We stayed in Vienna for 4 nights, attending three events at the Vienna Opera House, starting September 15. The next 10 days we spent in Hungary and the Czech Republic. We returned to Vienna on October 2, staying for 3 nights.
I took hundreds of pictures, as usual, with a small sample here. Brenda has written up a detailed diary of the first days in Vienna as well.
What did not work out as we planned was updating this web site. It turns out we have leap-frogged the internet technology available in this part of Europe! On our last trip (southern hemisphere) I copied web page material from my laptop to floppies, then used the floppies in Internet cafes. This time around I intended to used a memory stick or dongle instead -- more capacity, easier to carry around. Unfortunately, none of the internet sites we found (and there were very few of them) had computers new enough to allow a memory stick. Worse, my new laptop does not have a floppy disk drive.
The fallback idea was to use wireless access points. Once again, this are not common in the places we were. Our hotel in Prague was installing one, but it was not working well enough to allow us to connect to it.
We were not able to update this web site until we get back to Vienna. There is a cafe near our hotel there with a wireless access point that works.
Pictures of Vienna
For me, Vienna is about monumental buildings, street art, churches, castles, and museums.
We are not the first to notice Vienna - it is a major tourist destination.
In this picture, the Opera House is on the left, the horse drawn carriage or fiacre among all the tour buses, more beautiful buildings on the other side of the street.
It is not very clear in this picture, but the left side of this one way street is actually a two way bike lane -- the bike lane is between the sidewalk and the parked cars. Seems to work for them. More often than not the bike lane is off the road, sharing the sidewalk. A bit confusing for newbie tourists who tend to gawk up at the buildings, and get run down by cyclists.
This huge statue is outside one of the many gates of the Hapsburg Castle.
The man sitting on the bench, dressed up as Mozart, is taking a break from selling tickets to musical or theatre events. These people are all over, but not too pushy.
We spent a morning touring the castle. An interesting tour, it gives a pretty good idea of how the Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Elisabeth lived. Franz was emperor for a very long time - he still is important to Austrians.
His death in about 1914 corresponds with the break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the first world war. Austria was on the wrong side of the second big war as well, then was occupied by the Russians for 10 years. (Hungary and the Czech Republic have much farther to go, having endured Soviet rule for much longer.)
They seem to be doing pretty well now.
Next to the old emperor, the Austrians seem to be pretty serious about their (Catholic) churches.
This is one of the side alters in [the plain outside but very nice inside] St. Peter's church.
Aside from walking the streets, our main activity in the first three days was sleeping off the jet lag.
In the evenings though we headed out to the Opera.
A pricey event in Vienna, but very good musicians and singers.
We saw The Barber of Seville, Der Rosenkavelir, and a Ballet evening.
For the Barber of Seville we were sitting in the lower box (unlit in this picture), right over the orchestra and next to the stage.
Expensive seats but a great way to see Opera.
What you don't need to do is see Ballet here. While they do the Operas more or less straight, the experimental folks have taken control of the Ballet company. Two of the 4 small ballets were weird. The fourth, apparently a rant against war, was particularly pathetic.
Gerhardt and Olga, a couple from Vienna who are friends of our Victoria neighbours Carmen and Phillip, took us out for a drive in the Vienna Woods. The Vienna Woods may well be the entire countryside around Vienna, not just a small woods. We drove many kilometres during this tour, visiting Schubert's house (yep, that Schubert), Gerhardt's home town, then the nearby monastery where we happened to arrive during the Sunday Mass - the monks chant here. Gerhardt sang at this monastery as a child and continues singing today as a voice teacher in Vienna and Japan! Olga is a Lyric Soprano who has performed with many opera companies.
In this picture we are having lunch in the Cafe at the Baden Casino. It just happens that they had a string quartet performing during lunch. Good food here, and not expensive after Vienna.
That is Brenda in the black sweater, centre right, with Olga in the orange on her left and Gerhardt left of Olga.
The lady on the far right of the picture is sitting across from Kurt Waldheim, a former Chancellor of Austria who turned out to have a bit of a past with the bad guys during WW II.
We drove from Vienna to a small tourist town called Illmitz, near the boarder with Hungary.
The town looks old, but most of the hotels are dated within the last 25 years.
