Thursday, September 24, 2009

Europe, part II

12 September 2009
Vienna, 8.30pm

When I look at the date of yesterday’s diary entry, it really surprises me, because it certainly doesn’t seem like only a day since I was sitting on that train writing that entry. Yet our time in Vienna has gone by very quickly, and I will be sorry to leave so soon, tomorrow—except that we are on our way to Prague!

We arrived at the Westbahnhof at about 2.15 yesterday and reasonably soon found our hostel, which is extremely close by. It’s name is the ‘Happy Hostel’, and I am certainly happy we booked this one, because it’s wonderful! We get a huge room to ourselves, and because no one is in the room next door, also a shower, toilet and kitchen! Free internet, friendly staff, gypsies bowling up in the morning and offering me a cigarette (true story) – all for only €21 a night!

So after a couple of hours digesting our accommodation, we headed off into Vienna, deciding to go to the Schönbrunn Palace, a short tram-ride away. This was the residential palace of the imperial family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The palace itself was beautiful but the grounds itself were the real highlight – the manicured gardens were so much prettier than I could have imagined, and then looking up the hill, a gloriette at the top. Woodlands surrounding, with different paths running through them, fountains to happen upon.

Back near our hostel, we had Puten (turkey) Schnitzel that night, because it seemed sort-of Austrian.

This morning we discovered that the muesli we’d bought the night before was overwhelmingly sweet, with clumps of white chocolate; also that “Butter Milch” is NOT milk.

We set off to walk down Mariahilfer Straβe. This would lead us into the central city and the Hofburg Palace, but in the meantime provide us with lots of shopping opportunities! We both made purchases at H&M – I bought a scarf. Katie bought just a little bit more!

It didn’t seem like a very long walk, with so much distraction, and we came to the first set of buildings of the Hofburg Palace at about 11.30. This is a huge place and we didn’t know where to start, so we wandered aimlessly for a while, Lonely-Planet-less. But eventually we came across a big Austrian food festival in the grounds; tents and tents of pastries, meats, HUGE cheeses, wine, beer… Bought what I think were called ‘topfels’? Then found a big tent with many tables in the middle, a brass band in national dress, and FOOD STALLS all around the sides. We each had a kind of Austrian hot dog, very long with a kransky-like sausage, and I had a beer. It seemed like a weird juxtaposition to be feeling so Austrian, and then to hear the band start playing Michael Jackson’s ‘We are the World’. Then we couldn’t resist, and bought a pastry to share. DEFINITELY my favourite thing in Vienna.

After this we moved out of the palace area and into Vienna central. This was much more like the Austria I had seen in images than the part of town we were staying in. Horse-drawn carriages and deceptively “simple” architecture. We went into one church, St Peter’s, that looked very ordinary outside but was stunningly ornate inside. Then to St Stephen’s, the cathedral. This was very different though no less stunning, very Gothic, with huge grey columns soaring up and very little colour, even in the windows. We decided to go up the spire for the view – had to cram into a tiny little elevator with an Austrian man who kept making comments in German that no one understood. On the way back down, one of the more surreal experiences as we crammed in there silently – Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive”, on the radio. “Ooooh, as long as I know how to love…” Couldn’t help looking at each other and shaking with giggles. Burst out into the cathedral again and couldn’t quite get into the solemn, contemplative mood after that, so we left.

Had a weird and embarrassing/angering experience at a café – turned out that by going to the counter and ordering for ourselves tea/coffee we disqualified ourselves for a seat, and had to stand up near the door by a bar table. Angry waiter very indignant when we questioned his instruction to get up off the chairs we had claimed. Felt very bitter and considered sitting on the ground with our drinks, just to lower the tone of their overpriced establishment.

[Above is Wilson, the little sheep a friend gave me to carry around Europe with me and photograph in different places, à la Amélie.]

We headed back through the Hofburg, stopping to relax in the gardens outside the Natural History Museum for a while, and then visiting the museum itself. It was a good museum, but its building was the most impressive thing for me – an amazingly grand entrance hall. I took a photo of Katie on the stairs looking up and just as I took the photo a VERY, VERY HANDSOME museum worker came into the frame, jumping out of the way as soon as he realised. Thank goodness the photo caught him! So good-looking. With a nice smile. And later, as we left, he said “Tchüss!” to us. I think we had a little moment there… :) [Apologies to the blog readers: I took this photo on Katie's camera, so for now you are unable to see him!]

From there it was back to the hostel. We paused on the way to get a kebab from a street vendor, and it was really good. At €3, only 10 cents more than my expensive and uncomfortable tea earlier in the day! Lesson for the day: Avoid fancy-looking cafés.

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