One (first) afternoon in Vienna

Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Austria  ,
Friday, October 13, 2006


Oh my god. What a fantastically beautiful city. I have never seen anything like it. Ever.


I first went out to get something to eat and stopped at a café at the corner of my street (non descript street, somewhat cute old café). Since it was already after 2 in the afternoon, I was the only one in the place and the proprietor came over and I asked what was the 'plat' of the day. Soup, blood sausage strudel, dessert. Before my brain could say no, I forced my mouth to say "Yes". Time to expand the boundaries again.

Soup was great, pumpkin- was green, but had wonderful flavors and thickness. Then the strudel came. Again, I wouldn't let myself balk, but simply took a forkful and ate it. Like a typical strudel- the pastry was extremely thin and flaky- the center (blood sausage) was about an inch and a half high and almost black. The consistency was somewhere between a rough pate and forcemeat. I have nothing to compare it to, never having eaten such a thing before. But it was good. Little chunks of potato were mixed, along with green spices (chives at least, I think in one bite a bit of cilantro even?). I liked it- would I order it every day, no, but I liked it. This was followed by apricot cake. Washed down with water- I was ready to face Vienna.

As I only have that crappy guidebook, I used a map I grabbed at the hotel and set out on foot to try and find Stephanplatz- the very center of town. I got out of the small maze of streets where the hotel is (three blocks from the first main building) and made it to the Rathaus- or City Hall. Incredible building (see pic) from there I walked into the Volksgarden- flowers still in bloom, fountains tinkling, filled with people taking the air- snapped a shot of a 'Sissi' statue (more on her later) and found myself facing the back of the Hofburg! Impressive from the back, the front was jaw dropping, I turned, and was on the high end shopping street, wondering at the utter beauty I walked down, turned, and was staring down at the Plague Memorial. By this point, each time I turned a corner I found myself saying, out loud, "Oh My God!". This city is simply jaw dropping.

I walked down, and was facing Stephenplatz and the great cathedral. By this point I was simply blown away by my simple 'walk'. I later learned I had taken what is considered probably the most beautiful walk in the city- and as you know by now, I kinda go on 'first impressions' and my first impression left me almost breathless. Went in to the Cathedral and sadly at that point got my migraine 'aura' and knew I had to leave and hoof it back to the hotel for my pills. Talk about depressing. So I started back.

Now, a word about migraines. I get them. It's statistically rare for a man to get them (only 10% are men) but long ago had full work up and, yup, lucky me, I really get them. You can tell someone who gets 'true' migraines- we fear them with an intensity that just can't be described. I have talked to people who say "I get migraines" so I ask what it is like for them and what they do (hoping, like a true sufferer for any hint on how to handle them) and when I get a response like "Oh, I take it easy, go home early and watch tv and relax" I know they have no clue what a migraine is. I have a friend who also has 'true' migraines, when we hear things like this, we roll our eyes, commiserate with the poor sufferer, and know the truth.

For me, this is agony beyond words. Mine are like one thin nail going right behind my left eye to the very back of my head. I feel as though my entire body is being hung on the nail- like those old torture scenes of someone hanging in a dungeon by their thumbs with feet three inches from the floor- only I hang by my head. The only thing to do is to take the pills- lie perfectly motionless in pitch dark and not move- not an inch, not a muscle. Sometimes the pain is so bad that tears leak out the sides of my eyes and wet the pillow- but I can't move to even flip the pillow. If caught early, this can last for some hours- if left to get worse without the pills- it can go on for days. Think about it- motionless for days, unable to get up, eat, drink, do anything.

By lying 'still' I mean not moving a muscle- my hands and arms go numb (recall, even when you sleep you move). I can't move them as the pain of movement to get blood flowing is not worth increasing the pain in the head- the analogy would be 'its better to hang three inches off the floor on a nail through the head than move my hand two inches and have my body start to swing on the nail'. Back hurts because you haven't moved for three hours? Tough. Shoulder in uncomfortable position? Tough. No movement. Gotta go to the bathroom? Tough. That pain is nothing compared to actually standing up and having the body, hanging by that nail, now be set to swinging like a pendulum. Sorry for the ramble on this, but you can't imagine the pain- I have prayed to God to simply let me die rather than go on with the pain- so I fear these deeply.

So, in the most beautiful city in the world (I think so at least, after one hour) I spent the next 6-7 hours lying motionless in a dark hotel room popping pills and praying.

