Friday, 8 April 2016

Auf wiedersehen, Austria!

Wunderbar Austria! How can I forget you? It’s been quite a few months since my summer road trip and this half term I finally had time to rummage through the pictures and select the ones that reflect the wonderful place it is. Huge task, I have thousands of pictures and simply the thought of flicking through was a bit daunting, due to the enormous amount of images I had to check. But once started, I couldn’t stop anymore. Waves of great memories, emotions, excitement, gratefulness, desire to travel again - they all flooded me like a wild river rolling downhill. I had forgotten the details, but they are now coming back after looking at the photographs. I certainly kept a powerful feeling of contentment and joy about that leg of our trip. Austria was simply AMAZING! We stayed in Vienna, but, travelling to the capital city, the impressions were also strictly positive: there wasn’t the slightest thing to make us cringe or raise our eyebrows, let alone complain or regret being there. What a great country this is, the people are admirable, for what they built, for what they created and keep creating, for the impeccable cleanliness everywhere, for the artistic vibes that surround every bit of space, for how eclectic and cosmopolitan they are, for how elevated their way of life is. I am in total admiration and I was fascinated by everything I saw and experienced.
We did a bit of everything in the three days we spent in Vienna: we went sightseeing, we admired their splendid architecture, we visited churches, museums, magnificent palaces, we absorbed so much art and culture to last us for a long time, we tried their beer and their schnitzel, we went to a classical concert where our spirits were lifted to the highest spheres that I didn’t even think was possible to reach. A lovely southern looking gentleman I took a photograph with – Signor Mario Bergamaschi – an Italian who immigrated to Austria 20 years ago, tried to sell us concert tickets and was happy to find us to speak his native tongue with. We were equally happy to buy the tickets from him, in spite of the hundreds of ticket sellers that stop you every other step you take on the streets of Vienna. They didn't have his charm. He was friendly and considerate, he explained us lots of things about the place, like a true local, very attached to this city that became his home and he gave us a good discount, naming Anita - la principessa- the "group leader". What a sweet man! Selling tickets to classical music concerts in Vienna is like selling sunflower seeds on the stadium in my country – such a common, everyday thing, because they live and breathe classical music and there are tens of concerts every evening in the numerous extravagant buildings that are present on every street. I remember walking one evening along the cobbled streets and hearing music everywhere we turned. Oh, the quality of life these people have! I shall cherish forever those emotions I felt while listening to Mozart, Shubert, Chopin, Strauss or watching the ballet dancers and listening to the sublime voices of the opera singers that delighted us that evening. Such a divine evening! And in this city you could live that every night. A carriage with horses could take you to where Strauss used to drink his coffee, you could admire one of Sissi’s glamorous dresses displayed at Schönbrunn, you could hear the reverberations of Mozart playing music in the palaces of Vienna, if you tune your years finely enough, you could step on Beethoven’s or Freud’s traces, to name but a few of the colossal minds that left a tremendous intellectual legacy to this incredible city, you could see the austere bed where Franz Yosef used to sleep very few hours every night, before getting up at dawn to work all the light hours he could get and offer to his people his very own example of strictness, self-discipline and hard work – there is so much history in this city that you can sense it there and then.
We used a 48 h public transport ticket in Vienna and it was fantastic value for money – you can use all the means of transportation, even shuttles to hotels that are a bit further from the centre. We stayed in a lovely apartment with our own kitchen, in a nice complex near a great park. It wasn’t very expensive for the three nights we stayed, although the reception was very slow providing the kitchen equipment (we ate at 9 pm, after mentioning it to the reception in the morning on our way out, reminding them at 5 pm on our way back to the room, phoning them at 6 and waiting for about 3 hours. That was really the only disappointment we experienced in Vienna.)
We used our tickets a lot, we took numerous tram tours just to sit and watch the city from the tram window – every corner has its own splendours to reveal. We discovered on one of the tours, in an attempt to see the Danube River, the funkiest building we’ve ever seen, to soon discover that it was Vienna’s rubbish factory!!! If they deal with the rubbish with that much style and art, I am forever speechless! Wonky, little windows, colourful tiles, arty columns, a futuristic tower – they were all there for the rubbish to be processed the Viennese way.
We allowed a whole day to visit Vienna’s centre with all the amazing attractions it has to offer (Hofburg Palace, Belvedere Palace, St Stephen’s Cathedral, Museumsquartier, Albertina Museum, Karlskirche, Burgtheater, Maria Teresien Platz, Austrian National Library, Votive Church, Heldenplatz, Austrian Parliament Building, Volksgarten). There aren’t enough hours in a day to visit everything on offer, this city truly deserves at least a whole week to be explored and enjoyed thoroughly. We did what we could and we did a lot!!! Prices didn’t matter – once there, one feels the intellectual and moral duty to pay and see the most they can, to learn some of this culture and history and to experience a slice of this marvel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another day was dedicated completely to visiting the imperial palace of Schönbrunn- the Habsburg’s summer residence. Photographs were not allowed inside, so we took as many as we could outside and the images might not convey the vastness and the grandeur of this place. Yes, a thought or two did come to our mind about the need of imperial heads to show their power in architectural displays like this, in times when many people were living truly hard lives, including my people that for a period of time were under the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s rule. It does make you feel a bit bitter and frustrated to be reminded of the incommensurable gap that continues to lie between different layers of our society, but we still remain fascinated by these demonstrations of their power and potency. We go there, we pay tickets, we marvel at the luxury, we dream and fantasize about their glamorous lives. Or were they?  A caption about how unhappy Sissi felt in her marriage threw a different light on the visit to Schönbrunn. The fountains, the gardens, the infinite palace – and the Empress of Austria was always looking for a new destination to travel to as an escape out of there. We had a short and unforgettable glimpse at Austria’s capital city, with all its fabulous attractions, some yet to be explored, and we couldn't leave happier. Vienna charmed us for ever and we urge you to go and see it yourselves. Ja, wir kommen bald wieder! Danke!




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