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Trans-Atlantic Travel and My First 48 Hours in Vienna, Austria

Austrian Parliament Fountain

Fountain outside the Austrian Parliament Building

From Los Angeles to Vienna

I flew Air Berlin from Los Angeles to Dusseldorf, Germany and onward to Vienna, Austria.  Besides leaving two hours late, my flights were uneventful and I was lucky to have an empty seat beside me so I could stretch my limbs.

The sunset leaving Los Angeles was almost worth the trip in itself – fiery orange above a sparkling-like-diamonds metropolis.  Sleep on the journey, unfortunately, eluded me.

Flying into Vienna I was surprised by the pancake-flat landscape.  Did I somehow take the wrong plane to Kansas?  I’d always imagined all of Austria to be mountainous but boy-howdy was I wrong.  Farmland stretched outward forever with circular hay bales providing the only interruption in the horizontal monotony.

With some difficulty I made my way on the train(s) to my hostel close to the old town of Vienna.  Locals were helpful.  Most everyone I’ve encountered speaks English.

Hot Like Lava

It seems I have arrived in the midst of a heat wave. In fact, this summer has been the hottest on record for Austria now two weeks into scorching temperatures above 35 °C (95 °F).  Although it’s evening, sweat pours down my back like I’m in the Amazon.

Hostel Hostility

Walking into the hostel I saw loads of twenty-somethings with beers in hand.  Their squealing and booming voices remind me that I am not their age and even when I was, I was not like them.  Ah yes.  Hostels.  It’s been awhile.  After negotiating my way to the counter I am given my room key and proceed upstairs to find an eight-bed room with only a top bunk available.  I stare at the ladder which is long and 100% vertical.  My knees whimper.

I return to the desk and request any other room where I might be able to sleep on a bottom bunk.  “We get this request a lot”  the receptionist says, politely leaving out “from old people”.

With new key in hand I am optimistic and arrive in a three-bed room.  I dig deep to get into the shower and now clean I fall into bed.  The room is sweltering.  There is no air-conditioning.  One window is directly above my bed.  I open it and while the air is heavy a faint breeze nuzzles it’s way into the room.  Ah!  Sweet relief.

I wake up briefly when I hear footsteps and observe an arm reaching over my body and closing the window.  I am too sleepy to react but I think to myself “only a German person would have the gall to close that window”.  It’s a foot away from my face for gawd sakes.  From then on, the still, heavy air in the room is almost suffocating.

In the morning, my roommates are out but I see this pillow on their bed.  I knew it!

I knew they were German!

I knew they were German!  I don’t love you!

When they return I try to small talk although they are anything but friendly.

“Where are you from?” I ask, hoping that my stereotyping would be proven wrong.

Germany

I smile.

Yeah I knew that.

A Quick Tour of Vienna’s Old Town

After a quick shower I am out in the street, soon crossing the river Danube which is not blue as suggested by Johann Strauss Jr’s famous waltz Blue Danube, but milk-glass green.  Lacy church spires beckon me forward.

I am soon at the Votivkirche (Votive Church) which looks Gothic but is in fact neo-Gothic having been built in 1879.  I light two votives here: one for my safety on the walk and one for the safety of my family while I am gone.

Mozart Chocolates

Mozart Chocolates are super-duper excellent.

I then continue on the Ringstraße, which is a street built almost entirely on the footprint of the former city walls (circa 13th Century).  I walk and walk and the heat is like a heavy blanket but I know this is nothing compared to what I’m in for.  A feeling of dread comes over me but I push it aside by eating pizza.  Feelings stuffed.  Dread? What dread?  Feeling? What feelings?  This pizza sure is good!

All the important buildings are here on the Ringstraße: colossal museums, Austrian Parliament, the Opera House, the Observatory, the Vienna Stock Exchange, and more.  Each building is more grand and imposing than the next. After so many palatial buildings I have had enough.  I walk down a pedestrian-only boulevard lined with international shops.  Nods to Mozart are everywhere which I find peculiar because Mozart was German.  But I learn that Mozart lived in Vienna in his later years.  And by later years I mean from aged 25 to 33 as he died at aged 35.

St. Stephens Cathedral was the architectural highlight of the day – a true gothic cathedral, built in 1339.  Inside it’s walls many milestone moments in Habsburg and Austrian history have occurred including the funeral of Vivaldi, the marriage of Mozart, and the place where Beethoven discovered the extent of his deafness as he could see birds flying from the bell tower but could not hear the bells.  While the cathedral nearly burnt to the ground during WW II, it was rebuilt in seven years.  Stunning.

Revenge by Cheese

St. Stephen's Cathedral

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Exhausted, I return to the hostel and make my way to the room.  Despite leaving the window open when I left, again I find it closed by my German nemeses.  Why must they toy with me?  What is wrong with air?!  Given the heat it’s fair to say my blood could not boil any more.

I went to the grocery store and my purchases reflected my dehydrated state: fresh peaches, canned peaches, five million gallons of cold beverages.  Chocolate milk? Yes!  Juice? Yes please!  Iced coffee? Yes!  Cold Soda? Yes! Yes! Yes!  I will drink all of it!

