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INTRODUCTION. Vienna feels like a happy city. Vienna has about 150 public balls listed in the ball calendar in the first three months of each year, with some balls having attendance up to 5000, in a city of only 1.5 million. There are more than 300 if you include ones not listed in the published calendar. These are not predominantly Viennese Waltz balls, but most have a fair amount of Viennese Waltz. Some are hosted by the city, others by occupations, churches, organizations etc. but are still open to the public. Their balls are nearly all black tie events with ladies dresses required to be ankle length. Ladies wear mostly modern ballgowns, and only debutantes wear white ballgowns. Balls in America and Vienna start at 8 or 9 PM. American balls tend to end at midnight, but the ones in Vienna last until 5 AM. At larger balls food is available at a buffet that is open all night long. Most of the balls I attended were too crowded for good dancing until about 3 AM. For instructions on how to do the Viennese waltz click here.
HISTORY. Why is Vienna so special in this regard? Emperor Joseph II, 1741-1790, had more respect for the common man and less respect for nobility than the average royal. He decided that the ballrooms in the Hofburg palace should not be reserved just for nobility. In 1773 he made the ballrooms available for public balls for the common man. This started the tradition of public balls in Vienna, and introduced the upper crust to that dance of the commoner, the waltz. Balls became the Viennese way of celebrating the season called carnival. The viennese use one of the German words for carnival, "fasching". Demand for ballrooms exceeded those in the palace. Other ballrooms were built in town. In 1808 the Apollosaal "comprised five enormous ballrooms, forty-four large drawing-rooms, three colossal conservatories, and thirteen kitchens. Marvellous greenery and flowers abounded everywhere amid waterfalls and grottoes, and a lake with real swans upon it. Garlands, flowering shrubs, and again more flowers turned the place even in winter (and Viennese winter!) into a veritable garden, the whole being reminiscent of nothing so much as the luxury of ancient Rome. These huge salons of the Apollosaal displayed innumerable chandeliers of brilliant lustres. Triumphal arches on marble pillars led from floor to floor, the names of the Emperor and Empress were emblazoned everywhere together with the heraldic insignia of the city". translated by Ada B. Teegen in "The Waltz Kings of Old Vienna", 1939 from Ernst Decsey's "Johann Strauss: Ein Wiener Buch". Please note that this was all before the Strauss family wrote their first note. The Apollosaal no longer exists, but the ballrooms in the Hofburg do. The oldest ballrooms in the Hofburg are seldom used for balls nowadays, but the newer ones serve many balls each year.
BALL CALENDAR. Starting in late November the ball calendar is available in printed form from the Vienna tourist office in Vienna. The list appears at http://www.ballkalender.info. At the bottom of the list click on the word "Weiter" to get the next page of the list. Search engines such as www.google.com have translators available to help you translate German to English. There are about as many balls not listed in the calendar as the ones that are listed; more about that later.
DESCRIPTION OF BALLS. Each ball begins with an opening ceremony that includes a dance show. The show starts with the officers of the organization hosting the ball marching in and taking their places on the stage, with maybe a speech or two. The rest of the show is a dance performance that usually does not last more than 30 minutes. The show is usually, but not always, performed by young people, with the young ladies in white ballgowns and the young men in tux or tails. The age of the young people playing the role of debutantes depends on the nature and policy of the host organization. In some cases the young people are all teenagers, in others college age, if it is a university ball. Often the real debutantes only do the easy parts; especially difficult showy routines are done by similarly dressed older young people who are expert dancers and who perform year after year at different balls while the real debutantes stand on the edge of the dance floor. Even the real debutantes must do a march, a simple group dance, and a Viennese waltz. The debutante show is not just a show, it is a formal ceremony, obviously taken very seriously. Watching a debutante show is seeing Cinderellas at a ball. If the young ladies playing the role of debutantes are old enough to participate in the rest of the ball, they will usually change out of their white dresses into colored dresses after the debutante show is over. After the opening show the rest of the night is usually given over to pure social dancing, but a few balls interrupt the social dancing for more shows that are not debutante shows.
