Friday, July 16, 2010

Europe 2010 - Salzburg to Vienna - Day 9 of 12

I felt quite sad today at the prospect of leaving Salzburg, site of so much constantly stimulating conversation. I'm not terribly social (or let's just say, my sociability is just shy of being terrible) but I somehow managed to fit in with this crowd. I look back on a roller coaster of feelings and know that this trip ended on a steep "up" plateau. And now I faced days of solitude. That's why I was so happy to share a cab and part of a train ride with two SJSU pals, not the least of which because our first-class car delivered the first blast of air conditioning I'd experienced in days. A couple hours later, with hugs and promises to stay in touch, I was on my own in Vienna.

Vienna Metro
Right away I grabbed a 72 hour U-Bahn pass. Though during the length of my stay, no one asked to see it, I knew it would be infinitely better to have one if faced by an agent demanding the metro version of "papers please!" Frankly, the three-day pass is an insanely good deal. With it, the metro becomes a car driven by a pal with why-the-hell-not? attitude. Have you heard about that cool Art Nouveau house across town? Haven't a clue. Let's check it out! Isn't that cafe where Sigmund Freud worked out his theories on the subconsciousness? Beats me. Let's go there anyway! Best of all, when I get lost or just tired (a frequent occurrence by this part of the trip) I could simply board any tram or bus and take a break to catch my bearings and some rest.

St. Stephan's Cathedral on the Stephansplatz
Ah, the thrill of entering the subway of a new town. Soon enough, the rail system becomes familiar, but the first time I see those signs, when I check my map to determine which landmark leads which direction, I always get a charge. Descending the stairs this first day, I hummed that eighties pop-synth confection by Berlin, "Metro." ("My four walls/follow me through my past": What does that even mean?). I naturally began with a visit to Stephansdom (the impossibly ornate St. Stephen's Cathedral) where I joined a group touring the catacombs. The only really odd part was queuing near the bones of plague victims, waiting as the guide asked us to pay on the way out. I also ambled by Hofburg Palace and the Museum Quarter, amazed by the immense scale of the place. Vienna is built atop a history of aristocracy and empire and plunder, and it's got the stones to show it.

Hofburg Palace on the Heldenplatz
By late afternoon I used a guidebook that one of my SJSU friends had kindly lent me and found Cafe Central, a renowned example of the kind of leisurely life of writing, talking, and drinking for which Vienna is so famous. I struggled at first, but the nearby landmarks revealed the city's urban geometry before too long. At the cafe I lounged with a Wiener Melange and listened to the artistry of a pianist whose songs reminded me of childhood. Later I returned to Stephansplatz and a nightcap at Cafe Hawelka, where I got a waiter who loved speaking German and translating immediately into English for me. At the next table, he impressed everyone with pitch-perfect French.

Peter Altenberg had his mail delivered to Central Cafe
For lodging I found a swell hotel in the Rudolfsheim-Fünfhaus district, a place on Hütteldorfer Straße called Hotel Lucia. Incidentally the Lucia is near a fast-food wiener schnitzel shop -- you know, like McDonalds, but with wiener schnitzel. Across the street, I spotted a place called "Sex Shop No. 1." Later I'd learn that the Fünfhaus is one of Vienna's sketchier districts. But it seemed OK to me. Just before turning in, I grabbed a seat at a nearby gelateria and listened to kids cavorting in a tiny park next to Pfarrkirche Rudolfsheim, the local parish church. Parents chatted in small groups in the cool air. It all seemed so far from my real life, yet it also felt like a nice night pretty much anywhere in the world. Back in my room, whenever I wanted to know the time I'd just peer out the window and study the clock on the church.

Pfarrkirche Rudolfsheim

Day 8 | Day 10

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