Wednesday, May 23, 2012

High culture - at low prices?

This post is not about one of my trips. I didn't leave the country for what I'm telling you about, not even the city. 

But it might be interesting for those of you who decide to come to Vienna, because that's what it's about: Vienna. Or, to be more specific, the Vienna State Opera. Or, to be more specific, how to go the opera and enjoy a show without having to pay huge amounts of money and dressing up like it's your wedding day. 

Music is important in Austria, what with all the famous composers who are (or rather were) Austrian. Therefore, for many people music is what brings them here. They come to experience the athmosphere that inspired Mozart or Schubert or Liszt or Wagner or Haydn or Beethoven (not an Austrian, but he still worked here) or Strauß father and Strauß son or any other of the many musical geniuses who lived and worked in Vienna (and Salzburg and other places, but for this blog's sake, this is just about Vienna now). 

Obviously, the history of the place is important too, all the architecture and the art and oh my, there really is a lot to see, do and experience in Vienna, I might even blog some more about it. But, to get back to what I'm talking about, music is just a very important part of the whole thing. 

You can always just get a CD or listen to classical music by Austrian composers on the internet, even. But to sit in a concert hall in Vienna and listen to an orchestra is a lot better, believe someone who's done both. There's the Musikverein, the Wiener Konzerthaus or places like the Kursalon Wien, where you can get a Concert & Dinner Package (although I, personally, find that just tasteless and disrespectful, I feel like the music deserves your full attention). Those places are all wonderful and definitely recommendable (apart from the ones including dinner, which can also be really tacky), but to get the real experience of Imperial Vienna, you probably should go see an opera or a ballet in the most beautiful venue possible, even if it's not by Mozart: 

Opernring 2
1010 Vienna

I don't have any pictures of the Opera on my computer and if I start searching now on my external hard drives, I might as well discard this post and you'll never find out what I'm trying to tell you. So just go to google.at (the .at is important) and enter Wiener Staatsoper and the go to images and enjoy. 

I know the place is beautiful and huge and impressive and majestic. I went a few days ago - which got me the idea of this post - and I can tell you, when you walk around in there on carpeted floors and staircases between decorated pillars and gold-framed paintings and frescos in your pretty dress and high heels (or nice shirt and tie, if you're a guy) you feel almost like royalty. Seriously, the place is like a palace. 

OK, so this is a blog by a traveller for other travellers and here I am telling you how great it is to dress up elegantly and pay hundreds of euros (yes, hundreds - unless you don't care having a crappy view from your seat, then there's cheap(-ish) tickets too) to watch an opera or a ballet and in the interval have a six euro glass of champagne... am I crazy?! 

No, I'm not. 

I know that when travelling you don't have an evening gown with you, especially when backpacking. Usually, you wouldn't even have shoes nice enough to go to the opera with. I know that when travelling you can't spare that much money just for two hours of entertainment, no matter how special it is. Heck, most of us can't even spare that kind of money when we're not travelling, I know I can't (I took my mom to the opera for her birthday, I couldn't tell her no just because it's more than I can afford.). I know  that for a traveller it's even difficult to reserve a ticket weeks in advance, because we can't be completely sure we're really going to be in a certain place when we think we will, at least with backpacking that's the case. 

But there is a solution for all that. I wouldn't be rambling like this and trying to keep you reading for nothing, I have something for you: 

You can go to the Vienna State Opera for 3-4 euros. You can go to the Vienna State Opera in jeans and flipflops. You can go to the Vienna State Opera without having to save the date weeks in advance. And you still get the carpeted floors and the paintings and frescos and the pillars and the staircases and all that kitschy yet beautiful stuff. 

How? Standing! Yes, I'm serious. I've done it a few times and it's not as hard as you probably imagine it to be. 

Just check the schedule and see if there's something you'd be interested in and if there is, all you need is to take that day's late afternoon off from sightseeing. Standing tickets are available at a separate box office, which you find at a separate entrance to the building in Operngasse, on the left side of the building if you're looking at it from the Ring. The standing room box office opens 80 minutes before the show starts, so try to be there like 2 hours before the show starts, to make sure you get a ticket. That's because there's always a line, which only proves how awesome the standing room is. Simply bring a book for the wait (or your smartphone...), and bring a scarf, tie or large handkerchief. 

When you get to the counter, ask for the € 4 ticket for Stehparterre (perfect location). They only sell one ticket per person and you can't hold people's place in the line, that would be unfair to the other people waiting. As soon as you have your ticket they'll let you through to the standing room so you can choose where you want to stand and bind your scarf (or whatever) on the railing there. That'll be your spot and noone can take it from you, so you can leave again until the show begins and don't have to wait inside. 

During the show - and this is not exaggerated - you'll have perfect view of the stage, the acoustics in that section are also perfect and you can always lean on the railing behind you if you get a little tired from standing (which is not even 1,5 hours, it's 45+45 minutes, with a 15 minute interval). And, honestly, if you do get tired and want to leave after the first half, go for it, you only paid 4 euros. But it's really, really not difficult to stand - I've seen Swan Lake, the Magic Flute and the Flying Dutchman from the standing room and it was no problem. And I'm a lazy bastard! 

So there, this is how you can see a spectacular performance of world-class singers and dancers in one of the most beautiful venues of the whole of Austria (maybe even Europe) without having to dress up and spend all your money. 

Thank you for sticking with me and actually reading all of this. 


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