Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 8)

It had been almost thirty years since my first visit to Vienna. Back in the early 1980s I was attending a series of meetings for IBM Europe; my place on the agenda was to provide an update on the relatively new System/38.

It might be the same building.

While so much of Vienna seemed familiar to me, I felt the same during my first visit. It was like walking back into downtown Pittsburgh in 1955. The cobblestone streets and old store fronts on five and six story buildings were vivid reminders of the city of my birth.

Vienna tram.

This next photo might justify my feelings of Déjà vu.

Old photo of a Pittsburgh trolley.

In Vienna, and other cities in Europe, these vehicles are known as trams. We called them streetcars, or trolleys, in Pittsburgh. Seeing the age of many of the trams in Munich and Vienna, it’s obvious Pittsburgh made a big mistake getting rid of them and replacing them with gas guzzling buses.

On that first trip to Vienna, so many years ago, I decided to shun the airport-to-hotel transfer IBM would’ve paid for. Rather than taking a limo, I asked directions as to how a resident of Vienna would get to the hotel as cheaply as possible. I then boarded a bus and headed off into the unknown.

The bus driver spoke enough English to let me off where I could get a subway into the part of town where my hotel was located. I had difficulty finding the subway station until a shopkeeper told me to look for the large “U” on a sign near a set of steps leading Underground.

My next dilemma was trying to figure out the vending machine that dispensed U-Bahn tickets. I had three strikes against me: I couldn’t read German; I wasn’t sure where I was going; and I didn’t fully comprehend their monetary system.

As I stood staring at the mass of incomprehensible information a gentleman approached and, in perfect English, asked if he could help. Luckily he was familiar with the hotel’s location and told me which ticket I needed. Unluckily, the machine did not take bills. I needed coins.

The gentleman took one of my bills and walked me to a pastry shop nearby. The next thing I knew, there was a heated argument between my new friend and the store’s proprietor. It turned out that the storekeeper wanted 10% for making change. That did not happen! My Guardian Angel handed me the money and we returned to the vending machine. He made sure I deposited the proper amount and selected the correct ticket.

Next, the man walked me down the steps and told me which train to take and how many stops I needed to go prior to getting off.

I set down my suitcase and briefcase and turned to thank him. He was gone!

Standing and waiting has never been a forte of mine. Soon I picked up my luggage and began walking around to see what there was to see. Suddenly an elderly woman grabbed me by the arm and took me back to where my friend had left me. I couldn’t understand a word she said, but the message was clear. “Stay here until the train comes and then do what that fellow told you to do!”

I learned a lot about the people of Vienna by making things difficult on myself. Judging by the age of those who helped me, I can only surmise they were young adults when the Allies liberated Austria from the Nazis. When they saw an opportunity to help an American, they didn’t hesitate!

All this is to say I had a personal agenda when we arrived in Vienna. In addition to tracking down the IBM building, I was hoping to find the hotel I occupied during my stay. I also wanted to confirm the big mistake I’d made all those years ago.

Map of Vienna.

If you look in the upper right section of the map you’ll see an “X” showing the approximate location of the IBM building. Based on an assumption (I didn’t have a map back then), I stood in the middle of a nearby bridge and felt a thrill knowing I was looking at the famous Danube River.

The truth is that centuries ago I might have been accurate in my assumption. I’ve since learned that the Danube was once very much like the Mississippi River in that following a massive flood, it would find a new course. So, the waterway I thought was the Danube was no longer the Danube. It is now simply a small channel off the main river. That also explains why the main part of Vienna is not directly on the Danube… any more.

Now that we’re all thoroughly confused, let’s return to the last full day of our cruise.

Dropped at the Christmas Market again.

Actually, the buses dropped us off at City Hall. The Christmas Market simply occupied the park that sat between the University, City Hall, and the Parliament buildings. Our walking tour began at that point.

We were led through a huge set of gates.

Gates leading to the inner city.

If you looked at a large map of Vienna, you’d see that there is an inner-circle. One edge of that section abuts on what had been the Danube. At one time, this inner-circle was enclosed by a wall. As the city grew and became more secure (or did the weaponry improve to the point that the wall no longer protected the citizens?) the wall came down and the city expanded.

The bulk of our walking tour concentrated on the buildings and sites inside the circle.

The Museums Quarter.

This building may have been a palace at one time. The massive edifices so prevalent in European capitals are a testament to wealth and power. The surrounding buildings are also a testament that we in the states need to learn – just because a building is almost fifty years old doesn’t mean we need to tear it down and build something new!

The thing that most people find interesting in European cities is the age of buildings. To dine in a restaurant that has been serving food for hundreds of years is a unique experience. Which reminds me, why do hotels and inns in the U.S. no longer brag that George Washington slept there? Have those buildings been razed, or were the proprietors caught in lies?

Not sure what this is.

I had Lu stand in front of this because I at first thought it was the entrance to a Chinese restaurant. Upon further review, it might have had something to do with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It was probably just a fancy entrance to an apartment building.

Just missed it!