The line of dance is the same on the dance floors of Vienna as elsewhere in the world. The line of dance turns left at each corner of the dance floor. People in America who do not want Americans to go to the balls in Vienna spread the romor that the line of dance is reversed in Vienna.
Many of the balls alternate a string orchestra with a brass band. The ballroom dances performed are Viennese waltz, slow waltz, slow foxtrot, tango, quickstep and polka schnell. The style of tango that is danced is international style. The latin dances performed are cha cha, rumba, samba, jive, and twist. The set dances performed are quadrille and galop. The quadrille is not performed in its original form as a square dance. To accommodate a crowded ballroom it is performed with pairs of lines of couples facing each other. The caller speaks German, so you might want to leave the dance floor at this point. The galop is invariably performed just after the quadrille, to take advantage of the fact that people are already aligned in long rows. The galop is part couple dance and part set dance. It starts with a stampede of couples in promenade position and ends with them stooping to scamper under arches formed by the arms of standing couples.
I do not speak German; fortunately lots of Viennese speak English. I had little trouble communicating in Vienna. I did not need a rental car to get around Vienna. The subway and trolley system is adequate during the day. You do not want to go to balls on the subway; the ladies full length ballgown would get soiled on the dirty stairsteps of the subway. At night, the hotel desk clerk would call a taxi for transportation to the ball. At the large balls downtown taxis were waiting in line outside of each ball all night long for the return trip. At a small suburban ball a ball official was happy to use her cellphone to call us a taxi when we were ready to leave. If your hotel is near downtown, the one way taxi fare will be about $6 for two people to a downtown ball, or $12 to a distant suburban ball. Some of the places where balls are held are huge, such as the Hofburg and the Rathaus. You will not know which entrance to use to go to a ball; your taxi driver will.
There are large differences in the many ballrooms around the city. The main ballroom in the Hofburg palace is of stunning marble construction. The Rathaus has very long three stage gothic stairways leading to a ballroom that looks like the nave of a Gothic cathedral. The opera house and the musikverein are auditoriums, not ballrooms, which are temporarily converted to ballrooms by replacing the auditorium seating with a dance floor. Various hotels and other establishments have smaller ballrooms. There are many community centers where balls are held, these are called "Haus der Begegnung" followed by the name of the part of the city they serve. Suburban ballrooms will typically be of modern utilitarian construction similar to suburban American meeting halls.
An American attempting to describe the balls in Vienna is put in the position of a blind man attempting to describe an elephant. I went to 4 balls in 1995, and three in 2000, 7 in 2003, 5 in 2004, and 3 in 2006.
I cannot reliably generalize on such limited data. However, I would guess that if the ball sounds upper class, hosted by doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. it probably is. If it is hosted by doughnut shops, coffee shops, street cleaners, etc, it probably is not very classy. Price was no guarantee of a nice ball. You must get an admission ticket. These are usually between $10 and $100; I never paid more than $100. The Opera ball has astronomical prices, I have never considered attending it. Sometimes admission includes seating; more often admission price is separate from seating price. If you only want to dance a short while and leave you do not need to purchase a seat ticket. If you want to see the opening show, you will have to get expensive seat tickets in the main ballroom. These tickets are for two people, and might be twice the admission cost for one person. If you do not insist on seeing the opening show, you can get inexpensive seat tickets in a room with only tables and chairs. These tickets might be half the cost of admission. If you wish to dance, avoid the more famous balls, as they will never thin out enough for dancing. Balls listed with the words Pharr or Pharrball are hosted by churches. Two people told me that the balls in community centers were less crowded than those in the fancy ballrooms, another said they were not. A suburban church ball I attended had very little room for dancing. I was told this is typical of church balls. I was told that a ball not listed in the ball calendar at the same place the week before had three times as much space for dancing. The best ball I have found for a couple visiting Vienna was the Ball der Pharmacie. It was classy and the least overcrowded ball I have attended.
What if you are single? If you are young and attending a university ball, you can be single and still find someone to dance with. Otherwise, it may be difficult to find dance partners. The only ball I have attended that had a fair number of singles from 20 to 60 years old was the Rudolfina Redoute. It has been described as a masked ball, where the ladies, not the men, wear masks. However, in 2006 when I attended, masks were not required and only about 20% of the women wore them.
