Vienna Waits For You

Trip Start Jun 12, 2006
Trip End Nov 28, 2006

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Flag of Austria  ,
Sunday, October 1, 2006

She Said:

I knew two things about Vienna before we arrived. The first is the song by Billy Joel, "Vienna Waits for You", and the second is that the Von Trapp children in "The Sound of Music" were from Austria. Neither really have anything to do with the city, so when we arrived in the late afternoon to a lively, urban city outside of the train station, I really felt like Vienna WAS waiting for us to explore!

The first hotel was full, and the receptionist told us that the next two places on our list were also full. We dropped our bags and began to make some phone calls. I didn't realize that Vienna was such a hub for travelers and that most people traveling east or west stop in Vienna for at least one or two nights. So, after dabbing the blood from Chad's head after he hit it once again, we called a place close by and found a room for what we thought was a good price. Unfortunately, I should have made the call because, in his semi-concussive state, Chad misheard the woman on the phone, and it ended up being about twenty euros more than we wanted to pay. But, since we only had two days and it was a nice, CLEAN place, we stayed anyway.

We regrouped and headed out to begin touring this massive city with so much to see and do. Our introductory guided walk was actually a self-guided tram tour. We paid the tram fare (similar to subway fare), and looked left and right when instructed to do so by our friend Rick who pointed out some of the major buildings and statues along Ringstrasse, the circle containing the old town. After the tram tour was over, we headed back to City Hall where we spotted an outdoor fair. There were a few rides, a circus, and tents set up with ethnic foods and pastries. We sat at a picnic table and enjoyed our first meal of bratwurst and sauerkraut with two local beers.

The next day began early as we only had two days to enjoy Vienna. On the way to the ring (basically where all the sights are located), we passed an outdoor fair. Chad took one look at my face and decided to allow me an adequate amount of time to explore before the official touring began. It was actually like one big garage sale, with tons of locals selling their used items while sitting around chatting with one another. There were food vendors and a traditional Austrian band (we think) with about eight, elderly women as back-up singers dressed in traditional attire. With such beautiful weather and a short time in the city, I was happy to be outdoors amongst the locals.

When my time was up, we walked around the ring to see many of the sites up close that were featured in the tram tour. We began at the opera house, and while contemplating seeing an opera, we admired the beauty of this 130 year old building where Placido Domingo stops by once and a while. The Philharmonic was playing that evening, and if we wanted cheap tickets, we were told to line up one hour before the show and take standing room only tickets. We also wanted to see a Mozart or Strauss concert, so we decided to wait.

Our walk continued until we reached the Monument Against War and Fascism, a statue remembering the victims of all wars and violence. The monument was extremely graphic with a montage of wartime images carved at every angle on top of a piece of granite from the quarry at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Next to this statue was a figure of a Jewish man hunched over, forced to clean anti-Nazi graffiti off the street with a toothbrush. The next nearby sculpture was of a man with his head buried in the stone, a reminder to Austrians of the consequences of not keeping their government on track. Finally, there was a monument dedicated to the 1945 declaration of Austria's second republic, placed strategically where hundreds of people were buried alive while hiding in the cellar of a building during a WWII bombing attack.

We then strolled down Karntner Strasse, a pedestrian, mall-like street, which felt like Fifth Avenue meets Herald Square, and we dropped by to see another St. Stephen's. This time, no holy relic, but we did climb like 300 stairs for the panoramic view with two Italian women who were screaming about how tired they were the whole way up! Next stop: the infamous Hofburg Palace, including Imperial apartments, Imperial Chapel, Empress Sissy Museum, and a royal silver and porcelain collection. The silver collection was quite boring, I mean, one set of forks looks like another set of forks to me. The Imperial apartments were remarkable, as they have been pretty well preserved since the Hapsburg rule. Although the Treasury was highly recommended, we skipped the diamonds and jewels and opted for the beautiful weather in a park outside of the palace to hang out with a statue of Mozart.

We decided to indulge in the famous Viennese coffeehouse scene, so we picked a place with the following description, "Brooding Trotsky atmosphere, with paintings by struggling artists who couldn't pay for the coffee, saloon-wood floor, chalkboard menu, smoked velvet couches, international selection of newspapers, and a phone that rings for regulars." Needless to say, it was a cool place.

For our second and final day in Vienna, we got up early to try and see as much of the city as possible. There were about ten museums and five palaces to choose from, as well as, recommended close-by daytrips. Feeling overwhelmed by having to "tour" all day, I was so grateful that Chad agreed to just walk around for a while. I think it's important to see the major landmarks of a city, but once that is done, nothing beats walking aimlessly through a new city. We must have walked for hours through the streets before stumbling upon a "site", this being a square called Judenplatz. This is a square marking the location of Vienna's 15th Century Jewish community, one of Europe's largest at the time. It is now marked with a memorial for the 65,000 Jews killed by the Nazis in the form of an inside-out library to symbolize Jews as "people of the book".

