"Vienna is a city for the ears." That's actually not a famous quote--I just made it up right now. Though Vienna is perhaps most famous for its classical music scene, as it is rich in heritage with numerous composers connected to it. I made my way there with Angela this last weekend, and thankfully all the trains were on time and dependable (though there were some other crazy things about the train rides! we'll get there), so the delay of two weeks ago was not repeated. And in going there, what I found out was that Vienna dazzled much more than just my ears. My eyes were filled with Cathedrals, Crown Jewels, and Christmas lights. My nose was filled with the scents of ginger, cider, and cinnamon. Those things graced my taste as well, along with giant pretzels with apple frosting, amazing kebabs, and long-missed chinese food. And I enjoyed the touch of great company, brisk december weather (i enjoyed that too), and Christmas Spirit. But ultimately it was the finest on my ears. Photos! Onward to Vienna! So the first sound to grace our ears was the soothing hum of a train rolling across the tracks. In reality though the train is pretty noisy and shakes a lot. It wasn't the easiest to sleep on either trip, but the way there was nice because it was just the two of us in a cabin with three seats on each side. So we were able to lay out--until some Austrian lady came in at 4:30 a.m. and turned on the light, deciding to sit with us. It was more than a little annoying. The way back was way more eventful though. There was this couple that slept in the same cabin as us--and the sounds that filled our ears most of the night...I don't even want to recall. Definitely heard belt buckles...I'll stop there. I wish you could shut your ears like you can your eyes. So those are kind of the bookends; the traveling to and from wasn't the most pleasant on the ears. But everything in between was a delight.
The best sounds came from the three concerts that we went to in two days. It was a lot, but it's Vienna! Angela took me to the first one on saturday night, a string quartet from the Vienna orchestra performing in the Mozart House--in a room covered in frescoes where Mozart himself used to give performances. They played Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and some other pieces that I recognized. It was a smaller venue, and it made the sound really sharp. Then Sunday morning we were able to hear the Vienna Boys choir. It was interesting to sit in on that royal mass and hear that famous choir. We even sat somewhere that we could see them while they were up in their loft, before they sang once in front of everyone. They were amazing, and the acoustics in that church were really incredible. Then that afternoon the world famous Prague Orchestra was giving a concert, and standing room tickets were free. We were waiting around the standing room before the concert and this old guy just walks up to us and hands us tickets. He's like here, so you can go sit down on up front. Other people wanted them for sure; I don't know why he chose us. It was amazing though--we were only sixteen rows from the front. The orchestra played Mozart's 39th symphony which I love, and then this famous Mozart Choir from Japan joined them for a performance of Mozart's Requiem. That was incredible, my favorite of the three. With the full choir and orchestra there were some 200 people up on stage pouring forth glorious music throughout the Musikverein, one of the top three concert halls in the world. It was almost too phenomenal.
Besides the beautiful sounds, my ears also finally got a little frosted red from the cold. It actually doesn't get all that cold here in Lugano, southern Switzerland. It hasn't been feeling enough like Christmas, and Vienna had a refreshing briskness to the air that made it really feel like Christmas. I suppose all the Christmas lights, Christmas markets, and Christmas music may have helped also. We walked around a lot, seeing all the lights adorning the streets, monuments, and churches. All along the streets there were musicians playing Christmas music, and they were good. It was so charming. And then there were the Christmas markets. These were set up all over the city--little cabin/booth things set up with all sorts of Christmas goodies: cookies, cider, pretzels, ornaments, lights, hats, scarves, and so much more. They were all decorated really well and it was a delight to wander through them--a thousand times better than walking through any mall. I'm not much of a shopper normally, but the combination of Angela's buying ways (she's not too a huge shopper, but for things like this...) and the effect of the Christmas atmosphere really got to me. My suitcases will be so full, oh dear. In a few weeks I just might be hearing some airline attendant in Zurich yelling at me in German...
Throughout the weekend we also went to a lot of churches and museums that were maybe more of a delight on the eyes than the ears. But there is also something delightful in the still silence that fills a church or opera hall when nothing is going on there. My favorite museum we went to though didn't have anything quite about it. It was the House of Music museum. It had so many cool parts to it: an electronic dice game that determined the notes for your own composition (Mozart actually did this...without the electronic part apparently though), a separate room for each major composer that spent significant time in Vienna (so many of them: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Mahler, etc.), and all sorts of other interactive sound and composition experiences. So cool. We went to the Albertina Museum, which had exhibits by Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Franz Gertsch. We also visited a small art museum with a special exhibit of Chagall's works. I usually am not a huge fan of that type of art--even not really crazy about Picasso, but I really liked a lot of Chagall's stuff. We toured the Hofburg Treasury, apparently the best collection of jewels on the continent. It was really incredible actually. We saw everything from a piece of wood from the cross (nail hole and all) to Napolean's crib to a six foot tall unicorn horn (narwhal really) to the predominant crown of the Roman Emperor. It was extensive to say the least. And we also toured the famous opera house. It was pretty, but a lot of it was reconstructed after WWII so it has a major 50s feel to it--like the hotel in The Shining. We were going to try to get standing room tickets for Sunday night because they're actually pretty cheap, but we didn't have time because of when our train left. We also saw several churches that were pretty beautiful. One had this advent market going on in one of the side rooms--it was so cool to see a little non-touristy side of a church selling candles and cider and cookies all made by church members. It was perhaps the most warming Christmas thing I saw all weekend.
Truly it was an amazing weekend. Vienna may have been music to my ears, but perhaps even more it played on my heart. Cheesy I know, but what if it's true? I'll leave you with a real quote this time, from the words of the timeless Billy Joel, "Vienna waits for you."