BALL CULTURE. I asked some Viennese ladies about the ball culture. I was told that about 30% of the population of Vienna attends at least one ball per year. I was told that about 80% of the population of Vienna knows the Viennese Waltz, but about 50% can do only the natural turn, they cannot do the reverse turn, and only 0.5% are really good Viennese waltzers. A very prominent dance teacher estimated that about 25% of the young people at least once participate in a debutante ceremony, many at obscure suburban balls not listed in the ball calendar. Debutante participation is sometimes at parental insistence. In addition to the balls, the 24 dance schools host weekly social dances all year round. The dress is casual at these events. These are listed at http://www.tanzschulen.co.at. These schools teach beginners, and singles are welcome. Different schools have their social dance different nights of the week. If you make enough phone calls you can probably find some school to dance at any night of the week. In addition, there is a separate category of dance schools called dance sport clubs that are for advanced dancers, and have weekly practice dances for couples only. These are listed at http://tanz.or.at, where you must click on "social dance" then "sportclubs", then on "Tanzsportklubs in Ostereich". The ones listed as being in "Wien" are in Vienna, the rest in other towns in Austria. I heard a rumor that there is dancing some nights at the Volksgarten, but have not been there. To find informal dance spots more like the honky-tonks typical of America, go to http://www.10best.com, search on "vienna, austria", then click on "nightlife", then click on "dance clubs".
GETTING BALL TICKETS. It will probably not be possible to obtain ball tickets before you arrive in Vienna. It will probably not be necessary to obtain reservations before you arrive in Vienna, unless you wish to get seat tickets in the main ballroom. If you obtain reservations, you will need to buy the tickets in person by a certain date before the ball. These days it is more convenient and practical to inquire about a ball by e-mail than by phone, if the ball calendar lists a web page or email address for the ball. You may wish to call to inquire. Allow 6 hour time difference from the east cost of the U.S., and 9 hours from the west coast. If calling from the United States, dial 011 to get out of the US, then 43 to get Austria, then 1 to get Vienna, then the number listed for the ball. If you are unlucky, there will be no one near the phone who speaks English. In that case, call 1-800-628-8486 for a translator. In this case, it would be best to simply ask for an e-mail address, and do the rest by e-mail.
After you get to Vienna, you should stop in at the Vienna tourist office one block behind the opera house, on the corner at the intersection of Tegetthoffstrasse and Maysedergasse, a few blocks from the Karlsplatz U-Bahn terminal. You can pick up a printed copy of the ball callender and other tourist literature. The ball calendar lists phone numbers for each ballroom. The ballroom can give you the phone number for whoever sells tickets for the ball. Call to find out if you can buy tickets at the door, or if you need to buy tickets in advance. If you want to see the debutante show, advance tickets will be required, perhaps even reservations before your trip. Advance tickets will not be sold where the ball will be held, but at the office of the organization putting on the ball. Remember to get seat tickets as well as admission tickets. Buying advance tickets will give you a reason to see different parts of Vienna.
If you want to go to balls not listed in the ball calendar, I can only guess as to the best way to proceed. You might want to do this because there are no balls in the calendar on a particular night. The newspaper probably lists balls not in the ball calendar. Perhaps the hotel desk clerk will be so kind as to find these for you. The printed ball calendar lists all the ballrooms in town and their phone numbers. You could call some of the community centers and ask when the center will be rented for the next ball, and the phone number of the organization renting it.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP. A bare minimum trip to the balls in Vienna would be one week. If you are travelling from America, on your first full day in Vienna the jet lag will be so bad that when you remember it later, the first day will seem like a dream that did not really happen. The quickest way to get over jet lag is to spend all day outside walking around town. I made two one week trips. On both occasions I felt that three weeks would have been more appropriate. My most recent trips were three weeks and two weeks, and those were much more satisfactory. You can just start to feel comfortably in the swing of things in one week, and need more time.
