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Springtime in Vienna

We are now on a train going from Vienna to Budapest. Vienna was great. We went to a musical performance each of the 5 nights we were there. Vienna is to classical music as Nashville is to country music. If you’re a fan, you have to go at least once to worship at the shrine. This was our pilgrimage.

Our first night in town we saw Die Fledermaus at the Volksoper. The performance was great; the hall was hot. Vienna was experiencing an unseasonably warm spell while we were there, and most venues in Vienna (and much of the rest of Europe, for that matter) are not air conditioned. The next night we went to a Struass (Johann, Sr. and Jr.; not Richard) concert. . Again, a great concert, but the hall was hot. Lynn had her Spanish fan and she kept the air moving around us. On Wednesday, we went to the Marionetten Theatre at the Schonbrunn Palace to see an incredible performance of the Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) presented by marionettes—puppets. I had no idea puppets could sing so well. Lynn, ever the nay-sayer, insisted that they were just lip-syncing. Thursday we went to the Musikverein for a mostly Mozart concert. The musicians wore period costumes and wigs and looked funny. Finally, on Friday we went back to see the Residenzorchester. We heard them last December. They were great then and were just as good this time around. And they were air-conditioned.

If it were possible to OD on good music, it should have happened in Vienna, but it didn’t. We try again in Budapest.

There are a few things you should know about Vienna before visiting.

1. When a hall is advertised to be air conditioned, that usually means some of the windows will open. We found this same situation while riding a 1st class bus in Mexico. It was air conditioned: the windows opened.
2. Think twice before taking your dirty clothes to the laundry. By the time we had been in Vienna a few days, most of our clothes were dirty, so we took them to the laundry just down the street from our hotel. The laundry ladies didn’t speak English, but seemed to understand Lynn’s German quite well. “Clothes ready at 2:00 tomorrow,” said the nice lady. Sure enough they were. Washed, dried, ironed and folded. “That will be 76 Euros,” the same nice lady said. After Lynn translated, I gasped. That was about 80 dollars, or just about the amount that my wardrobe cost. We learned a valuable lesson—why God made hotel sinks with hot water.
3. We found an interesting sticker posted on many of the little green trash receptacles that are mounted on posts every few yards along the sidewalk. The sticker had a picture of our United States flag and the caption, DON’T BUY IT. It seems that while we were organizing a campaign to boycott all things European, particularly French, Europe was mounting a DON’T BUY AMERICAN campaign. Seems fair—it will probably help maintain our trade balance.
4. The Plexiglas room dividers in the tourist office are much closer to the benches in front of them than they appear. Wife Lynn sat down on one of these benches and leaned back with enough force to knock the room divider from its moorings and crash it to the floor with considerable clatter. The other tourist office visitors were impressed. You may remember from reading last week’s column that this same woman ran into the back wall of the elevator, twice. I think her depth perception is going.
5. The Viennese never provide quite enough information to enable you to do quickly what you want to do. I think the folks there just assume that everyone knows what to do and where to go. Some times visitors just don’t know. “Take tram D to the second stop” doesn’t tell you that the Liechstenstein Palais is still 2 and a half blocks away, on another street entirely, with not so much as a sign to indicate when you’ve arrived.. We traveled everywhere with 2 city maps for reference.
6. The public transportation system is amazing. It is cheap and easy to use. We started our stay by buying a Vienna Card at the tourist office—the place with the Plexiglas room dividers. A 72 hour pass cost 16.5 euros. With the card you can ride on any form of public transportation—which includes trams (electric street cars), trains, subways and buses. These conveyances run every 4 or 5 minutes and will get you anywhere you want to go. For instance, there is a “ring” around the center of Vienna called “the Ring.” Tram #1 runs clockwise around the ring and tram #2 runs counter-clockwise. We could step onto a tram right outside our hotel and step off within a block or two of where we were going. If you don’t have a train pass, it cost 2 euros a pop to ride. Interestingly on the 30 or so trips we took on public transportation, no one ever checked our train passes. However, if you don’t have one and get caught, the fine is 44 euros and you still have to buy a ticket. I personally believe The United States missed a good bet by failing to develop a good public transportation system. A final example—we left our hotel about 40 minutes before time to catch the train this morning. We took tram D to the stop just past Parliament and got on the U 3—a subway. We were at the train station in 8 minutes. Our train was waiting. What a simple, convenient way to travel.

Since I wrote the last paragraph, we have entered the first formerly Communist country in our travels. We’re in Budapest, Hungary, on Sunday morning listening to church bells. More later from your traveling reporter.