This is the entry way, between the hotel and the restaurant, of the hotel we stayed at there - the Johannes Zeche. It also served as the breakfast buffet area. Austrian countryside with a bit of a Tyrolean flavour?
The area is reported to be good for bird watching, but it was a windy day with few birds during our stay.
We returned to Vienna on Oct 2. We spent the next day at the Leopold Museum, at their display of Impressionist Works, on loan from France. Not too many works - perhaps 60 in total - spanning the period from 1850 to around 1920. The Leopold Museum is in the Museum Quarter - they have so many museums in this area, it merits this name.
The Viennese are not immune to Architectural lapses. With all the beautiful buildings in the area, one of the museums in this quarter chose to look like a lump of rock, or perhaps a mouldy loaf of bread. The Guggenheim in Bilbao is no longer the stupidest building I have ever seen. [What does this building look like? I would appreciate any suggestions.]
After the Impressionists, we headed out to the Musikverein, one of the classical music venues within a few blocks of our hotel [the Hotel Mercure Secession, a bit pricey but nice], for a Schubert Symphony and a Bruchner Mass, by the Liepzig Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
The conductor of this orchestra runs a very tight ship. This is the view just before the Mass. About 70 singers filed in, taking only about 2 minutes. The orchestra followed, again taking only 2 minutes. They enter from both sides, with the people who will end up in the middle coming in first -- they must arrange themselves for this outside the hall.
The concert master (not the oboe) gives the tuning, everyone is ready in 15 seconds. The conductor enters almost immediately (along with the four soloists for the Mass), shakes the concert master's hand, and 30 seconds later the first notes! Very precise.
The room is beautiful with a great sound, but not a standard concert hall. The ground floor is flat and there is only one balcony that surrounds the entire hall. Good seats are cheap compared to the Opera.
We spent the entire next day at Schonbrun Castle. Did the tour of the castle, then walked the grounds and spent a few hours in the zoo.
This is the view of the grounds from the balcony on the back of the Palace. A dull day, but still a fabulous visual spectacle.
The series of arches and things at the top of the picture is called the Gloria. This is the biggest gazebo I have ever seen. The distance from the back of the castle to the Gloria is probably half a kilometre. Pretty nice, as back yards go.
That night we saw another opera - Carmen. Whoever is the artistic director here has a severe Cecil B. de Mille complex. Each of the four acts has a fabulous set and the sets must be very well built because in each act there are at least 200 people on the stage at one time. In the fourth act, the scene in front of the bullfight arena, there must have been 300 people on the stage at one time. In the third act, a remote mountain bandit lair, he managed to get 100 people onto the stage. Perhaps someone forgot to tell him that an opera is about singing, not about extras. Somewhat like the Guggenheim in Bilbao, where the building is so expensive that they don't bother, or can't afford, to include any art in it.
Driving in Central Europe
Driving in rural areas of these countries is no problem. The Autobahns are really fast -- the speed limit is 130 KPH, with some people going a little faster. The roads can handle the speed and most drivers make a point of yielding to faster drivers. [No Lanal Retentives that clog the roads in BC -- you know, the people who are going to turn left in 10 minutes so insist on using the left lane of a multi-lane highway.]
Secondary roads tend to be a little narrower than in Canada -- often with ornamental trees right beside the road. In many places these trees are different kinds of nut trees [I think mostly walnut]. The locals were out collecting nuts from these highway trees in many places. The roads are good and well signed.
We rented a Ford Fiesta, which turned out to be a pretty good car. The suspension is solid - great on mountain roads, perhaps a little too firm on the occasional bit of concrete Autobahn - all the texture of the road comes through. Mileage was very good in the small diesel, with much better performance than our Honda Civic. Mileage was around 4 litres per 100 kilometres when travelling under 100 kph on regular highways, just under 5 litres per 100 kilometres when doing 130 on the Autobahn.
If governments really want to reduce hydrocarbon use NOW they should encourage the use of these small diesel engines. There is a remote chance that at some time in the future hydrogen powered cars may work [you still have that Ballard stock, right?], or that hybrids may not require $8,000 worth of batteries (at what environmental cost?) every 10 years. However, right now small diesel engines will save fuel. With large scale conversion to diesels, further improvements are likely. Stop waiting for something that will never happen. Buy a small diesel now!Back to the Travel 2005 page