Monday, September 13, 2010

So what if The Danube is not Blue

There is a God above there somewhere indeed.
After a busy three day patient advocates meeting I attended in Austria this summer I managed to get a couple of days off to spend in that beautiful city called Vienna. Making good use of some leave I had accumulated it seemed the perfect thing to do, but before I knew it, it was time to get back. As I set off for the airport on my last morning I could not help wishing I could have just one more day. If you could have seen the glorious sunshine and the brilliant blue of the sky and breathed in the fresh, golden morning air you would have understood my greed my gluttony even! This was the ideal day for that stroll down the Danube I had not had time for and that pitcher of good Austrian beer I had not partaken of yet. But I had a flight at 8am and had to be going on my way so I tried not to feel too bad and was happy to say auf Wiedersehen and be grateful for the two days I had spent there at least .
At the airport, I checked in the baggage (sweet Jenny at the Austrian Airlines counter who looked at my passport which said birthplace Trivandrum and shyly shared that her parents came from Kerala too and asked if I spoke Malayalam ) went through Security , had tea at the Lounge and made my way to Gate A only to be told that my flight was delayed by more than a couple of hours . This meant I would not make the connecting flight out of Munich back to Bombay and already I had visions of a messed up day and maybe lost baggage and the whole works. Soon it was apparent I was the only one going on to that part of the world and while my co passengers settled for a wait or another flight, I was asked to go to the help desk all the way back to Gate C and get my flight re booked ! Try doing all that walking carrying a laptop and your cabin baggage dodging other passengers ( just a bit mad and jealous that they had no delayed flights to contend with ) all the while wondering what ordeal is in store for you. While thanking God I was wearing sensible shoes and comfortable jeans I realized I had (most foolishly) packed all my chargers in the bag I had checked in having had that much faith in my carrier Lufthansa.
Determined not to forget to get my checked in baggage in case I was held up at the airport for more than a couple of hours I went on to wait at the queue in the Service Centre which was , at 8am in the morning, (wo) manned by one single person and she was totally engrossed with another customer . I was some fifth or sixth in the line which kept growing as long and restless as the worried furrows on all our brows. It did not console or comfort any one of us that there were others too with similar problems I had been foolish enough to think mine would be the only rebooking request –it was obvious there were other delayed or cancelled flights happening or not happening in this case !!!
Finally , more staff turned up as did my turn and the by now harassed young woman took one look at my tickets and with a sympathetic smile began looking at her computer screen fingers flashing over her key board as she looked at other flight options. And those options came at me in swift, efficient tones; To Istanbul Ma’am at 4 this evening and then on the Bombay at 3 am or maybe the Austrian direct to Delhi ? with a 8 hour stopover till the connection to Bomb ay? Or no this is good , we can put you on an Emirates at 8pm today and then on to Bombay tomorrow from there and the options went on and on each one needing me to hang around longer and longer in the airport .
I kind of went “Whoa” and reigned in all those enthusiastic suggestions telling her I really did not think it was such a good idea to have me spend the whole day in the airport waiting for such late flights ; was it not possible to put me up in the city and I take the flight the next day ? All those other flights were anyway not getting me back home any earlier were they?!! And she looked up, a bit dazed and in gratitude for suggesting an alternative solution and said oh! Will the Hilton do then Ma’am ?
Will it do ? Will it DO? There! I had my extra day in sunny Vienna and a decent place to park meself in and as Pippa would have said
The lark 's on the wing;
The snail 's on the thorn;
God 's in His heaven—And once I had my baggage collected
All was quite right with my world!
Read on for some Viennese memories …
The last day of the meeting dawned and after another delicious breakfast at Hemmingway their restaurant (never did find out why it was named so –one of my favourite authors; though it was unnerving to see him preside over all those delicacies!!) I set off on my little break. I then had just two days in Vienna and had decided to spend one day there walking through that beautiful city and the other in Salzburg with my memories of, yes, The Sound of Music !
Even though I have travelled a lot, my kind of travel is never planned or organised; never the tour and tourist specific kind. Usually it’s a couple of days stolen after a work related visit and I just let those days dawn and take me where they will. I have realised that you see a place the best when you seek out the people there and simply go with the flow of the few precious hours one has to spend there. Just as though you lived there and the day on hand was just another day in your life. No expectations; step out and let the day take charge, and enjoy the bounty that followed. And this particular visit was even more like this than any other. I had been told so much of this wondrous city and asked to look out for many things that would capture my fancy and be worthy of my attention but all I had was two days and three evenings . I just decided to let each hour follow the previous and go where the next would take me .
The little hotel I had checked into was charming and had the kindest people , helpful and eager to provide any kind of information I would need. I was persuaded to spend the first evening at a concert happening just a few blocks away for which the hotel could provide me tickets. Not wanting to waste even a minute of the lovely evening I took directions and tickets and set out memorising the name of the street on which the little hotel was so I could find my way back . There was this nice big street sign up and it was hard to miss.
My first stop was at a coffee place ; difficult to miss these and a crime not to so at every possible opportunity I was darting into one of these most elegant ( even the simplest of them were so cool) cafes and sampling the best coffees and apple strudels. I am afraid the famed “sacher torte” left me unmoved but the strudels were to die for.
Warm interiors , done up in a manner such that each one of them looked like the living room of a gracious household. Welcoming from the outside and cosy and comfortable from the inside one can spend hours in one of these savouring the beverage and watching life pass by.
