Hard to describe how magical Vienna is…particularly at this time of year, when everything is decorated, lit, and overflowing with music, food and mulled wine! We arrived in Vienna after dark, having made a stop at the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, where Haydn lived and worked for many years. Maneuvering our touring bus thru the narrow streets of the city center proved challenging, but we arrived to gorgeous lights festooning the streets filled with people. Our hotel was just to the back of St Peter’s Church…one of the very old churches in Vienna….where advent concerts were being held every afternoon. We were just a few blocks from St Stephen’s Cathedral, where Haydn was a choirboy (until he got kicked out when his voice changed) and where Mozart was married. It will definitely require more than one post to cover all our adventures in Vienna….it’s a great city for walking, and it’s FULL of museums, Christmas markets, beautiful shops and historic sites…many of them music-related. More later about chamber music at the Mozart House, Beethoven’s piano at the Pasqualati House, the Golden Hall of the Musikverein…and singing a chorus of “Varsity” in the Esterhazy Keller, where Haydn and Schubert (among others) had lifted a pint in the past.
Well, I was completely thwarted in my attempts to upload photos while we were in Europe, so the weight of blogging landed on our other host, Ginger Alden. Now that I’m back at my usual computer, I can’t resist sharing pictures of some of the gorgeous places we saw. We had a bit of rain and mist while in Budapest, but nothing can obscure the beauty of that city. One of the highlights for many of us was a performance of Puccini’s Turandot at the Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Allami Operahaz). ..arguably one of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe. For those accustomed to large American houses (the Met seats more than 3800!), it was a remarkably intimate setting at just over 1260 seats. For several of our group, it was their first opera….what a great introduction!
Our hotel was in Pest (the newer city), and on the day we traveled up to Buda hill, it was a bit foggy….although the clouds did lift later in the day, so we were able to see the Danube sparkle a bit.
Rehearsing the farewell to our guide Gabriel Fawcett, our travelers were expertly accompanied by Ruth and Sandy Stehling. The universal language of music enabled us to connect with a group of Italians close by as well. Anyone know the chords to Volare?
(Sung to the tune of Home on the Range.)
First Buda and Pest, Hofsburg Palace and Lizst
Ronald Reagan on Liberty Square
Through the fog of the day, Gabriel leads the way
Evening lights reveal Danube the fair.
You can get him to speak any day of the week
With his tales of Hungarian woes
He’ll wax eloquent on the blood that was spent
Until all of us can’t help but doze
Home, home to Berlin
He survived the tour from Wisconsin
No more “Where’s the loo?” from his dependent crew
We will think of him fondly and grin
His facts with some spice make history nice
Rakas was an arsehead and such
The coffee’s so fine, but those Austrians still whine
Bloody well! Ruskies just are too much
He herds us on tour wi a touch deft and sure
With a surfeit of food and of drinks
With his cheeky Brit smile and his eloquent style
He tells us what he really thinks
In Gabriel we trust, the third stop is for us
Be brave now and get on that tram
And our favorite bit is his humor and wit
We’ll go home as Gabriel’s fans
The crumbling headstones of the Old Jewish Cemetery date from 1439 to 1787, and stand as a testament to the ghettoization of Jews, even in death. With a local guide, we toured the cemetery and parts of the Jewish museum, a collection spread among a number of synagogues, art and exhibits depicting the lives and turbulent history of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia. Pictures: the cemetery; Our travelers wearing yarmulka according to custom; Synagogues; a sculpture of Kafka; the old synagogue and Jewish Town Hall.
Prague Castle is set on a high hill across the Vltava river from Old Town and Wenceslas Square. It is a complex of buildings representing a sweep of history and architecture. We spent the afternoon exploring with our knowledgable guides. Pictures include our group ascending an escalator to catch a tram; approaching the castle walls; happy travelers after lunch at the Vikarka Restaurant inside the walls; architecture from romanesque and gothic, to renaissance and baroque; Mucha stained glass inside the cathedral; the royal crypt in the cathedral; the immense interior and exterior of the Cathedral of St. Vitus.
Pictures: The National Museum with St Wenceslas statue in the foreground-site of Czech demonstrations, protests and vicrories dating back to 1419; looking back down Wenceslas Square at our group viewing thr memorial to victims of communism and the two men who died in protest of the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968; the Powder Gate, passed through on our way to Old Town Square; the Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock; Gabriel giving history lessons and map reading advice; a Winter Waltz traveler receives a scarf tying lesson from his son.