Sometimes I get jealous of my European friends. I know this is silly, given that I was born in what I honestly believe to be the luckiest country in the world, but Australia is very far away, and I have to try not to think about how wonderful it is. There’s no point in lamenting what is for the moment out of reach, and the purpose of my living in Spain (or one of the purposes), is to enjoy and “experience” as much of Europe as possible, while I can.
Europe is like a giant mega mall of history and culture. Every shop is completely different, but they’re all housed together in the same complex, for your convenience. Crisis aside, who doesn’t occasionally think it would be great to be a European? To be able to work in any European country, legally, sans visa rubbish hassles. To always go through the fast lane at passport controls. To be able to drive for an hour and be in another world. To have the experience of living “abroad”, and still be able to visit your family on long weekends (or just pop home for weddings). To be sophisticated and multilingual. To grow up surrounded by art and architecture that’s hundreds of years old.
Now I know that not all Europeans are sophisticated or multilingual. That, just like anyone from anywhere, they can be backward, conservative, and not speak anything more than the dialect of whatever is spoken within a 10km radius of their village. That the cities are old and the infrastructure is struggling. In many ways, the ex-Imperial nations have been surpassed by their more innovative, progressive, and financially stronger ex-colonies. In Australia, all the shops have automatic doors. And our bureaucracy mostly works.
But Europe has ruins.
And my Austrian friend has a castle.
The last stop of my Easter sojourn, after Prague and Český Krumlov, was Vienna. There I stayed with Marion, a Viennese girl who I met at the language school in Segovia. (She has the same job as me, but teaching German). Naturally, she was taking advantage of the Easter break to chill out at home and spend some quality time with her friends and family. Hmm. Just a little bit jealous.
I stayed with Marion and her boyfriend for a couple of days. She showed me round the city, came with me to see Gustav Klimt at the Belvedere Palace, and took me to the village where she grew up, to meet her parents. On the outskirts of her village, on top of a hill, was a castle. We went for a walk around it (sinking all the while in the snow-filled moat), and discussed the fact that when she was a girl, she liked to think of it as her castle. Of course now I want one too.
Anyway. I guess it was just a symbolic moment of why I love Europe. Ancient buildings everywhere. A castle on every hill. Regular people living in 500 year old houses. And every time they go to build an underground car park they have to abandon constructions when they hit Roman Ruins. Or something like that.
So what did I think of Vienna?
Well, despite the weather, I liked it. A lot.
Firstly, Vienna in German is Wien. And wine in German is wein. Or perhaps it’s the other way round… no matter, it’s wonderfully confusing. Vienna clearly means some kind of happy place. Perhaps that’s why it’s ranked as the world’s second most liveable city. Second only to… I just looked it up… Melbourne??!!
The public transport was certainly better than Melbourne’s. Then again, Marion did all the ticket buying/map checking/stuff that required German. It’s so lovely and so relaxing travelling with a local.
Speaking of locals, everyone was so nice. And there were even cheerful waiters in lederhosen, and rosy cheeked buxom waitresses with frilly pink aprons, and this was in non-touristic venues… they just wear them crazy clothes for the hell of it. Awesome.
Kaiserspritzer, “royal bubbles”, is my new favourite drink, de momento. It’s white wine, soda water, and a dash of elderflower cordial. Although more of a summer beverage, we had it while it was snowing outside, cos it’s that damn delicious. I guess it’ll be even nicer when the weather warms up.
Everything will be so much nicer when the seasons get themselves sorted. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the weather this Easter was pretty atypical for April. On my first day in the city, Marion gave me a tour of the main sites. Regardless of which direction we walked in, it seemed we spent the whole afternoon struggling head-on into wind and snow. The commentary followed a rather repetitive trajectory.
‘See this plaza? It has a really nice market in Summer’
‘See this park? They have an awesome music festival in Summer’
‘See this garden? Well you can’t, it’s covered in snow, but it’s really beautiful in Summer. Usually it’s beautiful in Spring too’
I really want to go to Vienna in summer.
Fortunately, there was plenty to do in-doors as well. Unfortunately, of all the galleries and museums and giant shopping centres, I only had time to see one. The choice, for me, was obvious. The Belvedere Palace hosts the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings to be found in any one place. Among the most famous, you can see The Kiss and Judith. But what really captivated me was the less-famous, but absolutely exquisite Wasserschlangen I (Freundinnen I) (Watersnake friends?). It would actually have fitted in my hand luggage. If I had a castle, I would trade it for this painting.
What else was good? Mozart chocolates (filled with marzipan and nutty praline). More sauerkraut (I just can’t get enough of the stuff. I’ve found where they sell it in Spain. And when I finish this next jar, I’m gonna start making it myself). Goulash (the perfect stew for when you’ve got cold wet feet). Bosnian cinnamon honey and crusty wholemeal bread (part of Marion’s breakfast spread). Flower shops (spring bulbs, just in).
Another thing that I particularly liked about Vienna was the German they speak there. In general, German has an unfair reputation for being a harsh and guttural language, but this really depends on who’s speaking it. I prefer to keep my distance from harsh and guttural people, so it’s never sounded like this to me. In fact, I think it sounds quite soft and friendly, and even more so in Vienna. Apparently some Austrian dialects are kind of sing-song, but Viennese German was very pleasant on the ear. (Except for when I attempted to learn a few phrases, when it just sounded like staccato coughing with the odd kartoffel thrown in).
Fortunately, everyone I met spoke English. Damn impressive multilingual Central-Europeans.