And now we come to the last part of my vacation: Vienna.
Why Vienna? Because that’s where our flight left from. Originally we were just going to take a train in and then the subway over to the airport, but I decided that I wanted to see Vienna, what with its rich musical history and all.
To get there we took an overnight train from Venice. Dad and I had a 3-person compartment. The beds folded out of the wall and stacked on top of each other, and it was generally very uncomfortable. There was actually a train that left later but arrived at about the same time, but we decided that we’d go for the longer ride so we might get some sleep. The total duration of the train ride was about 9 hours, of which we might have slept for 6.
In Vienna, our hotel was very central, right near Stephansplatz, which translates to Stephen’s (as in the St.) Place, so named for the large cathedral in the square. You can also see the altar and the organ keyboard, which is apparently one of the largest in the world (the organ, not the keyboard).
We wandered around for a while trying to get to the Opera House (Staatsoperhaus in German) in hopes of getting a tour. They weren’t until the afternoon, but I went ahead and took some photos of the exterior. We also looked around in the gift shop, where they were selling what must have been every opera recording they could find. This included some old vinyls from the bargain bin, and I bought a record of the Magic Flute for amusement. I havne’t really listened to it, because our record player is only half put together and hooked up at the moment.
So, we went to the Natural History museum, which was one of a quadrangle of museums. We went into one and decided that it didn’t look interesting, although I can’t remember what it was. So then we went to the Natural History museum instead. There was an interesting stuffed lion in the main lobby, and there were stuffed versions of just about every other animal somewhere else. I didn’t take pictures of all of them, but as an MIT student, I figured I had the right to be beaver-biased. Also of interest was the stuffed dog which, as best as I can tell, was Maria Theresa’s. If anyone wants to translate the German and clear that up for us all, be my guest.
After that we still had some time to kill before the Opera House tours started, so we kept wondering. While we were wandering, we went into a bookstore, where I saw, for the first time all vacation, Moleskine notebooks. Yes, I hear you. They’re notebooks. Who cares? Well, they are notebooks that happen to be made in Milan, but try as I might, I didn’t see one in Italy. Go figure.
Also, for those of you that complain about Starbucks prices, we saw our first Starbucks in Vienna as well. The prices in Vienna were more expensive than the prices here, and that’s if you don’t consider the currency conversion (i.e. assume €1 = $1).
Finally it was time for the Staatsoperhaus tours. There was a line across the lobby and out into the courtyard of people waiting to buy their tickets. Seperate tours were conducted in English, German, French, Japanese, Russian, and possibly others.
Next was Composer’s Alley. That’s not really what it’s called, but I can’t remember the real name and Composer’s Alley sounds cool. The Opera House was almost completely destroyed during the WWII bombing of Vienna, and this was one of the few rooms where the original decorations could be salvaged. The chandeliers, in particular, are original. Running along the wall were busts of composers, and above each was a painting representing their most famous work(s). The mural for Mozart contains representations of The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro, and one more work that I can’t remember/identify.
We also saw the one other room with original decorations, the Emperor’s Tea Room. If you look on the wall you can see the crest of Emperor Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor during the Opera House’s construction. They now rent the room out to businesses for the duration of intermission for an unbelievably high fee.
And finally, the auditorium itself. It was huge. I don’t remember any numbers, but it was really big. Instead of the projected supertitles that companies like Nashville Opera use, they had LCD screens installed in the back of every chair, which displays translations of the opera in performance in either German or English.
Here’s something you theater types will appreciate: at any given point about 2-3 shows are generally running simultaneously on the Staatsoperhaus stage. It is a rarity that the same production runs two nights in a row. The stage isn’t big enough to hold the sets for more than one production. You do the math.
Our tour guide also recommended that we check out the Staatsoperhaus Museum, where they’ve put up on display various props and sketches and such from past Opera House productions. She failed to mention that it’s entirely in German. So we wandered around for a little while and, not understanding anything, moved on. One of the neat things in there was a small model of the auditorium. Since I couldn’t get a good wide-angle shot of the auditorium itself, I figured I could come close with this model. Unfortunately, the glare from the flash off the plexiglass was terrible, so what you see above was the best that I could do.
One of the things I decided I wanted to do while we were there was see some sort of concert, so our hotel gave us the brochures for the various ones they could get tickets for. They all looked really cheesy, but one less so than others, so we bought our tickets and hoped. No such luck. It wasn’t very amusing. It was a chamber orchestra with two singers and two dancers, and the dancers were really boring. The first half was all Mozart and the second half all Strauss, but after seeing the dancers in the first half, we decided that we had gotten our fair share of music. So we moved on.
Before we took the subway to the concert, we spent a good 30 minutes running up and down the streets around Stephensplatz trying to find someplace where we could get a Sachertorte, or at least a knockoff. Neither of us thought it was much special.
After the concert, we headed back to the hotel, slept, then headed for the airport. There was an express train that ran back and forth between one of the subway stops and the station.
Our flight was Vienna to Zurich to Heathrow to Chicago. There are only a couple of things worth mentioning about the flight back.
First, we took a shuttle from the gate to our plane. The shuttle was double sided – it not only opened on the side, but also at the front and the back. It also had a driver’s compartment on both sides, and both steering wheels turned while he drived. It was kind of…odd.
Next, the first two flights were Swiss Air. Swiss Air gives you chocolate as you’re landing. Mmm. Keep that in mind if you’re ever booking European flights. It’s good chocolate.
And finally, our trans-Atlantic flight was in a Boeing 777. That’s the plane with the LCD touchscreens in the back of every seat. The entertainment was bad, as usual, but at least we could waste the time by watching the little icon of a plane cross the map of the Atlantic Ocean. There was also bad sci-fi from the BBC.
And that’s Vienna. Next time I post it’ll be about the NAQT National Quizbowl Tournament.
P.S. Ben of MIT Admissions has announced the “Early Action” round for blogger applications, so I have every intention of stepping things up in the future.