Saturday, 3 December 2005

Nick in Vienna 3

I'm writing this from the British Airways lounge in London. Russel got me in. It's a nice place to spend a few hours waiting for our flight to Singapore.

All in all in Vienna, I got to see two palaces, a Mozart & Strauss concert (at one of the palaces), the Spanish Riding School, the Art Historical Museum, 4 spectacular churches, the catacombs under Stephansplatz, the river Danube, the Vienna International City, and the christmas markets.

There's just too much to do justice here; suffice to say that some highlights were:
Listening to a busker playing violin inside a huge vaulted stone chamber in the palace. The strains from that one violin filled and reverberated through the room and spilled out into the night.
Wandering through the Christmas Markets of Rathausplatz at night, with snow gently drifting down and the frosted clock-tower presiding over the park. It was damn cold, but it felt fantistically christmasy.
Browsing the Kunsthistorichesmuseum (Art Historical Museum; they apparently don't believe in spaces in German) collection of paintings, particularly their special collection of Goya. The Greek and Roman Antiquities were also fascinating.
Exploring the catacombs beneath St. Stephans and Stephansplazt. Here were the sarcophagi of bishops and dukes in ornately carved chambers, and the mass graves of victims of the Black Death in crudely hewn pits. There was one room where the bones of old bodies had been moved from their burial place and meticulously stacked by prisoners, floor to ceiling, like bricks. There were quite literally walls of bone packed solidly together, with the odd skull peering out from between ribs and thighs.

Some general observations:
People just love dogs in Vienna. There are fenced parks throughout the city where your dog can run around unleashed. Dogs are allowed to travel on the underground train system (they even have to pay a child's fare!). They sell dog food in pharmacies. Upscale shops and cafes feel the need to put explicit "no dogs" signs on their doors; one can only infer that dogs are welcome in other shops.
People are very friendly and helpful, and it was generally easy to get around speaking only English, even when no-one else did. And usually, in tricky situations, there would be some helpful person who would step in and translate. When we were standing helplessly around a ticket machine for the Underground, an old lady came up to us and tried to help. She couldn't, really, but she tried very hard.
People are very beautiful in Austria. Of course, it's hard to say given all the layers of clothing people wear, but it was very rare to see anyone who looked overweight, even rugged up against the chill.
The Underground train network was exceedingly easy to use, once we bought a week-long ticket each. We could get anywhere in the city easily and quickly.
People seem to be quite relaxed about toilets. In one case, the male and female toilets in the underground were connected by an open room in which some women were sitting around having a coffee and a smoke, out of the cold. While I admire such openness, I really don't understand why anyone would want coffee and a smoke in between two toilets :
Smoking is still very common in Vienna, and accepted in most places. There are areas reserved for non-smokers, rather than the other way around. It didn't bother me too much though.
There's this drink and tradition in one, called "punsch". The drink is a mixture of red wine, spices, and spirits, warmed and drunk from mugs like coffee. In all the malls there are punsch stands, usually with a covered area in front of them and bar-style tables. People congregate around here in the chill of night, drinking and socialising. I tried some. I think it must be an acquired taste.

Time for me to board my flight to Singapore. I wish I could have stayed in Vienna longer, but nevertheless I'm glad to be heading home. I'm looking forward to just sleeping for a day.

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