2003 - Austria
12th December 2003
Arriving at Vienna airport at 11pm we were highly impressed with the taxi system. Payment is made at a central desk, in English of course, before an attendant selects the next taxi and hands over the printed destination slip. Included had been the return ride. Less impressive was the failure of the driver to be able to find the hotel. For an extra half hour we wandered around in the taxi whilst the driver tried to find it. It seems he misread the road name. We arrived at midnight.
13th December 2003
The next day was very full. We walked along the Ringstrasse which contains the main public buildings of the late 19th c. replacing the city walls. We arrived at the Neu Rathouse a highly Gothic building. At the front was the Christmas market, one of those for which Vienna is noted. Housed in wooded sheds it is a mixture of Christmas decorations, some handcrafts and hot breads, frankfurters, punch etc. A children's craft workshop took place in the Town Hall.
We then looked for a palace where we were due to see a concert in the evening. This proved very difficult due to there being no sign on the building and the concert being held on the second floor which had a different name to the main building!
We walked back along the Ringstrasse and visited the Kunsthistor Museum (Art Gallery). This proved highly civilised being equipped with numerous sofas where we could sit and observe the paintings with the aid of English audio commentaries. It was truly excellent.
We walked back to the hotel ready to rest for a while before the evening concert.
The concert was performed by a group of 7 musicians plus a couple of ballet dancers and a soprano. The musicians played Mozart and Strauss, so the programme itself was fun, but the musicians were clearly having great fun and one of the girls once or twice got a fit of the giggles and on another shot her bow half across the stage producing further giggles. The lady pianist had a very heavy cold and on one classic occasion was poised to follow the lead of the chief violinist to commence the next piece when she sneezed. Everyone, including her joined in the laughter. It was a thoroughly good evening.
Walking from the concert towards the town hall we passed a restaurant forming part of the Burgtheater and decided to eat there. Jill enjoyed a set meal and Adrian some a la carte dishes. Again it was excellent. Walking out we were straight at the taxis, which was just as well as it was now cold and raining.
14th December 2003
We had a tour of the city booked which showed us a little of other parts of the city but particularly the remainder of the Ringstrasse. From there we drove to the Schonbronn palace greatly extended by Maria Theresa who with her 16 children lived there in great splendour. A strong rococco design reminded us greatly of the Hermitage in Vienna. Large white and gilded rooms, giving way to some Chinese rooms the latter boasting a lot of paintings by the children of Maria Theresa.
Outside the palace was another Christmas market (Christkindl market), very similar to that by the town hall but less elaborate. We had visited this first and passed by again as we returned to the coach. After a brief photo stop at the Belvedere palace we were dropped at the Opera building. The weather was cold, windy and occasionally wet. We were considering seeing La Boheme that evening but could not find anywhere selling other than standing tickets. On our travels we were talked into another Mozart/Strauss concert, this time at the Kurfsalon palace.
We walked on and chose a coffee house for lunch. This proved an excellent choice. A fixed price menu at €12 provided a filling a tasty 3 course meal.
With the cold wind increasing we opted to return to the hotel and had our first attempt to use the underground. Fortunately the machines for the tickets gave instructions in several languages including English. In fact it was not at all difficult and we were soon at the Volkstheater station a 5 minute walk from the hotel Maria Theresa where we were staying. We walked through some more market stalls and in fact spent perhaps 30 minutes looking at these.
In the evening, bolstered up by our first foray by public transport we again took the tube and this even included a change of lines.
This time the venue was one where Strauss had conducted some of his own concerts. The room was a large white and gilded ballroom with elaborate plastered ceiling and huge candlelabra. A wonderful setting for such a concert. Again we had a front row seat but this time at the side. This was good for seeing further ballet and also a few solos and duets from operas. Again it was a memorable evening, although the musicians were a little more staid. Also again the concert finished with the Radetsky March accompanied by the audience clapping in time to the music.
Once more a swift and convenient tube trip (total €3, one way for the 2 of us), interrupted by further Viennese cuisine - MacDonalds at the station!!
Within less than 40 minutes of the end of the concert we were in the hotel having dined in such style.
15th December 2003
Monday - our last day, and nothing planned, so we took a leisurely start. As we were now familiar with the tube we took this to the cathedral. This is 14th-15thc gothic. Of particular interest to Jill were two sculptures of the architect!
We then walked around the medieval section which included a house where Mozart lived for a few years. Apart from these there was little of great interest. The weather was bitterly cold (it had snowed overnight but not really settled). We walked down the main street towards the Opera, stopping for warm drink. We bought a few presents and then took a circular tram ride around the Ringstrasse and Kai - lovely and warm. We found we had seen it all before and this was good to know!
Returning to the Opera we visited the Hotal Sacher which was the originator of a chocolate cake called Sacher, that Jill sampled. Adrian had a delightfully light apple strudel. Then we queued for a tour of the Opera. The main auditorium had been destroyed in 1945, but the main staircase and some of the rooms were original (1861) and extremely elaborate with much marble and many paintings.
Then a light meal at the Cafe Europa, our 3rd visit.
Our taxi driver arrived early. He spoke excellent English having lived in Australia for 10 years. He said Friday night's driver would probably have been Yugoslav or Romanian - there are lots of them and many do not know the city at all.