I'm just back from Vienna, where I felt very fortunate to hear some Tchaikovsky and see artifacts from Imperial Russia, as well as soak up the city's wonderful atmosphere, eat plenty of Viennese pastries, and so on.
For context, I live relatively close by (about two hours by train) and was traveling solo. I have been to Vienna a few times before and expect to return. The reason for this particular trip was a performance of Mozart's 18th piano concerto by the Vienna Philharmonic. Soon after making my travel plans, I also bought a ticket for the opening of the Vienna Opera Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty." At 105 euro, it was pricey, but I'll be visiting Moscow later in the year and decided that some classic ballet would be good preparation. :)
So here's the full report:
I arrived on a Friday evening and checked in to my rented apartment on Mariahilfestraße. I walked to the Innere Stadt and was struck on the way by how beautiful Marie-Theresien-Platz is at night, and the Heldenplatz. Both were especially pretty under a nearly full silvery-white moon. Eventually I found myself at the Cafe Griensteidl, where I ordered mushroom tortelloni in an alfredo sauce. The entree arrived disconcertingly fast, but it was absolutely delicious and no doubt incredibly fattening. That did not stop me from also ordering cake. I like this cafe quite a bit -- it has high ceilings, a soothing color scheme (ivory/dark red), and a view onto Michaelerplatz. My server was nice, and it was a relaxing start to the trip.
Following a transcendent sweet cheese croissant from a cafe across the street, I went for a long walk to make sure I knew how to find both the concert venue (the Konzerthaus) and the ballet venue (the Staatsoper). Then I wandered back toward the Museums Quartier and went in search of the Cafe Nepomuk, which I visited the very first time I ever went to Vienna. :) It was exactly as I remembered -- a tiny enclave near the Volkstheater, with blue upholstered seats and polished woodwork, and the same gracious elderly gentleman behind the pastry case. I had a Viennese cappuccino and roasted bread-and-egg dumplings. Luckily for me, there were no smokers there. (You tend to notice the smoke in such a small cafe -- or I do, anyway!)
My next stop: the Mumok. There was no temporary exhibit that day, so the admission fee was reduced to 5 euro. It was nice to feel economical -- that doesn't often happen to me in Vienna. :) Anyway, the museum was great. As with many modern art museums, I didn't "get" everything that I saw, but there were a number of pieces I quite liked. Particularly interesting, I thought, was a video installation called "The Casting." The artist, Omer Fast, interweaves two different interviews with an American soldier, about two different days in his life: one in Iraq, where something pretty bad happened (I won't spoil...), and the other in Germany, where he went on a disastrous date. The audio is accompanied by two large screens showing video of actors holding still positions. Facing the other side of the room are screens showing video of Fast and his subject as they talk. It's hard to describe, but the overall effect is entertaining and thought provoking.
After the museum, I was peckish. There are two restaurants I have been meaning to try for a long time. When I found the first one, Wrenkh, I glanced in the window and decided I wasn't dressed appropriately. I looked OK except for my boots -- hardy footwear meant to withstand even the harshest Czech winter! Also, the restaurant looked a little pricier than what I was in the mood for. So I opted for the other place I always mean to find, Vegetasia, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. It's off the beaten track, but you can get there by metro and a short walk. Unfortunately, the menu seemed heavily dependent on fake meats, which are not really my thing. I found a starter and an entree that sounded OK, but while everything was good, nothing was great, and I doubt I'd rush back. Honestly, the best thing about the meal was probably the Tsing Tao beer, which pairs so well with Chinese food, and which I haven't had since living in the States. A welcome break after a year of Czech beer!
On my third day, a Sunday, I got a late start and decided to take it easy. I wandered into the Innere Stadt and did some window shopping. I don't like *real* shopping, where you go in and try on clothes and buy things, but I like nicely arranged store windows, and Vienna has some of the best -- really creatively put-together displays and beautiful pieces. Eventually I came to a shop I'd visited in December, the gallery of Lidia Friedman. She makes handbags, jewelry, and porcelain objects. I had bought a Christmas gift from her that turned out to be a big success. It would have been nice to go in and tell her that, but unfortunately, like most shops, hers was closed on Sunday.
Later I came to a tiny, quiet plaza. Along this plaza was the Franciscan church, which apparently houses the oldest organ in Vienna. Inside, I admired the elaborate wooden pews and the slender, pale Our Lady of Fátima shrine. The small church was peaceful, with perhaps only one or two other people inside.