It is absolutely essential to take a video camcorder on a trip to Vienna. You can video at the balls, and you will treasure the videos. If you are concerned about losing your camera, you can check it at the coat check when you are not videoing and wish to dance. If you wish to video the opening show in the main ballroom in the Hofburg, it would probably be better to get seating in an upper box, further from the dance floor, rather that a lower box, closer to the dance floor. This is because many of the shows involve a majority of the debutantes standing on the side of the dance floor in front of the lower boxes, while only the best dancers perform the hardest part of the show in the middle of the dance floor. Only the upper boxes afford a view over the heads of the standing debutantes.
If you have never traveled out of the United States before, your first step will be to get a passport, see http://travel.state.gov/. You will need a hotel reservation in Vienna, see http://www.nethotels.com/. I have always stayed at a one star hotel and have found it inexpensive, clean, safe and convenient, but not luxurious. Hotel prices are different at different times of the year. Fortunatly, business is slow during the ball season and prices are low then. Inquire about a long stay; for a stay of three weeks or longer I could get my room for greatly reduced price. Another option is an apartment instead of a hotel. See www.apartment.at/eng. American cities have dangerous neighborhoods, especially near the city center; Vienna does not. Most balls, sights and shopping are near the city center or along Mariahilfer. A hotel located generally between the opera house and city hall (called the Rathaus), would be particularly convenient. You can have a free city map mailed to you from Vienna tourist agencies that you can find on the internet, or buy one from a large bookstore.
Be prepared for a long plane ride with lots of plane changes. My ride from my home in America to Vienna was 19 hours. Fortunately the ball season is the off season for airlines and hotels. Your round trip plane ticket will be about $1000. Sometimes there are low prices, like $200 round trip from Los Angeles to Frankfurt. I have heard that the only way to get these very low fares is wednesday from midnight to 1 AM in the time of the headquarters of the particular airline. A roundtrip train ticket from Frankfurt to Vienna might be low enough in cost to make this route attractive if you are on a tight budget and really determined.
For some strange reason sitting still at the 8,000 ft. pressure altitude in the airplane, in very, very dry air, exhaling moisture with every breath, does not make you thirsty. You can easily make an eight hour flight drinking very little and never needing to go to the bathroom. Research has shown that the body responds to the 8000 ft. pressure altitude in the plane by increasing the level of clotting factors in the blood. The resulting very unusually high degree of dehydration combined with high altitude and immobility can cause a clot in a vein in your thigh that can break loose, circulate through your blood stream, and cause a suddenly FATAL pulmonary embolism when you leave the plane. Now that it is no longer permitted to bring a filled water bottle through security, you should drink more water than you really want before each flight on a long trip. It might be possible to bring an empty clear plastic bottle through security and fill it up before you get on the plane. An empty 2 quart (1.98 liter) grape juice bottle is about right for a transatlantic flight. Drink enough water that you have to go to the bathroom every three hours. Stand up at your seat at least every hour. Aspirin, purple grape juice and lemon juice can reduce the tendency of blood to clot. Caffein, alcohol, nicotine, birth control pills and estrogen pills increase the tendency of blood to clot. If you have experienced swelling of the ankles after a long flight you may have had some clotting. If you have ever experienced an unexpected loss of stamina and shortness of breath when climbing stairs after a long flight you may have survived a mild pulmonary embolism. If you have experienced these symptoms after a long flight you should see a doctor to schedule injections of a potent anti-clotting medicine before your next long flight. The web site for the most popular estrogen pill has a "cautions" paragraph that says women on estrogen should see a doctor before a long airplane trip. Two of the most important risk factors, estrogen and birth control pills, apply only to women; the youngest woman on record to have died this way was only 28 years old. This condition has been named "economy class syndrome" but occurs just as readily in first class. The standard safety lecture does not mention it for fear of scaring off customers, but instead tells how to use the seat cushion as a floatation device, which undoubtedly does not save nearly as many lives as this information would.
The new Boeing 787 plane has a composite fuselage, not an aluminum fuselage like older planes. Composite materials do not corrode from humidity condensation like aluminum does. This permits higher humidity in the cabin of 10-12% rather than the 3-4% humidity of older planes. This should result in safer travel because of less danger of dehydration. Also, the cabin pressure is higher, corresponding to a lower altitude of 6K ft rather than the lower pressure of older planes which corresponds to 8K ft. The Airbus A350 also has a composite fuselage. These composite planes should result in much safer travel, with far less risk of blood clots.
