Voice Lessons by Kobe Bryant

Everyone’s still talking about the Superbowl.  But I’m thinking about basketball, mostly because I got to experience my first Lakers game last week.

Since I’m a native of Los Angeles, it’s a little embarrassing that this was my first trip to see the boys in purple. But basketball tickets are more expensive than opera tickets! And I do spend a lot of time in other cities.

As a newcomer to the Staples Center, I was dazzled by the spotlights on the basketball court.  And I enjoyed seeing “my” team in action. But I was most impressed by the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant. (Photo courtesy of http://ambasketball.com)

In fact, I learned a lot about singing from Kobe.  (Just by watching him play basketball!)  Here’s what I took away from the game:

3 lessons that opera singers can learn from Kobe:

1. Make it Look Easy

Kobe Bryant is an elite athlete.  He has extraordinary talent, and he has put in thousands of hours of hard work. But he makes it look easy.

And that is the kind of effortless athleticism that makes a great singer.  To be a professional opera singer, you need to train your body like an athlete, train your mind like a scholar, and train your imagination like a painter. But the greatest challenge is to pursue excellence in all of those areas without ever getting tense!

Kobe manages to stay relaxed under tremendous pressure.  If he were coaching a young opera singer, I think he might say: keep your standards high, but stay loose. Don’t worry about anything. Sing with the same confidence that you have when your team is 40 points ahead.

2. Have Fun

Of course, Kobe exudes confidence on the court because he’s actually having fun.  It’s obvious that he loves this game. That playful feeling is often lost by opera singers, somewhere around their third year of conservatory training, when they become obsessed with vocal technique and forget why they started singing in the first place. But to an audience — even the most sophisticated audience — there’s nothing better than watching someone who simply loves to play the game.  Never lose the joy.

3. Be a Diva

The word “diva” has some negative connotations, and with good reason! Nobody wants to work with someone who is demanding and self-centered, whether it’s on the stage or on the court.

But let’s be honest: it’s no fun to work with artists (or athletes) who have no personality, either. There’s nothing less exciting than an opera where every singer has exactly the same sound, produced in exactly the same way.  We can do better than that!

I’m a pretty cheerful person, but I don’t want my life to be entirely “drama-free.”  I’m not advocating selfish or unkind behavior; that is never appropriate. The first rule of the theater is to respect your colleagues! But I think that opera singers should live boldly. If you’re too frightened to “make a scene,” how can you ever produce a gran scena onstage?

It’s true that basketball stars’ salaries are inflated, and opera stars’ egos are inflated. But we do need stars.  We will always need leaders who have the audacity to take risks and, yes, the self-indulgence to say something original. That’s the kind of energy that makes magic, on every playing field.

Kobe is a bit of a divo, and that’s part of his appeal. He even speaks Italian, which definitely makes him more operatic. So I am grateful to Kobe for giving me an excellent voice lesson, and I hope you enjoyed it, as well. Ciao!

Beach Music

I love falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the beach.

When I was growing up, my family went beach camping every summer, so I remember falling asleep to that glorious noise. There’s nothing quite like it.

And that “beach music” stays with me, even when I travel. But when I’m away from home for too long, I start to  miss my ocean.  I feel like my body is calibrated to the rhythms of the Pacific.  I can’t really appreciate the sultry, salty water of the Mediterranean, or the quick and nervous tempo of Atlantic tides.  I crave slow, powerful waves that take a full 7 seconds to breathe in … and breathe out.

We have had “bikini weather” here in Los Angeles over the past few days. On Saturday, the sky was so blue that I decided to hit the bike path in Hermosa Beach. The path extends from South Torrance all the way to Malibu, and it’s a little slice of Americana, all by itself. Everywhere you look, there are people having fun: roller blading, walking their dogs, selling sunglasses, sitting in outside cafés or playing beach volleyball in the sand. This is true beach city culture.  California cool.

And as I pedaled along the bike path, I tried to think of all of the operas that are set on beaches.  Oberon comes to mind immediately.  I once had the chance to sing Rezia’s aria to the ocean, “Ozean! du Ungeheuer,” while aboard the Queen Mary!  And how about Ariadne auf Naxos?  Ariadne has been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos and sings her aria from a large rock.  Perhaps it could look like this?  And Amelia’s aria from Simon Boccanegra is also sung on a beach.