I stopped mid-afternoon at the Cafe Diglas. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the menu listed a vegetarian lunch special, which I promptly ordered. I also used the time to write some postcards. Unfortunately, I'd gotten stuck with a table right by the door, and it was cold with people coming and going. The cafe was too crowded to change tables, so I didn't linger.
After leaving the cafe, I realized I was close to the Mozarthaus museum. I have been to concerts at Mozarthaus, but never the museum. It was getting late, so I asked at the front desk how long it usually takes to go through. I was told about an hour and 20 minutes. However, the attendant neglected to tell me that the exhibit starts on the third floor. I went up one flight, walked through the historic apartment and, when the audioguide said, "This is the end of the tour -- please return this device," I thought, "wow, that really did take only an hour and a half." Only as I was leaving did I realize there was also a second and third floor. Oh well -- I will have to go back some time. At least I got to see the actual apartment Mozart lived in, which I think is probably the highlight. Although there were only a handful of artifacts on display, I found it extremely moving to be in the rooms where he lived, composed, and performed. All in all, I enjoyed this museum more than the two Mozart museums in Salzburg, though I think those are also worth visiting.
After the museum I had to race to get to the concert on time. This concerto, sometimes called "Paradis," is one of my favorite works by Mozart, and it was neat to see it right after visiting the museum. As for the performance, the general tempo of the piece was a little slower than I'm used to hearing, but it still sounded great. The other piece they played was Shostakovich's 15th symphony, which is not one of my favorites, but it was nice. Afterward I visited the Cafe Mozart for some cake. Unfortunately I was freezing in the little black dress I'd chosen for the concert. I also thought the cafe seemed unreasonably bright, and I made an early exit.
The next day I woke up thinking I really didn't want to be cold for two evenings in a row. I had brought only one dress for the weekend -- the one I'd worn the night before. "Do you really want to waste time in Vienna shopping?" I asked myself. I didn't, but I thought maybe I could do it quickly. Well, two and a half hours later, I had nothing to show for my efforts but frustration. Oh well -- that's just how it goes sometimes. At least I got to practice a little German with the clerk at Humanic.
Afterward I wandered back into the Innere Stadt. It was cold and rainy, so I ducked into a cozy cafe that appeared to be filled with locals. Unfortunately, the name of it now escapes me -- sorry! Afterward, I walked through the cathedral and then later to Peterskirche, where there was a free organ concert being performed.
Next stop -- the ballet! I had really been looking forward to it and wasn't disappointed: wonderful dancing, gorgeous sets and costumes, nice performance by the orchestra. This was my first time inside the Staatsoper, and I thought it was a beautiful venue. Of course, the drinks and snacks were insanely overpriced, but that's just how it is at these theaters. Everyone working there was pleasant, and the coat check workers were a model of efficiency. Seriously, they might have moved faster than the dancers! For anyone interested in more details of the ballet itself, I wrote about it on Ballet Alert!: balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php… (scroll down to post #7).
After the ballet, I went to the Cafe Sacher for cake and a glass of wine. I was afraid the cafe would be mobbed, but it was maybe only a third full. With its pretty decor and excellent service, this cafe seems to deserve its reputation. However, I will side with those who say that their Sacher torte might be a little on the dry side. Still, I didn't have any trouble finishing it. :)
I decided to spend my last day at one of my favorite places -- the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I went there once before, but on that visit had barely scratched the surface of the picture gallery. This time I had meant to return to the picture gallery, but when I realized the museum was hosting a special exhibit of Fabergé eggs, everything changed. For a split second, I thought, should I really see these now, or wait until I get to Moscow? Of course, "now" won out! And I am glad; what an amazing exhibit! The eggs, the jewelry, all those details about the excesses of the Romanovs -- I loved it. I knew I was in the right place when the audioguide quoted the book I'm reading (Vladimir Nabokov's memoir, which was in my bag at that very moment). For a break, I visited the museum cafe, where I had a spectacular view of the Naturhistorisches Museum and the statue of Maria Theresa. I thought, "This is the life!" I stayed until the museum closed at six and then reluctantly began making my way back home.
So I had a great time. As with every visit to Vienna, I was struck by the beauty of the buildings, the excellent service everywhere, and the generally pleasant and charming atmosphere, which fortunately for me includes a high tolerance for poor (and nonexistent) German. I can't wait to return. :)