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Summer Abroad - 1

I returned to school for the last two weeks before it let out for summer break. Earlier in the semester, I signed up a summer abroad program and was selected to go. It was a program focusing on the history of music in Europe and we were going to visit about twelve countries over twelve weeks.

After surviving finals and jury performances, I headed home for a couple of weeks to pack for my trip. As I was getting ready for bed that first night home, my phone rang.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Sarah, it’s me Stacy. I wanted to let you know we are home and I have some exciting news. Are Mom and Dad around?”

“Yeah, they are downstairs, give me a minute and I’ll put the phone on speaker. How are you? Did you have a great time?”

“We had a wonderful time, but I feel like I need another vacation after all the things we did,” she chuckled through the phone. “Otherwise, I feel great. How are you doing? How is Ian? School’s out now, do you two have plans?”

“Whoa, slow down Stace,” I laughed. “I am really good and yes, school is out now. I got all A’s!”

“Way to go, that is awesome to hear,” she said.

“Stacy, about Ian…I should have told you sooner, but Ian and I aren’t together anymore.”

“WHAT!?!” she screamed into the phone. “What do you mean; you looked so happy at the wedding. When did this happen?”

“Well…I…we ended things back in January before second semester started. We just were drifting apart and we needed space. When you called, I couldn’t tell you about us because I didn’t want to ruin your happiness.”

“Sarah, I would have understood. Why did he come to the wedding then?”

“I asked him to come and he agreed as long as I told you the truth after you came home from your honeymoon, so that is what I’m doing.”

“Oh Sarah, I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK. I’m OK. In fact, I have an awesome opportunity this summer and it’s the perfect time to move forward.”

“What are you planning?”

“I’m going to Europe for a Summer Abroad Program through school. It’s focusing on the history of music and we will visit various places that saw great composers write their music; perform their operas and so much more. We leave the first of June and I’m so excited!”

“That is wonderful; I hope you have a good time.”

“I will and thank you. Hey, I’m with Mom and Dad. You are on speaker right now.”

“Hey Mom, Dad how are you?”

“We are great sweetie. How are you and Jake?”

“We are wonderful. We just got back home and getting settled in.”

“I hope you had a good time,” Mom said.

“We did, it was amazing,” we could almost see her smile. “So, the reason I had Sarah get you all together is that Jake and I have some special news for you.”

“Well, what is it?” We all asked.

“We are going to have a baby,” she told us.

“WHAT!?!” It was our turn to be surprised and shocked.

“I am pregnant and due in November, we are going to have a baby,” she repeated. I looked over at Mom who just had a knowing smile on her face.

“Mom, why are you smiling?” I asked her.

“I had a feeling about this the last time we saw you Stacy,” Mom answered. “When you were waking up every morning looking ill, I had my suspicions, which is why I asked you to go see someone.”

“I did listen to you, Mom and I got a test. I’ve known since the beginning of April, but I wanted to keep it quiet until after the wedding and into the second trimester. I’m about thirteen weeks or so right now.”

“Congratulations sweetie,” Mom and Dad told her.

“Thank you. I don’t want to keep you and I’m ready to pass out, so I’ll let you go. Sarah, have a great time on your trip and call if you are able. Love you all!”

“Love you too,” we told her and hung up the phone.

“I’M GOING TO BE AN AUNTIE!” I screamed. “And you two are going to be grandparents,” I laughed.

“We are too young to be grandparents,” Dad said with a smirk on his face.

“You’ll get used to it,” Mom said with a smile.

“Well, I’m off to bed. Goodnight!”

“Goodnight honey,” Mom and Dad said together.

******

Over the next couple of weeks, I finished packing and I spent a lot of time with Mom and it was a good time for us. It had been a little while since it was just the two of us and although I’m glad Stacy has been found; I do miss this time alone with Mom.

We went shopping and she bought me a few new outfits for my trip and she took me to the bank to get some traveler’s checks and make sure I had enough money on my bank card. They told me that I could use the card to withdraw money at ATMs to get the local currency if they didn’t take the checks or the card. It was very helpful and something I didn’t think about.

We celebrated Memorial Day with the family and had a cook-out which turned into a ‘bon voyage’ party for me. Even Stacy and Jake showed up for the weekend to celebrate with me. She looked amazing in her Hawaiian tan that she got and her pregnancy glow as she was beginning to show her baby bump.

The morning after, I flew with Stacy and Jake to Chicago where I was going to meet my class before flying to Paris to start our summer journey. They dropped me off at the hotel where my professors were meeting each of us and I told them goodbye and gave them hugs.

I found my group and checked into the hotel for the night. We were heading to the airport very early the next morning to begin a nearly nine hour flight to Paris, which is currently six hours ahead of us in time. If we leave here around seven in the morning, we should get there around ten at night or so.