What is it about beaches that inspires people to sing?  There must be dozens of Italian and German songs that praise the sun and the sea and the sand!  And then there’s always the Beach Boys. 😉

Anyway, I think there should be more opera on the beach!   There are some logistical issues, and some acoustical issues, but it can work. In 2009, I sang at the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, and we performed a full concert at a beach resort on the Big Island.  I sang Puccini under the stars with my feet in the sand.  It felt wonderful, and I later found out that the ocean had carried my voice down the beach, so that Butterfly’s aria could be heard half a mile away!

I now live on a hill above the ocean, and from here, I can’t quite hear the pounding of the surf.  So as I drift off to sleep, I’ll just have to imagine a beach opera.  Buona notte.

The Flying Medicine Cabinet

Because I’m a singer, I am often asked how to get rid of a cold.

My personal remedy is very simple: SLEEP!  9 times out of 10, I can fight off a cold virus by taking a nap.

But when sleep doesn’t work, I do have some favorite products.  And since I’m a frequent flyer, I travel with my own personal pharmacy.

Some singers hoard antibiotics.  This is generally a bad idea. Always consult a doctor before indulging in the meds that end in -cillin and -mycin!

But what do you do if you get a toothache on the day before an important audition in Germany? Two weeks ago, I was preparing an audition when the left part of my jaw started to ache. An impacted wisdom tooth had chosen this particular day to get infected.

So I did what anyone would do: I sent a panicked text message my dentist in Pasadena!   He texted me a prescription for Amoxicillin.  (Hooray for technology!) When I got to the local Apotheke (apothecary), I simply handed my iPhone to the pharmacist.  She squinted at the screen and asked me in German, “Is this from a real doctor?”  I was able to demonstrate my dentist’s credentials, so I got my meds. The next day, I went to my audition happy and pain-free.

Of course, it helps that I speak German. I do not speak Russian (except for phonetically, which doesn’t help in a medical emergency). When my father broke his foot in St. Petersburg in 2007, I couldn’t find the word for “ace bandage” in my pocket dictionary. So I went to the pharmacy and mimed wrapping my leg with strips of gauze. Judging by the Russian pharmacist’s reaction, it was a very entertaining performance. He was giggling uncontrollably as he went to find the bandage. But that’s another story for another blog post…

Back to business. Here is my list of favorite cold remedies:

1. Tantum Verde (one of my all-time favorites, which I discovered at a farmacia in Rome)

2. Grapefruit Seed extract (don’t ask me why it works. It’s probably a placebo. I don’t care.)

3. Sudafed (not as good as Actifed, but it will do)

4. The neti pot (if you can handle it)

5. Foods with garlic. (Seriously.)

6. SLEEP!!! and lots of tea

7. Afrin sinus

8. Zinc lozenges

If you know another product that works for you, please tell me about it in the comments section!  I’m actually very healthy, so I haven’t had a chance to sample many things! But I’m constantly asked about these products, so I like to be well informed.

Some singers also take beta blockers to deal with nerves.  I have never done this because I don’t like to play around with my biochemistry.  Avoid the powerful drugs, people!  They can affect your voice. They can affect your life. Just say no.

In the world of pharmacology, a little goes a long way. I will never forget how helpful it was to have Imodium when I landed in Kathmandu and discovered that I was allergic to yak’s milk (yaktose intolerant?).  Or the herbs that I drank when I had an unexplained fever in Tokyo. These were just simple over the counter remedies, but they made it possible for me to get onstage and sing all my concerts.

Here’s a link to a funny little video about opera singers and hypochondria. Stay healthy!

Divaesque Passport Cover

Passport covers just don’t get better than this.  A durable leather wallet with the words “jet setting diva” in sparkling turquoise letters! Those of you who read my post, “My Life in Passport Photos,” know that I was jealous of my friend Mirva‘s pink “Jet Setting Diva” passport cover.  So I got one of my own.

But these passport covers by Sicura are hard to find! I lost a bid for one on eBay and I had to wait weeks for this one to arrive. It also came with luggage tags that say, “too big to carry on” and “weekend wardrobe inside.”

 

My new passport cover made its maiden voyage to Europe two weeks ago.  I was curious to know how customs officials and airport personnel would react.

My first passport control official was very serious and stern.  Could I make him smile?  As I handed him my passport, he glanced at the cover, raised his eyebrows and scanned the passport. I waited in silence. Then as he was handing it back, he said reluctantly, “nice cover.”  (Victory!)

The next day, as I boarded a plane in London, a lady behind me admitted that her daughter would love to have one just like it.

