When I think of Austria, my mind, like many, flashes back to the cliché of The Sound Of Music. The Von Trapp family dancing around the Mirabell Gardens and Pegasus Fountain, running up mountains, singing Do-Re-Mi dressed in old curtains (which, may I say, must have taken Fräulein Maria a rather LONG time to make). I also worked out that they would have had to run roughly 10 miles to reach the infamous green, rolling hills (“are alive with the sound of music”) where they sit and learn how to sing *surprisingly they are all rather good at it*. Gretl, the youngest, is now 58 years old, to really put your life into some sort of perspective.
300,000 tourists visit the Trapp household, Leopoldskron Palace, and the associated film locations a year. There are bus trips and tourism companies purely dedicated to take visitors to the exact spots where the seven children and Maria waltzed and yodelled around the city. (Next time, I will be one of those).
But my trip this time took me to Vienna. Meeting my sister for her 30th birthday, we stayed in District 17 with a very close friend who has made his home there for years. Sad is he at the prospect of leaving this city, I can understand exactly why after a whirlwind three-day trip to this rather fabulous, ultimately beautiful and infatuating city. I could have spent weeks there. The tram system (Straßenbahn) alone has 29 lines and 1.071 stations forming a rail network of 109.9 miles. I think I only visited 4 of those stations and travelled five miles.
As we walked around the city, the roofs glistened in their freshly, hand-cleaned gold and green tiles. Every corner told its own historical fable, where horses wait cold and patiently wrapped in rugs for tourists to take their turn around the sights. For miles and miles we wondrously traipsed through cobbled streets, markets and leafy autumnal parks, passing coffee shops and palaces dripping in shades of yellow. For me, this is sunshine city, where the buildings speak all shades of time with their sunny tones.
For those who don’t smoke, Vienna has a few years of change to experience yet. Most bars hum with dehumidifiers, where locals pack themselves in to drink Schnapps and Spritz, whilst chain-smoking their way through the evening. You go to sleep warm from the company, fuzzy from the wine and wake up to stale smokey fingers and a desperate need to wash off the city’s aroma. But to me, it just adds to the authentic Austrian experience.
Like France, coffee is still an art to be mastered. Alcohol is overpriced unless you know where to go. Schnitzel comes in batter and is NOT served with noodles; potatoes are soaked in vinegar and Lebkuchen sold in share-size bags. Public transport is one of the easiest in the world. No matter how you dress, you suffer from clothes regret. The Bier Kavalier prefers brunettes. The language is softer. Graffiti is everywhere, beautiful in colour, rich in content, splashed over every inch of bare wall.
As I take the underground back in London on my return, I sit reminiscing about my trip. Tired from the travelling yet delighted by the journey. Sick from the weather yet ecstatic with the prospect of a return. I look up and my eyes see an insect, a bit lost from its normal habitat, crawling up the handrail opposite me. A bit like me really, as I continue to conquer my mission of three new cities a year. It makes me even happier to see that the insect is in fact Gretl’s favourite thing… a lady bug.
I smile the whole journey home.