Gefühl:WIE IM IMMER VERANDERT
(Translation: Like I’m Getting Altered).
(Please insert this in your reading as being after Prague, before Poland. Time slash emotions slash fury went to town on me and I skipped ahead a few days – but up with this and we are back on point).
Departure day from Prague to head onto the illustrious Austria.
I set my alarm to get a good trot in before we left at the stated time of 8.15am. I planned to do what I always do when in an unknown city and out for a walk or run – go in a straight line for half an hour or so, then literally turn on my heel and retrace the route just taken. Thus, no need to take anything bar my phone to blog on and my key card to re-enter my room on return. Map? No need!
Oh mate, what a bell end I am.
I left at 6.30am, thinking I could get a good hour in, get back for a splash about in the shower, get my gear together and maybe even slip in a cup of tea (I had seen a stash of lemon tea bags the day before and feel they would greatly aid in my body’s cry out for a detox). Excellent plan! I congratulated myself as I set off on my canter. Swell-ly strategic!
Or so I thought.
The straight line out was fine as I listened to my iPod and took in my surroundings. Very enjoyable and picturesque along the roads watching everybody about starting their days. I took note of some markers along the way – you know, a neon green supermarket, a construction site full of hi-vized out builders, a crossing that went along the river for a little while.
It was turning back it all went wayward.
As often does happen when I am busting around briskly, an overwhelming compulsion to jot down a few words consumed me so I whipped out my cellular to jam into the old WordPress app. Straight line I came in to follow back, nice and easy, I (metaphorically) patted myself on the back. And into concentrated pratyahara mode I went (I.e., withdrawal of the senses). (Mainly common).
So it was of great surprise when I came to a big bend in the road. I don’t remember this, I puzzled, looking round for the neon green supermarket. Then I clocked the time – 7.23am. Mother fucker.
I didn’t panic at first, simply turned back the way I had come from. Retracing the steps, I was sure to fnind my way, right? Well I thought so too. Until I got to a fork in the road and couldn’t remember which way I had come from.
I decided to follow the tram line back (7.29am). There was a station a few hundred metres from the hostel, so it would get me back on track. So I strode alongside it, chuffed at my genius, until I realised that I was in a neighbourhood where nothing at all seemed familiar nor in the right direction.
That’s when the alarm set in.
“Berlin Plus?” I desperately asked those heading off to work around me (at least I knew the name of the hostel; I’ll give myself that). All I got was apologetic shakes of the head and “I don’t know, I’m sorry”. Then I realised I wasn’t after the Berlin Plus, I was after the Prague Plus (countries getting away on me). I asked all I could around me, popping into the one shop that was open (this time asking for the right place) to no avail, until I came across a lass about my age heading off to the tram.
“Excuse me, can you please please help me!” I begged. I told her of my predicament (7.38am) and my inability to find anywhere with wifi to map it out and the absolute sweetheart pulled out her phone and entered it in Google. She found the Prague Plus (NOT the Berlin one) and got a few directions going, asking if I wanted her to accompany me all the way back.
“No no, it’s a fifteen-minute stride,” I ensured her. “I’ll find my way with taking photos of your map.” And thanking her profusely, I headed off following the blue lines instructing me where to go.
I don’t know if there is another Prague Plus in the city, if we spelt it wrong or if I just plain went in the wrong direction. But the way I went was nowhere near where I was meant to go. After five minutes the elation I had felt on thinking I was almost back giving way to full blown anxiety. 7.45am and no idea where the fuck I was.
As always in times of seeming strife, I began to plan ahead. I’ll catch a bus and meet them in Vienna, I decided. Hopefully Sheri takes my big bag and just leaves me my day pack. It’ll all be A-ok, And I can ask the guys at reception to help….. Oh thanks be to above, a car of coppers!
I did apologise to the two policemen afterwards for throwing my hands up and yelling, “Help!” in such an emergency-seeming way and they were jolly good sorts about it. They didn’t even reprimand me for running out onto the road to make sure they caught sight of me as they paused at the red lights. Or when I didn’t put on my seatbelt so I could lean on the centre console and converse with them.
I showed them the map I had from the girl who’d Googled for me to show where I needed to go and the passenger popo (an absolute babe, it must be mentioned) studied it for a moment before talking in Czech to his non-English speaking colleague. “Jump in,” he came back to me. “We’ll take you back,”
So that’s how I came to be escorted back to my hostel by two coppers in a Czech popo car. When the first one asked where I was from and I said New Zealand (at first he thought I said Zeeland and started talking about the Netherlands before I corrected him), the driver said, “Australia by?” and when I enthusiastically nodded consent, he said, “Haka!” and pretended to pull over the car until I did one. (I managed a one-minute show, bartering in him doing a little turn on-off the tinsel flaring lights as we went down the hostel street. He lived up to the end of his deal, what a champ; and that’s how I found myself deposited on the doorstep, lights a’flashing).
