BootsnAll Travel Network

Viva Vienna

Written at 9:33 PM on 10-8-06 in Vienna, Austria

After two days of sightseeing in Rome, I’d had enough. It wasn’t that the sights weren’t amazing—they were. It wasn’t that there wasn’t more to see—there was. It wasn’t that I accidentally caused a fender bender while crossing at a crosswalk—I did. No, I just wanted to relax and take a break from museums. There’s only so much you can see—so many pictures of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus or Christ on the cross—before your eyes start to glaze over and you stop appreciating the art and beauty of what’s around you.

That’s why my final day in Rome was spent in a coffee shop. After hijacking internet from a computer that was out of order in the hostel, I headed out into the city to take care a bit of business. I went to the post office to send off a bit of mail, while scouting out for good coffee shops. Well, I thought I’d found one. It was this pleasant little corner with a bunch of umbrella-d tabled outside and a nice fancy inside with a bar and patisserie. Although it lacked two crucial ingredients to my coffee shop sittings—a wi-fi signal and a power outlet—I was content. I had a full powered battery and three hours to write what words I could find.

I ordered a cappuccino. Simple. I sipped on it for a while. An couple hours passed. Then I started getting unpleasant looks from one of the servers, so I figured I could stand to order another drink. That was when I made the mistake that know student of the Italian language should make. I ordered a latte.

You see, a little something you should know before venturing into coffee shops in Italy is that our term “latte,” which we take for granted to mean, a shot of espresso with a good amount of milk, is in fact Italian for just “milk.” I knew this, but I did not remember it. The server appeared confused at first, but as I was trying to speak in Italian, I took his confusion for a difficulty in comprehending my speech. He asked hot or cold. Well, I said hot of course. So guess what I got. A warm glass of milk.

Okay, I figured at least I’d ordered something. I was good for a couple more hours of writing before I left. I got a good number of pages in the novel written, as well as some other miscellaneous work done. Well, a waitress comes along, picks up my empty glass of milk, and says questioningly “latte?” Well, I figured she meant is that what it was. I said “latte.” I started to get packed up and indicated to another waiter that I would like to pay: “Vorrei pagare.”

He brought me the bill, but then there were two lattes on it. I started to comment, but at that moment the waitress brought me a second glass of warm milk. Well damn. It looks like I’d stay a little longer. I don’t really even like warm milk, especially two glasses! And the little layer of chocolate on the top did little good. I started to complain, but realized quickly that I might as well resign to paying. It wasn’t worth the effort, and given the stubbornness of restaurant management in Italy (as I had encountered it thus far), there probably wasn’t much point in arguing. They would have just gotten angry.

It got worse though. On the bill was my cappuccino, at a high yet reasonable 2.20 euros. The freaking milk was 3.75 a bloody piece! I gritted my teeth a clenched my fist in frustration. Ten euros for an afternoon at a coffee shop. I justified it, thinking that I’d have spent as much getting into a museum for the afternoon. Still, I couldn’t help but be grateful to be leaving Italy within a few hours and being on my way to a place where the customer service doesn’t include doing whatever the heck they want to. I suppose that’s what I get for trying to speak the language. Money spent and a learning experience.

I headed back for the hostel. I still had a couple hours to kill and a computer to charge. The problem was, for the past several days my computers power adapter had been in a deteriorating state. The connection of the cord to the power adapter was coming lose on account of my constant mistreatment of it. This meant that the cord had to be positioned in a precise way that would allow the flow of current. I’ve been relying heavily on my computer, and the threat of being unable to charge it weighed heavily on me.

At the hostel, I was told off for using the internet without one of their specially administered passwords. This is apparently in accordance to Italy’s anti-terrorist laws. I knew I shouldn’t have been doing it, but I really didn’t care. I talked a bit with a few other of the backpackers staying at the hostel; I then prepared dinner and got my things ready to go for the sleeper train to Vienna. I left the hostel and heading down to the train station with more than enough time to find my train and car without interference.