But the best reaction ever was from a German passport control officer in Frankfurt, who asked: “are you military personnel?”  Um… no.  (?!?)

Finally, when I arrived home at LAX, the customs official got all excited:

CUSTOMS OFFICER: Jet setting diva? Whoa! What kind of work do you do?

ME: I’m an opera singer.

CUSTOMS OFFICER: Really?  Cool!

So it’s official.  Having a cool passport cover will make your voyage that much more fun. I highly recommend it.

 

London’s Little Luxuries

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, it took a moment for me to remember where I was.  Then I saw the pot of tea on the night table. Ah, yes, London!

The only problem with whirlwind audition tours is that performers rarely have enough time to really enjoy the magnificent cities on their itinerary. Like most opera singers, I build my travel plans around auditions and performances.  But I also look for little ways to experience the beauty and the culture around me.  By taking just a few hours out of a work day, I can usually find something amazing.  And these “stolen moments” make all the difference in the world! So let me share with you some of the little luxuries that I’ve discovered in London.

1. Royal Walking Tour

My hotel was located in Bayswater, just a few miles from Buckingham Palace.  This inspired me to create my very own royal walking tour (with some help from Google Maps)!  I picked up my morning coffee and pastry on Queensway, and then I proceeded to have a picnic breakfast in Kensington Gardens.  (Now you have to admit: that’s a great way to start a Wednesday!)  Then I set off on my merry way,  visiting Westminster Abbey and window shopping at Harrod’s before taking my lunch at an Italian cafe outside Buckingham Palace.  A perfect royal morning.

2. Soaking up Art

Then on Thursday, I had a few hours in between auditions.  I needed a good place to rest and recover my energy. So I decided to go to one of my favorite places in all of London: the British Museum.  I have spent many happy hours there in the past. For me, walking into the great court feels like coming home!

Museums are great places to relax because they have so many benches.  I really needed to recharge my batteries, so I slipped quietly into the ancient Assyrian room and chose a bench in the back, near the famous sculpted reliefs from Nineveh.  But eventually, I grew weary of Assyrian lion hunts, and I wandered into the Ancient Greek rooms.  Suddenly, two dozen English school boys from St Paul’s School were all around me, pointing out the details of the Parthenon Frieze. They were adorable, but they were loud, so I retreated to medieval Europe, where I found a nice comfortable bench in front of a video about Sutton Hoo.

When I was fully rested, I decided to do some shopping. Museums are great places to find classy and original gifts. The British Museum offers everything from refined objects d’art to unsual kids’ toys.  You can get bejeweled earrings or cufflinks for the medievalist in your life. Or a rubber sphinx for the toddler who is also a budding Egyptologist!  (I considered getting one of these for myself, but I’m not usually in the mood for riddles at bath time.)

Incidentally, the museum restaurant also offers a full afternoon tea between 3 and 5 PM, where you will find a heavenly combination of scones, pastries and tea with clotted cream.

3. Joining the Circus

After my final audition on Thursday evening, it was finally time to relax and celebrate with friends.  I needed to decompress after nine days on planes and trains and automobiles. So I took a walk up Charing Cross Road from Trafalgar Square into Leicester Square.   And finally, I hit the bright lights of Picadilly Circus!

Well, now I’m back at good ol’ Heathrow Airport and I’m ready to return to Los Angeles.  But it’s been a good tour — thank you for coming along!

A Soprano in Bayreuth (an epic tale)

It was a dark and stormy night.

I couldn’t see anything out my window as the train chugged along. And because there are no fast trains to Bayreuth, I was traveling at about the same speed that Richard Wagner did back in 1870s. 

As a Wagnerian soprano, I was pretty excited about seeing Bayreuth for the first time. This is the town that hosts the famous annual Wagner Festival.  And it’s the place where Wagner himself spent the last decade of his exciting and highly controversial life.

Wagner’s music set the world on fire, and I just couldn’t wait to see the place where so much music history had happened. But when I arrived, it was too late to go exploring. I checked into the Golden Lion hotel and fell into a deep jetlagged sleep, with visions of flying Dutchmen in my head.

By the time I woke up, snow was falling softly on the picturesque Bavarian streets. So I put on my hat and gloves and hit the cobblestone road. But Bayreuth is very quiet on snowy Saturday mornings! It was several minutes before I saw another human (of course, I did see three Norns, a couple of valkyries and a talking bird… Just kidding. Wagnerian humor.)

