v i e n n a

[Prater] I've been in, under and around Vienna now for almost two weeks. I didn't plan on this, but one of the supposed joys of the individual traveller is the ability to plan day to day. Unfortunately, though, its been one rainy day after another -- its difficult to be a tourist when everything is in black, white and grey. Vienna is like that, very grey. It reminds me of the movie "The Third Man." I keep expecting to run into Orson Welles playing Harry Lime and sometimes hear zither music playing off in the distance. The movie's setting of a bombed out andoccupied post-war Vienna doesn't seem too far off under overcast skies. Vienna, a once proud and wealthy imperial city, scrounged and resorted to any means to stay alive during the Wars. They say Vienna has one of the highest suicide rates of cities in Europe. If you wanted to, I guess what better place to do it than in a city where in twenty years time, the reign of kings and queens turned into the anguish of a world war.

There is a beauty here though - mostly in its arts. If music is Vienna's blood, then the Opera is its heart. The high regard the Viennese have for opera is revealed when you find the best seats in the house are the standing room seats, smack dab in the center of the orchestra. Crowded in with about a hundred other people, I saw Strauss' opera, Salome, where the Dance of the Seven Veils became more risque than intended when two of the seven kept falling off revealing the supporting cast.

[Prater] While exchanging traveler's checks at American Express, a guy in a fedora, about my age, came up to me and asked where I was staying. Thinking him kind of suspicious and scummy, I reluctantly told him the truth - the Hutteldorf hostel - the only one with room in Vienna that day. Later that evening, I went to Centrum to get coffee and I saw him again on the train and we talked. His name was Alex and he was originally from South Carolina, but was going to Stanford for med school. A talkative guy, he told me he was travelling though Europe for a few months to expand his horizons. He got to Vienna while hitchiking on the autobahn from Frankfurt. He got to drive 140 mph in a BMW when the driver got really tired and sleepy halfway through the trip. He told me he was trying to get away from a one night stand he had with a Czech girl in Frankfurt that didn't go too well. She kept talking about marriage the morning after.

We decided to check out a bar called Tunnel near Messepalast, supposedly popular with the locals. We went downstairs and heard a Spyro-Gyraish band on stage, not too bad, but not what we expected to hear in a happening place in Vienna. The Hungarian sax player sat down next to us after a set, and bummed a beer and cigarettes off of Alex. "Tu kapi!" he kept saying after the next band would play a song - it meant "Play it again," in German.

After a couple of Budvars, Alex seemed like a good enough guy to hang out with, in contrast to my first impression of him. Witty, knowledgeable, he laughed easily, but in a genuine manner. He admitted his only weakness was women - he loved everything about them. The next day, we decided to check out the Prater, but he was so intrigued by a group of Italian schoolgirls, that he left his camera, traveler's checks and passport on the seat as we were getting off a subway car. He boarded the next train to try and catch up with his stuff at the next stop.

Back to the Grand Tour. . . .

back to fountain send a comment june 1996