Public transportation systems intimidate me. There, I said it. I don’t think it’s because I am afraid to get lost – what’s the worst that could happen? Turn around, start over.
I think it’s because I am afraid to look like I’m lost… (And what’s that about?)
I had to get over it in Prague. I didn’t have a choice: on one of the days, I had walked so much, was so far away from the flat and I didn’t want to spend precious korunas on an expensive taxi, so I went for it. I imagined that someone was watching me go through the process of finding where I was and where I was going, purchasing a ticket, navigating to my train, embarking on it and smiling when I confirmed I was going in the right direction. It was a comedy show inside my head and I literally laughed with myself out loud.
Arriving Vienna by train, I was determined to get on public transportation ASAP. With only two full days in the Austrian capital, the shortest time I would spend in any city on my trip, I just didn’t have any time to waste. I was gonna take the train to my hotel, with my suitcase, carry on and back pack come hell or high water. Figure it out now.
The world around me was back in German; I ironically felt a sense of comfort with its recognizable vivacity. On the platform at the station, a nice Austrian policeman approached me, uttering words I did not understand. Yep, I must look like I’m lost... I let him talk me up, played along, smiling. Then, coyly: “Do you speak English? Ah! Where do you think I am going, Sir? Do I look lost?” To my relief, I didn’t. Phew! He explained that most everyone at this point on the journey beyond Vienna to Graz gets confused. This station was my destination and I shared with him my commitment to get on public transportation to get to the Hilton Vienna. “I help you. You find it easy. Don’t worry. This way.”
He was right, it was easy! After a few attempts at the ticket machine, I boarded the S-Bahn.
The hotel’s location was immediately across the street from one of the main transfer stations. I really couldn’t have planned this better, even if I tried. Life usually puts you where you need to be. And it was easy the rest of my time in the city of music. I got around like a pro.
I was excited to spend a few nights in a hotel. After more than a week in AirBnBs, I was ready for some interactions with humanity (more on that in an upcoming post) and the conveniences and luxuries of my conversance in hotel life. Determined to take advantage of all the perks my Diamond status earned me these last 3 years on the road, I quickly unpacked and headed to the Executive Lounge to enjoy a few glasses of wine. I had some planning to do for the days ahead before I returned to my room to lounge in my hotel robe.
I woke up to a snowy Vienna. What seemed like a grey view the previous day was now a breathtaking winter wonderland.
Until I had to get out in it.
Let me explain. It was really dreamy at first. “I’m walking around in Vienna and it’s snowing fluffy flakes. This is so amazing! Who does this?! Me! No big deal…” I walked for several hours, weaving in and out of the fantastic shops that line the streets of the inner city. By mid-afternoon, reality had settled in: my jacket, hat, gloves, scarf and backpack were wet. And I was sweating. Eventually, I had stepped into one too many puddles and my feet were also soaked. As the hours passed and the temperature dropped, I was freezing. I called it a day around 18h00, headed to my room to warm up and change. I treated myself to a Viennese dinner at the hotel restaurant, visited the Executive Lounge (duh!) and got back into my robe.
A few notable experiences from my first day were nonetheless the highlights of my trip to Vienna.
The first words that came to my mind as I began my discovery here: “Oh, this place is sooooo fancy!” Luxe everywhere. All over the streets, I saw Prada and Louis bags on practically every corner. (Bewildered, I also did see a lot of Michael Kors…). My eyes devoured beautiful women wearing furs, wrapped up in cashmere scarves and leather knee-high boots galore, their winter skin glowing and dewy despite the harsh season, some of the most done up I have seen since I arrived in Europe. But nonchalantly done up, like “I woke up like this” done up. Haute société galavanting on super clean streets lined with neatly organized mostly monochrome ornate buildings.
I could feel this culture’s pride in its heritage, evident in its display of fine arts, fine fashion, fine jewelry, as well as in its cafés where classical music often played (a welcome change to all of the American music I had heard thus far). It was as if the Austrians were gracefully telegraphing to me: “Look at how wonderful and neat we are. As you can see everywhere around you, we are extremely proud of ourselves.” Jokingly, I bet to myself there wasn’t a dollar store within for miles of this place… And everyone referred to me as “Madame”, not as a indication of my age, but as a gesture of respect. I saw the most German luxury cars of any place besides Munich. Extravagance oozing everywhere here.