Walking in Vienna is pure pleasure . The architecture breathtaking and the summer sky with its late , mellow light casts a magical glow all over . Walking back from the concert which was a simple one put together obviously for visitors like me; a collection of well known favourites from Strauss and Mozart, I was in a state of total contentment and decided to turn in early for I was to leave for Salzburg at six the next morning .
Feeling very clever about remembering the name of the street I turned at the sign only to be very sure that this was not the street where my hotel was. Quelling the flicker of panic in my breast I walked a bit further and then some more and finally through one narrow lane spotted my café and found my way back . That was very silly of me but I was happy to be back in my room safe and warm.
The morning of my day trip to Salzburg dawned wet and windy but nothing would dampen my spirits and believe me sometimes a grey sky can be so much more dramatic and evocative. The drive to Salzburg via the lake districts and its breathtaking vistas ….am still so overwhelmed that I actually was there – will let the pictures speak for themselves. I must thank the lovely couple from Ireland who gave me such wonderful company. At some point in the day when we were exchanging notes about each other I found out they had a daughter who was a cancer survivor and they that I worked with cancer survivors! The Universe at work I say .
The day we had landed in Austria and having a few hours to spare before our meetings started, a small of group of us had decided to take the train into the city. Whenever I travel in one of these MRT systems in any city in the world I am always deeply saddened as to why we cannot have something like this in Bombay . Maybe not in my life time but sometime please? It doesn’t have to be a fancy , sleek , shinning – bullet like but a system that gets us from one place to another with our dignity intact ? Something else that surprised me (though it should no more ) is the number of people , especially youngsters in Europe who smoke . A random glance at the tracks made me do a double take indeed!!
Any way that afternoon sortie had helped me get the lay of the land so to speak so I had an idea where I would let my feet take me when I set out the next day . And they took me places indeed ; past majestic churches and government buildings , museums and palaces , narrow streets with little shops and some more intriguing little cafes.
At the hotel manager’s indulgent insistence I had reluctantly agreed to something I never do as a rule - that is sign up for a trip ; a city tour and as expected hated it all along till we came to the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace . More than the palace the grounds and the Rose Gardens were enchanting but this was where I decided to abandon the bus much to the guide’s chagrin. But it had been torturous sitting inside the bus and not being able to be out here in the sun and see and feel the city. But it was in the bus that I met Lin and her lovely daughters who were as miserable as I was and waiting to do an AWOL from the tour too so we hatched our plan. Lin if you are reading this do you know I realise that I have no pictures of the three of you in my camera? Thanks for the sweet friendship of the day!! And the lovely dinner that night oh what a great time we had !!
So we escaped the Tour and while Lin and the girls went off to the markets and from there down town I decided to walk towards the museums and try and catch the Klimt show at the Leopold. A lovely hour long walk through the tree lined avenues took me there with an unexpected bit of art work right there in front of my eyes which I share with you and another sweet interlude with this little guy who tamed the wild African elephant here . But I was disappointed to be told that the Leopold was closed on Tuesdays and there went all hopes of seeing the works of one of the greatest artists of the Vienna Secession Movement. As I turned away in dejection the lady at the information desk called me back to say that I could go on to the Belvedere Palace where the permanent Klimt collection was on display . Oh joy and glee!! but it was quite some distance away she also said. Well, no pain no gain said I to myself and set out to find my way to find the Belvedere. The Underground first it was and then a tram ride and a twenty minute walk is what it took but oh was it worth it !!
The first hurdle was getting the tickets . I always find it unnerving to have to conduct a transaction with a machine ! Just having mastered our recalcitrant ATM machines back home is achievement enough for me and these huge , unfriendly , super efficient monstrosities can reduce me to a nervous pulp with all their flashing lights and the unfamiliar language and change required . And in case one has a problem (like I always do) there is no one on the other side to smile at or some kind person who smiles back at you and lets you know they understand you are nervous and its ok here’s your ticket and change me love; just all those buttons you push and clink clank , if you are lucky and pushed the right ones and fed the right change hey presto the transaction is done !
Anyway the urge to Klimt was very strong indeed and I prevailed and found my way and back !! And a rich memento adorns my wall at home now in fond remembrance of my mad jaunt .
I must admit that it was on the last leg of the long walk back to my hotel from the Underground that I discovered why I had missed my street that first night . Ahem ! EiNBAHN I soon realised meant ONE WAY !!!!! So much for the well travelled me I thought and went back giggling all the way at my stupidity !
I cannot sign off without listing the high spots of that last stolen day in Vienna – The long walk by the Danube and the beer ( bliss), the man who sold me the beer and the man with the most handsome dog I have ever seen who gave me such gallant company and some awesome history of drinking beer on the banks of the Danube , the late lazy lunch in some park where the sun was like a diamond glittering through the leaves of the trees and watching the day’s World Cup matches at a series of side walk cafes finishing off with the last one on the giant screen of the Hilton lobby !!!


Anonymous said...

You write like you write like only you can write. Awesome dear diary report :-)

Klara said...

I love your blog, you way of telling places. Love from Antwerpen, Clara


Lovely pictures, and a lovely tale of a traveller's woes and delights. I am so happy that it all worked out the way it did for you, and maybe another time you will see your Blue Danube.


Is that the souvenir from the Klimt show on your wall? Wow!

Gardenia said...

Einbahn! Oh good one! Great Viji - very energetic tour for the reader too!

ER Ramachandran said...

A great narration of things, moments, people amidst places and buildings; in short of life... thanks.

$athish said...