When the idea of a choir trip was mooted in February it was no great surprise that Vienna was by far the most popular option: one of the World’s great cultural capitals, resplendent with the glory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and steeped in musical history. When the Committee came back with the proposal to stay in the Slovakian capital Bratislava, only an hour away from Vienna and much cheaper, and a very pretty city in its own right, we all agreed wholeheartedly. And so our brilliant Committee went to work, planning all the details, researching, reviewing and finally reserving hotel, restaurants, coaches, even a ferry down the Danube from Bratislava to Vienna.
So there we were, eight months later, convening in Dublin Airport at dawn, with our bags packed for the trip. On arrival in Bratislava we set out to explore its historic centre and, yes, it certainly is pretty. After dinner in the hotel a (predictable) group headed off to a nearby hostelry where – surprise surprise! – singing broke out. Some hours later, having done justice to a very wide variety of song, we returned to the hotel where (predictably again) a certain few headed straight for the hotel bar to further explore our collective repertoire…sotto voce, of course, in deference to any residents who might think that night is for sleeping…
Next morning, having enjoyed a marvellous breakfast, we all set out for Vienna. Most took the ferry-boat for a leisurely trip down the Danube, during which we serenaded our fellow-passengers with a few Dolce favourites. In the unavoidable absence of our Musical Director Deirdre, Miriam took over the leadership role, conducting us with her customary bravura and elan. Thanks, Miriam, for stepping into the breach so brilliantly once again! Arriving in Vienna we split up to follow our separate agendas. Vienna has so much to offer: magnificent Imperial palaces and gardens, Art Galleries and Museums, Opera House and Concert-Halls, famous restaurants and coffee-houses, elegant boulevards with classy shops and much more, all wrapped up in so much history.
That evening we re-convened in a lovely Viennese restaurant for an excellent dinner which we rounded off with an hour or more of wonderful entertainment, supplied, of course, by ourselves. Some hitherto hidden talents emerged, to everyone’s great delight – for instance Marie Towell with a splendid rendition of the wonderful comic ballad ‘The Finding of Moses’ – and we look forward to hearing more from them in the future. To cap it all, the coach journey back to Bratislava was brightened by the songs of Abba on disc, with Cathríona Edwards and Máiréad McHugh leading the sing-along with great style. Bob Laird also entertained us with a clever quiz based on choir members’ names. And did we all head for bed on arrival at the hotel? No way: the usual suspects decided there were still more songs to be sung, so another ‘sotto voce’ session in the hotel bar ensued, revealing more hidden talent – Anne Mulhair in particular, with a great repertoire of songs, delightfully delivered.
Next morning it was off to Vienna again, this time by coach, allowing us a great view of the scenery: one notable feature was the hundreds of wind turbines in the plain around the Slovak-Austrian border. Arriving in Vienna we again went our separate ways, to meet up again in the afternoon for two special events. The first of these was to pay homage in song to Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Mozart at their memorials in Vienna’s famous Friedhof (Cemetery). Here we were reunited with our wonderful MD Deirdre and a small handful of our members, all of whom were unfortunately unable to travel with the main party on the Thursday. Thus reinforced, we headed off to sing in the Stephansdom, the magnificent cathedral which is Vienna’s spiritual centre. With Deirdre firmly at the helm, then, we sang some hymns, of which the most memorable was Bruckner’s ‘Locus Iste’ – a hymn to a sacred place. It was an unforgettable experience, hearing our choral voice soaring into the heights of that majestic building, filling it with the beautiful music of one of Vienna’s famous sons. Filled with the joy of that experience, we gave an impromptu concert on the steps of a nearby church, quickly gathering quite a large crowd who applauded us enthusiastically.
Back then, to Bratislava, for our last night.
Dinner was in a superb restaurant, Hradna Hviezda, situated in the centre of the Bratislava Castle complex, high on a hill overlooking the city. The climb up the hill was a bit challenging for some, but the meal was well worth it – a splendid buffet with a great variety of very tasty choices: ten out of ten! Well done, Committee!! By the way, the restaurant Manager remarked as we arrived and settled ourselves that he had never had such a happy group, everyone smiling and laughing…so…take a bow, Dolce!! After the meal, more songs. Of course. (Oh God, we’re so predictable!!). Well, it was our last night… so we really let rip. The energy didn’t flag for a moment. MC Pat was clearly determined not to waste a precious second. Karen conducted us all in her wonderfully funny three-part round. What a great night. When it was finally time to go we sang ‘An Irish Blessing’ to the restaurant staff, a gesture they clearly appreciated.
Back to the hotel, then? Well, not quite…
Most of us headed straight for the nearby hostelry where we had entertained ourselves (and a few surprised locals) the first night. This was one of the best sessions of all and, encouraged by the heady atmosphere of so much fun, more new talent emerged, although one of the stand-out performances was by Anthony Downes, whose passionate rendition of ‘Willie McBride’ outshone any of his previous very fine performances. Let’s hear more of that, Anthony! And who can forget Caroline Connaughton’s wonderful input into the night’s fun: not just her lovely singing, but her zany Goldie Hawnesque interventions through a serving hatch. (Yes, it’s complicated…). As the night wound down a local lad came in to tell us “You Irish are great singers. Lovely music!” … a compliment we were very happy to accept.
And, believe it or not, another ‘sotto voce’ session took place in the hotel bar, in which Anne Mulhair was the undoubted star. Some people just can’t get enough!
Next morning we did a musical tour of the historic centre of Bratislava, giving impromptu mini-concerts in the charming streets and squares, and one church. In a cafe we bumped into members of an English choir who were on a similar trip: addresses were exchanged, and we hope to host or visit them in the future.
Finally, we boarded our coach to take us to Vienna airport for the journey home.
What a great trip, organized by an absolutely super committee, to whom we offer our most sincere thanks.
Looking forward to the next trip!
Authored by Pat.
Lots of photos of the trip in the Gallery.