A moment before I took this photo I man rode by on a bicycle… with a rather large Christmas tree slung over his shoulder. I would’ve preferred to take his picture, but I was too slow.

The Americans have invaded Europe.

While such establishments are in the vast minority, McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and other American retailers have shown up here. I find myself wondering how anyone surrounded with such wonderful food would even consider frequenting these American icons, and then answer my own question. They are different. Just as Lu and I enjoyed dining on different foods or familiar foods prepared differently, the Europeans might enjoy a “break” from their regular diet.

A Pedestrian area?

After wandering around many side streets and alleys, we came into this area. By the looks of the paving stones and the number of people walking down the middle of the ‘streets’, we wondered why the vehicles were even there. We were nearing St. Stephen’s Plaza and had to dodge cars the entire time we were in the area.

An Advent Wreath of epic proportions.

This wreath was hanging on the side of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. By this time we were convinced that St. Stephen was one of the most popular saints in all of Europe!

St. Stephen’s was also undergoing renovation.

Like many of the buildings we saw, a protective material covered the scaffolding. In this case, a picture of the building was printed on the covering. Notice there were also advertisements. This was a way of defraying the cost of the renovation.

At this point our guide gave us some time for ourselves and told us where and when to meet the bus. We kicked around a bit more and then took the bus back to the ship for lunch.

Transportation had been arranged to take us back into the city for the afternoon. It would cost us just 8 Euros per person. Since Lu and I had our own agenda which included finding the least expensive transit into town and eventually to the airport, we elected to walk to the tram station and find our own way back into town.

Once again we found the bargain basement prices of European city transit. For 10 Euros each, we would have unlimited rides on all forms of public transportation for forty-eight hours. It was around 2:00 PM on December 23rd. We had to be at the airport no later than 8:30 AM on the 25th, the forty-eight hour tickets were perfect.

Allow me to add a word about the walk from the ship to the tram station. It was a lot farther than we were led to believe. Sloshing through the ice and slush made the walk even more arduous. We did not look forward to carrying our luggage the next morning. We made up our minds to take a cab. More on that tomorrow!

Every transit stop kept riders informed.

The tram we took between the ship and town was the “D” Nussdorf (that letter that looks like a fancy capital “B” is read as a double “S”.

That’s us!

On the afternoon of December 23rd, we wanted to accomplish two items on our agenda. First, we wanted to locate the hotel we’d be staying in the next night, so we’d know which transit connections to make.

Second was to determine what transit would get us to the airport on Christmas morning.

The Imperial Riding School - our sleeping quarters for Christmas Eve.

To get there, we took a tram to the public park near the Lipizzaner Museum. We then took the U-Bahn to the first stop outside of the inner-circle. We quickly located the road on which our hotel was supposed to be and started walking.

We took note that a number of “O” trams passed by during our walk. We also took note that we had walked a long way and had yet to find our hotel. Finally we stopped to ask directions. (Please don’t tell my male friends!)

I asked the woman behind a reception desk if she spoke English. She gave the typical answer, “A little.” When I explained what we were looking for she smiled and told us it was directly across the street. We thanked her and went back outside.

We looked across the street and saw no indication of a hotel. But we crossed the street and entered the building anyway. We were met by a nun who spoke perfect English. She quickly recognized what we were saying and told us we were very close… just another few blocks in the same direction we were heading.

It became obvious that the woman who could speak “a little” English knew her limitations and sent us to someone who could offer better assistance.

Once we found the hotel, we confirmed our reservations and then headed back to the inner-circle.

We took the “O” back to the U-bahn station and took the subway back to St. Stephen’s Plaza. We made one other stop… at the Tourist Information office and confirmed which train would take us to the airport. As luck would have it, the train station we needed was less than a few blocks from our hotel. We were all set for our return to the states – assuming air transportation was back to anything close to normal.

Eventually we worked our way back to the Christmas Market. We knew we could catch the “D” tram back the ship from there.

Lu in front of an even larger Advent Wreath.

By this time many of the booths were already open for the evening’s business.

City Hall in the background.

As I mentioned earlier, the area where they set up the Christmas Market was a large park. Walking around, we discovered a pony ride that might be a year-round thing.

Pony rides in the park.

The large balls seen in the trees above the pony ride are ornaments that light up at night. All the trees in the area were decorated in this manner. The balls look prettier when they’re lit up.

There was only one thing left before heading back to the ship for dinner. I had watched people eating meter-wursts for a week. I finally succumbed to temptation. So, while Lu shopped for ornaments to take back to our daughters-in-law, I feasted.

Eat your heart out, foot-long!

We were soon on our way back to the ship. We would spend one more night on board.

The dinner served that night was the best of all. And later – after we had all moved up to the lounge – the crew put on a show that left us all laughing.

One other thing happened that evening; the captain moved the ship. Recall I said there were two ships between us and the shore. Now, the ship was moved farther up river to a totally different docking location. It would make it easier for us to depart, but it also put us much farther away from the tram station. Any doubts about taking taxi in the morning were immediately erased.

We packed our bags prior to going to bed. We wanted to get an early start in the morning – following breakfast of course.

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