Still unable to reach Vienna on schedule, the program director decided that the situation required more imagination than a lunch with free beer. He managed to get a full set of tickets to a concert in Vienna, free of charge to any who want to attend—like we had other plans? This was a wild success. The hall is a small oval, but bigger than Mr. Obama’s office and with many more chandeliers. The stage held twelve musicians comfortably, one wielding a Stradivarius made in the early 1700s is the first violinist. She recklessly moved her music stand about to accommodate singers and dancers, leaving me in breathless anticipation of the moment when the corner of a baroque furnishing would tunnel through the priceless sounding boards. She is obviously less clumsy than I. We are asked to take no pictures during the performance.
For those who think that an intimate setting in a famous concert hall in the “city of music” might be a stuffy affair, where did you get that idea? The ballet was sometimes slapstick, the duets comic, and several pieces were sing-along or clap-along. Warm-up rock bands would have been jealous of the connection between these few players in gowns and tuxedos, playing in evening heat, and their appreciative audience. The profit of the sail, eroding with every bus shuttle, took a serious hit, but the name Viking had much of its tarnish removed.
The next day’s tour started out in breezy, moderately warm weather, so we were lulled into believing that a self-directed walk-about was in order. This was a mistake as we could have visited any of dozens of air-conditioned museums. The afternoon heat struck during our sidewalk lunch and by the time we left the restaurant, our will to do more than stuff ice cream into our mouths had melted away. (There are greater disappointments in life.) We agreed that Vienna demands another visit of several days.
The Hapsburg Dynasty, which lasted 650 years, built a palatial compound in the center of the city comprising 2800 rooms—who could squeeze into fewer? There are gigantic statues of nearly naked fighters and building-holder-uppers with ingenious, if unlikely, drapes of cloth or affixed fig leaves covering all male genitalia. For a family that pumped out its offspring to decamp in every monarchy west of the Mongolian steppes, they were clearly not willing to give credit where it was due.
Every guide and taxi driver boasts of Johann Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and a dozen other composers, but no mention of poor Salieari, inspiration and villain of the play and movie, Amadeus. Our guide showed us the horse stables where some form of horse breeding brought about an impressive breed of show horse that is born black but turns white gradually in its adulthood. The guide called them “Michael Jackson horses.” America always gets its due.
Despite its history of being the center of royalty for centuries, Vienna is today a city of the people. There are generous public parks, bike paths set off from both the sidewalks and streets, and a fabulous subway system. The subway is inexpensive, has no turnstiles (honor system), and has broad stairways to handle crowds quickly. The cars are clean and air conditioned.