It is a good idea to determine for everyone traveling together whether their health insurance is good in foreign countries. If not, travel health insurance is a good idea. You can probably get it for $60 per person, a bargain.
Notes on a one star hotel. Towels and soap are provided. Bring your own shampoo and washrag. Steam heat in the room is normally just right for sitting with clothes on. With the steam turned off, the walls are warm and the room is still too warm to sleep. Bedding is a heavy blanket within a giant pillowcase. Open the window to cool off the room for sleeping under the blanket. The power switch on the television only turns on the pilot light; press the "P" button to finish turning on the television. Old fashioned heavy keys must be turned into desk every time you leave hotel, and picked up at desk before you can return to your room. There is a phone in the room, but the phone book is at the front desk, not in room. If you expect someone to call you at the hotel, make sure to tell them to ask for you by room number, not by name; you are much more likely to get the call that way. If the hotel gives you a piece of paper labeled "Rechnung", that means "receipt", not "bill".
The last time I was in Vienna in 2006, I could eat for $20 per day per person for food. I alternated between tafelspitz, wienerschnitzel or gulasch with apfelstrudel for dessert at a coffee shop, a sandwich at a bakery, or a grilled salmon steak at the chain of Nordsee fast food places all over town. The coffee shops where you can get a meal are Viennese coffee shops, not Starbucks, which is also present. A good source of Viennese food is at Esterhazy restaurant at Haarhof 1, near the Herrengasse U-bahn exit. Mozart and Haydn used to meet together there for friendly discussions with each other. Even a one star hotel will provide a free, if somewhat skimpy breakfast of salami, cheese, dinner rolls and orange juice or coffee. If this is not enough, you can always go to a coffee shop and pay for ham and eggs. Tip 10% in restaurants. On Sunday, just about everything is closed except hotels, coffee shops, and internet cafes. But the big art museum, the Kunst Historiche Museum, is open on Sunday.
What to take on the trip? Under your clothing wear a moneybelt around your waist or a moneybag hanging from your neck to hold passport and airline tickets. You can save packing one very large item in your suitcase by wearing your overcoat on the plane. In your seat you can take it off and sit in it so as not to get hot. Items will be listed in separate paragraphs for men and women.
Ladies: Fake fur overcoat, or plain overcoat and extra sweater to make it warmer. Winter clothing is on sale in Vienna in January, so you could take a coat you want to get rid of an replace it with a nicer one in Vienna. One skirt, one pair pants, one dress, 5 tops, 2 or 3 ballgowns, one pair walking low heel boots, one pair dance shoes, one pair dress street shoes, makeup and toiletries, underwear for whole time, warm cap to cover ears, warm gloves, umbrella, rain cape, washcloth. Satin gowns do not wrinkle in the suitcase; taffeta does. If you cannot find a fashionable fur hat to cover your ears in your home town, they are available in Vienna at a shop in the Karlsplatz underground, and other shops around town.
Men: Water resistant overcoat, blazer or sportcoat and tie, change of shirt and pants, tuxedo, dance shoes and shoe bag, shaving kit, underwear, wool pullover cap, wool scarf, warm gloves or mittens, umbrella, perhaps travel galoshes, alarm clock, washcloth, street dress shoes. I recommend a bound 7 inch by 10 inch ruled notebook and ballpoint pen to take notes along the way. I got by with one large (18.5in by 24in by 13.5 in or 47cm by 60cm by 34cm) wheeled checkin suitcase, and a large videocamera bag as a carryon.
If you have the luggage capacity, and are perfectionist dancers, it would be best to pack extra dance shoes. In addition to normal chrome tanned leather soles, sticky and slick soles will come in handy. The floors vary: the Rathaus is normal, the Hofburg is slick, Palais Ferstel is sticky. Of course, a new coat of floor finish could change all this, you cannot count on the future conditions matching the past.
The dress code for balls is men: black tie (tuxedo), ladies: ankle length ballgown. A very few balls are different. The opera ball is white tie (tails). At the officers ball military dress uniforms are welcome, but so are tuxedos. You do not have to be an officer to attend, the name only means that the ball is hosted by officers. The dress code for an opera at either opera house is men: coat and tie, ladies: dressy street clothing (church dress).