It let up around 8, so I went for a walk to at least catch up on getting my bearings. At night, the city is ravishing.

So, early to bed in hopes that there are no recurrences tomorrow- up early and I want to see every inch of this place. Words simply cannot do it justice.

And a quick note about "Sissi". I used to collect biographies. Specifically, Royal Biographies. Sissi was a unique story- the Princess Di of her day if you will. Uncommonly beautiful, the Emperor fell in love with her and the married. She hated Royal Court life, it chafed at her (this was in the 1800's). She dutifully bore children (only one son, important later) but each time starved herself down to a 20 inch waist (anorexia?) even after 5 children, 20 inch waist (corsets helped). Now, remember Scarlett in "Gone with the Wind"? Trying on her dress after after Little Bonnie, Mammy can't get the corset tight enough "Miss Scarlett, you done had a baby, you aint never gonna be 23 inches (I think)again!" "Well then Mammy, I just won't have anymore babies!". Cue Rhett to get horny; conflict continues. She shoulda taken a note from Sissi. In fact, Sissi had her last child late in life (the "Hungarian" baby) she and the Emperor went to Hungary to be crowned (and change the name of the Empire) and nine months later, after years of separation, she had her last daughter. And STILL fit into all her clothes.

She was vain about her weight, considered somewhat mad because of her dieting (Princess Di?). Eventually, denied any part in raising her children (Mother in law took them from her) she left her husband, they never divorced (Princess Di?) she took to leading her own life (in the mid 1800's) and traveled, learned Greek, and became known as the greatest equestrienne in the world (at a time when everyone rode- no small feat). Her vanity was legendary, but pictures show her as, in fact, incredibly beautiful all her life (and thin) with long flowing hair. She set fashion trends. Everyone wanted to paint her portrait.

She was the rage of Europe and always talked about as being simply the most beautiful royal around (and there were lots of royals then). I imagine this didn't sit well with Queen Victoria (nothing to write home about in the looks department) or Empress Eugenie, or the Empresses of Russia (the two major ones of that time being a shade dowdy- my personal favorite, the tragic Alexandria came later, and was quite beautiful in her youth). Anyway. Her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph kept a lady friend (Camilla?) at the Palace, even while still being deeply in love with Sissi- who would only occasionally drop by the palace to say 'hi' and do a duty or two. She took lovers (gasp- and another similarity?) She became deeply involved in Hungarian rights (Princess Di?) and politics, something which a female consort should not normally do. She was so active, that eventually the Empire went from the "Austrian" Empire to the "Austro-Hungarian" Empire. She is worshipped in Hungary.

Her only son committed suicide in his early thirties, along with his mistress that he could not marry- thus, no direct heir, which beyond destroying Sissi (who, it must be admitted, didn't know her son all that well) left: can you guess the name? Archduke Franz Ferdinand as the next in line for the throne. It was his assassination in 1914 that started WWI.

I love history, woulda loved being a history teacher.

Anyway, Sissi died a tragic death (Princess Di?). Waiting to board a boat, she was stabbed through the heart with a very thin file (I could never quite figure out what it looked like as it is always described as a file, not a knife) by an anarchist. Being in her sixties, but still fitting into her size 20 waist clothes, she was corseted to the maximum; this in the world of Sachertorte and Victorian/Edwardian men being of mammoth size). Being so tightly corseted, she continued walking for a bit (never let the commoners see you suffer, if you are an icon) and sat down on a bench- she was so tightly corseted, she literally couldn't 'bleed out'- but in a few minutes, she died.

Europe mourned like never before (see the similarities?). The tragic Royal who's husband had another woman and who died a freak and unnecessary death, became more of an icon, and now she (over a hundred years later) in this part of the world remains a 'star'.


Today, breakfast. I again tried to push a boundary and had tinned "Smoked pork food product" on my nutty bread (God I love bread). Basically, it was pate` like- and tasted just like Spam! Tres chic. Tres simple.

Off to tour- hopefully no headache recurrance!

PS- saw US news last night on TV, at last. What the hell happened to Katie Couric?! I always watched "Katie, Matt and Al" in the morning (until Matt went a little 'right' for my taste). If anyone ever had too much 'work' done- its her! Doesn't even look like herself, her face is pulled back tighter than the skin on a sausage. I at first wondered who the woman was- unrecognizeable. There IS something to aging gracefully rather than going through life with a new face; one that doesn't even look like oneself!
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