Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Ah Vienna

Vienna Ratshaus (civic buildings)
I'm writing about Vienna in my book LETTERS FOR STEPS today. It's been an age since I was there. The images have faded to a gilt-edged dream. How I'd love to go back and see those sights again and take the Hubs and children to see them.
This is much brighter and cleaner than ours was.

We stayed in a youth hostel for the three or so days we were there. We'd just been to my great uncle's vineyard on the Rhine, where he gave the students two bottles of the most delicious wine they'd ever had (children there grow up drinking the stuff). My parents and I stuck to the most amazing grape juice we'd ever had in our lives, but the students saved their bottles of fourteen-types-of-grapes ambrosia for Vienna. We came back from buying breakfast for the group to find the guys running around the hostel in their underpants and singing loudly about dead dogs in the middle of the road. Dad was not pleased.
Wouldn't want to have to clean it, but oh the size!

I remember Schonbrunn Palace (there are umlauts but my keyboard refuses to be German). We had thirteen students with us (plus me and my parental units) and we walked through those gymnasium-sized ballrooms with our mouths dropping to our chests--except for two girls. Those incredibly strange girls (I'll call them Itchy and Scratchy) sat on the steps outside and read romances the whole time I was inside pretending I was at a ball in a gorgeous white dress. Nothing seemed to draw them out of their little boxes.
Ornate to the hilt!

We went to THE SILVER FLUTE at the Vienna Opera House. Again I wished I was dripping with jewels and furs like the rest of the patrons instead of my ratty jeans and windbreaker. We bought tickets for standing room only, which they are very serious about. There were, luckily, handrails you could hold onto for the three hours of incomprehensible bellowing (Can you tell opera is not my thing if I can't understand the story?) so you didn't faint. I tried to sit down once and one of the usher came and sternly told us, "Aufstehen, bitte." (Stand up, please)
 By the last third of it I was ready to die. We'd spent the whole rest of the day running for streetcars and walking everywhere. I remember leaning over and telling my friend, "Kill me now. Wait. Another screech like that will do the trick."

Sorry, no pictures of the statuary. The horses were great, though.
We went to see the Lipizaner Stallions doing dressage at the Spanish Riding School. It was grandly elegant--in places too elegant. We managed to get seats behind some statuary at the end of the huge indoor arena. I had to watch those amazing white horses do their curvettes and leaps from beneath some statue guy's butt cheeks.

My father, the German teacher, insisted that each of us have chances to buy things using their German language. He'd send us out two-by-two like animals in Noah's ark to fend for ourselves in the markets of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. We got very good at pointing and asking, "Wieviel costet das?" (How much does that cost?) Itchy and Scratchy refused to do anything ever except ask for a Coke.
Finally in Vienna Dad had had it with them. (The rest of us had already decided they were hyena fodder long before.) He sent those girls out with Gretchen, the fourth year student who spoke pretty good German, to buy breakfast, telling them not to come back without it. Gretchen was supposed to fake a sudden case of laryngitis so the other two would have to do the speaking.
The long, hungry hours passed and I finally decided to go buy myself something to tide me over until lunch in a few minutes. I found Itchy and Scratchy in the baekerei bawling their eyes out as Gretchen, miraculously cured, tried to coach them through buying a couple of dozen brotchen (best rolls on the planet). They clamored for me to save them, but I simply grinned and bought my own roll. They deserved what they got.
The Vienna Opera Ball--I'd give my firstborn child to dance there!

It was there at the youth hostel that we finally encountered a real laundromat. Most of the time we washed things in the sink. Everybody else had crammed their stuff in washers together so we could make our train on time. A nursing student from Australia told me I could wash my stuff with hers. Unfortunately, my new red Frankfurt University T-shirt turned all her whites pink. I was glad we were on the way out of there because the swearing could be heard clear to Munich.
The Prater--one of the biggest Ferris wheels in Europe. Rivals the London Eye

My snarky comments should not derail you from the fact that the trip to Europe was one of the best experiences of my life on a variety of levels. I did a pile of growing up there, learned about people and places, broadened my horizons, fell in like, and gained fabulous friends for life. Shakespeare's words from Henry 5's Crispin's Day soliloquy stand out in my head: We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. Thanks, Dad and Mom, for an experience we'll never forget.

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