The electricity in Vienna is 250 volts; in America it is about half that. In our one star hotel there was a dual outlet in the bathroom that had an American socket with American voltage. It could only supply the small amount of power needed by an electric shaver, not the large amount of power needed by a hair drier. The hotel is likely to have a hairdrier that guests can borrow. If you want to count on this ask when you make your reservations. Even if your appliance will work with 250 volts, you still need a small plug adapter that you can get at Radio Shack or at a good luggage shop. Their plugs use two round pins; ours use two flat blades. We did not need a travel iron; the hotel was happy to let us use their iron and ironing board in the basement of the hotel.
The only place better than Vienna to buy tuxes would be London; there is probably no place with more ballgowns to choose from than Vienna. However time for shopping and alterations would probably make it impractical to buy these items before your first ball unless you are planning a very leisurely trip. Both tuxes and ballgowns can be had for lower cost at budget department stores in American than in Vienna.
Most travel guidebooks for europe are sales pitches for where to go and what to see. But if you want a guide that is just about the nitty gritty details of traveling in europe, get the guidebook "Europe Through the Back Door", in the "travel store" section at www.ricksteves.com.
If you make a train trip around europe, it is vital that you understand the itinerary that they give you with your tickets. If you are to change trains before your destination, the itinerary is necessary to know which track to go to for your next train. There may be only a few minutes before you need to get on the next train. You will need to ask how to understand the itinerary since it will not be in English. If you forget to ask the person who sold you the tickets, you can ask a fellow passenger before you have to get off and change trains. If you do not find out, and miss your train change, you will not have to buy a new ticket, but you may have to wait several hours for the next train.
MAPS, MONEY, SUBWAYS, ETC. When you get to Vienna there will be a place in the baggage claim area where you can convert your dollars to Eurodollars. You probably should buy two city maps, a bookmap and a folded map. The book map is best outdoors in the blowing wind, the folded map is best spread out on the table in your hotel room. If you do not get the maps at the airport, you can get them at upstairs Buchercentrum on the south side of Mariahilfer west of the Museumsquatier subway station. The maps published by Freytag and Berndt are my favorites. Another good map is the Vienna Panoramic Guide, which shows the downtown area only, published by ATV Jihlava.
Before you leave the airport, visit the airline counter and ask when you need to check in for your return flight. Write it down in your notebook, as you will not remember it with the jet lag and new environment. There is a subway line from the airport into the city, but it is not practical if you have luggage, since you will have to go up and down several escalators and/or staircases making subway connections to get to your hotel. There is a bus from the airport into town, but you still have to get from the bus terminal to your hotel. You can take a taxi from the airport to your hotel for less than $40 for two people. A taxi is preferable to public transportation when you have luggage. If there is six inches of snow on the ground, luggage will not roll on the sidewalk. A little lady could pull a muscle trying to drag her suitcase through the snow; the gentleman should insist on handling her luggage even if it only needs to be moved a very short distance.
After you get in the city, you will need subway tickets. The name of the subway in Vienna is the "U-Bahn". Your city map should have a subway map in it, showing the layout of the subways and names of the subway stops. The subway terminals are identified by blue signs with a large letter "U" in white. If you go into a subway terminal, there are vending machines for subway tickets. Press the button marked "72", the $12 price shows in the display, enter money, ticket and change come down in the same tray. You do not need exact change, the machines are very good at making change. The first time you enter the subway, put the 72 hour ticket in one of the blue boxes, it will be stamped to mark the beginning of the 72 hours that the ticket is good for. If you are staying the following week, press the button marked "W" to get a weekly ticket also for $12.50, which is not valid until the following Monday. The weekly ticket comes already dated, and does not have to be inserted in the blue box. There are no turnstyles, so you could get in without the timestamp, but if you were caught without a timestamped ticket, you would face a stiff penalty. You do not have to show the ticket to get on the subway, and can ride as often as you like until the 72 hours are up. Do not get the less expensive one way tickets; they will be of little use to you. In the subway, there are two tracks, with trains running one way on one track, the opposite way on the other track. There will be a large sign on the wall beside each track that shows all the stops along the track. The stops that that track is headed toward will be connect with a red line. The stops that the track has come from will be connected with a grey line. That way you can figure out which of the two tracks you should go to. You may need to stop at one or two connecting stations along the way to change trains to get to your destination. Where the subway does not go, the trolleys and busses do, and your ticket is good for all of them.
