I had forgotten how much I love this city. I am walking down the Kartner Strasse, Vienna’s grand pedestrian boulevard linking the Opera House to its piece de resistance, the mighty St Stephen’s Cathedral, a 12th century architectural tour de force. I have just purchased three pieces of exquisitely hand-crafted chocolate and plan to eat them upon my return to the 18th century Hotel Stephanie where I am staying. Music! Music of all kinds fills the air, and mixes with the laughter and language of ten thousand souls. I am glad I’m back.
The street is wide, and full of people, both locals and tourists. Here, a giant screen TV projects the current opera in real time on to a street square, bringing art to the masses. There, a policeman moves to shut down a very bad troupe of street musicians. Kiosks filled with flowers spill out onto the street. Doors of shops are open in the cool dusk of night, inviting shoppers in to be enticed by exotic chocolates, the best in the world, and even more exotic lingerie. Tourists linger in the center of vast squares to gawk and shoot pictures of the 17th century baroque buildings that line the wide boulevard like sentinels, or pose in front of fantastic fountains and the always ubiquitous statues.
As night falls, and the neon (yes!) lights deepen the ornate details of the building facades while illuminating the streets below, the atmosphere turns more festive. Local people dine al fresco in front of restaurants that could accommodate anyone’s tastes: there’s even an American bar and grill.
It begins to rain, and I duck into a bar. I order up a Chardonnay. $10. Ouch! Yes, this is a world-class city, and I am in the very center of it, but I don’t remember it costing so much before. My dinner earlier tells a similar tale, though: $50 for wiener schnitzel and 2 glasses of wine. True, you can spend as much at the finest places in almost any American city. I guess the bargain days in the City of Music are over, though.
By the way, my schnitzel was excellent. Tender and moist, and served with garden greens soaked in oil and buttery boiled potatoes. The restaurant, Griechen Beisel, is in a 15th century landmark building covered in ivy, and some of its storied guests have included Wagner and Mark Twain. SO I guess considering $50 isn’t so bad after all.
It’s raining steady now, so I head back to the hotel. It’s been a long day. I took a flight on Vueling (excellent despite their bad reviews online) from Santiago and connected through Barcelona to get here, then used an Airport train and subway (both clean and fast) to get to my hotel, stopping only once for directions. As always in my experience with Austrians, the man responded in good but heavily accented English and went out of his way to be helpful. Even many of the signs are bi-lingual.
Yes, I failed to bring my camera out with me again. I was only planning to go out for dinner, but the city drew me in. I left my table and just walked down that street of dreams…and kept walking until the rain came. This place is seductive that way.
The Greeks say that western civilization began with them. I agree, but it reached its pinnacle in Vienna, under the Habsburg Empire.
Tomorrow I’ll do some more exploring, but tonight I’m pooped. Good night!
Oh, forgot to say: the chocolates didn’t even come close to making it back to my room.
Hey, Jon! I lived in Vienna both as a college student and after graduation. It’s my favorite city in the world. I loved reading your description of Kaerntnerstrasse, the big TV screen projecting the opera. The city has changed since I was there in the mid-70’s to early 80’s but I’m glad it still has its personality intact. Cinda
Hey Cinda: Didn’t know you were the expert! I hope I did it justice. It really is a remarkable place. Refined, elegant, but REAL.
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