Kazuo Ishiguro is a name that has gained quite a lot of favor in the literary world recently owing to his Booker Prize winner – Never Let me Go. So it is of no surprise that when I spotted a hardcopy with a pretty cover and a tagline ‘Five Stories of Music and Nightfall’ authored by Kazuo Ishiguro, I instinctively picked it up.
Nocturnes is a collection of five short stories, spinning around music in Europe, nostalgically narrated and abruptly ended. I vaguely remember reading An Artist of the Floating World by Ishiguro, but these stories have a similar charm to them – a style that inexplicably weaves the reader into the narrator’s world.
A common thread across these stories is a love or pursuit of music and fame or the desire for recognition Then there are the troubled couples, lovers whom life has slowly clinched apart and those who are still inching closer and finding each other. But they only form a part of the story, a background tune. Rather, it’s the fleeting moments shared between strangers connected through music that form the chorus, with the impending goodbye as the crescendo.
In some ways, these stories are about travelling and meeting new people – who you never really know except in the few hours that they decide to spend with you. It’s about people who you wish you could have known better or people that bring out a different side to you – sometimes they are inviting and mysterious like a tune you can’t get out of your head, and then, as suddenly as they appeared, they disappear and become another of those strangers you might catch a glimpse of from afar.
Nocturnes builds up a rhythm of its own. It has the kind of stories you would exchange with unfamiliar faces across a campfire, a bit to impress but really to avoid forgetting them yourself. These are stories that don’t necessarily lead to a well-formed ending but have still somehow stayed with the narrator all along – eternal mysteries wrapped around quirks in a stranger’s behavior.
The book is a light read that draws you in and shows you the colorful, vibrant and nostalgic world of a stray musician – full of lies and dreams. Even if you’re not the short story kind, if you’re looking for a change of pace and love music enough to experiment with it, Nocturnes is definitely a go-ahead. And if you’ve read anything else by Ishiguro, I wouldn’t mind a recommendation myself.
P.S. This was slow in coming to me but I finally remember why the title sounds strangely familiar. Think Neil Gaiman and his graphic novel Sandman – no wonder then that this nocturnes has a dream-like aura itself!
Ah Vienna! In a city with such history, music and coffee houses, no amount of time spent can be enough. Here’s some questions and chunks of info that I hope make your trip better.
1. What’s with the Maria Theresa posters?
If you’ve heard of the Habsburgs, this should be a breeze. Maria Theresa was the only female ruler in the Habsburg dynasty. She and her son Joseph (who’s sculpture you’d see in front of the National Museum riding a horse) are credited with numerous reforms that were received well by the people. And so they are very famous and well respected. Incidentally, Joseph was the first one who decided that Sundays would be complete no-work days for all Viennese. So if you end up in Vienna on a Sunday and find more than half the shops/cafes closed, you know who to blame.
Another Habsburg, Franz Joseph, is tagged one of the factors responsible for WWI when he declared war against Serbia. In his defense, he did not really foresee what effects this little action of his would have, and he did think that the Serbians were responsible for murdering his nephew. Doesn’t reduce the impact of the war in any way, but an interesting thing to remember when visiting Vienna and seeing his name pop up in Schönbrunn Palace.
2. Why is everything closed?
Probably because it is a Sunday (read above). Well. Tough luck. All the options you have now are general sightseeing. You can still enjoy the day. Go to Schönbrunn Palace, hire a boat in Alte Donau (last I saw the hourly rates were on an average of 18 per hour for four people) or walk around Donaiunsel (and feel incredibly you- old watching the teenage crowd). Completely viable options. For your sake though, I hope you have another say in the city so you can see other places as well – like roam in Nashcmarkt, the food market, or check out the shopping scene in Mariahilfer Strasse or do everyday grocery shopping (even most supermarkets are closed on Sundays).
3. Is Schonbrunn worth it?
In one word. Yes. The major types of tickets available are (all of which include an interesting audio guide):
- Imperial Tour (€14,20) – Access to a few Castle rooms
- Grand Tour (€17,50) – Access to inner Castle rooms in addition to Imperial Tour
- Classic Tour (€24,00) – Castle rooms and other attraction in the garden (like the maze)
The Schonbrunn Palace is really beautiful. While the Imperial Tour covers the grandiose hall of the palace, there are many beautiful rooms which it does not allow access to like the black lacquer room which Maria Theresa had gotten designed in the memory of her late husband (a favorite). So I’ll recommend getting the Grand Tour at the least, if you hold even a teeny tiny interest in architecture or beautiful walls really. Oh and entrance to most of the garden area is free.
4. Coffee Kaffee
If you have coffee on your to do list, I’m proud of you. Vienna is well known for its coffee houses and rightfully so . They are the traditional socialization venues. You must try Melange here – espresso with skimmed and foam milk. It sounds similar to Latte but is incredibly smooth and really yum. If you’re a purist, I’d recommend Jonas Reindl. It has great coffee but not many options to eat except a few cakes. So if you need a plethora of snacks with your coffee, not your kind of place. In general, it’s hard to go wrong with the coffee houses in Vienna.
5. Which brings us to.. ice cream!
Yes they are worth it. And wonderful. And I would highly recommend Tichy. I was lucky enough to stay near the place on my visit and they completely justify the people crowded there at almost every hour of the day. Specially the fruit flavors (strawberry, blueberry) and coffee. It can get a bit far from the city center, but if you have a subway pass, enough time to spare or consider yourself an ice cream fan, do visit here.
