Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Fifth Day Of Our Vacation: Salzburg, Melk And Vienna

Tuesday, the fifth day of our vacation, was to see us begin the day in Salzburg in Western Austria and end the day in Vienna in Eastern Austria.

We rose at 6:30 a.m., and met for breakfast at 7:30 a.m.

Our Salzburg hotel’s breakfast was nothing on the order of the elaborate breakfasts we had enjoyed at our hotel in Munich. There were not even fruit juices or cereals on offer at the Salzburg hotel. The only foods served for breakfast were breads and rolls, cheeses, cold cuts, soft-boiled eggs and coffee. It was a pure German/Austrian breakfast.

We made do with the foods available—in any case, we had not expected lavish breakfasts every day during our trip—and after our morning coffee and rolls we left the hotel and walked to Salzburg Cathedral, arriving not long after the Cathedral had opened for the day.

The present Salzburg Cathedral is a Baroque building erected early in the 17th Century.

The present Cathedral building is at least the third Cathedral structure on the site.

A Christian church had occupied the spot for several centuries before Salzburg became a Bishopric, signifying that a house of worship has continuously occupied the site of Salzburg Cathedral for well over 1200 years.

I did not find Salzburg Cathedral to be particularly fascinating or particularly beautiful. It is a garden-variety Baroque Cathedral, without unusual or extraordinary features, and it is more-or-less instantly forgettable. It was the least interesting church we visited on the entire trip.

However, for us to have missed Salzburg Cathedral would have been unforgivable on our part, since the Cathedral was only a short walk from our hotel. In any case, we devoted only forty-five minutes to examining the Cathedral’s exterior and interior.

After our visit to Salzburg Cathedral, we walked back to our hotel. On the way, we stopped at a café and ordered orange juice, coffee and poppy-seed cake, an Austrian specialty. This second breakfast was much better than the breakfast offered at our hotel.

When we returned to the hotel, we checked out, retrieved our vehicle and headed for Vienna.

By design, we had shortchanged Salzburg. We had wanted to see Salzburg, but we had not wanted to devote a couple of days to an exploration of Salzburg in depth.

And we DID see Salzburg. Over the course of one late afternoon, one evening and one early morning, we had spent over four hours exploring the center of the city. That was enough time for us to get a taste of Salzburg. Salzburg’s Castle, Residenz, Mirabell Gardens and numerous important churches shall have to wait for some future visit.

The drive to Vienna was very beautiful. The scenery was so spectacular that the time passed in an instant.

Two-thirds of the way to Vienna, we stopped at Melk for a visit to famed Melk Abbey.

Our first order of business at Melk Abbey was to buy tickets for the afternoon English-language guided tour.

That accomplished, we ate lunch in the Abbey restaurant, which was genuinely excellent. The food far exceeded our expectations. We ordered a full lunch—soup with herb pancakes (another Austrian specialty), braised beef tips in cream sauce with noodles, and Sacher Torte with whipped cream—and we had a wonderful meal.

After lunch, we explored the gardens of Melk Abbey, pleasant and peaceful but not particularly remarkable.

From the gardens, we visited Melk Abbey Museum. The museum was very peculiar, and not in keeping with the character of Melk Abbey.

Melk Abbey Museum is a creation of the late 1990’s, with a ridiculous ultra-modernistic interior design that is already gruesomely outdated. Its exhibits are more intent on displaying modern technologies circa 1997 (such as interactive videos) than presenting a detailed history of the Abbey.

It is a very, very bad museum.

I suspect that Melk Abbey Museum is geared toward school groups, designed to appeal to fifth-graders fascinated by technological gizmos. It offers little of interest to adults.

The guided tour of Melk Abbey was our main event. In summer months (but only in summer months), Melk Abbey may be visited independently, but we believed that we might benefit from the daily guided tour in English, offered at the unusual starting time of 2:55 p.m.

I think we made the right decision.

