Trip to the Western Edge of Eastern Europe: Chapter 4 – Zis is all ze fault of ze Breetish

The next morning, we left for Vienna using a popular carpooling service called Blablacar. The guy was chatty but thankfully spoke only German. This helped both of us – as Enthu never gives up on a chance to show off his German and I wanted to sleep.

We reached Vienna and checked into our hostel – we almost had a scare when we found out how far from the main city centre Vienna was, but these fears were unfounded as the place was just 500m from the nearest Metro station. Once we had changed and settled in, we started figuring out our plans for the next 3 days and that’s when the mountain of pamphlets hit us – there was so much to see and do in this city! Tonnes of art / culture / performances / movies / music / architecture / animals / palaces / bars / cafes and what not. Three frustrating hours later, we had something that resembled a plan. We headed out to the city centre where we got off a Karlsplatz and walked.  Vienna is essentially a large museum in itself – a collection of architectural marvels. Perhaps a remnant of the Habsburg way of doing things – everything was aesthetically superb.  After going around Karlplatz and Stephansplatz and wandering around and taking a million photographs, we ate at the famous Bitzinger Wurstelstand right outside the Albertina museum. A good snack of wurst and beer later, we went along on our way. Eventually we stumbled upon a lovely complex – with large arches and green domes adorning the top of a magnificent building. We went through the gates and noticed a sign – Spanisher Hofreitschule. We had inadvertently walked into the Spanish Riding School[1] ! This meant we were just outside the Hofburg Palace. We walked through the large white arches along the roped walkway and there it was – a mountain of intricate windows and doorways bathed in yellow light. If you go to Vienna make sure you go see the Hofburg only at night. We indulged in some awestruck gaping and took pictures of the surroundings – the equine statues which we had gotten used to now, the church in the distance with only its clock tower lit up against an otherwise black structure, and the main gate to the complex.

From here we headed into the Museum Quartier and roamed around till we reached Stephanplatz again where we ate a slightly disappointing dinner – all cafes close by 10, so we had to eat <gasp> chicken wings!

The next day we split up. I went ahead to see the Schönbrunn palace – the seat of the Habsburgs for a few hundred years (which interestingly started life as a hunting lodge – just like the Palace of Versailles). I took an extremely good guided audio tour for 21 rooms (didn’t have more time than that) which covered the personal chambers of Maria Theresa and Francis I as well as their many children including some fascinating stories about the marriages to form alliances with other kingdoms (one of these kids was a lady by the name of Marie Antoinette).  Once the tour was done, I was joined by Enthu and we then roamed the grounds of the palace including the large open space filled with white sand behind the castle and the majestic statue of Neptune which stood at the other end overlooking the fountain. We contemplated going to the Tiergarten – the oldest zoo in the world – but decided against it to go up the hill to the Gloriette – a large arch type structure built to oversee the palace grounds, the Palace and the entire city of Vienna behind it – once again a spectacular view.

Lunch was spent at a traditional Viennese café, where we had local wine and Wiener schnitzel.  The afternoon was spent in the Albertina museum which was running a nice exhibit starting from impressionism (Monet and others) to abstract & modern art (Picasso, Appel, Giacometti etc.). One regret was not going to the Belvedere and seeing the works of local art-hero Gustav Klimt. That one is filed under “Vienna trip agenda when we have more money” – along with a concert at the Wiener Philharmonic and a performance of the Spanicher Hofreitschule.

We then went to one of the recommended bars and the night just took off from there. It was a place called “Travellers Shack” – which the guidebook said was the best place to drink for travellers because of two major reasons. One was that everyone else is mostly a traveller – so you don’t have to worry about culturally fitting in and the other was the Austrian locals who did show up were the types who wanted to hang with travellers anyway and hence were super friendly. The ambience was insane – with posters of kangaroos, semi naked women, rock bands, alcohol related humour on the walls.

Anyway, we started drinking the usual local beer (Kozel) and Enthu starting doing his thing – talking to random people. A few drinks later, we were surrounded by a bunch of Austrians. The first order of business was to curse the Brits.  Enthu tends to speak in the accent the other guy is speaking – so we were now speaking English in a German accent. Outrage was poured on the Brits for not being able to hold their drinks which is why the bar had to resort to plastic beer mugs (you can imagine how German blood boiled at the prospect of drinking beer in a plastic mug) “What ze fuck is zis? Plastic coops?” “Zis is all the ze fault of ze Breetish. Fookers can’t hold zeir drinks”. We were mildly worried when the bartender started looking at us funny – but then he said he was Irish and he shared our view that the Brits ruined everything.

One of the more interesting people we met was an IT professional from interior Austria who was working in Vienna at the time. When he found out we were Indian, he said “Oh! That’s great! I’ve been to India”

“Oh really? That’s great! Where have you been in India?”

“Mostly the north”

“Oh where in the north?”[2]

“Bathinda”[3]

“Wait what?”

“Ya. My mother lives there”

“WHAT?”

“Or rather my father’s wife lives there. She is actually my step mother.”

Wow. Imagine meeting a white Viennese guy who has family in Bathinda. We also met a german girl who spoke remarkably good English, her Austrian boyfriend, a Croatian dude Ivan who gave us a lot of gyaan about places we should go to in Croatia and, after a few more drinks, also offloaded a lot of post Homeland war frustrations on the table.

By the end of the night, we headed back at 2 am. As we got into bed at 3am, we realised that we had to leave early morning the next day – to catch a train for Krems an der Donau where we would be taking part in a bicycling wine tour of the Wachau valley. We cursed ourselves to sleep for a short 4 hours.

We mostly slept on the way to Krems once we crossed Tulln[4] – which is a small town an hour away from Vienna. In Krems we picked up our bicycles – which looked heavy and primitive at first but as we started to ride, we realised they were excellent bikes with very smooth gears and easy to control (mostly[5]).

We rode all along the hills, going from one vineyard to the next – tasting great wine and enjoying some lovely weather (it had started raining in the afternoon). Cycling around in the rain with ponchos on was quite an experience.  We stopped for lunch at the little village of Dürnstein – an ancient town which developed around the castle there. It is said Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned here for at least 6 months while being held by the local king as he was returning back from the Crusades. We are told he wrote songs here and when they say “imprisoned” they actually mean kept in a luxurious house and allowed to do everything except for go to England.

We climbed up the Durnstein castle where Richard was supposedly kept – and were treated to some brilliant panoramic views of the Wachau Valley and the Danube going through it.

A lot of roads and buildings allude to Richard’s stay here. We ate lunch on one such “Richardstrasse” –  in a small cottage restaurant which served us traditional drinks (Spritzers and wine and beer) and food (Austrian Goulash/ Schnitzel and Potato Salad)

Once this was done, we were on our way to the last vineyard – the smallest one. Here Enthu jumped into the Danube and went for a swim[6]

We came back to Vienna tired and dirty and decided to have a quiet night and ensure we reach the bus station in time for our trip to Bratislava the next day.

[1] The Spanish Riding School is famous for having ridiculously well trained horses do ballet. Yes, ballet!

[2] He MUST have gone to Agra and Delhi. Hmph. Tourists.

[3] Errrmmm. Okay so we got that one wrong

[4] The birthplace of Egon Schiele can be seen from the train. Don’t ask me why we get excited about seeing houses in which artists were born a hundred years ago.

[5] Brakes were the other way around. So we fell twice in the first 100 meters because we jammed down on the front brake

[6] Enthu is very sanskari and needs to take a dip in all water bodies like a good Hindu. This is just the beginning. Wait and watch.

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