TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… Vienna’ Category

* Vienna – Oct 2008

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 28, 2008

Pat and I first planned to go to Vienna in 1987. We got as far as Innsbrook, Austria, but a business emergency cut short our trip. Twenty-one years later, we finally arrive. But we never really planned what we were going to do in Vienna. I bought a small guide book, DK Top Ten Vienna, but neither of us has read it. I vow to read it on the train, but there’s an electric outlet, so I edit Case Closed instead.

Sat, Oct 11

We taxi from the train station to our hotel. Pat has done it again (in our sharing arrangement, she has responsibility for accommodations; I handle travel arrangements); the Aviano hotel offers an exquisitely furnished room, a bright breakfast room (breakfast included), and a perfect location. Which you would never find if you didn’t know it was there. There’s a small door, overshadowed by the restaurants on either side, and a tiny sign that says take the lift to the 4th floor reception area, open 24/7.

The receptionist/concierge recommends a restaurant for dinner, just around the corner. I order Weiner Schnitzel – who knew it was breaded veal cutlet? The portion is huge; the waiter is friendly.

Things are off to a good start in Vienna, which is contrary to my expectations. Close associations with Nazis, anti-semitic, I expected to feel uncomfortable, but I don’t. I’m surprised.

Sun, Oct 12

Pat loves the annual New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, with Walter Cronkite the host. Her main goal, her only goal, for Vienna is to see the Musikvereinsgebaude, the glorious concert hall. Not a concert; just the empty hall would suffice.

But there is a concert, at 11:00 am on Sunday morning. The concierge says it’s sold out, but we wander over anyway. Outside, two people are selling single tickets and one man is offering two. We walk inside to see if anything else is available. When we exit, the man is still there. He approaches us again, drops his price. Are these legitimate tickets? He says he will come in with us. When the tickets are accepted, I give him his money.

We are seated in the 8th row, practically the only ones in the hall twenty minutes before the concert is to begin. The hall is utterly spectacular, with chandeliers and gilt everywhere.

Gradually the hall fills, there are even seats on the stage, to the side of and behind the musician’s chairs. The orchestra wanders in, carrying their instruments. The sounds of stringed instruments warming up. The guest conductor Christoph Eschenback makes his dramatic entrance wearing his signature black Mao-style shirt, and the finest orchestra in the world is performing for us. The program includes Schubert’s 7th Symphony and then Bruckner’s wild, exciting 6th. It sure beats a tour through an empty building.

After the concert, we again buy tickets on the street to another concert on Monday night; different venue, not the Philharmonic, but it should be fun.

We have lunch and walk off to the unbelievably opulent Hapsburg Palace, home to the family which ruled Austria and much of Europe for 700 years, until 1916. The highlight of the palace is the imperial apartments, last occupied by Emperor Franz Joseph and the Empress Elizabeth.

Not ready for a full dinner, we decide to have one of the fabulous desserts we saw at a place on Kartnerstrasse. When we get there, it’s closed. We find another far less grand place; I order an apple streudel with vanilla ice cream. The waiter says no vanilla ice cream. They have vanilla ice cream; I can see   it from where I sit, but he will not serve it. I laugh and accept the vanilla cream he says is more appropriate. The cream is good, but now I still want ice cream. We see people walking towards us with cones in their hands; several blocks further on is a great ice cream store. I am happy.

Mon, Oct 13

We do what we always do in European cities. We walk around. We take photos. We enjoy the oldness of the place, the magnificent architecture, the different foods.

We have read all of our books, so we identify three book stores that sell English books. The first is awful, the second is good, and the third, Shakespeare and Company, is outstanding. The only problem, which I don’t discover until we’re back in our room and I start reading, is that I’ve bought a book I already read. We each read 75-100 books a year, so this does happen every once in a while.

Walking near the incredible St. Stephan’s Church, we hear a helicopter overhead. It comes lower, and we rush to join the crowd next to the church. The helicopter, from which is hamnging a large package of some sort, lands, and then takes off again. It rises straight up until it is hovering above the top of the church steeple, well over 300 feet up. Barely visible so high up, there are men on top of the tower! The helicopter carefully lowers its package, which turns out to be a golden star for the top of the steeple, and the men risk their lives to make it secure and unhook the ropes tethering it to the helicopter. 

At 5:30, we leave the Aviano for what we are told (accurately) will be a 25 minute walk to the Auebsberg Palace. On the way, we pass the Hapsburg Palace, the mighty museums, and a gorgeous park. The Palace Auersperg is probably a third level venue in Vienna, but it still shows impressive touches of its former formidable grace.

The Weiner Residenaorchester (a chamber orchestra) features eight instruments, string, wind and piano, plus two dancers and two opera singers. When they start to play, the rich sound is heavenly. The program, standard for Vienna, is all Mozart and Strauss, and concludes with the rousing Radetsky Waltz, Pat’s favorite.

The walk back, in the park passing the brilliantly lit Imperial Hapsburg Palace, is awe-inspiring.


Tue, Oct 14

First, we return to Shakespeare and Company; they gladly exchange the book.

You have heard of the Lipizzaner stallions? They exercise every morning in a ring lit by crystal chandeliers, with two rows of seats all around and a royal box at one end. It’s totally quiet except for the classical music. Maybe eight horses at a time, for 30 minutes, then another eight. And, we meet Americans who live in Ocean City, where Pat summered for 49 years and we used to own a beach front apartment. Small world.

The huge Italian Renaissance style Kuntsthistorisches Museum houses what was the imperial art collection. The building itself, reflecting the wealth of 700 years of imperial rule, is spectacular: a huge marble stairway leading up to a golden statue, a small gorgeous dining room, and exhibition halls that take your breath away. Then there’s the art, an astounding collection of Rembrandt, Breughel, Vermeer, Titian, Rubens, and Durer. We never even got to Maria Theresa’s breakfast service or the Egyptian and Roman antiquities. Guess we have to go back to Vienna.

Our short visit is almost over, but there’s still the opera. Sold out, for sure, but there’s always a way. This time we pay a premium just about equal to the discount we got at the Philharmonic. The opera is Faust, in French, which we have never seen and no nothing about.

We enter the spectacular Staatsoper, opened in 1861, bombed in WWII and subsequently restored to its former glory. The interior stairways and spaces leading to the hall are stunning, with numerous bronze statues, oil paintings, and a light-catching exhibition of Viennese crystal. We are in a box on the second level, with slightly restricted sight lines (as we were honestly told when we bought the tickets). As the crowd enters, Pat is taken by the elegant way the women are dressed. This is way beyond, she says, what women would be wearing in New York on a weekday at 7:00 pm.

We have low expectations for the actual opera, and these are met by the almost non-existent sets; this is definitely not Franco Zeffirelli. The first act is nothing much either. But then the singers and the emotion of the story (Dr. Faust sells his soul to the devil and pays a great price) gain momentum and power; the voices soar and the final moments are thrilling.

Wed, Oct 15

Not bad for not having a plan. We taxi to the airport, fly to Barcelona, taxi to the train, train to Port Bou, change trains and come home top Collioure. Nice summer. Nice travel season.


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