Vienna is one of those cities whose reputation precedes it, so there is always a chance the visitor will be disappointed. But within two hours of my arrival, Vienna had captivated me. Starting at the boutique hotel – so welcoming after weeks in impersonal chains, then to Stephansdom with its tower a landmark over the city. Under restoration – like so many buildings we have seen, the cleaned sandstone contrasts harshly with the dirty. But the roof with 250,000 tiles depicting the Habsburg coat of arms, is unlike any cathedral roof I have seen.
Inside, the usual melee makes it difficult to appreciate the size and space of the building, let alone its sacrality, as tour groups and individuals jostle to see the altar, the windows and the carvings. Opting not to pay for an audio guide, we remain corralled at the side. But despite all this, one cannot fail to be awed by the splendour.
After a panini, we wander down the pedestrian precinct of Kartner Strasse. It is Saturday afternoon, the weather is warm, and people are there to be seen with their elegant clothes and their designer-brand packages. Unlike Prague, our last stop, there is no tourist tat, although there are many young Mozarts entreating us to attend concerts, and souvenir shops which stock t-shirts and bags emblazoned with “there are no kangaroos in Austria”.
We reach the Staatsoper – the Vienna state opera house. We had heard that the season hadn’t started yet, but were delighted to find that we had made it by a week. And Tosca is on Monday. We buy tickets from what appears to be a reputable dealer on the footpath, hoping we have not been scammed. The tickets turned out to be legitimate, but he had not told us that we were in a box with very limited line of sight to the stage unless we stood. Caveat emptor.
A quick return to the hotel, a drink at the bar, and we are off to hear Mozart’s Requiem in Karlskirche. This amazingly ornate church with high vaulted ceilings actually has a lift so you can see the frescoes on the ceiling at close quarters. But the vaulted ceilings produce a muddy sound, and the setting is much more suited to the encore, Ave Verum Corpus, which is sublime. All evening, the first violin plays with such enthusiasm that I suspect that he is a frustrated conductor.
Then, from the sublime to the ridiculous, we emerge from the ornate church, with the exquisite notes of Mozart resounding in our brain, and find ourselves back in the real world where a park is hosting rock music and buskers. The young people respond to their music in a similar – albeit far less restrained – way to that which we responded to ours. We walk back to the hotel past cafés and more buskers as people make the most of the warm September evening. I will remember Vienna.