It seemed like everything in the universe was against me from having a good time in Vienna. There was always something lurking that could cause for a less than ideal trip, whether it was residual Deutsche Bahn strike cancelations, the weather, or interesting characters in our hostel. Some may consider this trip as a series of unfortunate events or just plain bad luck; I view it as background noise in an otherwise memorable weekend. Nothing could stop us from enjoying a long weekend in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities though. Nichts.
Before I can even reflect on what I actually did while I was in Austria’s capital city, I must preface with I didn’t even know if I was going to make it there. The first half of 2015 in Germany was a stressful time to be a person who relied on Germany’s rail services. It seemed like every couple of weeks, Deutsche Bahn announced they would be striking for an undisclosed amount of time. And when did they decide to strike for the umpteenth time? The week of my planned trip to Vienna! Of course. The days leading up to my planned departure were spent constantly refreshing Der Spiegel‘s Live Ticker in hopes of good news or speaking with DB representatives at the train station and negotiating possible new routes to make it to Vienna. After many stressful days, I was able to give my traveling companion, Cheny and her friend (who were fortunate and decided to fly there instead of take a train), a definitive “YES I CAN GO!” because the strike ended! Juuhuu! But, there was still an issue: once a train has been cancelled, it’s cancelled. Luckily, that only affected one train connection (the one in Germany), and they ended up adding additional routes, so I was literally and figuratively on track!
I spent these arduous train journeys mostly listening to podcasts, and after 10 hours of Pete Holmes’ voice later, I was finally on Austrian soil. Per request, we looked for a hostel right near the train station because the last thing anyone wants to do after ten hours on a train is navigate an unknown city, trying to find the place where a bed and warm shower are waiting for you. It was only a five minute walk there, located in Vienna’s district known as Favoriten. At Ohio State, I took a class that focused on Vienna (and also Prague and Berlin, but irrelevant), and actually did a presentation on this area of the city. It’s not viewed as traditional Vienna; many immigrants live there and it gets a bad rep as a place of crime. But let’s be real, it’s Western Europe. I have felt more safe walking around alone at 3am in Leipzig than I ever felt with a group of friends in any given area near the OSU campus. Just sayin’.
The hostel itself was decent. Nothing special, to be expected from a chain all across Europe. However, I think one of the most bizarre hostel experiences happened in our three nights there. How you may ask? In the three nights, our four person room, three of which were myself and two friends, had five different people to fill the room’s occupancy. Like, what? Do the math, please. It doesn’t work. Let me break down our five fourth guests.
- A guy from Brazil. He arrived a few hours after us and was awkwardly surprised when he opened the door to see three girls in a four person room. He stuck around and we chatted, but we eventually left to go grab something to eat. When we got back, he and all his bags were gone. We assumed there must have been a mishap in which room he had booked. And frankly, we were thinking the same thing because my friend who booked the room thought she had chosen a female dorm. Turns out she didn’t.
- A young guy from Korea. He arrived a few hours after the Brazilian guy left. The three of us were just hanging out in the room, planning what we wanted to do for our first full day in the city, and in comes our second visitor in four hours. He was nice though and stayed. He left early the next morning.
- A Polish bus driver. After the departure of the Korean guy, we went out to explore the city center a bit. We came back in the early afternoon to take a break and what do we see? A larger man, sleeping in the recently available top bunk. He woke up from the sound of the door closing, and immediately introduced himself. In extremely broken English, he explained that he is a bus driver who drives tour groups around Europe. While the group is in the city, he booked a bed in the hostel for a few hours because he soon would be back on the road, driving to the next destination. We soon left, allowed him to catch up on much needed sleep, and continued this crazy game of hostel bed roulette.
- A girl from Japan. After our long (wet) day of seeing the sights of Vienna, we came back to our hostel and a girl was soundly asleep already in her bunk. Like her Korean predecessor, she too left early in the morning.
- A German man who was a little too old to be staying in a hostel. This may have been the weirdest encounter. Save the best for last, they always say, right? Our first impression of this gentleman was embarrassing and uncomfortable due to our impeccable timing. Just as we opened the door to the room, jokingly wondering if we would have a fifth person in the span of two days waiting for us on the other side of the door, stood a man, presumably in his upper 50s, pants-less. Yes. Rocking the whitey-tighties, he turned around, taken aback by our arrival, and pulled his pants over his ankles. He apologized as he tightened his belt buckle. He was a very nice, grandfatherly like man. When we asked what brought him to Vienna, he said he was there for Eurovision. We instantly were calmed by this news, because nothing is less threatening than a hardcore Eurovision superfan. The only problem was, he had to leave early the next morning to catch his bus to back to Hessen and being the out-of-touch with technology German he is, he asked if one of us could set an alarm for him. On one of our phones. For 4:30 in the morning. We were not pleased, but let it go. Pay it forward I guess?
Phew. Who would’ve thought that a top bunk would be such hot real-estate? Regardless, it made for a memorable hostel experience, that’s for sure.
