We drenched this trip in good decisions. We heard from a friend about AirBnB, a website on which people rent out their apartments or houses to travelers, which meant that Owen and I had a whole apartment (complete with a kitchen and laundry) for less than the prices of a reasonable hotel. Being able to cook for ourselves made traveling that much cheaper, and having a true home base enabled us to relax better in our downtime than otherwise. Taking only our backpacks (mine is quite small) meant that we were not burdened down with stuff, and we thanked our past-selves every day for packing light. I bought the Lonely Planet Guide to Vienna, and a German Phasebook before we left and both proved extremely helpful, both in planning the days events and in figuring out what to do when our plans went awry. We visited the museum on the history of the city at the beginning of the week to give us context for everything we would see, and went up the South Tower of the giant Stephanskirche at the end of the week to see views of everywhere we'd been. Other good life choices: procuring food for myself when I was hungry and using public transportation. When I was eighteen and traveling alone in Europe I thought I could subsist on gifted Nutragrain bars and Lipton's cup-a-soup while traveling everywhere in large cities on foot. I was young and poor, and while I find it difficult even now to argue with my reasoning, "Why spend money on food/transport when you could spend it on museums?" I am glad I now have more options.
Vienna's musical history is truly astounding. Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, the Strauss family, Brahms, Mahler, all spent incredibly important parts of their careers in music in this city. I visited the music museum and houses of Mozart and Haydn during the week, even though people laughed at me a bit for it. "What can you see at a composer's house?" I was asked a couple times. I think one of the reasons I love it so much is because we don't get to do this sort of thing so much in the US. Sure, we have some battlefields, and Boston has lots of "history" not much younger than Vienna, but it's not the same as the wealth of history in Europe. Maybe it doesn't matter if you go to the house where a composer lived. He lived in the whole city, right? so visiting any part of Vienna is like visiting his home, and while that's true, the best house-museums play on your imagination. They show you the personality of the composer, show you the letter Haydn wrote about his new piano and then show you the piano. They tell you he did his composing in the morning looking out at his garden, and there you are, on a May morning looking out at his reconstructed garden. If it's done right, you feel a little like you know the composer, like if the timing worked out right you might bump into him as he bustled upstairs to teach his newest student. It's a pretty special thing.
|The atrium ceiling at the Kunsthistorisches Museum|
|The Upper Belvedere Palace is the museum|
Standing room tickets
If you visit Vienna, you will have no shortage of concert options. While we were there we got to see a free outdoor performance of the Wien Symphoniker, (not to be confused with the Vienna Philharmonic) celebrating the anniversary of the end of the Nazi regime. At every tourist-y area you will be accosted by the Mozart Men, people dressed as Mozart hassling tourists to come and see a mediocre concert performed in costume, usually of the Mozart's Greatest Hits variety, often with some Strauss maybe with ballroom dancers dancing to the Blue Danue Waltz! These concerts are entirely attended by tourists, and mostly American ones who don't know how to find the real concerts. I was determined to find an excellent performance for our free night, so after doing some careful research I got us tickets to a performance at the Vienna Volksopera, and although the nature of the performance was a little fuzzy, I had heard very good things about the "People's opera" and ballet so I figured it was a safe bet, even if I wasn't sure what it was. The title was "Dance Variations" and the performers included a string quartet so I thought it might be a ballet of sorts? Or possibly a short opera? When we arrived we discovered that our 3 euro tickets were for the standing room, a disappointment at the end of a long day walking and working. We still had no idea what the nature of the performance was going to be, there was no set, but there were three chairs with glasses of water, so perhaps some singing? None of the above. What we actually found ourselves attending was a staged reading of a series of letters interspersed with chamber music. The chamber music was magnificent, but the acting unfortunately was all in German. Owen caught enough to determine the plot of the story and a joke here or there, but I just sat it out and waited for the music. And I felt very foolish. I was so determined to make like a local, I got myself more than I could handle. But as much as I felt foolish, I was also grateful, because the usher kindly let us sit for the whole performance in some of the empty seats. I'm happy to laugh at myself, and eager to learn more to avoid future confusions.
To Sum Up
We had a wonderful time, saw lots of exciting things, and are full of recommendations if you ever feel like going to Vienna yourself. If you'd like to read my reviews of different places I wrote up a bunch on Trip Advisor. We are really glad to have this amazing opportunity, learned a lot, gained a lot of experience and had a wonderful time. Please tell us where else you think we should visit!