26 October 2018

Notes From Vienna

I’ve been away from everything on another trip to Europe, this time to Austria and parts of Germany. I didn’t turn on a TV or go online for anything other than travel information so as to maintain the feeling of immersion in the marvelous  17th, 18th, and 19th century architecture of Vienna.  Virtually every building is adorned with statuary and/or some kind of decorative carving. The palaces are gorgeous, and everything is super-clean. Coming back to New York “Pothole” City reminded me that I didn’t encounter a single road defect over a few thousand miles there and I am still baffled why the roads are so much better in Europe. 

Vienna was once the seat of a great central European empire and looks it. It lasted about six centuries under the enduring Habsburgs until the terrible catastrophe of World War I, which it was central to (recall it was the Austrian Arch-Duke’s assassination in Sarajevo that triggered the war).  One hundred years ago it was at the center of world history; but today when making travel arrangements I have to repeat over and over that I’m going to Austria, not Australia, or Vienna, not Viet Nam. 

The city is central to classical music and nothing else comes close. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and many others either came or did their most important work here. Classical music is still vital to the city and there are always concerts in many facilities. Evenings we went to concerts at four different venues, as well as one by candlelight in Salzburg, where sneakers and jeans are not allowed and jackets are encouraged. All inevitably end with the hand-clapping Radetsky March, which you’ll recognize if you’ve ever watched the New Year’s concert that is widely broadcast on TV. We also visited the Spanish Riding School with the Lipizzan horses because my wife wanted to; I found it terminally boring. 

German is the primary language, but everyone speaks English and this is one place where no one will take offense if you address them in English. Overall the city reminds me most of better-known Paris, in terms of beauty and livability, although it has its own ambiance and doesn’t have some of the current problems of the French capitol. To put it another way, on the hurried and harried scale of 1 to 10, New York is a 10;  while Vienna is barely a 2.  No one will raise and eyebrow if you spend much of the day reading a paper at one of the numerous coffee houses.

Apart from other cities we also drove into Germany to visit castles, but were really taken aback by the stunning Bavarian countryside which is incredibly well-ordered and spotless. Farm after farm was full of cows; indeed more than I’ve ever seen anywhere in the US. We spent a night by Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein Castle which was swarming with busloads of tourists despite being in the middle nowhere, before heading back into Austria. 

The only mishap was that one day before leaving I happened to get hit by a car; a car I was driving, (which is too complicated to try and explain here), so I was hobbling around after that. It was painful but without serious damage and I am okay now. 

As an alternative to the Paris-Rome-London circuit I recommend visiting this welcoming city. They sell a pass that is an incredible bargain that gets you admission into just about everything. The tourist traffic otherwise seems to consist mostly of classical music lovers from Asian countries, who have a far greater appreciation of western art these days than we do, which says something about us.