When I arrived in my cabin, I thought, for a moment, I would have an entire cabin to myself. There were six seats (four beds) and as the train pulled away, no one came. A ticket guy came by, however, and told me we’d be picking up another guy in Florence and a couple in Milan. The guy from Florence was a Californian living in Vienna and working for the Opera. He’d been at this for several years. The couple was older and from Austria. I didn’t really speak to them, but they sure as hell stared at me. It was weird and a bit creepy. I don’t know if it was just one of those things. But as I would get up, or open my pack, or take out a book to read, they would watch me as though I were some sort of fascinating zoo creature. You’d think they’d have never seen a backpacker! I had half a mind to tell them off, but it wouldn’t make any sense anyway. Besides, I suppose it was proper to respect cultural differences and maybe it wasn’t inappropriate to stare at people where they were raised.

I listened to an abridged audiobook of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as I tried to fall asleep. The sleep train was uncomfortable. The mattresses had no spring and the train had a lot of bump. I shifted and squirmed, and it was not until I was almost finished the three-hour book that I finally drifted up. I was awoken as the track finished and my ipod shifted to some loud music. This wasn’t really a problem, though, as it was only the first of about a dozen times I would wake up over the course of the night.

My sheets and blankets were twisted and stretched like a roll of dough, and by the time I awoke in the morning, there remained no semblance of a bed. I had about an hour awake before the train arrived in Vienna. The train’s complimentary breakfast included a little pre-packaged pastry thing and a miniature box of orange juice. Hardly enough, but when one of the Austrian couple left it behind at our departure in Vienna, I quickly snatched the breakfast up and consumed it.

Even though it was only 10 AM, I headed for my hostel, the Blue Corridor. I was going to check in and then meet my New Zealand flatmate, Julie, at her hostel. I thought my hostel was pretty cool—at first. The lady running the bar/hostel was older, but she seemed nice enough. And at fourteen and a half euros per night, I could hardly complained. The rooms had safes, there was a computer for free internet, there was a café adjoining the hostel, and—get this—the beds had silk sheets (or at least imitation silk). What I did not realize and did not discover until much later when I tried to return to my hostel in the afternoon, was that the main area—the common room/café—had a lockout from 1pm until 7pm. Lame! Still, it could be worse.

And Julie’s hostel was. Dodgy, would probably be a good word for it. After settling into my hostel, I went searching for hers. I found it, though I could hardly believe that the shoddy and dilapidated apartment building housed a youth hostel. Down a chipped hallway and up a stone staircase that had seen better, I found a door at the end of the hallway that was marked number 14. It wasn’t even labeled as a hostel except for a little inscription on the buzzer. I buzzed in and the hostel’s receptionist told me that Julie had gone out looking for me. I was supposed to meet her at her hostel at noon, but that was still an hour away so I went about looking to see if I could find her.

It didn’t take long before I found Julie. It was good to see a familiar face, especially one I’d not seen in two years. We exchanged greetings and then headed for a coffee shop to settle in a catch up. Julie had been traveling and working off and on in Europe for about two years. Most recently she’d been in Eastern Europe with one of our other flatmates, Cam. She recounted some of her adventures, a couple of which included her getting very very ill. There were good stories too, and I offered my share of anecdotes and tales as well.

The early afternoon rolled around and we decided to go out wandering in the city. We headed for the Inside Ring of Vienna, which basically included all the cathedrals and palaces and museums. The architecture was really amazing. The buildings gleamed white in the afternoon light. It was a crisp fall day, warm in the sun and cool in the shade. Our wandering took us past two cathedrals with enormous spires, half a dozen palace-like structures, and a handful of bronze and marble statues.

Surprisingly, there were very few people on the streets. Part of this had to do with it being Sunday. Everything closes on Sunday and apparently no one comes out, or something like that. Even the tide tourists seemed to have retreated. What a change after Italy! I could have shouted with joy. I could spread my arms when I walked. I could cross the street without weaving between two cars. I could look around without having my view blocked by the throngs of people. It was great.

