For full effect, this blog entry requires musical accompaniment.
Of all the cities I've visited so far on this trip, Vienna might be the one I can see myself living in. Something about it just seemed very welcoming to me. Part of it might have to do with the place I stayed. I had a very good host. And his apartment is a typical classic Viennese-style apartment with very high ceilings and movie-caliber squeaky wooden floors. But, the bathroom is rennovated to be very modern. That combination fits me really well.
On my way to city center, I was greeted by a lovely scene:
Vienna is very proud of its musical history. Anybody who has seen the movie Amadeus knows Vienna is the city of music. In classical music's golden age, the great ones came to Vienna. I started my siteseeing at the Opera house. I did not plan far enough ahead to get tickets to the opera, so I took the guided tour instead. I found out a lot of interesting information.
The opera has more than 300 performances every year. VIP Tickets can cost several thousand dollars, and are sold out a year in advance. The most expensive orchestra seats are $115. There are standing-room only seats sold a few minutes before each performance for just a few bucks. It reminds me of the broadway musical Rent where each performance reserved front-row seats an hour before each performance for $20. Everybody deserves to hear good music.
Each year there is also a famous ball for Vienna's (and the world's) debutantes. Entry to this high-class event is also several thousand dollars. It is held inside the opera house where seats are removed to make room for the high school formal of all high school formals.
Despite all the income the opera house brings in, it still operates at a loss. There are just so many people required to run the place. The opera alone is incredibly elaborate. These are full-scale operas with large sets. Unfortunately, the opera isn't big enough to store all the sets, so they are broken down and stored at a remote location. Because the opera is such an important part of Viennese culture (afterall, the likes of Mozart performed here), the government helps out with the bills.
Above the seating area is a large chandelier with thousands of crystals. To clean it, they don't use a ladder, and they don't lower it. There is an elevator at the center of the chandelier that lowers from the ceiling allowing 2 workers to clean all the crystals, a job that takes the an entire week.
In WWII, the opera was damaged by bombings. A large part of the opera house had to be rebuilt. The stage was damaged, although it was an excuse to update the technology. Now they have a hydraulics system that can lift/lower the orchestra pit, and an intricate system backstage that allows them to swap an entire set with another in seconds, virtually silently.
Zoos usually aren't at the top of my list of things to do. But the Vienna zoo is often ranked among the world's best, and it was close to one of the popular sites, so I decided to go. I was imipressed.
The zoo is very well designed. For being the oldest zoo in Europe, it's quite sophisticated. It looks like the animals can easily get out. But if you look closer, there's electric wires keeping the animals from getting out. All I could think of was Jurassic park when the electricity went out and "fun" ensued.
For having been on safari twice, I can honestly say that I felt closer to some of the animals like hippos than I ever have. I also saw an elephant from almost directly above, an angle I've never had. And I've definitely never been just on the other side of the glass from a couple of fuzzy giant pandas either.
One really sad part was that the zoo was damaged in WWII. It was bombed and it killed a rhino, and I'm not ok with that. I wonder how China would've reacted if a panda had died.
One interesting exhibit was at the rainforest ecosystem. There's a particular unmarked entrance with a curtain of ropes followed by another layer of plastic chains similar to what you would see at an aviary to keep small birds or butterflies from escaping too often, but not a big deal if they do. The couple in front of me started to go in, slowly swiping the rope and chain curtains aside. But a dark, fast-flying animal the size of a small bird screamed past them, scaring them and convincing them turn around. Not I. Once I walked in, it was almost pitch black. However, it was just bright enough for me to make out several of those flying things, and then more of those flying things, and then a lot of those flying things. I give myself full marks for bravery just for going in and making it out on the other side without squealing like a pig, but it was a bit scary. I'm sad to say that I am not quite ready to be Batman.
Also featured at this zoo are many animals with funny hairdos.
One thing I learned from the food in Vienna is about sausages. They have more types of sausages than I can remember. The hot dog that we are so used to is often called a frankfurter. It's also known as a wiener. Each of them is named after a city: Frankfurt, and Vienna (Wien in German). Adding the -er is a German way of describing a person from that place. Not similarly, the wienerschnitzel is a breaded peice of veal like a chicken friend stake, but with veal.