The snowflakes didn’t stick to the ground, but I could hear the crunch of frozen leaves under my feet as I walked around the Hofgarten. First, I went to the Franz Liszt Museum (the great Hungarian composer was also Wagner’s father-in-law), where I studied handwritten manuscripts of Liszt’s compositions (!) and stood quietly in the room where he spent his final hours. And then I visited Wahnfried, the historic Wagner family villa, although the house itself is being refurbished and will remain closed until 2013.

Finally, I arrived at the Festspielhaus, the opera house that Wagner built to his own specifications in 1876. This is the site of the famous summer opera festival, the Bayreuther Festspiele.  I walked the length and width of the enormous stage and tested the hall’s spectacular accoustics. I would dearly love to spend more time on that stage.

But you don’t have to sing at the Festspielhaus to experience Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. The town is peppered with subtle references to his operas. Need directions to the station? Take a right on Meistersinger Street. Want to go to the festival? Meet me on the corner of Nibelungen and Tristan! If you want to relax, you can enjoy the local spa: Lohengrin Thermal Baths. (I wonder if they have any swans there?) And if all this talk of opera is giving you a headache, just get some aspirin at the Tannhäuser Pharmacy!

Nevertheless, this city is not just about Richard Wagner.  As I walked around the Old Town today, I started to get a vision for what Bayreuth had been like before its most famous (and somewhat infamous) resident arrived.  There is a beautiful 18th century castle as well as several charming Baroque churches. Best of all, there’s another opera house! The Markgräfliches Opernhaus is a breathtaking example of German Rococo.

But at the end of my magical weekend in Bayreuth, it still seemed like I had forgotten something. So I went through my mental checklist one more time: Festspielhaus, Baroque opera house, castle, Liszt Museum, Wahnfried… but I didn’t slay any dragons, marry any mysterious knights, or steal any golden rings.   I didn’t even immolate!  I guess it doesn’t matter.  After all, you should always leave something for your second visit to Bayreuth…

Pavarotti Airport

A few minutes ago, I landed at the Lindbergh Field San Diego Airport.

And that got me thinking about cool airport names. Why stick with a prosaic name like LAX when you could name your airport Sky Harbor (Phoenix) or Le Bourget (Paris)?

Many airports are named after military heroes. Consider Charles de Gaulle Airport (Paris), King Shaka International Airport (Durban), and my favorite, Alexander the Great Airport (Skopje, Macedonia).

Just occasionally, airports are named for artists. There’s Charles Schulz M. Airport in Sonoma. And in Malaga, they named one of their terminals after Pablo Picasso (c’mon, doesn’t the guy deserve a whole airport)?

The Italians certainly know how to name their airports.  Leonardo Da Vinci Airport (Rome), Cristoforo Colombo Airport (Genova), Galileo Galilei Airport (Pisa), and of course, Giuseppe Verdi Parma Airport are great examples.

Hey, want to play some airport trivia? In which cities would you find these airports:

a. Mohammed V Airport
b. Franz Josef Strauß Airport
c. George Bush Interncontinental Airport
d. Chapatri Shivaji International Airport
e. Bob Hope Airport
f.  Robin Hood Airport

{You’ll find the answer key below. Just scroll down.}

Some great musicians have also been “airported.” We have Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, the Warsaw Chopin Airport and, best of all, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Airport in Salzburg.

But here’s my question: why not name airports after opera singers? After all, opera singers spend a lot of time in airports! And we sing stratospheric notes! Besides, naming an airport after a diva gives it a touch of class. Just imagine the dramatic effect of a Maria Callas Airport in Greece. Or a Joan Sutherland Airport in Australia. Or … how about the Luciano Pavarotti International Airport of Modena? Wouldn’t that be cool? Dare to dream!

Answer Key:

a. Casablanca
b. Munich
c. Houston
d. Mumbai
e. Burbank
f. Doncaster/Sheffield (you guessed Nottingham, didn’t you?)

Well now it’s time for me to fly to an airport that was once called the Great West Aerodrome… located in a little English hamlet named Heath Row.  😉

Panning for Gold in San Francisco

“What better way to celebrate the New Year than by going back in time?”  I thought as my plane touched down at SFO on Monday morning. “Instead of doing all the usual touristy things,  I’ll take a Gold Rush tour!”

I’ve always pictured Old San Francisco as a wild Western town. My mental image of it was a cross between Puccini’s opera, Girl of the Golden West, and that scene from Seabiscuit where Charles Howard tries to open a bicycle shop on Van Ness Avenue.

