Central Europe: Vienna, Austria
Having boarded the cross-border train from Budapest to Vienna I settled into the book that I had been picking up in bad weather moments and tedious flights. Train journeys are usually quite calm but this one had the added excitement of an unscheduled stop at the Austrian border to allow border patrol guards on. Although no one was ejected from the train they methodically worked their way through the carriages checking people’s passports and credentials, a gradual accumulation of ‘illegal’ refugees and migrants grew between the border patrol guards as they moved along the train. When we arrived in Vienna I saw the same group of refugees/migrants being escorted away, although it was quite a calm movement and certainly none of the events on my journey resembled any of those that have saturated television news shows and newspapers over the last couple of weeks.
In Vienna I stayed at quite a cold generic hostel, whilst efficient and equipped lacked little charm. This was also a temporary home for a good number of migrants, and I say migrants in this case because they were exclusively young men or even groups of young men. I spoke to a few during my stay, an Indian man who was staying in my room who was trying to find work and papers in Austria and a couple of Tajik lads who were trying to get to Germany. There are definitely several sides to the coin of events currently happening in Europe and although the majority of people are fleeing war and persecution there is, at least from my summer experience, a significant number of people attempting to take advantage of the situation for other reasons. The hostel staff had quite a job on their hands keeping the hostel secure, on several occasions I saw them having to prevent people from entering the premises who were not guests and even at one point a man trying to acquire a keycard from reception despite not being registered at the hostel at all. All I could surmise from my observations is that it is an extremely complex situation and it is understandable that there are such divisions across European states; the priority though surely should be to show compassion and help those who need it.
Beyond the evolving troubles and struggles of the people I was inadvertently observing throughout my trip I was, with a gnawingly increasing sense of guilt, also keen to continue my own exploration. Having arrived in the early afternoon and only being limited to two days in Vienna, I struck out into the city. I took the subway to Stephanplatz and emerged outside another ostentatious city cathedral, which I briefly glimpsed inside before navigating my way towards the MuseumsQuartier. Heading west through the city you pass some palatial buildings such as the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek and The Museum of Natural History Vienna before arriving in the transformed baroque MuseumsQuartier. The pace of the day meant I had a choice of art galleries and I chose MUMOK over the Leopold for its renowned collection of pop art.
MUMOK (also awkwardly known as MUseum MOdern Kunst) is another gallery linked to the Ludwigs that I mentioned in my previous blog but I found this collection much more appealing and thought provoking, it also features some masterful pieces by Roy Lichtenstein and and Andy Warhol. I took a couple of pictures, but no more, it was allowed but art galleries are for appreciation, no one with any mode of decorum wants to be known as that guy/woman who walks around taking photos of every piece of work with their obnoxious iPad…
Apart from the pop art big hitters there were some intriguing exhibitions by lesser known, or even unknown to me, contemporary artists on the other floors giving the art museum credibility for championing a wide variety of artistic styles and offering something to any patron who would visit. It was definitely my favourite art gallery throughout my journey.
As much as I enjoyed MUMOK, I equally enjoyed the general ambience of the whole area of the MuseumsQuartier, there were numerous cafes and bars serving fashionable drinks and food as well as having interactive public spaces where you could relax, meet friends (I have no friends in Vienna sadly) or pass some time reading a book (I did have a book). This was a common theme throughout the whole of Vienna and I felt it would be a fantastic city to live in.
Finding myself on the inner edge of the inner Vienna ring road I followed the road clockwise passing the national parliament building before finding myself outside the Rathausplatz, the city mayoral building. It was here that I accidentally found myself at the summer music film festival, an outdoor event where there were twenty plus pop up food retailers and a massive open air temporary auditorium semi-encircling the impressive Rathausplatz which was adorned with a massive screen. I conveniently arrived shortly before the evenings free performance so I grabbed a delicious plate of some kind of French version of a stew with roasted potatoes and a glass of wine and found myself a bench. I had no idea what to expect from the performance but it turned out to be a screening of an opera, Mozart’s Die Zauberflote. I will be honest and admit that I only watched half before I decided I had appreciated Vienna’s celebrated music scene enough and left my seat. The whole event and set up was mightily impressive though, just the kind of thing that any cultural city should be staging.
The following day I grabbed the subway east to Leopoldstadt where I signed up for the Vienna City Bikes scheme. (One euro to sign up, free for the first hour and a euro for a subsequent hour, free again after a fifteen minute return period!) Having acquired my bicycle I spent the late morning exploring Donauinsel Island in the middle of the Danube. I cycled a good 25 km on my slow, heavy and cumbersome city bike but it was refreshing to be cycling along the picturesque riverside and seeing a different side to the city. After returning my bicycle I grabbed some cheap street food nearby before rehiring another bicycle and exploring the inner city and the stretch of the canal that dissects it. There was plenty going on and I enjoyed watching graffiti artists, stopping for a drink on the sun lounger bars that pop-up along the canal and swerving through tourists and pedestrians in the small parks.
In the evening I was feeling quite fatigued and slightly sunburnt but I had arranged to meet Kasia, a Polish Couchsurfer living in Vienna. I met her at the subway near to the hostel and was introduced to her lively dog who joined us for a few drinks canal side in the city at Strandbar Hermann, a faux beach bar. I didn’t have much energy for a big night out so we went our respective ways before the last subway left. I arrived back at the hostel and passed out until my alarm woke me in the morning and I hurried off to get my bus to Prague.