Vienna, The City of Dreams - Wednesday Evening/Thursday Morning, June 12-13

Upon arriving at the Ritz Carlton, located on Vienna's justly famous Ringstrasse, we repaired to our fabulous room for a brief respite before an early dinner.  Although this has not been the relaxing river cruise we were anticipating, the Viking folks have gone above and beyond to ensure that we are taken care of in the most exacting and luxurious way possible.  We have had opportunities we could not have imagined at the outset; speaking as a musician, I have been happily surprised at every turn with the way that the trip has evolved.

After dinner there was a short bus ride to the old Stock Exchange, yet another Baroque edifice housing offices and large elegantly appointed conference chambers, one of which was the setting for a concert by the Vienna Residence Chamber Orchestra.  This small ensemble (3 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet and piano) played representative selections by Mozart and Johann Strauss (Senior and Junior), and also accompanied a pair of singers and a pair of attractive dancers.  The ladies of the Orchestra were attired in typical Biedermeyer fashion, which lent to the ambience of the performance.

The next day we were off again for a combination bus/walking tour of the fabulous city of Mozart, Beethoven and the Strauss family.  After driving the entire Ringstrasse, built on the site of the fortifications that formerly encircled the ancient city center, we were deposited at the Vienna Staatsoper (State Opera) where a large screen proclaimed that evening's free outdoor broadcast of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.   For my colleagues of The Dallas Opera, the production was directed by David McVicar and featured Jochen Schmeckenbecker as Kurwenal.

From the Staatsoper we proceeded on a guided tour past the world-famous Spanish Riding School, home of the glorious white Lippizzaner stallions whose graceful gaits are on display in weekly Sunday performances.  The next major stop was the winter palace of the Habsburgs, the Hofburg, with its 2,600+ rooms.  Immediate to the palace are churches important to the royal family, including St. Augustine's Church, where imperial weddings were performed.  This church also serves to house Habsburg hearts (yes, the rest of the bodies are elsewhere) in urns in the royal crypt.

At the hub of the old city is St. Stephan's Cathedral, originally conceived in 1137 as a Romanesque structure but completed/expanded/reconstructed as a magnificent exponent of the Gothic tradition.  I'm afraid that, after the golden excess of the Melk Abbey Church, St. Stephan's interior suffered a little bit by comparison, but it nevertheless captures one's imagination with its soaring columns and ornately decorated main altar.

Here we took leave of our guide and set off in splinter groups to create our own itinerary; Gary and I set off down the Kartnerstrasse toward the Ring in search of photographs of the spectacular Parliament building, which we had passed during the bus ride but had not had the chance to document for ourselves.  We will also upload a video of this edifice, which may serve to emphasize the expanse of this seat of government.

Catching a tram back in the direction of our hotel, we struck up a conversation with a Viennese gentleman who assisted us in disembarking at the stop closest to our destination.  He had never seen the inside of the Ritz, so we invited him into the lobby; I believe he was suitably impressed!

This is where the day's story took an unfortunate turn.  Once back in the room, Gary was exiting our wonderful posh bathroom when he caught the toe of his boot on the raised lip on the floor and twisted his knee rather severely.   This effectively put him out of commission for the balance of the day, so I was forced to contemplate the afternoon's planned excursion to Schonnbrunn on my own.

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