To get money in Vienna, I went to the Bankomat ATM machines at banks. Even though my Mastercard debit card is with a small local bank at home, it worked fine at the Bankomats in Vienna. A lady friend had a Visa, hers worked too. My daily limit is $300. One day I could not get money. Panic! A call to the bank back home determined that my $300 limit is per business day, not weekends or holidays. A tip: bring your account number in case you want to call your bank. I did not allow for the time difference back home, and the previous day was a holiday! As a backup, a credit card can be used to get cash from a bank. One bank had a $400 limit, another had no limit below that of the credit card itself. You should call your credit card company before you leave home to let them know where you are going. Otherwise they may suspect a stolen card when they get a lot of charges far from home, and stop your card.
Internet cafes are not as plentiful as they once were. It may be advisable to bring a small laptop. Small laptops are available now for less than $400, and wifi is available in many hotels, rental apartments, and coffee shops.
If you are travelling to Vienna from another continent, your cell phone probably will not work in Vienna. You can get an inexpensive cell phone with a SIM card in it at the Saturn store in the upper levels of the Gerngross building near the Neubegasse station on the U3 line. For calling home from Vienna to other continents, special phone cards are available in Vienna. Inquire about this when you purchase your phone.
If you need dance shoes go to Tanzshuhen on 157 Mariahilfer, tel 893-31-01. To get there, go to the Westbahnhof U-Bahn station, go up to street level and take the 52,58 street trolley to the first trolley stop west on Mariahilfer. You can also get dance shoes at the House of Dancing on 38 Jorgerstrasse, tel 425-83-24. To get there go to the Westbahnhof U-Bahn station, transfer to the U-6 line heading north, get off at Jorgerstrasse, take the street trolley west. Call to find the hours they are open before you go. If no one at the phone speaks English, ask your hotel desk clerk to make the call for you.
If you need extra videotapes, the biggest store is Saturn, on the 5th floor at the Gerngross department store on Mariahilfer at the Neubaugasse U-Bahn station. Small Niedermeyer shops at several places around town also sell them. The tapes will be marked PAL, not NTSC, but since they are blank they are really neither until you record on them, and the only difference you will notice is in recording time. If you need 1hr photo development, go to Bildermacher photo shop on Neubaugasse a half block north of Mariahilfer.
If you have to catch an early flight when you leave Vienna, you will need an early taxi ride to the airport. Have your hotel desk clerk call to arrange for the early taxi 24 hours before you need it.
SIGHTSEEING. As for sightseeing in Vienna, my favorite is the old bibliotek, which is the old library, in the Hofburg. There are two libraries in different parts of the Hofburg palace: a new bibliotek in the center of the curved building at Heldenplatz and an old bibliotek at Josephsplatz. The old one at Josephsplatz is the one to see. It is now operated as a museum. Three walls bound three of the four sides of the Josephsplatz plaza. The middle wall is the wall of the library. You go through whichever door that is unlocked in the middle wall into a crypt under the library, find the ticket booth, purchase tickets, and perhaps the guidebook, then go upstairs to the library. Remember that the 1700's are called the "Age of Enlightenment". The Bibliotek, built in 1726, is possibly the most enthusiatic symbol of this spirit of enlightenment any where in the world. It is a cathedral to learning. If I tell you that you will be amazed, you will go in jaded and still be amazed. This library invented the card catalog and all later libraries around the world used card catalogs until the computer rendered them obsolete.
The Art History Museum (Kunst Historishe Museum) is worth seeing for the multi-level lobby even if you do not like art. It is the most palatial interior in Vienna, more so than any of the palaces. You should go up and see the interior of the dome at close range, and photograph it if you have your camera. In their bookshop you can buy a guide to all the museums in Vienna, more than 200. It and the Natural History Museum (stuffed animals and birds) are near the Hofburg; all are within walking distance of the Museumsquartier U-Bahn terminal.
