Musical Tour of Europe
For our 50th anniversary my wife and I decided to take a 2-week trip to Europe to see some of the famous opera and symphony venues in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Milan. On our “bucket lists” were the Berliner Philharmoniker and La Scala. Our anniversary is on Nov. 22 and were planning to go the last 2 weeks of November, but quickly found out that we would have to change that timing since the Berlin Phil would be on tour and La Scala would be between seasons.
We always plan our trips months in advance and usually we don’t have to plan too far ahead for our anniversary trips, being that they are in November the low travel season. What we quickly found out was that, though it was low season for tourists it is high season for local music lovers.
Our itinerary ended up as Paris for the operas Bastille and Garnier, Berlin for the Philamoniker, Operas Deutsche Oper and Staatsoper , Vienna for Staatsoper , Volksoper and the symphony at Musikverein, Milan for La Scala. The schedule was hard to set early since when we first started planning several of the season schedules had not been published yet.
Purchasing the tickets to get the best possible seats was challenging and several times meant getting up at 1 AM St Louis time to get in queue on line when the tickets were available for sale to the general public. Generally, we were very satisfied with the tickets with the exception of the seats at LaScala which were not only the priciest but also the most scarce. Although we were able to get front row box seats, the box was on the side and so had limited visibility. Any disappointment we had was more than offset by a wonderful performance of Rigoletto. The folks at the ticket office did explain that many season ticket holders had subscribed to this particular performance.
We ended up with 9 events in 13 days. With this ambitious schedule we decided to fly rather than train between cities. We were very happy with Air Berlin flights which all took about one hour versus 8-10 hours by rail, and at half the cost. Flying gave us more time to settle into the new hotel and go to a concert if we chose.
Our hotels were selected after using the reviews in Trip Advisor. Here again, although it was low season, rooms at some of the smaller hotels were hard to find. What we didn’t know was that the week before Armistice Day Nov. 11 is a holiday for many in Paris. (An hour wait to get into the D’Orsay was our first clue.) Since all the venues were in the central city we chose hotels that were close and provided us with the opportunity to walk if we wanted to. A word of caution, get a good street map like the laminated Streetwise maps. We got lost walking to the Bastille Opera house and were late. We thought we would use taxis most of the time but because of our proximity to the various subway lines and the street traffic we used the subways many times.
All the hotels lived up to their recommendations: Hotel Paris France, mittendrin in Berlin, Hotel am Stephanplatz in Vienna, and Hotel Berna in Milan. We booked directly with the hotels except for Vienna where we found a good deal on Expedia. On average our price per night was about $200. Since most of our events started at 7 or 7:30 we were not able to eat in restaurants, but found the cafes and brasseries recommended by our hotels to be very good and saved us a little money.
In summary all the venues were special, from the magnificent La Scala to the sound perfect Berliner Philharmoniker. Our expectations were very high and with few exceptions they were met. We were disappointed in the modern ballet at Garnier as was most of the Parisian audience. On the other hand we loved the comical, almost slapstick, presentation of the Barber of Seville at Deutsche Oper and completely blown away by the Vienna Ballet’s Carmina Burana and particularly Bolero at the Volksoper.
We were not sure of the dress for the various venues so we opted for suit and tie for me and comparable suit/dress for my wife. Better than half of all the audiences were dress that way or at least business casual. Whatever you wear go to see some of these wonderful places and hear some amazing music.