Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Vienna, Austria

Posted on 8/3/03

After five nights in the tent, including the two hellish nights that I froze my nuts off, I felt that I was entitled to a bit of privacy (not to mention warmth) in Vienna. When I realized that I had not had a room to myself since the goddamn Ibis hotel in Stockholm almost five weeks earlier, the decision to spurge on a single room was clinched. Once again, I made a concerted effort to find a hostel within easy range of the train station. By this point my stamina for hauling the Barge and the Office around had improved to the point where I could go a respectable distance without it resulting in me being drenched in my own flop-sweat. However, I didn’t have the patience for a repeat of the two bus rides and the half mile walk that I was forced to do for the campsite in Salzburg.

Vienna was indeed huge, as I expected, but it wasn’t an over-crowded shit-hole like Berlin. I got a tear in my eye when someone gave me a huge, detailed, easy to read map of the city almost as soon as I got off the train. My room at the hostel was small. In fact, I once had an apartment that had a closet that was bigger than that room, but it was clean and it was all mine baby! I immediately unpacked, flung my stuff all over the room, got naked and took a nap. Total heaven.

These decorated horses were all over Vienna.  I never found out what the hell they were for.These decorated horses were all over Vienna.  I never found out what the hell they were for.These decorated horses were all over Vienna.  I never found out what the hell they were for.

Wandering around Vienna was a treat. I never got lost and I never had trouble find my location on the map. The tourist information office was a straight walk down the main shopping street from the hostel, which was a joy of people watching and woman ogling. An email that I had sent out the day before to the organizer of the Vienna juggling club was waiting for me when I stopped to check, giving me the location and meeting times. I looked at my watch. The club was meeting at that very moment. They practiced at the university which was about a 20 minute walk away. I hauled ass and got there, sweating and flushed, in 10. Other than the two meager, drop plagued practice sessions I put myself through in Copenhagen, I had not juggled in months. One of the guys lent me three clubs and I cut loose. It was clear the instant I hurled the first club in the air that I was in the Zone. I was a drop-free, juggling maniac. Even tricks that I couldn’t hit regularly when I was practicing every week were falling into place like I was controlling the clubs with my mind. I must have looked like a juggling god to the smattering of jugglers that were there. From what I could tell, they were mostly beginners, so to have this sweaty American show up out of nowhere with no props of his own and then tear the place up must have been sobering. I am as inconsistent as they come in juggling circles. Dream-like practice sessions are very few and far between for me, so I wasn’t going to squander a second of it. I kicked out the jams and put on a clinic on three clubs and three, four and five balls. I wasn’t even getting tired. The juggling gods had reached down, super-charged my hands and arms and flicked the switch in my brain that allowed me throw consistent and perfect throws. I was a machine for about an hour until my throws finally started to degrade. Wanting to quit while I was ahead, I dropped everything (on purposed you dorks), bid adieu to the shell shocked Vienna jugglers and sought out dinner.

I decided to go native and pound down another Austrian meal. I thought I would take it easy on my cholesterol level this time by ordering the fish. No such luck. It was breaded and deep fried to State Fair standards. As soon as the plate arrived, I ordered another glass of wine, knowing that I was going to need it to pulverize the fatty deposits out of my arteries later on.

The next morning started out on a high note. While I was perusing the menu at the Turkish place around the corner from the hostel, I saw a word that I had not even thought about since the day I left the States. “Omelet.” Those who know me well, know that omelets used to comprise a massive part of my diet in the States. I started trembling and stuttering. Despite the fact that I had not even had a passing craving for omelets during my trip, I suddenly had a crippling need for one. I lunged toward the nearest table. Unlike all of the other wait staff that I have encountered in Europe, the Turkish waiters were alert to my needs to the point of being psychic. They sensed immediately that not only did I know what I wanted to order, but that I also wanted it as fast as possible. I ordered an omelet with mince meat and vegetables. They brought bread to pacify me while the omelet was being prepared, but nothing was going to satisfy me at that point other than a massive, over-stuffed omelet. Then the moment of truth. The waiter sailed out of the kitchen and deposited my breakfast in front of me. Huh. I had not expected my Turkish omelet to look exactly like the ones that I got at the Uptown Diner, but I had kind of imagined that it would look something like what I was used to. I was pretty sure that it had been made with eggs, but that was about all it had in common with the mental picture I had painted which was now deflating and spiraling away like an untied balloon. This thing was flat, runny and sitting in a mysterious sauce. I was not sure what to do. I contemplated sprinting out of the restaurant, but I was the only one in the place and there were three waiters crouched down, waiting to spring into action and satisfy my every need. All three of them were looking at me like dogs might look, with their eyes wide and their heads cocked to one side, while they are trying to ascertain what you want. I smiled, waved and returned my gaze to my breakfast. I had little choice but to give it a try. I psyched myself up for the first bite and stuck a forkful into my mouth. It was different. Very different, but it was not bad. I relaxed, finished it off and set out for some ice cream.

The freakishly attentive service at the Turkish place was a heartening and welcome change. I returned there for two more meals and a to satisfy a late night wine craving over the next two days.

After putting myself through the 48 hour, high speed tourist-a-thon in Salzburg, I was museumed and cathedraled out. Despite it’s endless wealth of historic sights, art and culture, I was content to spend my time in Vienna simply walking through parks, people watching in the Old City, napping in my private room and wolfing down several ice cream cones a day. I made the hike to the Austrian royal palace, but only so I could dive into the hedge maze that they had in the “backyard” (a mammoth public park that stretched on as far as the eye could see). This hedge maze was fairly small (I only have the one in the “The Shining” to compare it with), but I got a huge kick out of running back and forth to trying to find my way to the center and admiring the assload of time and energy that must have gone into creating it.

This is one big friggin' backyard

The Old City did not disappoint. Tourists, drunks, beggars, cult recruiters, three statues guys within 50 yards of each other… There was a wildly entertaining sideshow going on in almost every direction. Horse drawn carriages were so numerous that I was certain that Vienna had one for every man, woman and child. The only disappointment was that about 50% of the historic buildings in Vienna were covered in scaffolding and tarps for cleaning, making it impossible to admire this aspect of the city unless you bought a postcard with the historic building of your choice in the front.

You can't tell from this picutre, but this building is super cool

I wonder how much "supergross" pizza they sell?

I was surprised as to how friendly the people of Vienna were. Finding pleasant people in huge, tourism bathed cities is like finding a Norwegian without a cell phone. Strangers talked to each other on the street and on the bus like they were all pals. Tourists weren’t cast aside like lepers with SARS. Shops owners, waiters and the general public were more than happy to bust through the communication barrier by writing down prices, pointing or doing a little pantomime to get concepts across. With all that Vienna had to offer, I could see myself staying weeks and never getting bored or growing to despise the locals.

While in Vienna, I banged out an essay on being a lonely traveler. During the composition of that piece I listed my entire European itinerary and had a little brain aneurysm when I discovered that I had 12 more countries to cover by Novemberish. I pulled myself together and plotted my exact course for the rest of my tour, keeping my southern (warmer) countries for the mid to late fall time frame, before I hunkered down for the winter and figured out how I was going to watch all 82 Timberwolves games.

Knowing that I had no intentions of tearing myself away from my private room to seriously tour Vienna, I cut my stay short and jumped the train to Prague.


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