My great-grandmother Rose (Roza Teresa) came from Skalica, which I visited earlier this week. I learned from some relatives while in Skalica that many more than just a few great-great-aunts had left for Bratislava. I had planned for Bratislava to be on my list of cities to visit, and so close to Vienna… why not do both? Besides, my grandma tells me stories about her mother’s family going to Vienna to see the opera back in the early 1900s. I decided that’s exactly what I would do, too.
I left with Juraj in the early morning for the train station in town, dropping Patrik off at school on the way. We walked into the station, bought a ticket to Bratislava and a ticket from Bratislava to Vienna, then walked to the platform just in time…except the train was late. Fortunately, trains leave Bratislava every hour. But I managed to say goodbye to Juraj and hop on my train, off again at Bratislava, and literally speed-walked straight to the next platform to the other train. I had maybe 90 seconds to spare. The second ride only took an hour and I was walking out of the main station in Vienna, Austria before I knew it. Suddenly, I was surrounded by not the harsh sounds of Slovak but those of German, similar enough to English at times to through you off.
I spent forever trying to find where I was on my screenshot of a map. Without my data on, my maps weren’t working properly on my phone. I had prepared for this by photographing directions and zoomed in maps the night before. But what I didn’t realize was I had the wrong address for the station, so my maps were for the wrong part of town. Instead of finding someone who could direct me (either that knew where I was going or could explain in English or French or slow German… or both), I played the game I always end up playing: Just go somewhere in that direction; you’ll get there eventually. Grandma says I’m just like my grandpa when it comes to wandering like that, but I’ve never failed!
I wandered in what turned out afterwards to be the exact direction I needed to go…until I stumbled upon a beautiful building called St. Charles’ Church (Karlskirche). I was debated seeing if there was anything interesting inside when a couple men in Mozart-like dress approached me. They pitched a sale for some tickets to a show. I had already written down information on walking to one station in the evening, standing to see if I could buy a ticket for standing room at an opera and for how much, and I wasn’t sure if any of it would work out. He mentioned that this show was unlike any other and cheaper, and that he could given me a student rate for better seats. I said, “Fine.” It wasn’t until later that evening. He told me I could walk around some palace gardens and eat at the restaurant with my voucher if I wanted. Then he told me to go in the church for a small fee if I wanted. He wasn’t part of the sale for that, he was just recommended it. I went in and I was glad I did.
At first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. It was an elaborate, beautiful church, so I took lots of pictures of the vaulted ceiling around me. I walked up to the front, dodged praying people, then walked along the side to the back, photographing each large painting and display. Suddenly, I noticed an enormous set of scaffolding in the middle of the room. It looked so ugly. I was almost appalled until I saw some doors close people inside and a lift disappear. I realized it was to give you a view of the ceiling above, which I hadn’t even noticed. I waited for the lift, got out onto the platform, and started taking pictures of ceiling paintings one never gets close enough to see the details of. Then I turned and realized there were a series of stairs continuing through the ceiling. There was still a higher point! I climbed all the way to the top, where the opening became narrow and the walls were filled with windows. I took pictures of the view of Vienna from the roof. Then I looked down through the rails and started shaking at how high I was in the room below me. I climbed down carefully, took the lift back, started towards the museum but changed my mind, and headed back out towards Karlplatz to see where my hostel might be.
This is where the trouble started. I had been on the right path until I picked up some wi-fi and turned 180-degrees. I was hungry but I wanted to check in and then eat, but after walking so long in the wrong direction I chose against it. I gritted my teeth to pay the 50 cents for a bathroom stop, then climbed the hill most of the way to my hostel before finally stopping for a meal. No one spoke English at the restaurant I chose, but it was easy enough to order friend cheese and beer. I left and, just before the hostel, noticed a street full of shopping. I have seen so many H&M stores since I’ve been in Europe and, thinking about my show, I decided to skim the sales racks. The place was swarming; I got a few pieces for relatively little money. Then I continued the rest of the way to the hostel, checked in, took my linens to my apartment, and got ready to go out again. I put on my new dress and felt bad declining an offer from my new room mate if I wanted to walk to the river with him. He was very kind introducing himself and later inviting me, but I was hoping to dash off to this Schönbrunn Palace in order to try to see the inside before the last tour left.
Aha, time to try the Viennese subway system! I vaguely remembered being told where the nearest station was from the hostel, but walking in that direction led me to some people heading the same way with purpose. I blindly followed them into the station, used a machine to buy a ticket, then dashed through the gates without validating it. I hadn’t even realized I’d done it the first time, but it quickly became an intentional habit. The lines are all named U#, like U6, and all I had to do was take one line for two stops, another for two at the transfer, then transfer to one last line for two stops. I hesitated in switching on this last train and missed what everyone else did: run from one train across the platform to the next. I had to wait for the next train. That, in combination with the station being at the end of the building and the ticket booth at the middle, made me miss buying a ticket by ten minutes. I’ll have to go in the morning instead.
I debated returning to the platz with all of the action, but I chose against it. Instead, I took some pictures from the outside of the palace, bought postcards, and wandered through the rose garden. I walked through shrubbery mazes and pruned trees for a couple of hours, finally hiking up a long stretch in the backyard to the top of a hill that overlooks the palace and the city of Vienna. I then walked through the woods and found the restaurant that would accept my voucher. I needed a place to eat and I knew they would speak more than just German, so I grabbed some pasta and some amazing beer from a brewery in Salzburg. It reminded me of a smooth, pale ale version of Guinness, my favorite beer. I paid the bill just before the doors opened at the Orangerie and found a seat at my concert.
At first, I was soooo disappointed. The room was dull and boring and small, not a grand opera theater like I had expected. The seats were just chairs lined up in labeled “sections”, mine being in the middle. I sat in the front row of this section and didn’t understand how there was a “slope” in the seating as I was told there would be. Already bitter, I sat back and watched as a small orchestra climbed the stage. It was so small that, when they started playing, I could tell which violin had a squeak in its string or who stopped to turn a page or was off on a bowing. But then the opera duet came onto the stage and I realized I had finally made it to a Viennese opera. The music started sounding better to me suddenly (probably because I was being less critical – and distracted). Then the ballet duet came out for a song, literally, and they were pretty decent, too. This went on for an “act”, we had a break for alcohol, chocolates, and coffee, then we went back for the second “act”.
I was amused by an Asian family who was touring the city and got seats in front of me at the show. Before the lights were dimmed, they were taking pictures of everything, enthusiastically and stereotypically with an iPad. Why this was so amazingly funny to me was that, as soon as the music started playing, every single grandparent in the group went out like anyone’s grandparent will two minutes after finishing the last potato chip in front of Jeopardy on TV. Even more impressive was the fact that they’d wake up and clap at the end of each performance, then be back to nose-up-and-passed-out-over-my-seat by the end of the next song’s first measure.
The show was all-in-all pretty awesome and I’m glad I went instead of risking not going at the other opera house. I hope to see the buildings tomorrow, including the inside of the palace. Then I will take the train back to Bratislava and meet Juraj for some touring there before we go home.
You know, I’m sipping on some hostel coffee now and thinking about its quality… I was expecting to have had a lot more fancy coffee by now, like when I stayed in France in years past. But I’ve had so many cups of instant coffee since I was in Benin and again in India that the instant I’m getting in Central Europe is becoming customary for me. I guess…