This post contains an invite and stories. They’re connected. The invite is for you, and the stories are of my recent trip to Vienna, where you’re invited to. Let me explain.
Next February (13.02.2020), I’ll turn 50. I’ve decided to spend “half time” (on my journey to the 100 years I’m determined to reach) in my favourite city in the world, and also to invite absolutely everyone I know. I’m not sure about the details yet, but the 13th will be a Thursday, and of course the following day is Valentine’s Day, so in case you’re part of a couple, you should definitely bring your partner, because Vienna is hands down the best place to be in love. Seriously, forget Paris.
You could make a four-day weekend out of it. And because a trip like this requires advance planning, taking time off work etc, I’m telling you now, nearly 11 months in advance. I’m fully aware there might be 5 or 50 people showing up. I’m good either way, just know this: If you do come, you will get hag-hugged! There’s simply no way around that.
Read on to get a taste of the most magical city on earth. It’s steeped in the history of an entire continent (Habsburg empire, anyone?), art, theatre, music… you name it. Most major cities have one famous opera house, and/or world class theatre, and/or concert hall. Vienna has two of each of these, and that’s not counting the many excellent smaller stages and art galleries and museums and the sheer beauty of the architecture – look up anywhere and see artwork and sculpture on the sides of houses – the excellent food and drink, and the unique wry humour of the Viennese, who like to appear grouchy at first glance but really have huge hearts.
I made it a musical trip this time, but please remember that Vienna is also the city of Gustav Klimt and much of the Art Nouveau movement of the Fin de Siècle. This is where Hofmannsthal and Schnitzler wrote their works and so many more lived and worked.
On my first evening, I felt a little lonely because my dear Kati, who was going to go to the opera with me to see Figaro, caught pneumonia of all things. I went on my own and sold her ticket to a Korean conductor who lives in the US and was stranded in Vienna for a night because his connecting flight got delayed. We spent all our time before the opera and during the breaks chatting about music – it was one of those Vienna encounters that happen all the time there. In between, we admired the view from our seats, from where we could see the entire orchestra and the conductor, as well as having a perfect view of the stage.
The production was incredible, just the right mix between modern and traditional, and the singers were all excellent, in particular Cherubino, the Comtessa and Figaro himself. Thoroughly enchanted, but knackered after only three hours of sleep the previous night, I went straight to the hotel afterwards, still humming “Voi Che Sapete“.
I’d decided that after over 10 years away, I had every right to call myself a tourist again (forget for a moment that I used to live in and around Vienna for over six years), and so I went sightseeing the next day. First came the house where Schubert was born, where I was just about moved to tears listening to a recording of the “Wanderer Fantasie” played by Anatol Ugorski (note to self, look up more of Ugorski’s albums).
Then I went on to one of Mozart’s apartments in Vienna. What I love most about all these is the handwritten originals of famous pieces that are on display there. On Tuesday at Beethoven’s house, I even saw an early version of my favourite sonata. As well as an actual lock of Ludwig’s hair, which I found strangely touching.
Then there are the historical instruments, of course. Check out the five pedals!
In the afternoon, just when my feet began to protest, I met Tom for dinner and drinks and a good long chat and putting the world to rights. I almost forgot to take pictures but Tom remembered – this is us outside the Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) which stands right in the centre of Vienna.
The entire trip was like closing a wound from the past, putting yet another piece of my life’s puzzle back into place (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read yesterday’s post). I reconnected with friends, re-visited places I loved, and basked in the most incredible music. Bliss!
The undisputed highlight of the trip was the recital of my other all-time favourite pianist (yes, I have two!), Evgeny Kissin. I knew I had a good seat but nearly fainted when I realised that I was actually in the front row, by the piano and just a little to the left, so I could see his hands. The piano was so close that when he stood to bow, I could have stretched out my hand and touched him.
The people in the seats around mine were lovely and the perfect company for this. Kissin is just so unbelievably good, it’s almost surreal. I’ve never had such a close view of a pianist’s technique and I drank it all in, trying to take mental notes whilst being completely ravished by the beauty of the music. He played Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, and Scriabin, and I loved all of it, but the Scriabin (the very short 4th sonata) was probably my favourite.
The entire Musikverein was on their feet applauding every time he reappeared, and we got him to play four encores! And still it was all over way too quickly.
To top it all off, I ran into him afterwards, and managed to thank him and exchange a few words! He’s friendly, unassuming, and funny, and I couldn’t help thinking that it wouldn’t make a difference to his playing if he wasn’t, but it’s still nice to know that the guy who’s probably the most ingenious pianist alive at this time, is also a lovely person.
This post is way too long already, so I’ll leave it at that. Go and plan your visit! You’ll be pleased to find that Vienna is a very affordable city to stay in as well. I paid all of 135 EUR for four nights in a simple, but clean 3-star hotel.
See you in February 2020!
Please feel free to leave a comment below. It will be visible after approval and I respond to every comment, so do check back later!
If you’d like a quick email notification every time I post something new on my blog, fill in this little form. I give you my hagish word that I’ll never spam you or pass on your data!