Summer’s lingering warmth and unabashedly blue skies were continuing to color our September days in Vienna. It was an intoxicating mix of air that carried a twinge of autumn with leaves beginning to dust the ground, all wrapped up in a blanket of seemingly endless sunshine. As we walked out our hotel door, I wanted to tell this exquisite city that it had already won me over – that this Camelot-like weather display wasn’t at all necessary – but really all I could do was smile.
We were headed about twenty minutes from our hotel in the city center to Belvedere Palace, the early 18th century residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, now home to a wonderful collection of Austrian and European art. Belvedere is actually two separate palaces – Upper and Lower – connected by beautifully manicured gardens. We’d planned to visit the art-filled Upper Palace and bought tickets at the nearby gift shop/information office.
Beyond Marble Hall, the palace rooms are filled with paintings by 19th and 20th century artists. Famous names from Monet to Van Gogh line gallery walls, but the main attraction is the work of Gustav Klimt, Austria’s painter extraordinaire and founding member of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt’s paintings, including his masterpiece – The Kiss – were drawing quite a crowd when we arrived.
Palace windows looking out over Belvedere Gardens offered a painting-like picture of their own. With an unobstructed bird’s-eye view toward the Lower Palace and Vienna beyond, they showcase the garden’s symmetry and Versailles-like design. I captured a couple of photos before we returned outside to explore the gardens and walk back to the city center.
Our next stop was our second coffee house of the trip and one of Vienna’s best-known institutions. Café Sacher, home of its namesake chocolate cake, is so popular that you can buy an entire cake to take home with you, as long as you’re home by the expiration date! Part of the Hotel Sacher, the café is decorated with red velvet wallpaper and matching chairs, crystal chandeliers and white marble tables. And I can say with great certainty that the Sacher Torte lives up to its incredibly delicious reputation!
Vienna State Opera
By mid-afternoon, it was time for our opera house tour. Tours run every hour throughout the day and are offered in multiple languages. We entered the lobby and took our places for the English tour. Lines were full for ours as well as the Spanish and German tours.
Our guide led us up a gilded ornate staircase and into the theater, where we took our seats and took in the surroundings. The stage was set for the evening’s performance of Carmen, but our guide explained that the stage we were viewing was not the only one. Hidden from sight were back, side and underground stages built with different sets. As the scene changes, a different stage is moved into place. It takes 300 workers per day working in shifts of 100 at a time to prepare the stages and keep them moving during each performance.
The opera season runs from September until the end of June. Operas change every day, enabling visitors to attend more than one performance during their time in Vienna. The theater seats 1,700 and offers a standing room spot – “for just a few Euros,” our guide told us – accommodating an additional 500 people.
And if you’d love to see an opera but can’t get a ticket? Seats outside the opera house are set up in front of a large screen, where the performance going on inside is broadcast to the world outside. It was great fun stopping by the opera house every evening to hear the music and get a peek at what was happening on stage. I loved that this city with a history of so much music was generously sharing it with anyone who happened by.
Herb captured this brief video of the German opera Der Freischütz as we were walking back to our hotel from dinner: