Vienna, Austria

Trip Start Feb 27, 2008
Trip End May 28, 2008

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Day 42- Bright and very early we boarded a train for Vienna. To both of our shock and surprise, the train left EXACTLY on time. I was not used to this and then I remembered,  'oh yeah, this is an Austrian train'. The train was clean and made every stop exactly according to the timetable. Most Americans might overlook the Germanic efficiency, ourselves included if we hadn't just come from Italy where there are rules about everything but nobody follows any of them. Quickly we left the lowlands and entered the foothills of the Alps, moments later the jagged peaks of the snow-capped mountains appeared in the distance. The train ride was not only aesthetically pleasant, the train cars had power plugs in each cabin so I was able to update my blog and listen to music as we passed through some of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen. Cute towns dotted the hillside and I saw forests of Douglas Fir trees again. I has been five weeks since I've seen any and they cured me of any homesickness I might have been accruing. After being on the road for so long with work, then with this trip, I find that I don't get homesickness any more. I've been away from permanent living in Oregon for so long that it's more like reminiscing than it is homesickness. I've learned to travel with almost everything that I need in the way of creature comforts (iPod, laptop, pillow and blanket, etc.). And as long as I can get an Internet connection here and there to stay in contact with the rest of the world, I really don't mind staying away.
We arrived in Vienna and checked into our hostel. It was a large building with 7 floors of rooms and a large breakfast and common area. The rooms were some of the cleanest I've seen so far and the beds were clean and comfortable, each with their own duvet and feather pillow. We have booked this chain of hostels in two other locations in Germany and I am really happy about it.
That evening we went out to explore and find dinner. To our disappointment, almost all the stores and restraints were closing while we were walking down the street. It was only 7:00, what's wrong with this place? Then again, I remembered that I have left the lands of siestas and late-night activity, and entered the land of early risers, hard workers, warm beer and schnitzel. Not to be deterred by the early closing times, we explored the area. We were shocked and awed by the amount of rule following that is done here. Signs are posted everywhere in condescending font, stating what should or shouldn't be done around them. At a crosswalk we stood with a group of people for 35 seconds or more while not a single car passed. Everyone waited for the crosswalk light to change before crossing. I never realized how much jay-walking had engrained into my life. I had the Italian view of the law where the cross-walk signs were not strict laws, but merely guidelines. Austrians clearly believed differently and I found myself getting very nervous standing at a street with no passing cars, thinking about how much further down the road I would be if I just crossed. One time Karla and I decided to just go for it and the looks that we got from people helped us not to break this rule for the remainder of our journey. Everyone in Europe (and the world) are effectively the same, it's the small differences that make you feel like an alien. We were forced to eat at McDonalds that evening because it was the only place open after 7:00. It was the best chicken caesar salad ever. Tasted like home....
On our walk back, death squads of street sweepers patrolled the walkways. No cigarette butt or gum wrapper was safe. Everything was shut tight and lights were out, it felt like 2am but in fact, it was only 8:45. Surely there must be something to do in Vienna after 9pm, we asked the lady at the hostel front desk if there were any good bars in the area. "I will show you!" she said, reaching for my map. She drew a mark where our hostel was, then marked a number of good bars in the area. After that she wrote the names of each tramline and the name of the stop that we should get on and off at. I folded the map and thanked her. The Irish pub down the street would be fine. "I will give you directions!" she said, taking the map from me again, seemingly ignorant to the five people in line behind us. She laid it on the table and pointed to the location of the hostel.
"You are here, when you leave the hostel, turn right," she rotated 90 degrees and points with her right hand. "go down two streets to the corner," she holds up two fingers, "and turn left," again turning 90 degrees to the left while maintaining eye contact with me. "Then you walk ten minutes down this street to the pub." She drew a straight line from the hostel to the pub.
This should not have taken this long.
I thanked her and we left. A simple mark on the map where we are and where we're going would have sufficed. As I said before, the bar was literally down the street. I couldn't tell if the girl was being overly helpful, or if she was talking to me like an idiot because I was an American. As I would find out later, this is just a byproduct of that Germanic culture that keeps the rooms clean and trains on time.
The bar was called Mabel's No.90 and they had great house beer. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the English speaking staff. After a pint each we made our way back to the hostel, and into our feathery beds for some comfy sleep.

Day 43- Our first item of business was the Belvedere Palace. This was a large residence formally owned by Prince Eugene, a Frenchman who helped the Austrians battle the Ottomans in the 18th Century. He was such a successful mercenary that he was able to build this luxurious palace and gardens just outside the walls of Vienna. After his death, it was acquired by the state and now it's a large art gallery. There were few pieces that we recognized. Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss" and "Judith" were the two most notable. There were two separate floors of impressionists and one of realists. The gardens in front of the palace were designed by a student of the man who designed the Versailles Gardens. It showed in there colorful symmetry. At the end of the gardens there was a second building, which housed two modern art exhibits. This is about as interesting as an art fair at grade school. The featured artist had a doll fetish, and a replica of his doll was in a chair, propped in a corner...naked. When I saw this, I'd had about enough and we left the Belvedere for lunch.  Karla wasn't feeling very well so she took a nap. I went shopping at the local market to get things for lunch and dinner the following days. That night we made ourselves burritos in pita wraps and had a nice conversation with our Serbian roommate. I managed to hold a conversation without making any stupid comments like, "where is Serbia again?" Later that evening, I would discreetly look up Serbia on the map. Mabel's no 90 for another pint and some English. We didn't venture further because all of the metros and trams stopped about 11pm. And really, how can you go out at night when you have a feather duvet?

Day 44- Today we took the subway in to the center of the city and toured the Imperial Palace. Well we intended to tour it but it was closed to the public, we just walked around it. There were parks around but they didn't seem very inviting because there were signs that said, "keep of the grass." How can you have a park if you have to keep off the grass? There was a traveling Egyptian exhibit in one wing of the palace so we went through it. Some of the artifacts of King Tut's tomb were on display and there were many interesting artifacts but most of the descriptions were in German. After that exhibit, we went to a butterfly house where dozens of species of butterflies were flying around. This was really enchanting, especially for the little girls. A butterfly landed on the hair of the girl in front of us and Karla made it apparent until she had a butterfly land on her. It was about 80 degrees in the green house. After 15 minutes, I was ready to pay a butterfly to land on Karla. (Naturally butterflies landed on me and everyone else around during this time) Vigilantly I waited with my camera. Finally by standing next to a feeding station, camera at the ready Karla had a butterfly crawl on her finger. Halleluiah! We walked around the rest of the palace grounds. We happened upon the Spanish stables where they keep and train the Lippizaner horses. I didn't understand all the hype around these white horses but Karla explained to me that they are well-trained, highly intelligent touring dressage team. She saw them in Montana with her family as a little girl. We stopped in at St. Stephens Cathedral with the bells tolling end of day. It was truly larger that life, but by this point I am so jaded from seeing cathedrals that we just walked in, took pictures and walked back out. We made burger and alphabet soup for dinner. It was comforting. It was a good that we had a kitchen because everything, food included, is expensive in Vienna. The rest of the night we stayed in and watched CNN with the roommates. Not because CNN is particularly interesting but because it's the only station in English. This also provided good topics of conversation between the Serbian/Chinese/German/American roommates. I've almost learned more about the world from our various roommates then from our travels.
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