Let’s talk about Vienna.
For most of my Travel Journal posts, I like to focus on one aspect of a city or one attraction that I visited, rather than the entire city, and write several different posts about the city. For example, I wrote a post about The Louvre in Paris, but I also intend to write many more posts about all the different places I visited while in Paris.
This, however, will be the only post hat I write about Vienna.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the greatest time when I visited Austria’s capital. I met some not so great people that were uncomfortable to be around, and even when I was on my own I was pretty stressed out (see my Traveling with Anxiety post for an explanation there).
That being said, I did have one very cool experience while I was visiting Vienna, so I wanted to write about it.
I would like to preface this story by saying that, yes, I know, it seems a bit strange. Maybe even a little unsafe. But please keep in mind that everything worked out very well, though I wouldn’t necessarily encourage others to take the risks that I did. I was lucky. But at the time, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
So, on that ominous note, let’s begin.
This story actually starts in Venice. While I was standing in line to go in and see Saint Mark’s Basilica (the line was ridiculous for that), I got to talking to a couple of fellow tourists. I mentioned that I was heading to Vienna after my stay in Venice, and the couple I was talking to very excitedly recommended that I visit the Vienna State Opera.
Given that I really didn’t have a plan of what to do once I got to Vienna (the biggest mistake I made on this trip, really), I was happy enough to take their suggestion.
And boy did it work out for me.
First of all, the building itself is pretty incredible.
I took a tour of the complex, which was led by a guide who discussed everything from the history of the building – including its destruction during World War II and the consequent rebuilding – to some of the backstage workings.
It was a fascinating experience, and served to make me extremely eager to see a performance on the stage.
Now normally, these sorts of performances are extremely inaccessible for your average person. Most tickets cost far too much for a recent college graduate to afford.
But the Vienna State Opera has a program in which they offer standing room tickets for only a few dollars! Granted, you end up having to stand for the entirety of a three hour performance, but I was 20 at the time, I figured I could handle it.
The tickets are offered a couple hours before each performance, so I was standing outside the opera house waiting for my chance to rush inside and hopefully claim a standing spot, when I was approached by an older British gentleman.
Apparently, I looked either English or American – enough so that he assumed that I spoke fluent English. He asked me what I was waiting for, and when I explained that I hadn’t already purchased my tickets, he asked if I knew where he could pick his up. I pointed him in what I thought was the right direction, but explained that the theater wasn’t open yet, hence all of us waiting outside.
I’m not entirely sure why he did it, but next thing I know, he’s explaining to me that he was meant to be meeting some business associates for this performance, but they were unable to come, so he had extra tickets. And would I like to join him for the performance. In orchestra seating. As in, some of the best, most expensive seats in the house.
Of course, this is sending red flags through my head like crazy. All that stranger danger, and don’t trust strange men, and all that that I’ve been taught all my life. But everything that he’s offering is extremely public, I don’t feel threatened by him (this is quite unusual for me, since I have a tendency not to trust men. Something that just kind of gets ingrained when you’re female).
And most importantly to me at the time, what he’s offering is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So I said yes, and he told me to stay put when the doors opened, and he would bring me my ticket. And he did.
That night, I saw the first performance of the Ring Cycle, written by Richard Wagner.
The Ring Cycle is a four performance show, meaning that in order to see the whole thing you have to go see it on four different nights. It’s quite a famous opera, and takes an incredible amount of talent by the actors to pull off.
I was utterly blown away by the performance. It was an experience like absolutely nothing I’ve seen before or since. Of course, the acting and singing were phenomenal, but as an added bonus, seeing it made me feel mature and cultured in a way that only going to see a famous opera in a famous opera house can.
And the fun didn’t end there.
My new friend, supposedly impressed by my analysis of various aspects of the opera (but probably more likely just a man not wanting to have to see it alone, and taking the opportunity to provide a young person with a great cultural experience), offered me the ticket for the next night as well. Which, of course, I accepted.
I always feel so weird about telling this story. It makes me sad to know that not only to other people, but also to myself, this story seems like it could have gone very badly.
After the second performance, I accepted an invitation from this man to go for a glass of wine and a piece of cake from a cafe across the street from the opera (it turned out to be a super famous cafe and a super famous cake, just as a side note). We spent over an hour discussing the opera, as well as ourselves, and I learned that he was divorced. That he owned his own business. That he had daughters around my age.
And when the wine and cake were finished we parted ways. He didn’t offer to return me to my hostel or anything creepy. I walked to the metro, he walked the opposite direction, and I never heard from him again.
What’s sad is that I consider it luck, rather than my own good sense, that I didn’t end up drugged or something. Obviously this man was harmless, or he would have harmed me. Yet society says I was lucky not to have been raped.
It’s an uncomfortable thought, and I try very hard not to dwell on it. I was lucky, but not because I wasn’t hurt by a stranger. I was lucky because I got to have this amazing experience that I will remember forever.