nonnberg Abbey

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This was not only a filming location, but it was also the Abbey where the real Maria von Trapp did her novitiate. It’s a beautiful area and you’ll definitely recognize the gate. What you won’t recognize is the view. When Julie Andrews walks out of Nonnberg, the view should be the suburbs of Salzburg and the Untersberg, but what you see in the movie is the Old Town. Movie magic at it’s finest. You may also visit inside the chapel. It’s quite beautiful.

How to get there: This is also part of the Monchstein, but it is in the lower section, so it’s an easy walk. There’s a set of stairs near the city center.

9. The Church in Mondsee

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This is the church where they filmed the wedding scene in the movie. It’s in a beautiful little town called Mondsee, which is part of the stunning Lakes and Mountains district of Salzburg. The church is beautiful and it’s really interesting to see what they did to make it appear as it did in the movie.

How to get there: Travel to Mondsee by train or bus. This stop is included on the Sound of Music bus tour.

10. Schloss Leopoldskron

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This is the site that served as the “back” of the Trapp Villa in the movie. You never actually see the palace in the movie (you see the back of Frohnburg), but you do see the terrace and the gorgeous lake where of course the children and Maria fell out of the boat). This is also where the gazebo originally stood before it was moved to it’s current location.

How to get there: This is included in most Sound of Music tours, but it is close to the city center and is an easy bike ride away.

11. The Festival Hall

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This is the place where the Salzburg Festival really occurs every year and it was also used for the movie. It’s really interesting to go inside and see the arches carved out of the mountain. To get inside you have to go on a guided tour (daily at 2pm).

How to get there: This is located in the city center.

12. Residenzplatz and Fountain

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The fountain and this square are featured many times in the movie. The first time is when Maria crosses the plaza and splashes the water in the fountain (watch carefully: as Julie Andrews crosses in front of the arches, you see three women cross the square. They are the real Maria, her daughter, and granddaughter). Later, this is where the Nazis march.

How to get there: It’s right next to the main cathedral. You can’t miss it.

13. Mozartsteg

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This is the bridge that Maria and the children ran across during the beginning of the Do-Re-Mi Montage. It’s just as beautiful as it is in the movie, but it’s just a basic pedestrian bridge.

How to get there: Very near to Mozarplatz over the river

14. Toscaninihof

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After your visit to the festival halls, walk just around the corner to this plaza wedged between the parking lot inside the mountain and the festival hall. Look to your left and you’ll see the archway Rolf walks through when he has a telegram for the Captain near the end of the film.

How to get there: As you look at the festival halls, this is the square just to the left.

15. The Real Trapp Villa

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Located a short distance out of the city, the real Trapp Villa is now a hotel. Unfortunately, tourists cannot roam the grounds freely, but you can arrange for a tour or just see it from the gate. The Trapp Villa was actually used by Heinrich Himmler during WWII and was the location where he planned out much of the Final Solution. As sad as this is, it makes it an interesting place to visit and much more than just a fun place to see. It’s a major part of history.

How to get there: Take a bus or train to Aigen. Exit the station away from the main road and turn right. Walk down the road past the school and take a right. The Villa is marked by a sign.

16. Hohenwerfen Fortress

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This is the castle that appears in the background when the children are first learning Do-Re-Mi in the meadow. It’s located in a little town outside of Salzburg called Werfen. The fortress offers great views and a good tour. It’s also interesting to see the town.

How to get there: Take the train to Werfen and walk through the town toward the Fortress on top of the mountain. Follow the signs to the Funicular station.

17. The Horsebath

This only appears for a moment during the Do-Re-Mi sequence, but it’s right within the city center so it’s worth a walk past it. To the left, you’ll see the tunnel that goes through the mountain.

How to get there: Right within the city center, near the cliffside.

The Tours:
I took two separate Sound of Music Tours in Salzburg: Fraulein Maria’s Bike Tour and the Panorama Bus Tour. They both had strengths and weaknesses, but they were definitely enjoyable.

Bike Tour:

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Sights visited: The Gazebo, Leopoldskron, Drive-by Frohnburg, Mondsee, Mirabell Gardens

3 Stars

The main draw for this tour was going to Mondsee. It’s the easiest way to get out there. The guide was very lively and kind. Unfortunately, I found some of the information to be inaccurate (based on the research I’ve done about the movie and the real von Trapps). But, if you don’t have a lot of time, it’s a good way to see the main sites. At four hours, the tour provides a good overview of the Sound of Music sites. There was a sing-a-long at the end, which was fun. The main issue I had with the tour is that most of the time was spent on the bus and we didn’t see very many things, yet it is quite expensive.

I had a wonderful time seeing the Sound of Music sites in Salzburg. It is incredible that 50 years later, everything is just as beautiful and magical as it was in the movie. Going to the Sound of Music sites is also a wonderful way to see many different areas of the city. Though there is much more to see in Salzburg, seeing the Sound of Music sites is a fun way to explore and is, of course, a dream come true.