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Stories from Austria

Vienna, Austria

Get a Life

timI could whine about my everlasting train ride, but truth be told it wasn't as bad for me as for the others involved. On the night I left Venice and headed north to Vienna, an Italian train hit a maintenance vehicle and injured 40 people. The accident forced my train to detour far west from its planned route and by the time we were due to arrive, we were probably about as far away from Vienna as when we started. Luckily, I could nap well in my sleeper or was content to just watch the mountains roll by out the train window.

But after 20 hours, twice the time our trip was scheduled to take, I was scratching just as hard at the couchettes to get out as all the other passengers. Our arrival in Vienna ended with a jailbreak-like exodus from the train.

A much needed shower reset my mood back to normal and I went downtown to have a look around with a few new friends. Along the way we asked a well organized tourist information center where we could buy groceries. The otherwise helpful woman laughed. "You are in Austria. Everything closes for the weekend after 5 PM on Saturday."

It was a sad truth, nowhere more evident than on Sunday in a busy pedestrian plaza full of people out window-shopping - in the true sense of the phrase, because not a single store except for a few cafes or odd magazine vendors were open. Not that buying material things gives life to a city, but it tended to suck life from the otherwise sleepy atmosphere.

Vienna... a wealthy city with exceptionally beautiful buildings. Cleaner than an operating room and more orderly an accountant's sock drawer. But still singing, "If I only had a heart."

In all fairness, we spent the next two nights in a thriving historic district watching outdoor movies shown against the neo-gothic Rathaus (City Hall) building and eating from upscale food stalls that served a wide variety of decent international food - from Chinese to traditional sausage. Our little group spilled out from the occupied cafe tables and drank with small groups in the surrounding gardens. In what I considered the most impressive part of the two nights, the event staff served their great selection of beer from hearty half liter glasses - not plastic cups. That seemed to make all the difference!

Nevertheless, I felt a lack of depth and life to Vienna. It is hard to describe, but a crowded street in Vienna still feels somehow empty. I'm not sure what the secret is, but after visiting several European cities full of joie de vivre, Vienna gave me the cold shoulder. top

A choral group of young adults sings in Saint Stephan's (Stephansdom), a 13th century Gothic cathedral in the heart of old Vienna. The Hofburg Imperial Palace, facing the Kaiserappartements and statues. The neo-Gothic city hall building in Vienna speaks of the riches of the old Habsburg dynasty. Arches of the Schloss Schönbrunn, a 1,440-room palace on the outskirts of Vienna with a richly appointed interior and magnificent gardens. The palace hosted Mozart's first royal concert when the composer was only six years old. A view from the north tower of Saint Stephan's (Stephansdom), a 13th century Gothic cathedral in the heart of old Vienna.