After breakfast we attempted to navigate the public transport system of Vienna. Since we were staying on the outskirts of the city, we had to make our way to the city center. We rode a bus, then a tram (streetcar), and finally another tram that went around the “inner ring” of the old town. Our first stop was the Hofburg, the winter residence of the Emperor of Austria. We bought tickets for the Imperial Apartments, which was a combined ticket with the Sisi Museum and the Silver Treasury. The layout of the tour caused us to visit the Silver Treasury first. This consisted of hundreds of silver and gold plates, candlesticks, and other assorted royal stuff. Not very interesting. Next was a sequence of rooms with displays telling about the life of Empress Elizabeth (“Sisi”). She was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph in the mid to late 1800s. She died tragically in 1898, assassinated by an anarchist. Her claim to fame seems to be her beauty and her 21 inch waist, which she kept into her 50s.
Unfortunately, this part of the tour was very crowded. We got stuck behind a large tour group from Poland. They would stop in a room and the tour guide starting explaining things. Meanwhile, all of the tourists behind this group kept filling in the space behind them. It was a classic traffic situation. I started to understand the feeling of claustrophobia. It was very hot and stuffy in these small, maze-like museum rooms, with so many people that you couldn’t move.
I was glad to get out of there and into the Imperial Apartments. The crowd was more dispersed there. We saw the desk where the Emperor worked on bureaucratic paperwork for 14 hours a day. He was a dull workaholic. Overall, I would have rather seen the Treasury, where the crowns and jewels were displayed, but after this tour we had seen enough of palaces.
Next, we walked through the park to the Vienna Opera House. We waited for an English language tour starting at 2pm. This was an excellent and informative tour. The guide told us all about how productions are staged. We sat in the best seats of the house, the ones used by the Prime Minister of Austria for special performances. Since it was August, there were no performances scheduled (the season of 300 performances runs from September to June), so we got to go backstage. The stage was enormous. In fact, there are three stages: 1) the main stage, which usually hosts the first act; 2) a side stage for the second act; and 3) a back stage, for the third act. The stages were on hydraulics, so they could be switched in as little as 40 seconds.
There are up to 55 different operas being performed, with some having as little as three or four performances. All of the sets are stored offsite at a nearby warehouse, and trucked in each day by the crew. Sometimes they would have a rehearsal for one opera with one set in the afternoon, and a performance for another opera with a different set in the evening. The schedule and all logistics are set up more than one year in advance. The star performers are paid as much as 20,000 euros per performance!
After the tour we wandered down the Karnterstrasse, the main pedestrian shopping street. It was a Sunday, so all the shops were closed. There was a large crowd of people at the main square, near the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. A group of street performers were doing a hip hop dance routine for tips. One guy did a hand stand on one hand and was hopping around.
We walked next to the Rathaus (town hall) park, where there was a large video screen and hundreds of chairs set up. During each night of the summer concert films are played on the big screen. Nearby was about 20 food stalls. We weren’t hungry yet, but Allison wanted to find an Internet café. We asked one guy for directions. He told us to walk to the corner, take a left, and then walk “about three minutes/blocks/hundreds of meters.” We weren’t sure.
After walking for blocks and not finding it, we stopped and asked a group of guys playing a game on the sidewalk. They told us it was the other direction, back the way we had come. So we walked back. And couldn’t find it. Next, we went into the McDonalds we found there and asked. This time, a guy gave us directions and a specific address. It was the way we walked at first, but we hadn’t walked far enough. So back we went.
We walked and walked and walked. We were tired. We found the address. It was not an Internet café. A few doors down was a computer store, but since it was Sunday, it was closed. We gave up, but luckily we were able to ride the tram back to the Rathaus Park.
One of the food stalls featured Mexican food, which struck me as something I would not have expected to find in Vienna. We took a chance on that, and it wasn’t very good, but it filled us up for the ride back to the hotel.
And now, time for another brief aside about beds here…
Why is it that there is a thick quilt on each bed, but no sheet or blanket? With a thick quilt you have a choice: either use it and get too hot, or not use it and have nothing and get cold.