I arrived in Vienna the next day and met up with John about 2 in the afternoon. His appartment is by far the nicest place I’ve stayed on my trip, I’m still getting used to not having to sleep in a room with 17 strangers. My first evening in town we went to one of the many Viennese heurige on the outskirts of town. A heurige is a sort of ‘restaurant’ located among the vineyards from which its wine comes. A true heurige serves only its own wine, and only this year’s vintage. For the next two days, I saw many of Viennas more touristed sights. The palaces and museums were great, I especially like the gardens surrounding Maira Theresa’s wannabe Versailles, Shönebrunn palace. One museum in particular was really cool, it was called the Haus der Musik, and besides offering display to the hometown composers, it traced the “evolution” of sounds into notes into music. Very interactive and quite interesting, they had to ask me to leave when thaey closed. My favorite activity, however, was going to the old Vienna coffehouses and sitting there among locals drinking strong coffee and reading my complimentary copy of the _International Herald Tribune_.
On thrusday night, I went to see Bizet’s _Carmen_ at Vienna’s main opera house. Not sure how long I would stay, and uncomfortable with how I was dressed, I bought a standing room only ticket for 2 euros. Besides having to stand the whole time, and only being able to see half of the stage, it was quite an interesting experience.
However, I’m more of a symphony guy, so three and a half hours is a LOT of opera. If they had just read throught the subtitles, the opera would’ve finished in ten minutes, but the singing went on and on. In the end, Carmen got what was coming to her, though, and I was proud that I had stayed the whole time.
The next day, I took the train to Linz, Austria, with the intention of making a quick, half day trip to the Mauthausen concentration camp close to there. Logistically, however, it was harder than I thought, and it took all day. Besides changing trains three times (all of which were late) I arrived in the lonely town of Mauthausen with no idea how to find the camp. So, I walked to the highway, held out my thumb, and the second car to pass stopped. I told him in my 101 level German that I wanted to go to “die Camp für die Juden.” He must’ve understood, because he motioned for me to get in. He spoke no English, so we went back and forth, he saying things I didn’t understand while I blurted out questions and facts about myself like a three year old Austrian with a speech problem. After fifteen awkward minutes, he dropped me off at a little fortress on the top of a hill in the middle of a wheat field. It was amazing how unassuming the camp was, just perched out there like it was.
Mauthausen was a death camp, one of the last liberated and, interestingly enough, contained more Spanish republicans and Soviet P.O.W.s than Jews. Going in, the camp was desolate- practically no tourists, very much preserved, and, save for a small museum, practically nothing to indicate to the visitor that the facility wasn’t used last week. I had always thought that, given how much press the Holocaust gets, I could be nonchalant in the face of such a sight. However, when I saw the living quarters, the gas chambers, and the incinerators, it was VERY sobering. Especially when one considers how recent this history was. After staying for a few hours, I began my hike to the main road, to hitchike back to the train station. Again, I was picked up by the second car that passed. This time, it was a van hauling a small, enclosed, trailer. My chauffeur had gray hair, in sort of a shag, disco era style. He was wearing nothing but Bikini briefs and listened to Maharishi style Indian sitar music on the radio (when I told him I like his music, he looked at me and said, “Indian, man, Ohhhh yeeeeeaaaaah!” and turned it up really loudly). Evidently, he was not a local, for he stopped to ask for directions three times, and his accent (in English) was different. It turns out, he had moved from Israel about twenty years ago, has two kids in Austria, and was on his way home to a town I had never heard of. He was a little bizarre, but at least we could speak English.
Finally yesterday I went for a bike ride with John and Susanna along the Danube. The weather was perfect and it was a great ride. A word of advice, though, if you go bike riding with an owner of a fitness center, no matter what his age, have no illusions about being able to keep up. He and Susanna rode circles around me, I think I caught up twice without them slowing down. It was a freat ride nonetheless, the highlight of which was swimming among the nude bathers in the Danube, that was quite the ahem…cultural experience. In any case, last night I had a great dinner at John and Susanna’s, even thought they wouldn’t let me help with anything. They have both been amazing to me during my stay here, and that, coupled with the fact that I’ve had time to relax for a bit, is why Vienna has been one of my nicest stops so far. Well, thanks to those of you who are still reading after this far. I will try to be more concise in the future. My head is mending well, my stitches come out on Tuesday. I head to Prague on Wednesday and am having a great time.
From Vienna I took a day and went to Budapest, I liked it well enough but could really have used another day to form an informed opinion. I left Vienna after having my stitches removed by John’s girlfriend Susanne, who’s an optic surgeon. The looks one gets when he goes into a foreign hospital’s Emergency eye surgery ward and asks for the top eye surgeon to remove four stitches is one of confusion at best.