When we were not guessing who the next tenant of our room would be, we actually did roam around Vienna. We designated our first day to check out Wiener Ringstraße and everything that encompasses the Innenstadt. But, like all things in life, misfortune must come in threes. I had already overcome adversity twice, given my difficulties with the trains and our developing problem of collecting weird roommates, so our third and final setback would not break us. However, Mother Nature sure did kick us while we were down. That’s right, Mother Nature. The weather was dismal and we quickly resembled wet dogs. Despite the rain (which is clearly evident in ALL photos I took this day), we saw many parts of and around the Ring, including:
Luckily around dinner time, the heavens cleared up and we were actually able to walk around without the sensation of water swishing in-between our toes. A raindrop or two still made their way down to earth, but we were able to make our way to the Vienna City Hall for a Eurovision public viewing. Now, Eurovision is a spectacle, that’s for sure. For any of my readers who are unfamiliar with everything that encompasses the Eurovision Song Contest, imagine something along the lines of American Idol. Each contestant represents a country and they battle it out over kitschy songs and over-enthusiastic outfits. Over the years, many notable artists have made their mark in Eurovision, including ABBA and Celine Dion, but no one nowadays is looking for the next big star. We want disasters. We want Finnish metal bands dressed in costumes of demonic creatures. We want Russian grandmothers dancing in traditional folk outfits. We want, nay, NEED an Austrian drag queen sporting a perfectly trimmed beard and stilettos. The viewers at home watch and vote for their favorite entertainer along the way, but are prohibited to vote for the contestant from their own country. This makes for interesting politics– usually former Soviet bloc countries voting for each other, and the power houses of Europe IRL, like Germany, UK, and France, are usually neglected. The entries in 2015 were nothing short of amazing, and I am extremely fortunate that I was able to be a part of such a weird thing that belongs only to Europe (and technically Australia this past year). Seeing the flags of so many countries waving proudly at the public viewing was a moment of “Europe is so diverse and all these people came together to watch gaudy pop music. Together!” for me. My friends and I temporarily abandoned our German loyalty by ditching the schwarz, rot, und gelb and exchanging it for rot und weiß. Sweden may have won the ESC 2015, but my top three this year were Belgium, Israel, and Serbia.
Over the next two days, when we all came back down from the high of the night before and saw the end of our trip on the horizon, we did a few other things that are staples of Vienna. The weather eventually cooperated, so we headed over to Schloss Schönbrunn first. As expected, the palace and its gardens were beautiful. Many people compare it to Versailles, but I must say, I preferred the yellow home of the Habsburgs to the French bourgeoisie. The gardens seemed more organic and weren’t paper cut perfect (although they still were quite manufactured in some respects).
Later that night, we decided to go to an opera. Vienna may be THE single most important place in Europe to experience opera, so we couldn’t pass it up. We bought cheap tickets to La Traviata at the Volksoper. Too bad we misread our map and actually went to the Volkstheater first. No worries, we eventually made it to the correct venue. Sweaty albeit, but on time to enjoy some Wiener Oper. I definitely urge anyone who visits Vienna to go to an opera, even if it doesn’t normally fit your idea of a fun evening. The performances are guaranteed to be overflowing with talent and like I said, cheap for students. Although, cheap tickets usually means getting the seat directly in front of a support beam. But who cares?! Voices project in those acoustically sound structures!
The final thing I managed to do in Vienna was go to Schloss Belvedere, which I found to be significantly better than Schönbrunn! Statues of human-lionesses, crystal clear blue fountains and waterfalls, and delicate patterns of grass and shrubs lined the dirt walkways around the palace. But what I saw outside cannot compare to what the palace houses: some of my favorite expressionist and art nouveau artists from Austria, most prominently Gustav Klimt (!!!!!!!). I’ve seen some famous works of art in real life before, but nothing compares to being two feet away from one of your favorite pieces of all time. It felt surreal, unreal even. I stood in front of Klimt’s “The Kiss” for at least fifteen minutes, mesmerized by the colors and the emotion of the two subjects. I listened as tour groups came and left in a matter of minutes, bewildered as to how someone can just pass by this masterpiece, giving it nothing more than a glance. To each his own, I guess.
Although I could’ve spent an entire day roaming the grounds of Schloss Belvedere, I unfortunately had to leave the charm and elegance of Vienna and head back to Leipzig. A long weekend was definitely not enough time to truly experience the city. I want to go back soon. I want to stumble across more coffee shops, sit down with my drink served on a silver platter (with complimentary glass of water), and try to decipher what the couple at the table next to me are saying (Vienna’s dialect, Wienerisch, is a nightmare for someone like me who speaks hints of Sächsisch). I want to go to museums, have some wine in one of the many, beautiful parks, and enjoy the sounds of the city of music. Despite all the things that could have possibly made for an absolute shit trip, my time in the capital was fantastic. When I was out and about, enjoying the sights and my company, nothing else mattered. Deutsche Bahn, Mother Nature, or the random five roommates could not get in my way from experiencing Vienna to the fullest. In due time, I will make my way back to this alluring city. If the next visit is a tenth of the time I had this time around, I will have nothing to worry about.