I had hard time falling asleep because of the excitement I was feeling and the nerves of flying overseas, but once I did fall asleep, I didn’t wake up until my alarm went off at five in the morning. I quickly got up, showered, dressed and got my things together.

I made sure my passport, ID and money were in my purse and wrapped it around my shoulders. I also made sure I had my phone, charger and ear buds in it. I had a carryon bag with my laptop, a few books and a change of clothes and my suitcase that had my clothes for the summer.

I met with my group and we boarded a bus to go to the airport. We checked our bags and passed through security and headed to our gate. We stopped for breakfast at a McDonald’s on our way and grabbed a snack and bottle of water from a small shop.

We only had to wait a short time before we were told we could board the plane. There were twelve students going on the trip and two professors, so it wasn’t a large group and it was easy to get seats near each other. After getting settled, we heard the flight attendant overhead announcing the safety rules and we were ready to take off. I laid my head back on the seat, turned my music on and just enjoyed the flight that included a couple of meals and a movie.

“Ladies and gentlemen…we are arriving at our destination and will be landing shortly. Please bring your seats to an upright position, put your trays up and make sure your seatbelts are fastened.” The flight attendant announced.

Everyone put their items away and followed directions to get ready to land. I always hated this part of flying as the pressure shifted and my ears popped. I grabbed a piece of gum from my purse and started chewing it, which helped a little.

“Good evening, this is your pilot speaking. We are beginning our descent and will be landing momentarily. The time is 9:48 pm and the temperature is currently 64 degrees Fahrenheit or 17 degrees Celsius as night has fallen. Welcome to Paris, France, the City of Lights.”

As we were descending, I looked out of the windows and noticed the lights of the Eiffel Tower and several other buildings on the ground below. It was a beautiful sight and I couldn’t wait to explore everything the city had to offer in the week or so that we would be there.

As we came to stop, we gathered our carryon bags and began exiting the plane. We met up at baggage claim and waited for our luggage. As we got on the bus, the two professors, Dr. & Mrs. Jennings, started telling us our plan for the evening. Dr. Jennings had his PhD in music history among other degrees, while his wife, was our music theory and literature professor.

We would check-in at our hotel and head straight to our rooms. The four guys in the group would stay in one room, while the eight girls would split into two rooms, with four of us in each room. We were told to become friends as we would keep these groups the entire summer.

We were then told to be up and ready to meet at 8:00 am the next morning for a quick breakfast and go through the itinerary before starting our adventures. We would have some set times where we would travel as a group to discuss music history, while other times we could go off on our own to explore some of the sights. They suggested that we have at least two or four people go out together and not travel alone, but they would let us choose who we went with.

About half of us on the trip just finished our freshman year, while the other half was mixed of sophomores and juniors. Of course, the four freshman girls were to share a hotel room every night, which was OK with us as we already knew each other from our classes.

We headed to our rooms and got settled for the night. Two of us planned on showering at night, while the other two showered in the morning. We agreed on a time limit to allow all of us to do what we needed before heading to bed and then to breakfast in the morning. After completing our nighttime routines, we crawled into our beds, two to a bed, and fell asleep after texting our families that we arrived safely.

******

I woke up to four alarms going off at once. I immediately shut my alarm off and sat up on the side of the bed. I was to go first to get ready, so I grabbed my clothes and shower bag and went to the bathroom. After I finished, Nikki, went in next. The other two girls, Jodi and Bethany waited patiently for their turns.

We each grabbed our purses with everything we needed including a notebook and pen to take notes on some of the places we visited for our assignments. I guess you say our purses, were more of a satchel, but they worked for what we needed them for.

We met up in the hotel restaurant and grabbed food from the buffet before the Jennings gave us the itinerary for our time in Paris. We would get a new one in each country we visited.

We would start at the Louvre Art Museum as a group and we were given a worksheet to look for certain pieces of art that connected to some of the musicians we were learning about. Afterwards, we were free to look around the city. Each day had something planned as a group and the rest was for us to explore on our own.

Over the week we spent in Paris, we had the chance to see so much, it was almost overwhelming. As a group, we went to the Paris Opera House to watch a famous French opera: “Carmen” by Bizet. We also studied a couple other operas including “William Tell” by Rossini and “Romeo et Juliette” by Gounod.

We studied some French composers while visiting a music conservatory including C. Debussy, M. Ravel, C. Saint-Saens, H. Berlioz and J. Offenbach to name a few. We went to concert of the Orchestre de Paris at the Philharmonie de Paris, which was wonderful.

Other places we visited were the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles and the Champs-Élysées. We visited several local shops and cafés and walked along the River Seine. I picked up some souvenirs and postcards to send to my family. We all picked up a little French throughout the week and had an amazing time and this was just the first week.