I have never been so happy to see a building in my life. (7.59pm baby, 16 minutes to do all listed above before minus the tea). As the police car drove away I blew kisses and pretended to hail them and they thought it was a right old laugh.
On the way we stopped just before the Czech border to visit a little church fittingly named The Bone Church. Why? Well, because it is a church full of bones. Human bones, Seriously, one chandelier in the middle of the space is made up of every single bone in the human body. It is called the Sedlec Ossuary, a little Roman Catholic chapel which is estimated to contain the skeletons of somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 people. Weird? A little. Freaky? A bit. Surreal? Absolutely. Pics for your perusal.
So to Austria!
As always, an insight; a lot shorter than that of previous, I promise.
A landlocked country in Central Europe, with its high capped snowy mountains, pristine alpine lakes, dark forests, rolling hills, grand palaces and enchanting castle, Austria is said to belong on the front of a postcard (fitting really, as the first postcard was invented there).
It is somewhat pear-shaped (in outline, not in personality) my studying of its form gave me a few conclusions: reminiscent of a guitar (fitting in with its reputation as the country of music), like a KFC chicken drumstick (though I do apologise for putting this image in your head – as has happened to me, you may start seeing the whole of Europe as a spilled over family pack) or else like a glob of sperm. Take your pick.
More than 90 per cent of the population speak Bavarian dialects of German; until the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna was the largest speaking German city in the world (today it ranks second after Berlin). But though the tongue is German, the people are Austrian; fiercely patriotic, they are proud of their identity and do not react kindly to being shuffled in underneath the German umbrella – “regimentation” and “compartmentalisation” are fitting descriptors for how the Austrian people take on life.
Austria is a relatively “new” country, having been created after WWI following the fall of the Hapsburg Empire. Beforehand the country had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Habsburg family since 1526. When the monarchy fell Austria took its first attempt at being a republican nation with the governance standing until 1938, pioneering reforms that served as models for social-welfare states of Europe. The First Republic was severely affected by war reparations required by the Allies, and became a fascist dictatorship from 1933-1934 under Chancellor Engel Bert Dollfuss (who was assassinated in 1934). The country once again became a republic in 1945 after Germany’s defeat in WWII.
Of course, the country is home to the birthplace of Mozart, in the city of Salzburg being nicknamed “Mozartplatz” along with “The Stage of the World”. The latter nickname is further given oomph as a result of it being the backdrop for the infamous Sound of Music, Julie Andrews gallivanting around the fields of the country as she octave leaps about. (A few insider notes to the SOM: while it the most famous film Austria is known for, it is actually and American musical drama. External scenes were shot about the Austrian landscape, but he interior scenes were all shot at the 20th Century Fox Studios in California. The film won five Oscars in 1966 and at the time was the highest grossing film in all of history; in today’s money, it stands in fifth place. Interestingly, Captian Von Trapp playing Christopher Plummer didn’t initially want anything to do with the movie terming it “The Sound of Mucus”, and upon being cast had to down a fair few bevys before going on set. And based on the story of an actual person, Maria von Trapp herself, the inspiration appeared as an extra in the movie – yet, she wasn’t invited to the premiere; film executives told her there were no seats left, and she couldn’t attend. The movie was my Nanna’s favourite film of all time and although I’ve watched the first three-quarters countless times, I have never ever ever seen the end. Like ever).
Famous Austrians: of course Mozart, along with old Arnie (Schwarzenegger, that is), Sigmund Freud (although if you recall, I did class him as Czech – he was born there, but lived his life in Vienna from the age of four, so you make a call based on that), Schubert, Beethoven and Wolfgang Puck, the celebrity chef who lives in the USA and is the official caterer of the Academy Awards.
Not so much a celebrity as an infamous figure – did you know Adolf Hitler was actually Austrian? And furthermore, a 2010 study of saliva taken from 39 of Hitler’s Austrian-born relatives showed the presence of a chromosome that is one of the major founding lineages of the Jewish population. (This is one of my most top-rated, not fun, but perversely pleasing facts of all time). Hitler actually applied for art school in Austria, with Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts famous for having rejected him in 1907. Interesting to wonder what may have happened should he have been accepted really; would the Holocaust and WWII and all such events have occurred? One can only wonder.
- The sewing machine: innovated in 1818 by Austrian lad Josef Madersperger
- Porsche: Ferdinand Porsche designed the powerful Porsche 911 sports car in 1875
- Red Bull: founded by Dietrich Mateschitz in 1987. Oldmate Mateschitz was inspired by a Thai drink called Krating Daeng that he found cured his jet lag on return home from SEA (that is, South East Asia, not the ocean); he took the concept and modified it to appeal to a Western palette, co-founding Red Bull in collaboration with the fore founder of the Thai version and spun it out to be a global success. It is the highest selling energy drink in the world, with more than 5.4 billion cans sold in 2013 alone.
