M and I are just back from our first trip to Vienna. For those of you who may not remember anything about World Geography, Vienna is the largest city in Austria, which is quite different from Venice, which is a city on a peninsula in Italy. I want to begin by stating that our trip to Vienna was one of the best we have ever taken. Once we had sort of figured out how to get around using public transport, it was very easy to get where we wanted to go. We heard the most fantastic music we’ve ever heard and had some wonderful meals as well. And now for the details…
Our trip began on a Friday morning with a leisurely wake-up time of 3 a.m. in order to ensure our on-time arrival at Geneva airport for a 7 a.m. flight to Vienna. We chose to drive ourselves to the airport for this trip because there are no shuttles quite so early in the morning. Some of you will contend, and rightly so, that we could have taken the train to Geneva the day before and spent the night in the conveniently located Ibis hotel located a mere 10 minute walk from the airport. Since this would have added several hundred more euro to our trip, we chose the early drive instead. We also felt that we needed more practice in driving ourselves to the airport because it is something we rarely attempt.
Like most good 21st century humans, we put the address of the airport parking lot into our car’s GPS system. Since we also put the address into Google Maps on M’s phone, this meant that I, as the driver, had access to 3 different guidance systems. The car GPS, Google Maps on M’s phone, and the GIANT GREEN SIGNS ALONG THE HIGHWAY THAT SAY, “AIRPORT”.
The easiest method of getting to the airport is to follow the giant green signs. In order to avoid any controversy, I highly suggest using this method. Not knowing any better at the time, I chose to follow the directions of Gemma, which is the name M and I have given to the GPS system in our car. As it turns out, Gemma does not know the best, or more importantly, least controversial way to get to the airport. After we passed the giant green sign that directed us to the airport, M informed me that according to google maps, we should have followed the sign. In order to make this blog reasonably short, I will now give a small bit of M’s commentary from the time we missed the turn and during the time we circled the entirety of Geneva while following Gemma’s instructions on how to get to the airport. Since this blog is family friendly, I have chosen to lightly edit some of M’s commentary:
“Oh bleep!” “You’ve got to be bleeping kidding me!” “Bleeppity bleep bleeping bleep!” “Bleep!” “You should’ve bleep the bleeping bleep sign!” “Gemma doesn’t bleeping bleep bleep!” “Bleeeeeeepppp!”
That was all before we reached the bleeping parking garage.
Once safely in the Geneva airport, like all good trail runners, we immediately sought out a water fountain with which to fill our water bottles. Actually, we first tried to get someone at one of the many cafes to fill our water bottle for us. However, since we didn’t want to buy any of their expensive drinks or food, they would not give us any free water from their taps. I am not sure how they justify this attitude towards something that saves the world from having 2 less plastic bottles to recycle. The workers did direct us to the nearest bathroom where we could get the same water, also for free. We ended up using the bathroom faucets because finding a water fountain in Geneva airport is like looking for a water fountain in the desert. So far as we can tell, there is one water fountain in the whole Geneva airport. It does at least put out an extremely puny stream of water that is so small you can’t get your water bottle under it in order to fill it with water. So, the best advice is to use the sink in the bathroom.
Once we reached the Vienna airport, we sought out how to buy tickets for the train that takes you into the city. It is very easy to buy tickets and also very easy to overspend on said tickets. You can spend about 15-20 euros on the speedy train that takes you directly into the city with what I assume is few or even no stops along the way. You can also do what M and I did and spend about 4 euros and take the normal train which does have some stops along the way and takes probably twice as long, but still is only around 30 minutes or so. Or, your best option is to just go and get on the train because there is no place for any ticket checking and no person on the train to check if you bought a ticket. Meaning that your trip is free.
M and I rode the train into Vienna and got off at one of the larger stations, which happened to be a short walk from our hotel. Along the way to our hotel, I happened to notice that there was a business with a sign that said “Dance”, and I commented to M that it must be a studio where they teach various forms of dance. M said that she didn’t think it was a “Dance Studio”. Apparently the drawings of voluptuous female forms on the outside of the building convinced her it was some other type of “Dance Studio”.
After dropping off our luggage, we spent the rest of the day walking around Vienna and scouting out the locations of the various events we had chosen to attend. Vienna is a beautiful city, with lots of very nice architecture including the obligatory massive Catholic church. In this case, St. Stephen’s. It is very impressive, especially considering it was built over several centuries, starting around 1135 AD.
We quickly noticed that there are 3 separate lanes for moving about Vienna, depending on one’s mode of transportation. There is a pedestrian lane, a bike lane, and of course, a street for cars and buses. The really cool thing is that each lane has it’s own stop light! We did take note of one thing that we think is peculiar to Austrian cyclists. In most places, if there is a bike lane at all, the cyclists tend to congregate in clumps at the stop lights. Not so in Vienna! They all line up single file, just like cars. Very orderly.
After exhausting our fit, trail running, mountain climbing selves by walking around completely flat Vienna for hours on end, we made it back to the hotel for check-in. Since we were going to be attending events which required slightly more formal attire than our normal formal Chamonix attire of running shorts and t-shirts, M and I had purchased some new clothes. After being packed in our bags, our new clothes needed to be ironed, and the hotel had an iron and ironing board available in the storage locker area.
I hauled my exhausted self and the clothes that needed ironing down to the storage locker area and proceeded to set up my clothes for ironing. I fumbled around for a few minutes with the iron, trying to figure out which setting would be best for my clothes. Luckily, there was a young girl who spoke German also in the locker area with her father. I say luckily because I would have been trying for ages to iron my clothes with a cold iron if not for some advice, in German, from the young girl. I don’t speak German, but fortunately the girl also pointed to the plug when she said that the iron would probably work better if it were plugged in.
Our first event in Vienna was an opera by Shostakovich. It was Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk, and the spelling apparently varies depending on where you look. The opera was held in, of all places, the Vienna State Opera House. Unlike some Vienna businesses, (see “Dance” studio above) they do have opera in the Vienna opera house and no false advertisement drawn on the outside of the building to sucker you in and present you with something totally different from what you thought based on their signage. Anyway, the opera was in Russian but there were little screens in front of our seats where you could read a translation of what was being sung. The music and singing was very impressive, but admittedly for us opera newbies, it was a lot to take in all at once.
Our next event was a Catholic Mass featuring singing by the Vienna Boys Choir. The mass was in Latin and therefore totally incomprehensible to anyone not born several hundred years ago. The Vienna Boys Choir was wonderful and sounded like you would expect a world famous boy’s choir to sound, which is to say fantastic.
The last event we had tickets for was at the Musikverein, a concert hall that typically features the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which is itself famous around the world. However, somehow M managed to get tickets to see the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which is like an All-Star orchestra made up of the best musicians from around the world. To top that, the orchestra was being conducted by Andris Nelsons, who has won multiple Grammy awards and is currently the conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The cherry on top of it all was a piano performance by Lang Lang, who is considered by many to currently be the world’s greatest pianist. For American sports fans, the only comparison I can come up with is that this concert was like showing up to a Yankees game and instead of the current Yankees lineup, somehow the Yankees lineup from 1929 featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig was playing. Even if someone didn’t know anything about music at all, they would have easily recognized that they were amidst greatness. Every note was perfect, and the sound was amazing. There is really no way for me to describe how spectacular this concert was. One simply had to be there.
I would like to take a moment and thank Michael Walter for his recommendations of the various events we saw and his skill and dedication to Scrabble.
Now, go out and be consistent.