******

After the week was over, we packed up and headed over to Italy, where we were going to spend around two weeks or so, as there were several cities we were stopping in. We took a bus from city to city and only stayed in a hotel two or three nights before moving to the next city.

The cities we visited included Milan, Venice, Naples, Verona and Rome. We stopped in a few others as we drove from one to the next, but we spent the most time in the bigger cities. Like in Paris, each day had a required group destination, and the rest of the day was free.

We went to various opera houses and saw several operas including “La Traviata”, “Aida”, and “Rigoletto” by Verdi; “Madame Butterfly” and “La Bohéme” by Puccini; and “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro” by Mozart. We went to a few concerts by various orchestras that played music from Italian composers including Vivaldi, Bellini, Corelli and more.

Some of the cities hosted festivals where we were introduced to folk music and dances including the Tarantella and the Duru-Duru, which is a love and courting dance. While watching people dance, one young gentleman came up to me and asked, “Vuoi ballare?” (Would you like to dance?) as he held out his hand to me.

“Sì, mi piacerebbe,” (Yes, I’d love to) I answered him. I had picked up some Italian over our time here and I had a translator on my phone to help me out as needed. “Parli inglese?” I asked as he led me to the dance group.

“Sì,” he answered and nodded his head. “Are you an American?”

“Yes I am,” I answered, “and I have no clue how to do this dance.”

“It’s OK, I’ll teach you,” I smiled and he showed me how to dance and I joined in. It wasn’t very hard and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

“Thank you...grazie,” I said as the dance finished. He nodded his head in acknowledgement and kissed the back of my hand before I rejoined my friends.

“Ooooh, did you get his number?” Nikki asked me.

“He was so cute,” Bethany added.

I blushed a little and looked back at the young man who just smiled back at me and waved. I waved back and then turned around and left the area…quickly.

Other places we stopped to visit included a ballet in Milan and saw a fashion show; the Venice Canal boats; the home of “Romeo and Juliet” in Verona; Mount Vesuvius near Naples including stopping in Pompeii; and other places along the way.

We spent the most time in Rome visiting places like the Colosseum; the Vatican City; St. Peter’s Basilica; the Pantheon; Trevi Fountain and much more. We stopped by the University and toured the music department there and studied some more Italian composers and more modern musicians including Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and Laura Pausini. We also learned some Gregorian Chants, which is some of the earliest known written music.

We, of course, did a lot more shopping and bought more souvenirs and clothes. I also picked up some postcards to send to my family as I have been in every city we have stopped so far.

******

Our next destination was Austria, where we would stop in Vienna and then Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After checking into the hotel, I called home to see how everyone was doing.

“Sarah, it’s so good to hear from you. How are you doing sweetie?” My mother asked me answering the phone.

“I’m great Mom. I am having so much fun and learning a lot.”

“That is so good to hear. Are you eating enough? Are you getting enough sleep?”

“Yes Mom, I’m eating very well and by the time we finish our days we are exhausted and I sleep all night.” I laughed a little as I answered her. “I don’t have a lot of time, so I just wanted to let you know that I’m doing well. Give Dad a hug from me and if you talk to Stacy, tell her I’m doing well and I’ll call her soon.”

“I will do. Love you sweetie.”

“I love you, too. Bye for now!”

“Bye Sarah,” we hung up.

I put my phone away and headed down to the café around the corner to meet the group for dinner. We waited for the guys to show up and we ordered our meal and discussed the itinerary for the next week.

In Vienna, we visited several classical music monuments during a walking tour of the city; we visited the State Opera House and watched Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”; we went to Schonbrunn Palace where Mozart often performed; and the Pasqualati House where Beethoven lived and Heiligenstadt Museum.

We went through the cemetery and visited the graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss and other famous musicians. We collected post cards and souvenirs at various shops and tried a variety of food at local restaurants.

We drove to Salzburg and took a tour of Mozart’s home, which is now a museum and visited the Salzburg Cathedral and listened to “The Requiem” performed by a local orchestra and choir. It was a moving experience to hear this piece in the city where Mozart was born.

From Salzburg, we went over to Prague in the Czech Republic and visited the Estates Theatre, a museum dedicated to Bedrich Smetana and the Dvorák Museum. We only stayed there a few days and then headed up to Germany.

We started in Leipzig, Germany and visited the Bach Museum and St. Thomas Church where Bach often performed and wrote his music for. Bach ultimately defined the Baroque era of music and it was an exciting experience to see firsthand some of his compositions.

We toured various parts of Germany including where the Berlin Wall was located and so much more. We ended the mainland European tour celebrating in Berlin and joining in a local festival where we drank beer, danced, sang and had a grand old time.

It was the middle of July and six weeks into our summer program. I missed home, but I am so glad that I took this trip. Time has moved so fast and I’m sure the next six weeks will be just as exciting.

Russia…here we come!

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