I also had the most significant connection with women so far this trip: the young women that checked me in upon my arrival, a mentor and trainee, perhaps as eager to welcome me as I was to be there; the woman in the hosiery shop I stopped in to get some more German leg wear I discovered in Berlin last year, discussing textures, hues and finishes ultimately convincing me to step outside my comfort zone with a pair of Vienne-appropriate looking stockings; a Russian tourist, also out in the snow discovering the city while her husband was at work who asked me to take a picture of her and took some of me; the woman at Mail Boxes Etc. that helped me repackage my Prague poster from a tube to a rectangle package so I could ship it cheaper with the Austrian Post. In an incredible twist of fate, I ran into two fellow women travelers I had shared a first class train car from Munich to Prague days before at breakfast at the Hilton Vienna: we shared both a meal and our travel stories.
The most meaningful connection however was with Viennese designer Susanna Petkov, whose shop I was lured in by some of the most beautiful dresses I had ever seen in a vitrine. Me: “Is this a local designer?” Suzy: “Yes, I’m Viennese”. “Oh! That’s you!? Wow… I am honored to meet you!” I was in the presence of a woman who has dedicated her life to enabling other women to look good, be comfortable and feel great in her art. I quickly discovered that she designs and creates what she wants to wear that she can’t find anywhere in Vienna. It made total sense to me and I loved every one of her innovations. I spent at least an hour trying on about a dozen of her fabrications, pretending to have somewhere to wear a colorful feathered full skirt with a fitted black bodice or an off-the-shoulder white summery loose knit sweater. I also enjoyed an oversized versatile high-neck mock with pockets (her thing) I would have never tried on without her recommendation and a deconstructed sweater dress that make me look long for days. All the while, we spoke of work, vacationing alone, tasty wine, fine fabrics and leather boots. We are more alike than different. In the end, I settled on an one of a kind LBD (that was 50% off, but still a splurge) that I felt and looked amazing in under the pretext I would need something trendy to interview in soon…
And, I did take a phone interview from this café. Perhaps I’ll wear the dress for an upcoming visit to Philadelphia…
My attraction to Europe is partly anchored in its centuries of fascinating history. Standing in Stephansplatz, I couldn’t help but think about the masses of humans that had traveled these cobblestone streets over hundred and hundreds of years before me. I visited the Cathedral and waited for the next catacombs tour with a team of about a dozen other tourists. Within a few minutes, we descended below the altar to look at the tombs, crypts and bronze urns containing the remains and organs of some of Austria’s most important royal lineage. We traveled in underground tunnels, eventually reaching a location under the square to find chambers filled with thousands of bones. Some 11,000 people were buried under the church. Creepy. Most importantly, these were real people who likely perished from the plague in the early 1700s. A disease that hit the city (and region) so hard that Charles VI commissioned the building of another church, Karlskirche once the plague was finally wiped out.
I always like to look for the quirkiness in a city’s architecture. I found a few interesting gems in Kunst Haus and Hundertwasserhaus that demonstrated the evolution of architecture over the years and felt like good preparation for my upcoming time in Barcelona. I was also inspired to visit Mumok, Vienna’s Museum of Modern Art on Thursday evening. I wondered what the voices inside some of these artists’ head sound like…
I serendipitously visited Vienna just in time for the Opernball, when the famous Opera turns into the most elegant ballroom in the world. Known as the “ball of balls”, this elaborate affair signifies the opening of Vienna’s ball season. Score! I planned my day around the event, intending to loiter around the location in time to witness the show. I stepped in and out of the luxurious hotels around the Opera, severely underdressed, gazing at women in flashy gowns and men in elegant tailcoats and white bowties. People lined the streets around the Opera, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite celebrity. I got back in my robe at the hotel just in time to catch the dance’s live TV coverage. Real fancy.
Oh, and I did step outside the city center to see what the rest of society lives like. Ironically, I actually found a dollar store…
Vienna, it’s been real fancy. Next up, I head to France for my first encounter with Lyon, and quality time with some of my people.
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