Captain Obvious here, reflecting upon how the best thing about travelling is observing the differences between us as they surface in unexpected places. Most of these reflections are non-judgemental. I’m not at all interested in that nationalistic carry on indulged in by those who insist that anyone living under the Southern Cross lives in the greatest nation on earth. What tosh! Viva la difference!
This is not to say that there aren’t some habits I’ve taken for granted that Vienna could benefit from adopting. I am so grateful that Victoria, that notorious Nanny State, has made life difficult for my tobacco smoking friends. Eating dinner surrounded by smokers is a distant memory, and it’s not one that I have delighted in being reacquainted with. Passive smoking is a pleasure this once aggressive smoker has happily learned to live without! Schnitzel, beer and Euro pop music made up for it only a little.
Free public toilets is another service the town burghers might like to consider including in their forward planning, especially given the number of tourists in town, even during the ‘low season’. Having said that, meine guten mann and I laughed ourselves silly after a visit to the public loos in the Museums Quartier, an astonishing collection of galleries we only had time to scratch the surface of. Accepting our fate, that we would each have to spend 50 cents to spend our respective pennies, we approached the public conveniences. Here we were greeted by a young man sitting at a counter less than a meter from the booths in question, tucking into a large plate of schnitzel and salad. He leapt up from his meal to serve me, showing me to my cubicle, inspecting the porcelain device and declaring it fit for use. Meanwhile, his female companion offered Leigh similar advice, poking her head under the lid and confidently proclaiming the pissoir good to go. Leigh tells me that while her friend was helping me, she was helping herself to his schnitzel. (Cue the Benny Hill music.) Not wanting to push the point indelicately, or name names, there are one or people I have known who in the process of testing their pristine conveniences, could also have tested their schnitzel-eating resolve…
Also, not that there is much to be done about it, days that are dark by 4:00 pm are just weird! Yesterday was the winter solstice here. It was a glorious, sunny day; we took advantage of it and we walked ourselves silly, to the Naschtmarkt in the morning, where we saw tropical fruits for sale in the middle of winter that we rarely see in summer at the Victoria Market, to the Prater; a huge park which was full of kids and horses and old men and women doing ‘Nordic walking’ with their ski poles, and statuesque people of all ages wearing fur coats that I assume were not faux. At 4:00 o’clock we walked into the Third Man Museum as the light was fading. At 5:30 (yes, it was a really good museum!) we walked out into the dark, totally disoriented and convinced that it really had to be 10:00 pm. It’s not so much the time zone jumps that have discombobulated me, it’s the lack of light. How do people who have to live and work without it permanently cope?
I could also ask how they cope with the cold, although to some extent, we are here to find that out for ourselves. When all is said and done, we came here because we wanted to experience a European Christmas season and thus fgar, that experience has been absolutely sublime. Before we left, our vet told me that ‘the Austrians do everything about Christmas better than we do – even their Christmas cards are better than ours’. I have to say I agree with him, although I’m struggling to put my finger on why, exactly. Perhaps it is the absence of Santa Claus? The only place I’ve seen him, quite literally, is in Coca Cola advertisements. St. Nicholas features, but even he isn’t front and centre of the festivities. At a Christmas market today, people were getting photos taken, but it wasn’t with Santa or St Nick, it was with the ‘Christkind’, a little blonde child with angel’s wings. In Austria, she is the traditional gift giver; the one, so parents say, who sneaks in while children are sleeping and won’t visit those who have been naughty. There’s something kind of sweet and low key about it. Although maybe low key isn’t quite the right descriptor, given the size of the Christmas Market we went to tonight! Disneyland on steroids describes the crowd size that we shuffled through.
It was cold (0 degrees), dark and crowded, with public drinking of alcohol happening everywhere we looked. But the atmosphere was warm, friendly and relaxed. And the setting was absolutely divine. The Vienna Rathaus, lit up at night, was a sight to behold, as were the lights in the trees and the decorations through out the park.
Our vet just might be right – the Austrians win at Christmas. At the very least I have to say the Viennese are awesome at it, as they are with public buildings, public transport, museums (large and small), coffee, cake, small-goods, hot chocolate, spiral kartoffel, schnitzel and well-heated apartments. We are lucky that many Viennese settled in Melbourne, often as refugees, because we have benefited from their presence.
Now, if only they’d had more impact with regard to public transport and spiral kartoffel…
Shouldn’t that last caption read “Vienna is my nice cup of tea.”