We walked around a lot, but Julie and I didn’t really have anywhere in particular we wanted to go. Nor was there anything we really wanted to see. She was looking to recuperate after a nasty sickness in Budapest and I was looking to recover after Italy. We walked and talked in the noonday sun, enjoying the high rising baroque buildings that encompassed us. Lunch included a kebab. When we had seen all we wanted to see, we headed back to my hostel to plan for our next day. That’s when we found out about the lock-out. Well, we just hopped a couple buildings down and I was ecstatic to find a bar with those two things I mentioned earlier that make me happy, as well as something ever better. The first and second were an outlet and wi-fi. The third was dark beer. Oh yes, dark beer. I could’ve stayed there all day.

Not many bars have dark beers in Europe, except usually Guinness, and it’s usually expensive. This was good dark beer and at a reasonable price. I had a pint; Julie had tea. We cruised online and made plans. Brataslava in the Slovak Republic. Yeah, that’d do. Not eight hours into Vienna and we were already done with the city. We’d make it a day trip; hop the border, check things out over there, and head back. Julie also decided to continue on with me to Prague. I welcomed the company. She was leaving Europe the day after me, the 28th of October, and she had some time to kill before she met up with some friends in Germany.

We hung around that bar until 5 o’clock when a group with the table reserved forced us out. “Well, where to now?” I asked. We didn’t know. We had time before my hostel reopened. The suggestion of finding a cinema and seeing a movie came up, so we set out. We headed for the information booth back in Vienna’s Inner Ring, or whatever it was called. On the way, we spotted a cinema, and more importantly, a gelato shop. I had straciatella (chocolate chip & vanilla) and hazelnut. She had straciatella and chocolate. It wasn’t as good as the ice cream in Italy. I had a flicker of remorse, missing the cheap and amazingly delicious Italian gelato. I was content, though.

The cinema was showing two films in English; one I hadn’t heard of; the other was World Trade Center. Julie was reluctant to see WTC, fearing it would make her cry. Still, we had a couple hours to burn and it looked to be a decent movie. We wasted a little more time and then caught the six o’clock showing. The movie was pretty good; the story and images themselves weren’t particularly traumatizing, sad, or inspiring, but the ideas behind them were. It gave me goosebumps sometimes.

After the movie, I picked up half a sandwich at a nearby Subway for a cheap and easy meal. I got a bit skimped. The “Bacon Ham and Turk Melt” didn’t include any sort of melting. It included warming up one strip of bacon, throwing it on the sandwich and calling it good. Pretty lame even by Subway’s standards.

I walked Julie back to her hostel and agree to meet her outside her place at ten. I returned to my hostel to find the room now filled with people. There were a couple Swedish chicks and an Aussie named Matt. He seemed like a pretty cool guy; he’d been traveling around Eastern Europe, though he recommended not going to Brataslava, or else spending only a little time there. Apparently there really wasn’t much to see. I’d have rather gone to see Salzburg, but Julie wasn’t on Eurail and it would have cost forty euros each way. Plus it was a three and a half hour ride. Not really worth a day trip.

So that’s really about it. People in Vienna are friendly. We got offers of help several times by people on the street. No one seems in much of a hurry. There are coffee shops everywhere, just full of people relaxing. There’s a calm feel to Vienna, something like a sense of composure mingled with dignity. Maybe it has to do with all the baroque architecture and elegant buildings. It’s a cool place, but without knowing much of the history, culture, or language, it wouldn’t be too meaningful to explore the museums and exhibits. I can see Vienna being a cool place to live as an artist. There’s a vital atmosphere here, a sense of being in touch with the old while still standing on the precipice of the new.

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One response to “Viva Vienna”

  1. Miranda says:

    Bratislava’s not so bad…you just need to know where to go. I have relatives and a previous exchange student there, so we got a bit of an insider’s view. Granted, anything “touristy” in the city is still in the process of recovering, but there are nice things. 🙂

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