Wien is what Vienna is termed by those who live there. It is pronounced like “win” with a long “i” sound. The title is not an original of mine but was in fact given to me by a creative Australian (not Austrian) and I thought it was too funny to ignore. It’s a riff of the popular hip-hop song “All I do is win” by DJ Khaled. And that is what it felt like to me in Vienna; like winning the high culture jackpot. Yet another home to Mozart, you can see many a classical concert, waltz, opera, play, art show, and almost any other artfully minded event you can think of. Needless to say, it was a lot of fun.
Arriving late in the evening and “hangry” as all get out, the first night was a blur. But I hit the ground running the next day and achieved the majority of things on my to-do list. You see, Vienna lends itself all too perfectly to tourism, much like it’s Austrian neighbor Salzburg. Much of this ease is owed to its historical layout. Consisting of a circular ring road, most of the “must-see” places and spaces are either on the inside or the outside of the aforementioned ring road, or as the Viennese say “the Ringstrasse“.
Consequently, the most complete way to experience in Vienna is what is called the Ringstrasse Tram Tour. Mentioned in several travel blogs and tourism sites, I assumed that like a walking tour, this tram tour would be the best way to affiliate myself with the city. What I didn’t anticipate was how long it would take me to find the bloody stop! As I came to find out, the tram system for the Ringstrasse works as follows: there is a red line that goes halfway around the ringstrasse, a blue line that goes the other half, and the touristy yellow line which goes all the way around, provides a short narration, and costs twice as much as the other two. Combined.
The red and blue lines meet in front of the state opera house, while the yellow line only picks up in on the direct opposite side of the Ringstrasse, next to the Danube river. While the ring road looks manageable on paper, it was quite a trek in real time. But I made it. and, in the end, it was not really all that worth it. The thing I have come to find out about so-called “tourist traps” is that while some of them can be worth it (cough, cough Blue Lagoon), most of them are exactly as the name implies; a trap. The tram tour was more of the latter than the former. For €8, apparently I was expecting too much, like functioning headsets and audio apparatus. But alas, I was disappointed.
A third of the way around the ring road my headphones finally started to function, but I had already missed the information for all the places we had already passed. I felt I should’ve gotten a third of my money back, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. I probably wouldn’t boast about this activity too much. If you’re traveling as a family with small children, or you have a partner that’s easily entertained, try it out. If not, save your €8 for something that’s really worth it. Like a tour of the Staatsoper!
Even though it’s not a top destination for the young and the restless, I still found Vienna to be very enchanting. On my walk through the center of the Ringstrasse after the tram tour, I was almost completely overwhelmed by the magnanimity of the Stephansdom, one of Vienna’s main churches. Though they do have several other cathedrals of considerable size, this one is most recognizable due to its location in the center of the old town and the fact that it’s almost always under construction.
It is constantly listed as the number one thing to see (and do!) in Vienna. Not only can you walk inside and see the parish, but you can also climb several of the church towers for spawning cityscape views, or you can go the opposite direction down into the church catacombs. While I opted for the simple, free, option of just general spectating, there is something for everyone in this great church.
Vienna, thus far, has been the capital for high culture. Home to reputable museums, talented musicians, world-renowned opera singers, and iconic art from every epoch, Vienna is the place to experience the life of the past. Since they do pride themselves on their respectable opera house, I took my own advice and made this my first stop aboard the Vienna culture train.
When it comes to opera, Vienna takes itself very seriously. But you couldn’t tell given the price of admission to any opera, concert, ballet, or show taking place there. While it is expensive to have season tickets, the general public can see some of the best talent in the world for €3-4, if you don’t mind being on your feet for a few hours. I was a bit taken aback by this. It would seem to me that if you have something coveted and special in your city, the cost to experience it would be high in order to preserve the prestige. I mean, look at Disneyland! But for Vienna, it’s all about the experience. Not the cost.
So how do they do it? Well, as a major part of the cultural identity in Vienna, the opera is subsidized by the state in order to obtain the maximum enjoyment for locals and tourists alike. The long and short being that their government supports and encourages the arts so rather than see them dilapidated and empty, the seats are always full and the shows are always good. The guided tour cost me more than a ticket to a performance!
