Lessons From Erna: Remembering a Talented Musician, Teacher, and Friend

In a black and white image, bordered by a simple silver frame on my piano, she is seated behind the wheel of a classic roadster. Coyly sporting a riding cap, cream-colored driving gloves, and her trademark smile is a woman who not only taught me about arpeggios, flats, and sharps, but also about life, its remarkable coincidences, and values that we should hold dear.

We first met in March 1987. I was nearly ten, and my piano-teacher to-be, Mrs. Erna Blonek, was 86. I remember thinking that the diminutive elderly woman, with wavy hair as white as snow, spoke with a funny accent. My mother later explained that Mrs. Blonek was originally from Czechoslovakia.

Over time, I learned that she had been widowed in the 1960s and that she and her radiologist husband, František, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s.

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Our Peterhof Gardens Promenade

Often referred to as Russia’s Versailles, the Peterhof Palace gardens (Петерго́ф) offered us a picturesque — albeit congested and hectic — spot to stroll during a visit to St. Petersburg earlier this month. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Peterhof was commissioned by Peter the Great in the 18th century.

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Golden Moments in Burgundy, France

It is no wonder why one of the counties in France’s Burgundy region is known as the Côte d’Or. During our July sojourn in France’s ‘Golden Hills,’ the fields were ablaze with vibrant tournesols (sunflowers), freshly-groomed wheat, and vineyards — where still-maturing grapes glistened with dew.

In the villages of Burgundy, sand-colored stone homes were accented with shutters painted in hues of Williamsburg blue, deep ivy green, and terracotta. Delicate geraniums overflowed from window boxes, while tantalizing aromas — like toasted baguettes, boeuf bourguignon and a Dijon vinaigrette — swirled down the streets. In cafés and restaurants, blond Chardonnay flooded glasses. The scintillating wine seemed tailor-made for such balmy Burgundian summer evenings.

From the weathered buildings, friendly faces and people with lively personalities emerged. Periodically, vintage Citroëns rolled onto the scene, creating circa 1940 vignettes that were quintessentially French. One such classic voiture even ushered in a serendipitous moment that would be one of the highlights of our time in Burgundy.

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Photo du Jour: The Bench on Which I Said “Yes,” One Year Ago Today – Heidelberg, Germany

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Why I Adore Heidelberg, Germany: Celebrating Ten Years in the Loveliest of Cities

Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg verloren, (I Lost My Heart in Heidelberg). So goes a line from a German musical of the same name.

For the past ten years, I have called Heidelberg, Germany home. Along the way, I’ve also fallen for this extraordinary place’s charms.

What do I most adore about this graceful city on the Neckar River? Here are just a few things I love about Heidelberg:

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