6 Umm… Sacher Cake Torte?
Sacher Torte sits on the to-do list of many visitors to Vienna. And most of them end up at Hotel Sacher to have their first taste of the dessert. And it is good business for the hotel. Any hotel. So good that the Supreme court had to get involved in the debate of who can call their Sacher torte as the original Shacher Torte. Now Hotel Schaher might have gained the favor of the court, but if you want a more pocket friendly version, I found the ones sold at Demel pretty good too. I’ve heard Heiner has good ones as well so you might give them a shot too.
This is a bit tricky. I have realized, after much denial and as much as I like it, that opera is not for everyone. And giving it a shot for the first time can be a daring choice. Why? Because it’s costly af. If you’re a first timer, you can try getting standing tickets in Vienna Staatsoper (the major opera house in Vienna). They usually cost €7-10, but are sold out quickly. This way you can get a taste of the show without putting much at stake. If you’re feet hurt too much or you find you’re not interested, you can just leave. You can check out Theater an der Wien also, which is pretty good. It has comparatively cheaper tickets (if you don’t like the idea of standing) and there is a higher probability of actually getting tickets here (Staatsoper tends to get sold out really really fast).
8. Getting to all these places?
I’ve found the Vienna Subway passes to be a good deal. There are 24, 48 and 72 hour variants. They are approximately worth three trips on the subway and are applicable for all forms of public transport inside of Vienna. If you plan on using public transport, then this app on Play Store – Vienna Subways and buses – is very helpful. The best part is that it also works offline.
No matter where you end up going, Vienna remains a wonderful treat.
Booking Opera tickets can become a pretty hefty process, especially for newbies. What with looking up good theatres, finding the right websites to book from and then the right dates, seats, and what not. So here’s a handy list to get you started.
One key word here is advance planning. And advance in two senses – planning your itinerary and booking your tickets. If you want to watch an opera, you can’t count on it being staged on the exact days of your stay in that particular city. So it helps to check the dates in advance and tweak the order of your cities to match the opera dates. Once you’re done with the planning, it’s good to get the tickets booked too. If you wait too long, they’d either be sold out, or only the costlier ones will remain. The cheaper tickets tend to sell out faster, and while these might not offer a great view of the stage they have very good acoustics (sometimes better than center theater).
I prefer booking directly from the opera houses’ website. They are reliable and their information cannot be faulted. Often they offer the best prices as well. There are many websites which offer the same tickets at higher prices by buying at better rates earlier. They are actually good for last minute planners, as they might have a chance of finding tickets here even if the show is unavailable at the opera house’s website. Just make sure they are authorized dealers before booking from third party sites.
Here is a list of websites you can consult for your opera planning across different cities.
1. Prague – The National Theatre, The Estates Theatre, The New Stage and the State Opera
Prague has a remarkable collection of opera houses. Among these, The Estates theatre is one of the oldest performing theatres in Europe, preserved in its almost original state after having survived World War 2. Though I’d say all of the theatres are in par, and fairly light on the pocket (as compared to other cities).
The booking experience is also very smooth with their official website. While booking do pay attention to the type of show you’re booking for as they stage opera, ballets, musicals, concerts and laterna magica (traditional Czech show involving image projections).
You can find the program schedule here.
2. Vienna – Vienna State Opera
The Vienna State Opera needs no introduction. While it was not so lucky as The Estates Theater in regards to the War, it is no doubt a magnificent building. You can find the schedule for the current season in their website here. The ticket bookings can be done through the same link.
The Vienna State Opera also offers around 40-minute guided tours of their opera house at a reasonable cost of € 7.5 a lot of which focuses on working behind the scenes during an opera performance. So even if you’re travelling with people not much into opera itself, the tour might still be interesting for them. The booking for the tour is done through the ticket office in front of the opera but you can get a rough idea of the schedules from their website here.
Another website viennaconcerts.com lists different concerts in Vienna including performances scheduled in the State Opera (in case you’re not lucky with ticket availability on the official website). It also has a great range of Salzburg events which you can check out if you plan a visit to the society.
3. Paris – Palais Garnier
I believe the Palais Garnier deserves a visit whether or not you’re into opera. With its grand staircase, ornate art and rich history (it was the setting of The Phantom of the Opera), it is not to be missed. So it’s not a wonder that they provide visits to the opera house at specific days priced at € 7-10. You can check the schedules and book the ticket here.
For the opera performance tickets, you can check the schedule and book tickets at their website here. You need to create an account to book tickets through the website, which might be a hassle, but totally worth it in the end.
4. Milan – La Scala
La Scala is one of the most popular opera houses in Europe. It has a chequered history. In the old days it was usual for trading activities to be carried here alongside the opera, which roughened the experience for the average opera lover. Nonetheless, La Scala is connected with many world famous artists which have either debuted here or have graced the theatre’s stage atleast once in their careers. The tickets can be booked at their website here. The theatre also opens for visits and guided tours are available through third party operators.
5. Venice – Teatro la Fenice
There is no theatre which has seen more disputes over each of its reconstructions (the most recent being in 2001) than Teatro La Fenice. Still, it is a spectacular opera house and acclaimed worldwide. Tickets can be booked at their website here. You’ll have to do a calendar search to see what’s on during your visit. They have different types of tours available, the standard one being with an audio guide for €10 per person. There is no advance booking option but you can check out the schedule and types of tours here.