And just a few quirks, nuances and ultimately random points:
- Taxis are Mercedes
- Some Austrians believe walking around barefoot will lead to a bladder infection
- If giving flowers, it is important to always give an odd number as except for 12, even numbers are considered bad luck
- When out for dins, cut the food by your fork as often as possible, as this compliments the cook in saying the food is very tender
- When hustling a toast make sure to maintain intense eye contact as you clink glasses – not doing so is believed to bring upon you seven years of bad sex
- A fun German word used in Austria Rindfleischetikettierungsuberwachungsaufgabenubertragungsgesetz, a law referring to the correct labelling of beef
- Flats and houses don’t often closet in-built, meaning wardrobes have to be bought instead
- St Peter Stiftskeller stands as the oldest operating inn/restaurant in the world, having opened more than 1200 years ago in 803AD
- There are no donuts in Austria
- People live in buildings that were built before Columbus discovered America
- Vanilla extract is incredibly hard to find
(Sorry, was a touch more than I’d planned. I just find it so hard to cull such brain-bogglingly brilliant gen!).
When we arrived in the beautiful Vienna it was raining and drizzling. We drove around the Ringstrausse (main street that used to be the wall surrounding the city) and saw the sights, from the Heldenplatz (Hero’s Square) to the Opera House to Hofburg Palace. Although still amazingly beautiful, I couldn’t help but be disappointed; the unideal weather somewhat dimmed the city’s exquisiteness and I didn’t experience that gasping sense of astoundment.
We arrived at out hostel and I immediately made friends with the reception lady (although she didn’t speak English she kept hugging me and even lent me the secret umbrella to trot off to the supermarket and hustle some mixers for our bottle of vodka). (Sheri and my bottle, I mean; much as I would’ve loved to have engaged in a tipple or too with the desk lady, she was on duty).
Sheri had a pal she had met on her last time in Austria, so he and his friend came over to the hostel to hang. The plan was to throw back some pre drinks before heading onto Prata, a club located amidst an amusement park (I know, right!); however, their later arrival combined with having fun hanging at the hostel led to us staying there and proceeding to get well and truly tiddly.
I have to say, I do feel rather lacking when around a lot of Europeans. Bilingual is the way, if not multilingual, and I feel extremely simple in my ability to – aside from English – only converse n other languages enough to say my brother is 13 years old in French, what a pencil sharpener is in German, count to ten in the aforementioned two languages as well as Japanese and Maori and sing the Polish happy birthday (and swear in Dutch). Sheri’s friend Aleks could speak fluent German, Polish, Czech and only slightly broken English, with his pal Darius of similar speak. It made me all the more determined to get my Polish Dutch on to at least a conversational level.
How fun is it having a yarn with someone of another, more foreign culture and unearthing differences between you? There was myriad over the course of the evening, but my favourite was that of netball.
I don’t know how we got onto it at all, but for some reason I mentioned the sport and Aleks looked at me extremely puzzled and said, “What? You play with your nipple?”
“Netball,” I said laughing. “You know, netball?”
“What the fuck is nipball?” He asked. (There began a flurry of Googling to locate a vid of a team in action, which was met with, “What the fuck is that?”).
After a good portion of a 40 ounce and a half was polished off, the evening was over and we went to sleep, ready for the following day of exploring Vienna.
I wish I could say the day dawned sunny and sparkling and spectacular as to take in the marvels. Alas, no no. Rather, it was bone chillingly freezing and splittingly showering all day long. But we donned our jackets and gloves and blue lips and set out with TGTaz for a walking tour of the city.