I couldn’t check into my hotel right away, so there was time to indulge this fantasy. And with visions of cowboys in my head, I rolled my little pink suitcase down Market Street, in search of the Old West.

Thus began a comedy of errors. First, I attempted to download an audio guide to the Gold Rush, but it would not play on my iPhone. So I hunted down the Wells Fargo Museum, which turned out to be closed for New Year’s. Then I searched for the famous Belli building, only to discover that it was invisible under its scaffolding. I did manage to find the old headquarters of the Pony Express, but in the absence of any ponies, it just wasn’t that exciting.  Finally, I spotted something quintessentially Western: a saloon!

Curious, I peered inside.  There were a bunch of guys at the bar drinking whiskey. But as soon as my shadow fell across the threshold, everyone stopped talking.  I guess they don’t serve a lot of blonde girls with bright pink suitcases? By this time, I was tired and hungry, and I felt like a bedraggled 49er! So I pulled up my sleeves and sidled up to the bar.  But when I asked for a menu, it became clear that this was not the kind of saloon where a tourist can get lunch. One bearded fellow gestured at the TV and said meekly, “we don’t actually have food but we can change the channel to the Food Network if you want.”

So I gave up and indulged in a more typical San Francisco experience: a bowl of clam chowder and a loaf of sourdough at the Fog City Diner. By this time, I had hiked all over the historic Jackson Square district, as well as Nob Hill, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Financial District and Fisherman’s Wharf, while enjoying spectacular views of the Bay Bridge. So I was ready to call it a day.

But my journey isn’t over yet. I did not actually come to San Francisco to learn about the Wild West.  The Bay Area is home to many fine opera companies and I am here to audition for one of them. Maybe I’ll strike gold, after all?

Best of 2011: Favorite Airports, Airlines & Hotels

On the last day of the year, it’s traditional to look back over one’s travel itineraries and choose the year’s best airports, airlines and hotels.

Having experienced 21 airports, 10 airlines and 12 hotels this year, I made a cute “word cloud” of my itineraries at Tagxedo.com  (see left)

Of course, travel writers have different opinions about what constitutes the best of the best.

My good friend Mirva Lempiäinen, a Quality Hunter for Finnair, has already published her picks.  I especially liked her hotel ratings!

Hong Kong International Airport won the Skytrax World Airport Award for 2011, and Qatar Airways ran away with Best Airline.  I did not spend much time in Asia this year, so I have not yet experienced the joys of HKG or Qatar Airways.

My own travels focused more on Europe and North America. While luxury is important to any jet-setting diva, I also look for the best prices, and I place a lot of value on personality and flair.  So without further ado, here are the Globetrotting Soprano’s Most Outstanding Airports, Airlines & Hotels of 2011:

AIRPORTS

1. Vancouver International Airport: I was utterly charmed by the rustic British Columbian decor which I described in detail here.

2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport: This snazzy Dutch airport is comfortable and convenient, featuring easy access to public transportation and an enthusiasm for giant television screens!

3. Long Beach Airport (Long Beach, California):  I usually prefer the big international airports, but there’s something special about Long Beach. I love its simplicity and 1950s style. You won’t have to wait in long lines here. It’s quiet airport with a hometown feeling, and yet there’s free WIFI!

AIRLINES

1. British Airways: this “4-star” airline continues to provide good seat comfort, great entertainment and high-quality tea!

2. Air Canada: this year’s surprise favorite offers transatlantic flights at an affordable price.  They also feature good classical music in the in-flight audio program!

3. Austrian Airlines: deserves kudos for friendliness and hospitality.

HOTELS

1. Penta Hotel Leipzig (Leipzig, Germany):  As a soprano, I have a weakness for sparkly things, so I went wild over the disco theme! If you like mirror balls in the lobby and glittering gold floors in the elevator, this is the hotel for you. You can enjoy the breakfast room, high-speed internet, fitness center, and indoor swimming pool without spending a lot of money.

Honorable mentions go to two other German hotels with bold personality: Artists and designers will love the surprising colors and shapes in Cologne’s unique Hotel Cristall. I also enjoyed the NH Düsseldorf City with its vast lobby, high ceilings and glass elevators.

2. Hotel Astor (Zurich, Switzerland): Clean, comfortable, and central.  It’s not the most exciting hotel from the outside, but Swiss hotels aren’t cheap, and it’s hard to find a better value for money in the very center of Zurich.

