May 13 – Vienna
Today really was an itsy-bitsy day. We did a bit of this and a bit of that. Started something, then switched to something else. Made a plan, changed a plan and really just did a bit of a few things.
Whenever we’re in a big city, we like to do one of the “free” walking tours on offer, to get the lay of the land, hear some stories and see some places we might want to return to and explore further. So…off we set this morning to join a walking tour of Vienna. It didn’t quite do what we’d hoped. The group was really big, much bigger than the advertised limit, so that made it hard to hear the guide. Then, there were road works and construction going on everywhere, which made it near on impossible to hear what was being said, coupled with the huge group that made it hard to take photos, it was becoming a bit of a fizzer. I heard one snippet of a story and that was about it. So…since we weren’t actually hearing anything or learning anything, we decided to peel off, leave the tour for another time and do some errands.
We headed off to find the Australian Embassy, so we could vote in our Federal election coming up this Saturday. We found the embassy and when we arrived, we were told by security that there were people in front of us voting and to go back downstairs and wait. So back down we went and sat with another group of Aussies, obviously there to do the same thing and we waited…and waited…and waited! Finally we trotted back upstairs, went through security and then were told to sit and wait until we were called in to the voting room. The waiting there wasn’t so bad because we got chatting to a couple from Brisbane who have been living in the Czech Republic for four years. It was closer for them to get on a train to Vienna to vote than to go to Prague, so there they were. We had a nice chat and they wished us well with the weather on our onward journey. They too, said it was unseasonably awful weather for May here. We were finally called in, marked our numbers on the ballot papers, posted them in the slot and that was that, we have officially voted for Australia’s government while in Vienna.
We decided to do some exploring of our own and between foot power and riding the tube to different districts in the city, we roamed and explored different areas. It was a very chilly roam too, because it was absolutely freeeezing! I was in a thermal and four jackets and still cold. Steve was in three layers and the other people around us were in coats, beanies, scarves and gloves. There’s obviously snow about because there was an icy breath to the air for sure.
First impressions of Vienna are it’s very crowded and very busy and very noisy. It’s funny the postcard impressions we had of the city and it’s not at all what we expected. We thought it would be something like a cross between Paris and Rome, with wide streets, big open squares and plazas, cobbled lanes in the back streets, or something like that. So far what we’ve seen is a lot of traffic, lanes and lanes of fast, loud traffic throughout the city and many of the notable buildings like the Opera are perched on the corner of busy intersections, whereas I’d pictured them in pedestrianised squares or something of that sort. It’s also teeming with tourists, of which I know we’re two ourselves, so we add to the numbers, but it’s really crowded and this isn’t even the peak season yet. Where we roamed through the inner city and the quarter near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, is really commercial, with lots of brand signs everywhere, so it didn’t quite strike the charm we were thinking we’d see and feel. Still…early days, first impressions can be complete duds, so we will continue to roam and explore with the parachute theory firmly in place – the mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open. So…with open minds we will continue to learn and discover this city.
We did wander through some nice parks and gardens and some of the buildings are quite spectacular and it was good to hop on the underground and take ourselves somewhere new, walk up the steps from below ground, into the grey light and discover a new place to explore.
I did hear a story about Leopold II, one of the sixteen children of Empress Maria Theresa. He became the Archduke of Austria, amongst his many other titles, such as Holy Roman Emperor. He was quite a progressive ruler and was the first to introduce public hospitals and small pox vaccinations, allowed freedom of religion and introduced reforms to care for those with mental illness. He got the people offside a bit though, with the measures he took to save wood. He decided that it used too much wood, to have people buried in a coffin each. Why should each person get their own, personal coffin, that just wasn’t wood-saving enough. So, he introduced a system of bottom-opening coffins. The bottom of the coffins could be removed, so when the coffin was lowered into the ground, the bottom would be removed and the body would be deposited in the ground and the coffin lifted back up and returned for another use…and another…and another. Leopold had come up with the perfect wood-saving system in the coffin making business. He then went a step further though and decided that one person to a grave was a bit excessive and surely six could fit in each hole that had been dug. So, with the trap-door like bottom on the coffins, coffins would be lowered, people dropped out the bottom until there were six bodies in a grave and then they could start on a new one. This was even done with Mozart. Despite there being a grave for the esteemed Wolfgang, no one really knows with absolute certainty where he’s buried because he too, is one of six, somewhere in a plot in Vienna. No special treatment for the symphonic celebrity, he just got a hinged bottom coffin like the rest of the populace and joined five others in their shared spot in the ground. Fancy that! Apparently the people got quite up in arms about the whole wood-saving, grave sharing approach to burials that Leopold introduced.
While roaming and flitting here and there on the underground, we did see quite a bit of the city and its various Quarters.
So it was a bit of a higgledy-piggledy day, flitting here and there. Tomorrow we’re going to have another go at a walking tour, to try and learn some more history and hear some more stories. It’s supposed to be even colder and then heavy rain on Wednesday, so we’ll try and get out and about for another day before we might have our movements curtailed a bit. Still lots to explore, we’ll see what we discover tomorrow. I just wish I’d packed an extra thermal!
Since we weren’t on the bikes today, I’ll finish with a video of our ride from Ptuj to Maribor in Slovenia, a day when the sun was shining!
Distance ridden: 0 km
Distance roamed: 17.3 km
Weather: cold, grey, windy, 13C / “feels like 8C”