I Like Vienna

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.
—Lao Tzu

I think my opinion of a given place is related directly to the weather when I'm there. As a result of this equation, I really liked Vienna. It was sunny for all five days, and I spent half of those lounging around in parks with a newspaper.

One good park was in the Museum Quartier, which has no fewer than 1,000 museums. One end of the district is a strip mall of modern art warehouses. Across a busy but charming Viennese street, a lawn passes between two big domed structures, museums of natural and art history, and sidles up to the crescent-shaped Hofburg Palace and its galleries. To the left is another garden, a half-finished Temple of Theseus, and the gothic spires of the city hall. When I arrived construction crews were piling up dirt into ramps in front of the building for the Bike Festival on Saturday, which was awesome.

On the other side of the city, Schönbrunn Palace has all the baroque grandeur you would expect from the Habsburg's summer house. The tree-lined gardens and hedge mazes unfurl past a grand fountain of Neptune's entourage, up a grassy slope that rises above the city. Sun-starved Austrians tempt rabies by holding out nuts to the fist-sized, sharp-eared squirrels, and a grey-haired sentry rides around the park on a bicycle. The bike has a "Stay off the grass" sign under the handlebars which is identical to the ones on all the lawns, and the guardian blows a whistle and yells like the Fuhrer whenever he sees any picnickers trespassing. You can see the brick and pastel city sprawl from the wooded top of the hill. This is decorated by placid ponds and the Gloriette gateway, now an expensive café.

On Friday I trekked out from Grinzig, a hokey tourist village, northwest into the Sound of Music hillside. It's all posh wine country and budding woodland up to the forested top of Kahlenberg, then back down to the blue Danube and south to the city.

There is a lot to do in Vienna. The bloc of 25 bars and nightclubs near Schwedenplatz is called the Bermuda Triangle, although the hippest spots are under the eves of the rail line between Thalia and Nussdorfer Strasse. It's spring and all the European students and the Americans studying abroad are roaming around here for their break.

I went to the Vienna State Opera house for my last night in the city of music. The show was l'Eliser D'amor by Donizetti. Tickets are usually sold out, but plebs can get standing section tickets for €3 by lingering up an hour before the show. I could still see at least half of the stage from my railing, and the acoustics were great. The hall has screens in front of all the seats and all the sanding spots that show a translation of the lyrics, kind of like subtitles in a movie.

I don't know much about opera, but the lead singer sounded really good toward the end. Long scaling arpeggios and all that. After one song about how he would die for one day with the girl, everyone started clapping and yelling, "Bravo!", and the Americans whooped and yelled, "Yeah!", because they didn't know opera etiquette.

The lovestruck actor was slumped on a bench and palming his head like a basketball, but after five minutes he got up and gave a little nod. The band started playing again, only they didn't play the next song. They played the lovestruck song again. The actor laughed and sang the whole thing over again. Only time I've seen an encore in the middle of a set. Or a reprise or whatever.

Monday I made the pilgrimage to the tombs of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and both Strausses in the Zentralfriedhof, then took a cheap bus down the Danube and across the Hungarian border to Budapest.


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