Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Musing: Vienna -- Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

This musing is by Jennifer...

Viennajennifer1I arrived in Vienna and it was cold and rainy and I realized that besides barely making my plane that morning I had done little in the way of preparation for this trip. I had been so preoccupied with finishing up school, and then making it to the airport in time, that when I showed up in Vienna my first thought was "Oh, I'm here...now what?" With my first voyage in Paris I had a plan -- things to do, places to go, objectives that I acted upon -- so even wandering around the streets of Paris became a little mission of its own. For Vienna I had no plan, I had no list, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish, what I wanted to "take from" this trip. In short, I arrived in Vienna and felt a little out of my element. Able to function, not that intimidated of getting from place A to place B, but I felt that I lacked direction -- I didn't feel as involved with Vienna as I had been in Paris.

Viennajennifer2German was harder for me to pick up than French had been, and the dreary weather made wandering about all day unpleasant. I decided that I should figure out what Vienna was "all about," and so I took a look at the mountain of brochures in the hotel and plotted out my next "plan of attack." I compiled a list, not a massive list but a list nonetheless, of museums and sights and foods to explore; I was determined that I would experience the "true" Vienna, so help me. And so that's what I did: I took a tour of Schonbrunn, I tasted Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte, I saw Klimt's paintings in museums, I stepped foot in Beethoven's and Mozart's apartments... and it was great, but I found that that's not what traveling is about for me. For the most part, I had the most fun in the "getting there" rather than in the "arriving there." Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte... basically country-fried veal and chocolate cake. Even Beethoven's museum turned out to be two rooms of plaques on the walls and a xeroxed copy of the Heiligenstadt Document. But even if the thing itself turned out to be a bust, that didn't demean my experience of being there -- I was looking out the window of Beethoven's apartment, I was looking at his piano. In fact, without traveling out to the boonies of Vienna to get to Heiligenstadt, I would never have figured out the buses, eaten a kabob outside the station, and drank coffee in a retirement center because the museum was closed for lunch. To me, the experience as a whole turned out to be the fun part. It was going to a museum and being more awe-struck by the architecture of the palace than the superb collection of Renaissance paintings, it was wandering through the village square of Bratislava and deciding to get sausages from the stands and then go inside for hot chocolate that turned out to be chocolate soup, it was playing "metro roulette" and getting off at a random station to walk along the Danube even though it was cold and raining, it was meeting my uncle's friend Matt and going to a Turkish restaurant in the district of Vienna he termed "Mesopotamia," it was going to a movie theatre and having a fine dining experience of chips, chocolate, and red wine.

Viennajennifer3So I began to think that maybe I was going about this whole traveling thing the wrong way. I cannot plan my way into experiencing a city, and brochures are useful only to a point. It doesn't matter that I spent a week in Vienna. It doesn't matter what I did or didn't see, what I did or didn't do, what I did or didn't learn. It matters that I went, figured things out, and had a ball doing it. Traveling, for me, really emphasizes that people are the same anywhere you go. They can speak German and have lived next to a Hapsburg palace for generations, but they still have the same hopes and fears and basic needs, and 9 times out of 10 will give you help if you ask with a smile. I had fun and I saw some really cool stuff and I went a lot of places, but this time I didn't compile a checklist. Or, if I did, I stopped checking things off. I learned to react to the unexpected and be flexible with the day ahead. You want soup and get pot roast instead? No problem. You go out to the soup restaurant and it's closed? Falafel sounds good. It's snowing the day you wanted to go out to Schonbrunn? How about Friday. You make a massage appointment and arrive at some guy's apartment who doesn't speak any English? Well, you get a massage. Turns out that a day drip to Frankfurt means a 13 hour train ride? Well, Bratislava is only an hour away. You can't make this stuff up, it's just what ends up happening and it ended up making my trip so enjoyable. It was great. Unforgettable. Another voyage.

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