Quite grand inside and out, the Staatsoper tour gave visitors an idea of how important of a pillar the opera is to the people of Austria. During the course of about an hour, we learned about its history, it’s famous talent, and its reconstruction during the aftermath of WWII (a popular topic at this stage in my trip).
While much of Vienna was leveled, including Stephansdom, the opera house was still left standing; though not without its losses. Of all the rooms, only about a third were original. The rest had been redone and remodeled, which I found very unfortunate. But as a whole, it was a magnificent structure! Prestigious without being too pretentious. Unfortunatley, I never went to the opera. I meant to, but the night I had free was the only night of the week with no opera. So I settled for a Mozart concert instead.
Mozart is a big deal here (though he seems to have roots in every country in Eastern Europe) and that can not only be seen through a plethora of concerts, but also his many impersonators chasing you through the streets, trying to get you to attend one (or five of them). Coming out of the Staatsoper, I was met by such a gent. Having been “spieled” before, I knew these concerts were a little outside my budget. But, this guy had a “deal” for me, of course. So I figured what the hey, I’ve never been to a classical music concert before and what better a time or place than the home of Mozart? I was not disappointed in the slightest.
The big sell for me on this ticket was the location. While most of these concerts take place in the Orangeries on the grounds of the Schoenbrunn Palace, this particular concert was going to be happening inside the palace itself in the Mirror Room. In my mind this was a two-birds-one-stone situation where I could visit the inside of the palace and enjoy beautiful music. In the end, it turned out to be some of the most fun you could have in Vienna for €25. Though, to be fair, it most likely wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without my vibrant British seat mates.
I met John and Katherine in the lobby on the way in and we realized we all bought tickets in the same section, so as we queued up to enter we got to talking and I soon realized that this encounter was similar to that of finding a needle in a haystack. These fascinating people from Yorkshire had already had the most amazing life and it wasn’t even close to half time. They hosted famous actors and actresses and were close friends with people who were so tight with the Royal Family that they kept their art at their house. I couldn’t believe how many famous people they had come in to contact with in some way, shape, or form. It was a total six degrees of separation scenario, and Kevin Bacon was nowhere to be found!
Also, they were a wealth of information in regard to the palace, Mozart, and classical music as a whole. “Kitty” told me that the room we were sitting in was actually the exact same room that Mozart played in when he performed for Maria Theresa for the first time. At six years old. You see what I mean? Never would’ve known that if it wasn’t for these guys.
While at first I was a tad concerned about my ability to stay both awake and alert for a two hour classical music concert, I was so entertained by my company that the new concern was whether I would be able to sleep that night after such a high. It was a great night! And I left with a completely new appreciation for the music of Mozart and his musical cohorts. I was never bored nor on the brink of nodding off. I couldn’t have wished for a better experience.
The following day, I opted for the other side of the art spectrum and went to the Belvedere Museum in order to see the current Gustav Klimt exhibition and other works by artists of his time. The Belvedere is also the home to “The Kiss“, the famous masterpiece by Mr. Klimt and that is literally everywhere in Europe so I thought it might be nice to catch the original.
Knowing that I liked the style of The Kiss and some of Klimt’s later work, I thought it would be worth the money to investigate the temporary exhibition in the Lower Belvedere and see the permanent collection housed in the Upper Belvedere. The combined ticket for the two was €17, which was pricey, but I assumed that it would be a good investment to see a lot of art and the former palace. On this, I was wrong.
If you’re really in to art, then yes, this would’ve been the ticket for you. But, as you may know by now, I measure the worthiness of an activity by how many meals I could buy with that money. In this case, I would’ve been better off skipping the Lower Belvedere with the early Klimt exhibit and just visiting the main building where The Kiss is displayed. There was really nothing in the Lower Belvedere that I found worthy of my additional €6. Nothing better than schnitzel, that is. But again, if you like that sort of thing, €17 for a whole lot of art isn’t a bad deal compared to a lot of other museums in Europe. I just felt slightly disappointed; and hungry.
Having experienced, the art, architecture, and music of Vienna, I did really enjoy myself there. It might not be the first place I return to during my next tour de Europe but it is lovely and I would recommend it if your budget will allow. Very clean place, nice people, and never a dull moment (before 8 o’clock, that is). I’m most certainly glad that I went, at least for my newfound appreciation for Mozart!