It’s a chilly gray Saturday afternoon and I am standing at the window of our apartment in the center of Vienna, sipping apple-cinnamon tea and gazing out at the ornate old buildings across the way. Ahh. This is the life. There are lots of things to see in Vienna, but at the moment this is all I want to look at. What’s that? Why aren’t we in Turkey? Oh, right. We were supposed to pop over there after our stint in Romania. Well, the simple answer is that we were tired of being unsure and confused. As much as I loved Romania, I have never felt so ill at ease when I came to getting from place to place. It was isolating. We imagined that Turkey was not going to be better and perhaps it would be even worse. Besides that there were some other factors that came into play. First, we weren’t really going to be able to do anything in Turkey that we originally wanted to do. Adam had wanted to go to Ephesus and Cappadocia and I had wanted to spend some time exploring the rest of the west coast. But due to time and money constraints, the only thing we could do was go to Istanbul for a few days and then head all the way back through Greece and over the sea to Italy. We had no idea how we would do this or how long it would take. So instead we took the night train from Bucharest to Vienna and didn’t look back.
Even though the train ride ended up taking over 18 hours, it was definitely one of the most exciting; we finally got our own little overnight cabin. It wasn’t at all large, but it was all ours and we didn’t have to worry about someone else coming in and spoiling everything, We listened to some music, played some cards, read, and relaxed and then got to stretch out fully in a bed with sheets and pillows. We even had our own little wash basin. Except for the interruptions at 3:00 in the morning for passports checks, it was extremely relaxing.
The conductor in our cabin was uncommonly thorough. When he came by to check our tickets he told us gravely that we must remember to lock our door when we went to sleep because Hungary was very dangerous. I had a feeling that had we been traveling the other way with a Hungarian conductor that he would have said it was Romania that was very dangerous, but whatever. I wasn’t planning on sleeping with the door open anyway. Around bedtime I opened the door to go to the bathroom and he walked by motioning to me to lock the door. I nodded in assent. Later when Adam got up and we left the door slightly ajar, he knocked and told me to make sure to lock the door and reiterated how dangerous Hungary was. I assured him that I was aware of that and that as soon as Adam came back from the bathroom we would again lock the door.
It was drizzling when we got to Vienna, but I almost prefer the grayness in there. The city towers over you so that it feels as if you are in a giant labyrinth enclosed in a snow globe. Gardens and museums and palaces, oh my! Everywhere you go causes you to turn around in circles and exclaim, “Look at that. Look at that. No, look at THAT!”
The Habsburgs evidently felt that if you’re going to do an empire, you should do it well. The colossal palace and surrounding buildings and gardens take up a good chunk of the center of the city. The large shopping district composed of walking streets is also impressive, the modern shops interspersed with historic buildings and churches. Our favorite bookstore in that area was Frick, not just for its selection of English books, but also for its name.
If art nouveau is your thing as it is mine, Vienna is one of the must-see cities. I’ve always been captivated by art nouveau’s tasteful middle finger to Victorian art and thought. All you have to do is walk down the street to see the huge influence that the art nouveau movement had on the architecture. If you really want to see something special, the Secession Building, called so because the artists who were showing their work there were seceding from the current world of art, is breathtaking. The brilliant white building with its golden filigree globe on top is the ultimate monument to the artists who inspired so much beauty in the city.
At the city hall and in the park across from it, people were setting up for a huge Christmas market. It looked as if it would be like Christmas in the Park if Christmas in the Park wasn’t lame. The city hall itself had been decked out as a giant adventskalender with the 24th in the middle of the clock tower. All around people were constructing booths that would sell not only Christmas wares, but hot drinks and tasty pastries. Lights were being strung and the centerpiece, the tree, was still bare, but set to be decorated. I felt a little twinge of sadness that not only would we be missing out on holiday celebrations with our friends and family, but also that it will be probably 90 degrees on Christmas day. Not that Christmas in California is always cold, but at least it’s winter.
You can spend plenty of money in Vienna going to all of its 750,000 museums, or you can spend hardly any money and just walk around a city that is pretty much a museum in and of itself. We liked it so much that we extended our stay an extra day just so that we could relax and soak up all of the opulent artistry of a city that is worth getting to know intimately.