And it was superb and stunning, don’t get me wrong. I felt I was walking around in a land of Gringotts, (if a goblin should have waddled by me I would not have been at all stupefied) the sporadic golds on buildings like fluttering snitches swanning about. We went through the archways of Hofburg Palace (the centre of the Hapsburg empire for centuries, it has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history. It has 18 wings holding more than 2000 rooms – including a chapel, library and church, as well as the “bedroom” of Princess Sisi which spanned an entire floor as seen in the first picture below – I couldn’t’ even fit the whole thing in), ruins from the Roman and Imperial times (pic two below), the Spanish Riding School (the site where the Lipizzan horses are trained, a breed dating back to the 16th century of which all alive today can be traced back to a mere eight stallions. Back in the day it was the centre for classical dressage exclusively for nobility, while today it is open for public performances), the Monument Against War and Fascism (powerful memorial on Albertinaplatz to commemorate the years when Austria was under Nazi rule; it is made up of four parts all symbolising different aspects such as camps, about, death and discrimination. Further force comes from its location being on the very site where a bombing attack buried alive more than 300 people during WWII, when the cellar they were sheltering in was destroyed. Unfortunately for us, the monument was under maintenance when we went to see it so one part was encased in scaffolding and what not, but here is a photo of it for your perusal anyway) and the Hotel Sacher (a five-star hotel founded by Eduard Sacher, whose father Franz is the man behind the insanely famous Viennese cake, the Sachertorte. In 1932 a dinner planned for Prince Wenzel von Metternich and other nobility had the kitchen in despair when the dessert chef did not appear; the head chef quailed and called out for anyone in his batch (pun) of thirty or so kitchen staff to put their hand up to lead the pudding prep. The only taker was 15-year-old apprentice Franz, who delightedly shocked all with his hit Sachertorte cake, a chocolate gateau with apricot jam and chocolate icing delicacy – which is still infamous today, with Barrack Obama even having it flown in express for stately dinners at the White House. And the hotel is the utmost in luxury, with Grace Kelly, John F Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and John Lennon among those that have slept amongst its top quality sheets).
From there we headed to the Kartnerstrasse, the most famous shopping street in central Vienna, where we all gathered at the three floored glittering building holding every conceivable colour and shaped crystal treasure – Swarovski. The crystal grinder dynast was born in 1892 when Czech born Daniel Swarovski invented the automatic cutting machine, going on to found the company in 1895 in Austria to take advantage of the local hydroelectricity.
I have never seen so much spark, shimmer and shine. Some of the other girls were burbling with bliss and they tried on rings and necklaces and bracelets and jewels. And I must admit, I delighted myself when I came across a simple crystal on the end of a piece of pure white ribbon; my “key ring” to symbolise my time in Vienna. (And I hustled a little tiny wee gift for Deb as well, more so for the bag it came in than the article, it must be said).
A group of us ganged up and went about the streets visiting St Stephen’s Cathedral (anther candle lit – it’s now most definitely a ritual in each mass church I cross) (get those two puns there? I’m sorry, I couldn’t go forth with bringing attention to them) and sitting in a Starbucks with a single hot chocolate as a purchase to allow us all to get out of the cold. (Hilarious conversations had, including one of the orchid – if you are interested, email or PM me for more as it is a jolly good yarn, I just feel not for here right now). (No doubt I shall most likely share at a later date).
As always, this post has got away on me so I shall quickly wrap up Vienna with a few bullet pointings (if you are still with major congrats. I know I am getting over-the-topply-spindly and need to massively winnow to expurgate from next one on).
- Big point of difference: the café culture. The gang of us going around decided to go to a local café to chill for a bit, but it is not at all like that of Aus/NZ. Rather, it is rather restaurant-esque, with having to line up to be seated, having waiters taking your order rather than at the counter (which I know is the case with some, but this was all very starched) and it all being fairly formal. Thus, how we ended up at Starbucks.
- I had my name down to visit the Schnapps Museum – as the vodka comes from a family-run business just out of Vienna – but come the end of my rove and meander around I instead opted out and headed back to the hostel to pack and prep for our next day departure – as well as have a guileful little nap. (Also the thought of vodka made me feel a touch ill).
- The pedestrian lights in Vienna – so fab! Rather than just the standard red man/green man, those around the city show couples at the crossings, and not just heterosexual ones – there are lesbian pairings and male partners that flash up to say stop and go. So top notch.
- As my tour is “modular”, meaning it has different legs that different people come and leave for, Vienna signalled the goodbye to a fair few (including my new top fav gal pal Katie; this greatly saddened me but we have had our cute phone pow wows every day since, so all is well) and the welcoming of about 15 newbies. So we all went out for an included dinner at a local restaurant (where I ecstatically received a HUGE pan of steamed vees that I went to town on) and got to know the new recruits. (Actually yarned to a number that I really gelled with and enjoyed which was fab). Then it was back to the hostel and to bed.
I went to sleep somewhat, not disappointed as such, but a little let down. Don’t get me wrong; Vienna was beautiful, sensational, full of so much history and love, but it just didn’t strike me in the same way as the cities beforehand had. (I also think this had a lot to do with the fact that the following day was Auschwitz, and I was getting increasingly antsy).
But I got my “word” for it (that are slowly adding up to be more than one, but no matter). Vienna? Adorned and Adored. Most definitely the two AA’s. Just not perhaps adored by me. I want to come back one day, give it another go, but for now it has received a solid “like” from myself that shall stand until I return.
(Here’s where we get all out of sync; Poland is meant to follow, then onto Hungary, so just insert it in between and we are all on point).
The EEE – mate, I tell you, Pop is definitely undergoing another bantam alteration.