3. Hotel Milano (Modena, Italy): Quaint Italian style within walking distance of the train station and the Old Town.  I enjoyed a quiet, spacious room with a queen-sized bed and an oversized bathtub.  The thick wooden shutters opened onto a lovely view.

So what are your favorite airports, airlines and hotels? I’d love to know what you think. Please share!

the City of Angels (and how to use it)

Having lived in some of the most beautiful places in the world, I never get tired of returning to Los Angeles.

L.A. has so much natural beauty! The people are friendly. The weather is beautiful.  There is access to all of the resources of a major metropolis. There’s a good reason why millions of people want to live here.

Of course, there are disadvantages, too.  The city sprawls out over more than 500 square miles, which means that it can take a lot of time to get from here to there.  There is smog (although the air is usually crystal clear at the beach) and there is traffic (although it is generally predictable and therefore avoidable, if you know the short cuts).

But in general, I find that Los Angeles is misunderstood. So often, people will tell me: “I was in L.A. once. It took us forever to get out of the airport and there was so much traffic on the freeway.  Then we went to some conference center in a sketchy part of town.  It was terrible. I could never live there.”  When I ask them if they visited the South Bay, or the foothills, or the art museums, or the sports stadiums, or the university campuses, or the Hollywood Bowl, or any of the beaches, they look at me blankly and mumble that they were in Malibu for thirty minutes but they didn’t actually go to the beach. Uh-huh.  Yeah, you haven’t really been to L.A.

When planning a tip to L.A., imagine that you are visiting a wild and foreign landscape!  Los Angeles is not like other cities, so don’t expect it to feel familiar. Be kind to the natives, even if you think their customs are a little weird — try to get in a mentality where there is an exaggerated emphasis on cars, movies, and beach volleyball.

Got that? OK.  Now, here are my 4 basic rules for having a good time in the Southland:

1. Respect the Freeway

The first mistake that tourists make is to assume that the city has a “center.”  Downtown L.A. is a very cool urban community (boasting the Music Center and our new Cathedral, among other things), but it is not the “center” of Los Angeles in the European sense.  Despite the success of Beverly Hills 90210, there is no single zip code where everything happens.  Greater Los Angeles is a collection of smaller communities, each with its own unique culture.  You might hate being downtown, but love the beach cities.  You might prefer the mountain vistas of La Cañada to the fashionistas of Rodeo Drive.  You might like Koreatown better than Olvera Street. But it’s all part of L.A.! Angelenos spend a lot of time on the road, going from one town to the next, without ever leaving L.A. My mom once quipped, “Los Angeles is a freeway looking for a city.”

Treat the freeways with respect.  A freeway is a wild and powerful animal, but it can really help you… as long as you obey its laws and use its energy to your own advantage. If you do get lost, ask someone for directions.  Angelenos love to talk about freeways. We talk about the traffic with the same enthusiasm that other people talk about the weather.

Freeway photo by Tom & Michele Grimm, DiscoverLosAngeles.com

2.  Plan ahead

I love to be spontaneous!  But as a native of L.A., I know that this city requires a lot of planning.  If you want to cover more than 90 miles in a day (not unusual here), and still arrive at the right place at the right time,  you have to think ahead.  Get online before you plan your day: the Internet will help you map your route, buy your tickets, and choose where you want to have lunch before you get there.  Also plan what you will do in the car.  Road rage rarely happens to people who are having good conversations, listening to their favorite music, or enjoying an audio book.

3. Enjoy the Great Outdoors

Please, please, please do not leave L.A. without at least putting your toes in the Pacific Ocean.  Go hiking, go kayaking, go parasailing.  If you like cycling, enjoy the 25-mile bike path from the trendy Santa Monica Pier to the more remote beauty of Palos Verdes.

4. Go to the Opera

It seems that L.A. is on the verge of becoming one of the world capitals of classical music.  Under the musical leadership of James Conlon and Placido Domingo, L.A. Opera consistently attracts world class artists for stellar productions.  Gustavo Dudamel is pouring his dynamic energy into the L.A. Philharmonic. The L.A. Master Chorale is utterly fantastic. And the Hollywood Bowl continues to offer classical concerts to audiences of 18,000!

Of course,  I don’t spend all my time in L.A.  If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I am totally in love with Europe.  I love European music, European culture, European history, European food, European architecture! I feel very much at home there. And that’s why I’m often on a plane to London, Paris or Vienna.  But at the same time… I’m pretty stoked about spending Christmas with my family in the city of angels. 

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas from L.A.!