This is the first time I travel to Vienna and the first time I travel on my own, but this is not the first time I travel to Austria, as I was here just May this year. I have fallen in love with this country and their people, but let’s not get carried away. I am planning to visit the capital city on my own for a few days and go to Linz afterwards where my friends are expecting me.
Like always when I travel, I carry an appropriate book for the trip: this time I have chosen Forgotten Dreams and other stories a short-story collection by Stefan Zweig, an austrian author. I am amazed by its delicate and elegant prose. It’s been a long time that I haven’t read something so beautiful.
Vienna’s airport is big and I walk to the exit with the print-out of the e-mail the girl of the AirBnB I have rented has sent me, detailing how to get to the flat. I cross the exit door with that sensation you get when there is no one waiting for you but suddenly I feel surrounded and I see my friends, one at each side, who have come to pick me up. I am so surprised that I don’t even know how to react. I am so happy to see them but time flies away. We have a coffee at Café Freud and we have dinner (at 5 pm, too early for us) at Stomach, a lovely place where we eat very well with the company of the house cats. I start my trip exceeding my daily budget.
This evening I am meeting a boy I have contacted through CouchSurfing, where I posted an ad about my trip. We are meeting in an underground station, the U-Bahn (Untergrundbahn), and I am surprised that there is no ticket office to ask about the prices for 72 h tickets, nor to get maps. But I am even more surprised when I see there is no barrier or security, but this will stop being surprising when I’ll see the honesty and civility of these people.
Pat is a young guy from Lower Austria, the state that surrounds the city and state of Vienna. He’s been here for a while where he studies Language and Geography teaching practice (as in Germany, here teachers have two specialties). He is a nice boy and you can see in him the Austrian personality. There have been elections in Turkey today and the Turkish community is out to celebrate. Each time that a car honks the horn, he apologises for them. While he shows me the main monuments and buildings of the city, all of them around the Ringstraße, he tells me of the political situation in his country, the refugees, education, economy… I am in Europe and things here are quite different.
I awake in Vienna after having slept in a great calm. I am surprised by the silene in this city. I have a quick coffee and I go to the Museumquartier, the Museum District, obviously to visit museums. In the morning I’m visiting the Naturhistorisches Museum, the Natural History Museum, and in the afternoon the Kunst Historisches Museum, the Museum of Art History (or Fine Arts). These two museums are facing each other and, contrary to others that house the national collections, are not in old palaces but their buildings were built with the purpose of being museums and establish in them the Treasury of the Emperor Franz Joseph I.
I must say that the visit to the NHM is not as productive as I had thought. The main reason I wanted to come here was to visit the Venus of Willendorf, but I almost miss it. I am a big fan of audioguides, if there is one I always get it, but in this museum most of the signs are missing.
Luckily, they have a screen so you know what they are talking about. I end up with the bad taste of the stuffed animals’ rooms. This is a natural history museum like any other, with children included. If you have seen the one in London or New York, don’t waste your time here unless you want to see what you thought was the oldest Venus, to later learn that it is not.
I have lunch at Burg.Ring today’s set menu. The waitress is very nice and says she doesn’t speak very good English so she calls a hispanic waiter who translates the menu for me. I should have asked for the Wi-Fi password and check it myself, but the guy is very nice and recommends very well. A wonderful and modern place, I have a great lunch and not at all expensive.
I don’t speak German but I try to say what I know, which is basically ways of greeting and thanking, but I find that Austrians speak perfect English although they apologize for not speaking well (oh, if they saw how is English spoken back home). So, often I find myself saying something in German and being answered straight away in English. For them it is easier like that and I understand. But also there is another reason: here they speak austrian dialect. Besides the pronunciation, some words are different too. The universal “guten Tag” becomes “grüß Gott”, but I don’t surrender.
I wander around for a bit and get back to the museums to visit the KHM. I take the audioguide but I can’t use my headphones as they have an Israeli jack. So I am about the museum with the map, camera, mobile and audioguide in my hands. If you come, bring a tote bag so you can carry all your stuff.
The museum has the collection of the Habsburg, from Mesopotamian artefacts to Spanish Baroque paintings. It is so big that you end up a bit overwhelmed, but there are works that are worth seeing, such as Tower of Babel or The Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Brughel the Elder, or Sleeping Cupid by Caravaggio.
Today I’m meeting a Serbian guy that studies in Vienna. He is young, like the one from yesterday, and brings me to Statt Beisel. A beisl is like a bistro-pub, where you can have a drink or eat, and there can be live music. By the way, smoking is still allowed here but there are non-smoking areas. The big difference as when this same situation happened in Spain is that the percentage of strictly non-smoking places is higher. Oh, Europe!
While we have some drinks (I am having Radler, which is like shandy but with fruit lemonade, not soft drink), Miloš tells me about his life in Vienna, where he studies Economy, although I am guessing his true passion is something else. He is here, coping, in a foreign country. Though, this isn’t new for him and, when I ask him about the migrated people or the refugees that are arriving, the answer is quite different as the one from Pat. Education in Austria is free for EU members, so Miloš has to pay (price is more reasonable than back home).
I hope to see him again as he is a lovely boy full of vitality. We say goodbye and I go to have to have dinner at D’Landknecth, where they recommend gansl, i.e. goose, as it is the “goose week in Vienna”, or so they say. I, with the Spanish cultural background, feel that they are conning me, but tomorrow I’ll see posters everywhere, so it is true. After having read The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico last year, I feel quite bad, but it is very good.
The trip continues but, for the time being, we stop here. As they say in telly, we’ll be back after the commercial break.
Cover image: Monumental Building (Source: Federico Merino)