Parent conferences finished at 12:30 on Friday October 16. I had it all planned: bus, metro, and the 2pm bus to make it to Vienna in time for the 7:30 performance of The Tempest at the State Opera. Unfortunately, the bus was almost two hours late, and I didn’t make it. I was just a teensy bit ready to throttle the bus driver, even though the company was really to blame. I’ve already ranted about it on facebook and privately, so I’m not going to talk about it again, here. There were so many fabulous things about my trip; I’m going to focus on those.
Looking to console myself for missing the opera, I found the most wonderful comfort: the Sacher Hotel, home of the Sacher Torte. Oh my old-wordly chocolate stars.
The highlight of my trip was really the opera. I finally made it to The Tempest, composed by Thomas Ades, a couple of days later. At first I found it quite jarring, odd, and atonal, but it grew on me, and I was gradually drawn in to the beautiful and haunting music. It would be extremely difficult to sing, I imagine. Here’s the trailer from Youtube:
I loved it! Ades used the magic of the stage as Prospero’s magic, and we saw, in different acts, the stage, the audience, and at one point, the actual backstage. The music was amazing! Here’s a performer singing one of her arias. Her character is the one in blue at the start of the trailer. She was the star, I think, performing both musical and physical gymnastics.
The end of it was so strange. It just faded sadly to nothing. Shadowy and beautiful.
It was like a holiday within a holiday. Can’t wait to go back.
Here’s a Wikipedia pic of the outside:
In the subway below, there is an opera-themed loo. It plays operas quite loudly!
Another musical highlight was Mozart the Musical. Wow. Here’s the trailer, showing a montage of different productions:
It was an absolute hoot! I loved it!
As always, I made sure I did a walking tour of historical downtown. I opted not to go for the hotel breakfast. At fifteen euros, I didn’t think it was worth it, particularly for a vegetarian. I opted for a traditional teehaus, where I had tons of cheese and breadrolls and an egg for just a few euro. Still expensive by Prague standards!
Our tour started in the Jewish quarter. Once again, I heard terrible stories about the treatment of Jewish people over a dozen centuries. Truly horrendous. You can read about it at the Jewish Virtual Library.
We walked past a building in which Beethoven had rented a room, but the guide told us not to get too excited: he’d rented 67 rooms in Vienna. Apparently he wasn’t very good at paying the rent.
When we arrived at the Imperial Palace, we saw the balcony where Hitler gave a speech to the Austrian people in 1938. He invited them to vote for him, and the Austrians responded overwhelmingly in his favor. Our guide told us that for decades the world believed that Hitler invaded Austria and took the country by force. This is the reason, she said, that the allies didn’t bomb the city during World War 2. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Austria revealed that they had welcomed Hitler because they thought his presence would create jobs and prosperity for Austria.
Life is so complicated.
The guide also told us that Hitler applied twice to the art school in Vienna and was rejected both times. At this point one of our group said that Hitler was very talented, and he didn’t get into Art School because he hadn’t graduated from high school. The guide said that was not why he didn’t get in. The defender of Hitler’s art talent argued and also said that Hitler rented a room in a nearby street, and if you wanted, you could stay in the building which was now a B&B. At that point an American guy told him to shut up, that we’d paid to hear the guide.
The guide told us that in 1955 Austria became a neutral state and would not longer support any war anywhere. It only sends soldiers for peacekeeping purposes.
I met one of these soldiers in the subway that afternoon. This guy next to me said something in German to me, and I said that I spoke English, and he started to tell me in broken English and German that life was good in Vienna. He said he’d been a soldier in Africa, and he’d seen child soldiers execute people. He performed some horrific mimes and was clearly not all right. If he’d really seen what he said he’d seen, how could he be all right?
All I could do was listen and agree that he had seen atrocious things.
On our walk:
The ruins above are the remains of the ancient Roman city right near the imperial palace. The rose garden was absolutely gorgeous. The city decided that they could help fund the park by renting space on the bushes. People have paid for personal dedications, often very romantic.
At the end of our walk, I was quite overwhelmed by St Stephen’s Church. It is the most gothic, gothicly gothicest building I’ve ever been in.
Here’s the outside:
Here’s the inside:
Yes, these pics are dark, but that’s what it looked like on the cloudy day I visited.
An organist was playing music that was, I guess, gothic, and the whole effect was stunningly dark. It was scary. I gasped when I stepped inside. The guide told us that the freemasons who build it incorporated the numbers 1, 3, and 4 over and over. 1 god = 1 spire—the highest in Europe at the time. 3 members of the godhead — triangles and other instances everywhere. 4 represents earthly things – the seasons, and a few other things the guide named — and this number is repeated in the sections where ordinary people were permitted: windows, doors, decorations.
When I returned t later, I realized that one of the reasons the building is kind of spooky is that the gothic design incorporates these little nubby bits everywhere that actually look like vertebra. Speaking of which, I couldn’t resist a return visit to go below the church to see the catacombs.
In the main area below the church, it was actually brighter and newer looking that in the church proper. Many of the buildings in Vienna are built from sandstone, and this gave downstairs a lovely light feeling. Much more cheerful! We moved through small chapel areas into the burial sections. Cardinals’ coffins were stored without fanfare in wall recesses. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pics, but I found some taken by others, online. John Green sneakily videoed the room of urns, where the Hapsburgs’ organs are stored in various, well, urns… This was because they had residence in several places and wanted to be buried in all of them.
One of the eeriest sections of the catacombs included rooms full of bones. I walked right past this: skeletons still on the bases of coffins. So eery:
Another room contained the bones of hundreds of people who’d died from the plague.
So dark. So eery. I loved it.
I spent one afternoon at the Albertina Museum. This is actually an art gallery in the Albertina Palace. I got to see Munch’s The Scream!
I found his exhibition a little depressing. He had an extremely negative view of love and women. He saw the first kiss as a prelude to death and considered that every relationship was doomed and would end in suffering. I was rather happy to get upstairs to the impressionists. I do love Monet! Go explore the Albertina online.
When you visit Vienna, one place worth going to eat is the Naschtmarkt, over a hundred outdoor tiny cafes and restaurants with food and delicious things from Austria and beyond.
On Monday, my last full day, I visited Schonbrunn Palace, which delightful—even the rather wet gardens. Such a rainy last day! The Hapsburgs were such an interesting bunch. I couldn’t take pics inside, but you can find information about the palace and the Hapbsurgs at the Schonbrunn website. I had the most delicious lunch there! For dessert I ate Kaisermarrn: torn pancakes with sultanas, plum compote, and apple mousse. I ate like an emperor!
Language-wise, I did a lot better in Vienna than in Prague. My 10th-grade German was really quite helpful, and on the last day, I managed to ask the bus depot guy whether I needed to check in for my bus or go straight to my gate. I understood his reply! Well, the gist of it… I was really hoping to get to go to church in English on Sunday, but when I got there, I discovered it was Stake Conference—a biannual meeting of all local church branches. Once again, I donned headphones. Oh well!
On my last morning, I went back to St Stephen’s and wandered around the adjoining lanes until I came upon Cafe Hawelka, a dark little place that was frequented by intellectuals of various types over the twentieth century. Fun! And an adequate hot chocolate! (I have high standards.)
All in all, if I had to compare Vienna to Prague, I’d say that Vienna was elegance and Prague was magic. I think there might be more things to do in Prague, unless you absolutely love endless palaces and museums.
I do love Prague!