While most took a bus into the city centre on our first morning in Vienna, we jumped at the offer of an optional walking/transit tour. The ship was just a five minute walk to a subway station and, from there we took a 10 minute ride into the city centre.
We walked from the Vienna Opera House (built in the mid 1800s), past beautiful Baroque style buildings as our guide oriented us to the city and its history. He suggested we try sacher torte or various other delicacies in the Viennese coffee houses, pointing out the famous Demel Cafe with its amazing sugar sculptures in the windows. He even recommended we check out the 19th century public toilets. Since each large cubicle was replete with tiny washbasin (similar to that in a sleeper on a train) – I couldn’t help but take a photo.
In the Jewish quarter the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (or “Nameless Library”) was in stark contrast to the historic buildings surrounding it. A steel and concrete box, the walls resemble library shelves filled with books with their spines turned inward. The books represent the vast number of Holocaust victims and the concept of Jews as “People of the Book”. I found it very moving.
That afternoon we went to the Naschmarkt and then to the Belvedere Palace to see the Klimt collection. Built in early 1700 as a palace of two buildings and garden for Prince Eugene, the complex now serves as an art gallery. The most impressive group of paintings is that of the Austrian, Gustav Klimt. They provide an interesting chronology of his work and the changes in his style over the years. We were sorry not to have realized earlier that the Belvedere also had a special exhibition of Ai Wei Wei. There was not enough time to take advantage of it but we could see one of his installations, called F Lotus, in the entrance park. Composed of 1,005 life jackets arranged in the shape of the letter F and floating like lotus blossoms, it is the artist’s statement about the current refugee crisis.
That evening we went to a spectacular concert by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (VSO) in the beautiful Wiener Musikverein. Inaugurated in 1870, the hall is of neoclassical design and the acoustics are outstanding. Thankfully, we lucked out with good seats in the first row of the balcony which gave us an excellent view of the orchestra (people just one row behind us would have had limited visibility). With a history of conductors such as Joseph Krips and Herbert Von Karajan, it was no surprise that the orchestra was superb. We were treated to a return performance of 92 year old Georges Prêtre, conductor of the VSO from 1986-91, who was obviously a favourite of the audience. Viennese pianist, Rudolf Buchbinder, played an arrangement of Die Fledermaus and conducted as well as played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1.
We had anticipated to wind up the evening having dinner in a quaint little Viennese restaurant but were disappointed to find very few places open for a meal. We ended up in a rather funky American-style restaurant called Sparky’s!