A few bread rolls are tossed in the basket and then, while gazing at the cheese selection, a revenge plan unfolds before me.  There it was.  A weapon of stench and of German-origin to deliver a double whammy of touché: Limburger cheese.  I hear angels sing.  Perhaps the stinkiest of all cheeses, it’s flavor is rancidly piquant and it’s stench a delightful cross between feces and stinky feet.  I could taste the victory.  It was so diabolical, I even impressed myself.

I returned to the room and prepared my sadistic sandwich, piling the slices thickly on crusty bread.  Soon, the odorous molecules had reached every crevice and filled it with the smell of death.  Of course, to respect my room-mates’ wishes, I kept the window tightly closed.  And waited for their return like a panther waits for prey.  Oh!  Never has revenge been so sweet!  Upon entering, I observed the slight flaring and then recoil of their nostrils with great satisfaction.  Enjoy!

Some might say this cheesy revenge tactic was passive-aggressive and childish.  I have to agree.  Totally.  It’s a good thing I’m going on a long Peace walk so I can think about my bad behavior.

They never spoke to me again.  Coincidence?

Meeting Another Walker

Cute Vienna. Thanks for mocking my new singleness.

Cute Vienna. Thanks for mocking my new found single-ness.  Thanks a lot.

In the evening I met up with my first PeaceWalker comrade; Hannah from Philadelphia.  Hannah is starting to walk a day before me.  She appears half my age, is a student in Greece and walked the Camino Norte to Santiago in 2013.  I imagine we will cross paths a few times in the future.  She is the first and only walker I’ve met.

My Impression of Vienna

It’s a shame I didn’t schedule more time in Vienna as my visit was impressionistic at best.  The city reminds me of Berlin with it’s large imposing structures and long blocks of gigantic, flat-facaded, equally-sized apartment buildings.  My impression is of a shirt buttoned up to the collar: tidy, orderly, clean, and somewhat uptight.  But the carefree bikers cruising in the plentiful bike lanes, the many beer houses, and vegan restaurants suggest that there may be a more liberal, hipster vibe here too.  One day is certainly not enough for a fair assessment.

Tomorrow, despite an aching back, and projected 100-degree temps, I begin the journey to Bratislava, Slovakia. Fortunately, tomorrow is primarily a positioning day with the majority of the distance on the train and only 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of walking.

Let the games begin!

Photo Gallery (click to view)

10 Comments

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed the Mozart Kugeln, it’s my favorite candy. Mozart was, in fact, Austrian. He was born and grew up in Salzburg where you can visit his birthplace and the house he grew up in.

    • I didn’t realize that. Thank you.

  2. Hey, Laura! Happy Trails. I scoured the Vienna photo gallery and was very disappointed to find NO photo of the Limburger sandwich. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 As always, really enjoying reading about your adventures. Keep up the good work and hope you have many days of cool breezes to come! XO

    • Haha. Thank you Scott! I didn’t know you were a reader of my blog. Glad you enjoy it!

  3. You are my hero! I will be following your adventure! I have book marked your blog. I just had foot surgery recently and I am unable to walk for now. So far now I will enjoy your peace walk. I only wish I could be there walking it with you. Thank you for sharing your blog.

    • Thank you for reading Gerri! My readers keep me motivated to write. I hope you heal up quick. And in the meantime, I’ll roam far and wide for you. 🙂

  4. I was going to mention the notorious German “fear of drafts” as well! There’s a few cultures in which it’s quite prominent. But you’re an American so you can just smack their hand away, right? 😉
    Great post, Laura! Can’t wait to hear more of your amazing journey!

    • With a German grandmother, a half German mother, many German friends and so many trips to Germany I don’t know how this superstition escaped my awareness but clearly it did. I know it wasn’t mature to play an eye for an eye or an eye for a cheese as the case may be but… Yeah, if I was a stereotypical American I would have pulled a gun. Haha. Thanks for reading and commenting Megg!

  5. You do know the German-speakers have a cultural thing about open windows, right? Something about keeping the evil spirits out. This appears to be a universal preference, not personally directed at you. However, your Limburger stunt was very personal, wasn’t it? And now when any other American encounters those two roommates of yours, we will have to first overcome that stereotype. Thanks a bunch!

    Wishing cooler weather for you – and a break in the heat soon. Also hoping you find your best EPW walking friends are in fact German.

    • I did not know that, but thank you for the education. Spirits, eh? Yes, my Limburger stunt was indeed personal. You may be a new reader to my blog and not aware of the tounge-in-cheek humor I use about Germans. My mother is half-German and I have a number of close German friends. Probably more German friends than any other nationality now that I think of it. I’ve also had more unpleasant experiences with German people than I think one person deserves. There are indeed cultural differences. The way I deal with that is humor. You are welcome to be honest about the stereotypes you hold on your blog. I’ll do my thing on mine.
      Thanks for your kind wishes.

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