Rolled into Vienna (all three of us all sitting comfortably on our own seats) at 3:30 after a 5 hour ride from Prague. By the time we figured out the local metro system, we arrived at the hostel a little after 5pm and checked in to find the best accommodations thus far on the trip. Think less a hostel room and more a hotel room. No TV. No Phone. But two single beds, space to walk within the room, a couch even, and most unusual of all, a fully functioning shower with sufficient water pressure. Indeed, the lap of backpacking luxury.
It was a nice evening and we did some exploring that afternoon. A labyrinth of streets, circles, and alleys once again made navigation a challenge at the onset but soon enough we gathered some semblance of awareness. Vienna is a beautiful city situated right on the Danube river with a small canal of the major waterway running through its city center. Parks, fountains and public squares fill in the gaps between impressive and attention grabbing buildings scattered throughout the relatively compact center ring of the city. Museums, a city library, grand cathedrals, concert halls and opera houses. Vienna is, and apparently has long been, a hub for fine arts. Some guy named Wolfgang was born down the road in Salzburg but lived most of his life here in Vienna…as did many other accomplished and celebrated musicians, artists, and other world renowned intellectuals. Lots of students toting violin cases on the metro. Though hard to get an honest “read” in just 48 hours, there seemed an air of sophistication on the streets of this capital city…Or maybe it was the absence of a giant penis costume roaming the public squares that just made it seem that way…either way, both during the afternoon and later that evening we enjoyed walking the streets and felt the same sense of security as we had earlier in Munich. That evening (Monday) we went out for some schnitzel and wandered the lonely streets of the city for about an hour afterwards. It was strangely quiet. Most stores closed. Not many on the sidewalks. We came to learn the following day that it was a holiday with most businesses closed…
The following day Jay, Chase and I met up with Sean and Lauren (whose travel plans yet again intersected with our own) down in town and planned the day’s itinerary. We would take a walking tour with the aid of an outlined tourist map before venturing out near the river for lunch and finishing the day back in the center ring with a tour of the Imperial Palace. As it turns out, not much going on out near the river…other than some commercial activity on the waterway itself, we searched high and low before finally finding a café on the water. The weather from the previous afternoon had carried over into Tuesday producing an afternoon of blue sky and warm temps. After lunch, it was back into to the heart of the city aboard the subway (an intuitive and easy system) for a tour of the Habsburg Palace. Bypassing the guided tour of the family’s silver collection, we followed the tours of Empress SiSi’s life and the apartments of the royal family. The history lesson was interesting and mildly entertaining though I can’t figure out why good ol’ SiSi draws such attention…In fact, I thought her story - that of a young woman turned empress who quickly grew disenchanted with both her responsibility and the celebrity accompanying it while instead traveling the continent and gratuitously indulging in the excesses of royal life (3 hr hair combing sessions daily???)…all before a tragic death at the hands of a knife wielding assassin - well, it just seemed to lack the kind of impact or significance that we were expecting. Nevertheless, a stroll through a different era while allowing the imagination to run with thoughts of life within the walls of a palace. Following the sightseeing, we concluded the afternoon roaming the aisles of the Vienna street market over near the Universitat.
That evening the group rendezvoused again at the heart of the city near the base of St Stephansplatz, an imposing gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral, for a glass of wine and some wasabi hummus purchased earlier that afternoon from the street market. From the informal happy hour at the steps of a fountain, we followed the recommendation of our hotel’s manager - the restaurant where Mozart himself ate his schnitzel regularly. Holy Schnitzel! That’s some damn good Weiner. For Desert, Apple Strudel from a corner bakery on the way home.
The next day was a travel day. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 2:10 pm from Vienna to Barcelona where I would lay over for just the night before continuing on to Philadelphia Thursday thus leaving Jay with Chase (and his speedo) on the beaches of the Mediterranean. However, before catching our train to the airport, we were back to Stephansplatz for a tour of its catacombs. Creeeeeepy. There’s a small chapel down there and a cemetery for some important heads of the church - Bishops and stuff…I gotta believe that’s pretty standard for catacombs of a prominent and important catholic church. But then, down through another tunnel we’re led to the collection of rooms built to house the skeletons of Vienna’s dead. Among them, 800+ or so who were inflicted with the Black Plague back in the late 18th century. Yea, so you might think as we did going in, that the stories of the guide would give color to a tourist’s imagination for what it must’ve been like to work the halls of these crypts tending the facilities and transporting the bones from room to room. Imagination not necessary. I think we were all equally surprised and creeped-out to see the piles of decayed bones and skulls in the steel-barred rooms…chills down the spine!!
Though leaving many sights and sounds unseen and unheard, we liked Vienna and could understand why it’s thought so highly of by the kinds of people who rank cities on quality of life.
Europe Trip 2011 drawing to a close for ya boy…one more stab at Barcelona and it’s back to life…baaaaaack to reality.