Take a tour of City Hall (the Rathaus), if you are not going to a ball there. It is at the Rathaus U-Bahn terminal. The Museum of the City of Vienna, "Museum der Stadt Wien", diagonally accross the park from the Karlsplatz U-Bahn station, is also worth a visit, as is the Strauss museum at 54 Praterstrasse, near the Nestroypl U-Bahn terminal on the U1 line. And of course the old cathedral downtown, Stephansdom, at the Stephansplatz U-Bahn station, but try to see it when the sun shines, if it ever does, otherwise it is too dark inside. As for palaces, you can tour the Hofburg, Schonbrunn, and Belvedere. If you like garage sales and flea markets, visit the Naschmarkt, especially on Saturday morning. It is at the Kettenbruckengasse U-Bahn station.
If you have ever seen the operetta "Merry Widow", you should see the performance the the Volksoper in the suburbs. It is in german and you won't understand a word, but if you already know the story you will enjoy the performance better than any you ever saw in english. They put a lot more gesture and action than I ever saw in English. In German the title is "Die Lustige Witwe". If interested, inquire to see if it is playing one night while you are in town.
For music CD's, Gramola on Graben near Kohlmarkt or EMI on Karntner Strasse, at Fuhrich Gasse, both in the first district.
I attended the sunday afternoon piano concert in Sperl's coffee shop at Gumpendorfer Strasse and Lehar Gasse. Lehar used to spend lots of time in Sperl's. I copied down the names of some of the beautiful romantic Viennese music played: 1. Komm' in den Kleinen Pavillon - Lehar 2. Von Apfelbluten einen Kranz - Lehar 3. Meine Lippen sie Kussen so heiss - Lehar 4. Ein Herz das dish Liebt - Lehar 5. Walzer Intermezzo - Lehar 6. Dein ist mein Ganzes Herz - Lehar 7. Vilja Lied - Lehar 8. War' es auch nichts als ein Traum - Lehar vom Gluck 9. Heimweh heisst mein Lied - von Leopold Kubanek.
Arrangements of Viennese sheet music can be obtained from Doblinger in Vienna, http://www.doblinger.at.
BOOKS. If you want to be an extremely well informed tourist, you might want to purchase the English language book "Living in Vienna". For instance, you can find the Vienna Medical Association Service Department for Foreign Patients, telephone 401 44 for 24 hour emergency calls. The publisher can accept credit cards, but not over the internet. The website is http://www.awavienna.com.
Since balls were more prevalent in Vienna in the 1800's than today, and the famous ball music was written in the 1800's, you will probably be interested in a book that describes Vienna in the 1800's. The book "The Others' Austria" volume one published by www.ariadnebooks.com presents essays and letters by English and American visitors to Austria from 1814 to 1914. To the visitors Vienna seemed politically backward and culturally advanced. One visitor, a calvinist minister, drew the conclusion that all Viennese women were of the worst sort because they danced and made the unbelievable claim that the Austrian ruler made a similar assesment. A variety of viewpoints from a variety of visitors is presented. One learns that there were balls for all classes, and all classes mixed at some balls. There was not the need to be properly introduced that was prevalent among respectable English and Americans of the period. There are several descriptions of the dancing. On p.119 a visitor in 1843 said: "I do verily believe, that if but the first draw of Strauss' or Lanner's fiddle-bow was heard in any street or market-place in Vienna in any weather or season, or at any hour of the day or night, all living, breathing nature within earshot, would commence to turn: the coachman would leap from his carriage, the laundress would desert her basket--and all, peeresses and prelates, priests and professors, soldiers and shopkeepers, waiters and washerwomen, Turks, Jews, and gentiles, would simultaneously rush into one another's arms, and waltz themselves to a jelly." It was the sons of the Strauss mentioned here who wrote the waltzes still famous today.
A final note on Vienna today. Economist magazine in its May 5 2007 issue, on p.16 of its special report on cities that starts after p. 62 of the magazine, cites two lists of the best cities in the world today. Vienna is number 4 in one list and number 3 in the other. The only north American city rated better than Vienna was Vancouver.
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