The guided tour was a good one. It escorted us through the most interesting parts of the Abbey, including the renowned Abbey library and the main Abbey church. The tour included a visit to the primary terrace, which provided a magnificent overlook of the town of Melk and Wachau Valley.

Melk Abbey and the surrounding area are very, very beautiful.

We were right to devote an entire afternoon to Melk Abbey. It was the highlight of our day.

From Melk, we drove to Vienna.

We checked into our hotel first thing, but we did not remain long in our accommodations because we had plans for the evening.

We were somewhat pressed for time—we had to head to Theater An Der Wien for a performance of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, and we had to find something to eat along the way—and we had no time to settle in and relax. There was to be no dawdling.

On our way to the theater, we stopped at a small family restaurant that offered two, and only two, fixed dinner menus, with no other food items available. Andrew said that, given our time limitations, a small, fixed-menu restaurant was our only option for dinner unless we wanted only a sandwich.

As soon as we entered the restaurant, Andrew informed the waiter that we had tickets for “Don Giovanni” and inquired whether the restaurant could accommodate our needs. The waiter assured us that we would make the “Don Giovanni” performance, and we took a table.

Of the two fixed menu choices, we all ordered the same option (which was menu number one): tomato-zucchini-cream soup; pork sauerbraten with cooked fresh cabbage and potato dumplings; and cake that was Black Forest Cake in all but name (except the cake featured more cherries than the typical Black Forest Cake).

The food was excellent, and the service was fast and efficient. Andrew told us that the only reason the service was fast and efficient was because we had told the waiter in advance—prior to taking a table—that we had tickets to “Don Giovanni” at Theater An Der Wien. According to Andrew, if we had not asked, upfront, prior to taking a table, whether the restaurant could accommodate our theater performance, the service would have been as slow as molasses.

And, indeed, we were attended and served much more quickly than other diners in the restaurant. We enjoyed the waiter’s highest priority—and apparently the kitchen staff’s, too—and yet none of the other diners appeared to be in the least put out by the clear preference our table was given.

Andrew says that the Viennese understand the seriousness of making the curtain of an opera performance!

The restaurant got us through our meal with ease, and we were able to arrive at Theater An Der Wien with time to spare.

In hindsight, there had been no point in rushing—the “Don Giovanni” performance was disastrous. The production was vulgar, lewd and offensive. The Theater An Der Wien “Don Giovanni” may have been the worst performance of anything I have ever attended anywhere.

At the intermission, the first words out of my Dad’s mouth were, “Until tonight, I thought burlesque was dead. I thought it died out in the 1930’s. I was wrong. Burlesque lives on—in Vienna.”

“Do you think we should leave?” I asked him and my mother.

“And miss the strippers in the second act?” was my Dad’s very sarcastic rejoinder.

And we had a very long discussion about whether we should remain for the rest of the performance. Not only was no one enjoying the performance, we were also dumbfounded how trashy was the presentation.

We left the decision in the hands of my brother and sister, who were, I think, more bored than offended by the cheesy goings-on onstage.

We decided to stay for the second act—after all, what else was there for us to do for the rest of the evening?—and my Dad told my brother and sister, as we re-entered the theater, “Think of this as history. Think of this as a visit back in time, back to the 1960’s, back to Jack Ruby’s sleazy Dallas nightclub before the authorities closed it down. This is how the underworld used to live back then—and now you can see it recreated, live and onstage, here in Vienna.”

And, although the second act was just as bad as the first, we somehow made it through the remainder of the performance.

Walking back to our hotel after the performance, my Dad said, “You know, maybe we should have tried that atonal thing in Salzburg after all. It couldn’t have been any worse than this.”

He was referring to a Luigi Nono opera presented at this year’s Salzburg Festival.

(Before our trip, Andrew and I had teased my parents about taking everybody to hear an atonal opera while we were in Salzburg.)

My Dad was right.

The Luigi Nono opera could not have been more insufferable than Theater An Der Wien’s lousy “Don Giovanni”.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you had fun! Great blog by the way.