“We don’t want to look like tourists”…

…”Eighty-four people in matching fleeces, you’re going to look like tourists”.

Katy’s high school orchestra — 64 students, one orchestra director, eight chaperones and 11 tag-along parents took Austria and the Czech Republic by storm and looked like tourists the whole time.

It was a 10 day trip, with two days of travel. Mr. Kim, the orchestra director, figured no one is in school the Friday before spring break anyway and early check-outs start around lunch on Thursday. So they dragged suitcases and backpacks and their matching fleeces to school Thursday morning, checked in at the orchestra room, went to three classes and lunch and headed out. I helped Katy haul her stuff in before school then Heath and I and some other parents showed up later to take school items home and watch the buses leave.

Organized chaos in the orchestra room.

Katy kept texting me to hurry up as they were about to leave and her things would be locked in the practice room (which would have been fine). So I bypassed checking in at the office while Heath parked the car, only to find this:

They were nowhere close to leaving.

Everyone got their stuff together and headed to the auditorium then out to the front of the school to get on the buses. Which were caught in traffic and were about 30 minutes late.

Hurry up and wait. It looks like a mass evacuation of some kind.

They had loads of time. There was no way to get everyone on the same plane so half the group (including Katy) was on KLM and the other half on Air France. The AF group was really in no hurry, they were scheduled to take off about four hours after the KLM group.

And the buses made it.

It took two buses to get everyone to the airport. Katy had a nice thing happen at the airport. She was in line at Starbucks and the customer in front of her dropped a coin that started rolling away. Katy stopped it, picked it up and handed it to him. He paid for a coffee for her. Katy said thank you then told the barista “I don’t really like coffee” and the barista told her she could pay the difference between the coffee and the drink she wanted, about 29 cents. That was just such a nice thing.


Even with the bus delay, they had plenty of time to kill.

Since the chaperones had to hold onto the boarding passes there was a little confusion.

They finally got it sorted out.

At the hotel in Vienna, their first stop. The group was divided into smaller chaperone groups and this is Katy’s group. It looks like the outside of their school building so I was confused when the chaperone sent it thinking “I don’t remember this picture at school”.

Manuela, the tour organizer and one of the guides. She lives in France and started her own company to organize school trips because she wasn’t real impressed with the organization of the trips her own children went on. She chatted with us by video once and then attended two parent meetings in person and was very nice.

The first day was just spent getting everyone to the hotel and settling in so the kids had time just to explore the city.

Or they could play cards at the hotel.

The hotel lobby

When they did venture out, they had a little excitement.

Things you shouldn’t tell mom.

The first full day was Saturday, March 30th. Every day started with breakfast in the hotel and no one went hungry. Manuela said that she knew parents would want their children to eat something besides “fish and chips or chicken and chips” (Katy planned to live off chocolate) so breakfast would be a “boofay” (I love her accent) and a set dinner. Lunch was on their own, Katy said they ate a lot of hot dogs. Yummy Austrian sausage!

The morning was spent at Schonbrunn Palace. There is way too much history to describe here but the palace was given to Maria Theresa (mother of Marie Antoinette) as a wedding gift and was her family’s summer palace. I assume that means they also had a winter palace.

The group in front of the palace in those matching fleeces.

A fountain on the palace grounds. Katy said none of the fountains in Vienna or Salzburg were running so I suggested maybe there’s some water rationing going on.

Still at the palace. Katy was really hoping to ride a carriage but that didn’t happen.

Katy’s friend Steven in front of a pretty fountain.

The next stop was St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

Mr. Kim (the orchestra director) in front of the cathedral.

Katy got some photos of the inside.

The afternoon they were able to roam about town on their own.

Katy said she has no idea what this building is but there was grass and people were sitting down so they did, too. This is Julia, always identifiable by her hat that she knit herself. She’s a big knitter and picked up quite a bit of yarn while in Europe.

Hanging out in the street looking like tourists.

A tourist and his/her money are parted one way or another.

That they evening attended a concert of the Vienna Residence Orchestra at Palais Auersperg


Sunday, March 31 was another day in and around Vienna. The main activity was a trip to Eisenstadt, about an hour away, to visit the Esterhazy Palace. This is another very old building with a very long history. They were there for the musical connection. Joseph Haydn worked for the Esterhazy family for 40 years (although not all at once) conducting a small orchestra and writing a whole slew of compositions, among many other responsibilities.

The group outside the palace

Haydn Hall


For whatever reason Katy and Eliza bought stuffed storks.

This is all they saw of Beethoven’s birthplace as it was being renovated.

The group at the Strauss Memorial.

That night dinner was at “a typical Viennese tavern” at a place called Gumpoldskirchen in the Vienna Woods.


Whatever they ate looks really good.

Heath thought it looked like they were in the wine cellar.

It wouldn’t be a tavern without some singing and dancing.

Madeline and Katy with the violinist.

Katy said she did some singing and dancing but there is no evidence of it. She got this video, though.






After a night of low-key carousing, Monday, April 1, they got up, dressed in their concert clothes, had another delicious-looking breakfast in the hotel and then they checked out and headed for Amadeus International School where they performed a concert.

There were 64 students who went on the trip but it looked like no concert venue was anywhere near big enough to hold all of them so they would take turns playing. Because of that, there were only about half as many cellos and basses rented as there were students playing those instruments. As it turned out they were able to squeeze all the violins and violas on-stage but the cello and bass players still had to take turns as they were sharing instruments.  It was still a tight squeeze.

The orchestra outside the school.

Katy is third from the right in the foreground of the photo

Visiting with the school students after the concert.

After the concert it was back on the bus for the drive to Salzburg (about three hours).

View from the bus window. The (distant) hills are alive.