We continued walking until we found a great people-watching spot in a city park and picked a bench next to a statue of Mr. Johann Strauss. I am pretty sure we saw groups from about ten different countries all stop and take a picture with the statue. We watched as each group posed and acted differently, and listened to their native tongues trying to figure out where they were from. We weren't sure if everyone knew Strauss and his music or if they just thought it was a cool looking bronze statue in the middle of a park! It did make us want to attend one of the many concerts featuring Strauss and Mozart, but we decided against it as they were extremely expensive with supposed amateur performances to show for it. Basically, a tourist trap.

We continued walking, discovering bookstores and shops along the way, until finally, we found another Viennese coffeehouse and planted ourselves there for a few hours. We had a late lunch, coffee, and some famous apple strudel. As dusk approached, we headed back to collect our bags and find some internet access at the train station before our train left for Munich, there was a Gator game waiting!

As I read over what I have just written, I realized that my words match my experience in some ways. I feel like we just scratched the surface in Vienna, and this is a city that I would definitely like to come back and explore further.

He Said:

After knocking the living shit out of my head again, this time drawing blood, I got on the phone to call for available rooms in Vienna. In my semi-unconscious state of also not knowing German, I apparently misheard the cost of our accommodations. Other than that, my first impressions of Vienna were as I thought they'd be.

The Austrian capital is probably the grandest city I've ever seen. Old town structures stand shoulder to shoulder as every building on every street seems to demand reverence, respect, and recognition under a dome of blue. The only thing I've seen that comes close is Washington, D.C. - spinning in the middle of the National Mall with museums, monuments, and memorials whizzing by. But Vienna is so much older, and to say that it exudes refinement would also be saying that Washington desires the same thing.

I was really looking forward to Vienna's cafés and its food, and after tending to the blood on my head, we wound up at a fair-like plaza for dinner. Maybe it was just anticipation for the impending trip to Oktoberfest or maybe it was because we were starving, but we sat under the nearby circus lights for hours drinking Austrian beers and eating grilled bratwurst. We noticed a passing "Stammersdorf"-bound tram, we heard the oompah circus band, we had a few more beers, and I was ready to jump the next train to Munich to get the party started. But, my wife politely reminded me that Vienna waits for me. And, she scolded me for misplacing a 20-euro bill, despite the fact that my brain was marked with a soap dish-sized indentation.

We started early the next morning and were instantly thrown into the musical traditions of the city. We passed the Vienna Opera House, contemplated getting in a standing-room-only line, and then headed down the Musical Mile marked with Hollywood-esque "stars" honoring great composers. Since there were so many sites to see, we chose not to waste our time standing in a line, and we eventually decided that the touristy Strauss and Mozart concerts probably weren't worth the money. So we left Vienna without listening to anything aside from my humming renditions of "On the Beautiful, Blue Danube" while thinking about the weightless, floating scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

More reminiscent of the opening scenes in that film was the Monument Against War and Fascism, which consisted of three monolith-esque pieces of granite taken from an old concentration camp centered around a crouched figure depicting the oppression faced by Jews during World War II. Some of the images on the statue literally made me stop in my tracks, which is what they were intended to do. Images like a man with his head buried in stone and a dying woman giving birth to a hatred-laden soldier were disgusting and revolting, yet they reminded me once again of the dangers in turning societal eyes and hearts away from those in need. Still today, common people are all getting taken advantage of by a small percentage of the wealthy and powerful who will do anything it takes to maintain control and pull the shades over our eyes - no matter their nationality, political party, race, religion, or economic philosophy. Greed transcends these things and uses them to retain power.

On that note, any mention of "Vienna" and "power" in the same sentence must also include "Hapsburgs." This royal dynasty dominated the entire city in much of the same way it once interwove with the rest of Europe. We visited the Kaisergruft and learned how Empress Maria Theresa made Austria strong by marrying her children into other European royal families. We toured the Imperial Apartments and heard about Princess Sissy, a movie star-like figure from Bavaria who married the Austrian Emperor. Their son committed suicide shortly before she was stabbed to death on the streets of Geneva. To this day she is adored by all Austrians. And to end our "Hapsburgs' Day" we sat outside in Heroes' Square and admired the massive palace built for Franz Ferdinand, who never lived there because before he moved in he was assassinated in Sarajevo to begin World War I.

After a long day of learning, we settled into my favorite part of Vienna - its cafés. I was really looking forward to this, especially after enjoying café time along the main square in Krakow. We spent many hours in the Viennese cafés and tried out many different types of scenes in many different neighborhoods, each time I achieved success.

It used to be hard for me to write or read in cafés because I was so caught up in being in a café that I couldn't write. Now, after really learning how to use them here in Europe, it's almost hard for me to write when I'm NOT in public. Needless to say, I wore the computer battery out, and we got a lot of blog work done. We also read more on Austrian history and how, despite the fact we think of them as "western", they were never members of either the Warsaw Pact or NATO. And we assumed the true Viennese position of watching people as they passed by our table in the window.

Later the Vienna Gator Club was born in the train station as we listened to the first half of the Alabama game on the internet, unfortunately missing the second half for our overnight train to Munich. It didn't start out very well, but the momentum began to change. Alli and I yelled after our first touchdown, and everyone stared. I stared at her and hoped that she would never change. I hoped that I'll never have to look back on this trip and wonder where this Alli went. So far we've had so much fun together, but that being said, it's off to Oktoberfest were I'm sure, at some point, I'll get in trouble.
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