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A big birthday and winter waltzes in Vienna

A winter trip to Vienna this year calls for two unusual travel accessories: birthday candles and a ball gown or tuxedo.

Mozart’s 250th birthday celebration is creating major buzz in cities around the world, but few are going as composer crazy as Vienna, where Mozart lived for the last 10 years of his life. Pair this mega-event with the annual winter ball season and citywide events, and Vienna emerges as an energized destination where history and tradition can be a vibrant part of the visitor experience. Although these events will certainly draw a crowd, winter is still one of the most affordable times to visit the city. Package deals and airline sales are cropping up everywhere, making it easier to enjoy the offerings at a better value.

Mozart 2006

Vienna—along with Mozart’s birthplace, Salzburg—may be the best city in the world to enjoy Mozart celebrations, with hundreds of related activities and attractions available specifically for 2006. The Mozarthaus Vienna, the only surviving dwelling in the city where the composer resided, has just been restored and opened as a Mozart museum. An exhibition at the Albertina Museum, home of one of the world’s largest graphic collections, utilizes virtual displays and artwork to explore the life and times of Mozart. And, performances of Mozart’s works, musicals about Mozart, a marionette version of the Magic Flute, and other stage interpretations of all-things-Mozart will command venues around the city for the whole year.

Additionally, Calling Mozart kiosks around the city provide cell phone users with numbers to call for more information about the composer. Visitors without cell phones can rent audioguides or download MP3s with the same information. And, with one-hour chamber music concerts performed by young musicians, the Mozart Oasis project brings free live music to Vienna’s museums, shopping centers, and office buildings.

Mozart celebrations will continue throughout the year with ongoing events such as the Vienna Festival from May 12 to June 18, which specializes in modern productions of classics, and will feature Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Cosi fan tutti, and Zaide. There are also free Mozart films at Rathausplatz, the city hall square, from July 1 to September 3, and the Mozart Marathon, which pairs the Vienna City Marathon with a simultaneous Mozart musical marathon performed by the Vienna Philharmonic.

Annual carnival ball season

January and February also bring the annual carnival season of formal balls. Three large balls will be held in February: The Johann Strauss Ball on February 14, the Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball on February 17, and the high society main event, the Opera Ball on February 24. What once was the realm of only the nobility and the well connected is now a bit more accessible, and tickets to some of these February events are even available online. But divisions remain: At the Opera Ball, prices range from 12 euros ($14) for a spectator pass to 16,000 euros ($19,152) for a dress circle box, and as of press time, there was a waiting list for tickets.

For the Johann Strauss Ball, tickets start at 35 euros ($42). Should your waltz not yet be ready for prime time, dance workshops are offered at the event. In addition to indulging in dancing and champagne, ball goers will get to see the opening ceremony, a midnight quadrille, and a special Valentine midnight show. For the Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball, an event that attracts about 5,000 people each year, tickets start at 85 euros ($102).

Other events

Visitors who need to rest after so much activity can pull up a couch, as this year also marks the 150th birthday of Sigmund Freud. To celebrate, the Sigmund Freud Museum will curate a show related to Freud and psychoanalysis, and will be hosting talks and other activities throughout the year.

Also, winter is the only time to experience the Vienna Ice Dream, an ice skating rink in Vienna’s city hall square that is surrounded by food stalls, a stage for live and broadcast music, and non-skating activities for kids and families. There are reduced rates for children and families. Entrance to the Vienna Ice Dream is slightly cheaper before 4:00 p.m.

Saving money

At press time, Austrian Airlines and Air France were both listing February flights to Vienna from New York for around $500 round-trip. Oftentimes, travelers can find affordable overseas flights from the U.S. to high-volume European gateways, then book a cheap intra-European flight to their destination. Although Vienna is not serviced by major low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair, a few smaller airlines offer affordable routes to the city. Air Berlin departs from London Stansted, with standard fares under $50 each way that drop to $10 each way for autumn 2006 travel. Germanwings flies from 19 euros ($23) each way from both Stuttgart and Cologne, Germany.

Bundled air-and-hotel packages can offer easier booking, possible savings, and sometimes transfers or other perks. Austrian Airlines has a Mozart Memories air-and-hotel package with stops in both Salzburg (the other major Mozart celebration city) and Vienna, which includes some meals and a concert in Vienna, from $949 through the end of March. Go-Today also has Vienna packages, such as air and six nights’ accommodations from $559 for visits until March 23.

Air-and-hotel packages are just one of the many types of bundled services available to travelers. Purchasing airfare independently frees up the opportunity to choose from one of the many land packages that combine hotel stays with concert tickets, ball entry, exhibition passes, or other activities.

For example, Mozart-themed packages start at 100 euros ($120) per person for accommodations, breakfast, tickets to a Mozart concert, and admission to the Mozarthaus or the Mozart exhibition.

Ball guests can find packages that include two nights’ accommodations at a four-star hotel, limousine airport transfers, a sightseeing tour, and tickets to the Johann Strauss Ball, from 195 euros ($233) per person.

This year, Vienna is packed with reasons to visit, and a trip before the summer high season offers lower prices and a unique blend of opportunities that will melt away before spring.

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