Surf and Turf, Ebbs and Flows Like a Viennese Waltz – A Travel Blog by Stephen White

Our group is now firmly entrenched in Vienna. My partner Bill Hamar and I are currently touring a group of 40 Dance Victoria subscribers through Europe. We arrived in the Austrian capital by train from Prague yesterday afternoon and took several taxi cabs from the railway station to our charming hotel, situated on a cobblestone lane: high ceilings and crown molding, window boxes planted with bright spring flowers – its romantic and central, just a block and a half from the underground U-bahn that races to the old town.

A statue honouring Franz Kafka. Photo by Philomena Hanson of Victoria Arts Marketing
A statue honouring Franz Kafka. Photo by Philomena Hanson of Victoria Arts Marketing

Austria is all efficiency. It’s clean, beautiful and it works. In contrast to Prague, Vienna is grand: each building in the old town, a masterpiece in Beaux Arts style.

Prague is not a “planned city.” It’s organic, a twisting maze of streets that evolved over centuries. On our final night we attended a production of the Czech opera, Rusalka at the National Theatre. The venue itself is worth the price of admission. The audience chamber is intimate, only about 260 seats on the orchestra level, and speaking of orchestra, the pit is about the same size in area as the main floor seating. The room is ringed with boxes and at least four levels stacked up to a ceiling with beautiful frescoes, everything laced with gold leaf. So intimate and yet, beguiling: a room the reeks potential. What will we see tonight?

This production of the Dvorak masterpiece was handsome. Beautiful lighting effects, contemporary ideas, gorgeous costumes; everything you would want in an opera. It has a (ridiculous) plot that closely parallels Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid – a water nymph that longs to be human only to have her liquid heart stomped on by a philandering prince. Then, poor thing, she’s damned to an eternal life between land and sea. The original surf and turf if you will. But I diminish its impact. There are some great ideas in the opera that do give you pause. And the oft-sung “Song to the Moon” has a haunting beauty.

It was sad to leave the beautiful medieval city of Prague. I will forever hold in my heart the view from the Charles Bridge as it empties into old town, but bow we are in the Hapsburg capital. Tonight Weiner Schnitzel, tomorrow the ballet.