Katy was really impressed with her and Sarah’s room. The hotel was the same chain they stayed at in Vienna and most students had basic rooms on the first floor. Katy and Sarah ended up on the second floor in a much nicer, corner room with two windows and a nice view. Also being on the second floor meant they weren’t part of the big first-floor group that go into trouble for making too much noise!

They toured several sites used in The Sound of Music.

St. Michael’s Basilica, where the wedding was filmed

Katy thought these houses were cute.

Tuesday April 2 they visited some more Sound of Music filming sites.

The steps at Mirabelle Palace Garden where some of the song Do-Re-Mi was filmed. (The part where the kids jump up and down the steps.)

The gardens behind the steps.

The hedgerow tunnel, which was a whole lot greener in the movie.




Inside the palace

The also visited Mozart’s birthplace. There was no photography allowed and I never did hear anything about it.

In the afternoon many in the group visited Fortress Hohensalzburg. It’s high on a hill and you can either hike up or take a cable car. One of the girls in Katy’s group had an injured knee so the hike was out of the question. They rode the cable car. The fortress has several museums but they all have separate admissions and Katy’s group decided to just go for the view. They also wanted to skip the museums to save time to go see something they were told was a glockenspiel but actually just a bell tower and turned out to be a big disappointment.

Mr. Kim got this photo of a model of the fortress in one of the museums.

And Katy got some nice video.



This statue of a man standing on a ball is in the center of Salzburg and there is a nice view of the fort in the background.

No, that is not a real person, it just looks like one.

Underneath the ball. I don’t know what the artist thinks about all the graffiti.

Hanging out in a tree somewhere in that same area.

Pretty view

This is a pedestrian bridge with locks that they walked over several times. Katy said there were other bridges with other locks in every other city.

After a long day of sight-seeing the kids had a concert that evening at the American International School of Salzburg. This is a boarding school with a student body of 60-something boarders and a few day students. It’s an American-curriculum school. The students from the school and the orchestra were paired up as pen-pals a few weeks before the trip. Katy’s pen-pal was a junior named Marina who was happy to commiserate with Katy about AP and SAT exams. I knew they would get a chance to meet their pen-pals so I bought a few very last-minute Atlanta gifts for Katy to take to Marina. Mr. Kim told them “no bags” so she was having to stuff items into her violin case.

This brings all new meaning to the words “front-row seats”.

There was one Asian student in the school, a girl from Japan, and she was so excited to see some Asian students.

After that it was back to hotel for dinner and I imagine everyone was ready for bed.

Wednesday, April 3 everyone had a little free time in the morning after another good-looking breakfast.

Katy rounded up a few people to do a little last-minute Austrian souvenir shopping. I have failed to teach Katy how to properly souvenir shop. She went into a store filled with items that said “No kangaroos in Austria” and didn’t get anything.

Then it was back to the hotel and the buses left at noon for a six-hour drive to Prague. Katy pretty well gave up on getting any photos from the bus.

One thing Katy really wanted to see was the astronomical clock. She got her chance. After they checked into the hotel and had dinner about half the group went on a four-mile walk with Mr. Kim to check it out.



Thursday April 4 they were up and out for tours of the old city and the city center.

Katy says this photo was from “a random bridge” and that they went over a lot of bridges in all three cities.

Olaf was wandering around Katy did not get a picture with him.

Another trip to the astronomical clock

And an ice cream break. Katy said they ate a lot of ice cream.

In Austria the group visited a lot of churches. In Prague, they visited a lot of synagogues. They went to a Jewish History Museum located in a synagogue.  There was a cemetery that Katy was really impressed with. It has graves several layers deep. Katy didn’t get any pictures so these are Mr. Kim’s.

That evening they performed a concert at the Music Museum.  Mr. Kim said they sold out, but it was a free concert.

It looks like a nice crowd.

Following the concert they had a dinner cruise. And a little excitement on the way.

Everything is dramatic when Katy recounts it.

They made it to the boat in one piece.

A beautiful ending to a full, exciting day.

Friday April 5th was their last day and they spent morning touring the Prague Castle, which is a collection of buildings.

This is St. Vita Cathedral

Katy was really taken with the stained glass. She was also experimenting with her camera.

The outside.

A hall in the Old Royal Palace.

The main courtyard.

The afternoon was leisure time, as most afternoons were.

This is the Lennon Wall. Katy said there was a store with “all kinds of John Lennon merch but I didn’t buy any John Lennon merch because it was expensive”. She’s not a fan of John Lennon, anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

Katy also made a new friend. There was a guy walking around with a snake and you could get your picture taken with the snake for five euros. That’s right up Katy’s alley. A few other kids did it, too.

Saturday, April 6th, they were up and out early. The Air France group had a very early flight and had to leave the hotel at 6:45.  Katy’s group had a little more leisurely morning, they didn’t have to leave until 11:15.

This is just half the group and they took over the lobby.

Katy was worried because their flight was delayed and they only had a short layover in Amsterdam. We assured her they weren’t about to take off with 40 empty seats. They made it just fine, although I think there was a short sprint involved.

Katy was impressed with the airplane meals. (The little silver thing around the glass is something she bought.)

When we got to the Atlanta airport to pick her up we realized the airport has no idea when the planes are coming in. She texted us saying they had touched down and the arrivals board was saying it was going to be another 45 minutes. The KLM and Delta (codeshare) apps were both giving different times. We didn’t have to wait long. It was a great trip and Katy is still talking about it.


Photo credits: Katy obviously didn’t take all these photos. Mr. Kim took all of the photos of the food, the group shots and many others. I think I borrowed a few from Commander Schenk. Some were by various students and swiped off the group chat.
















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