I’ve discovered that it’s not as easy to meander through Eastern Europe as it appears on a map. Public transport doesn’t always flow the way you’d like your route to and often leads back to a central point. For example, in the Czech Republic all roads eventually lead back to Prague!
So trying to make my way to Slovakia from Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic I find the only efficient way other than to return to Prague for a third time is to travel by CK Shuttle Bus service to Vienna and then go by train from there to Bratislava.
The Shuttle Bus is a very comfortable and reasonably priced door to door service and I find myself travelling with a rather charismatic and entertaining elderly gentleman from Australia named Hugh, and a couple of young girls from Hong Kong. Sitting in the front, Hugh spends the three hour journey constantly bantering with the young driver, Peter, a piano teacher who has aspirations to live anywhere other than Europe. As the humour flows they often draw me into their conversations and we happily laugh our way to Vienna.
It has been decades since my only other visit to Vienna, stopping for only a few hours one very cold March day in 1982 as I passed through on my first European backpacking trip. My memory of it had remained that of a depressing grey city with grey buildings and dull skies and in comparison to the other more exciting places I visited Vienna quickly paled into insignificance. As a result I had never been inspired to return and so now I grudgingly check in to the Wombat’s City Hostel At The Naschmarkt for an overnight stay before catching the early train to Bratislava the following morning.
Nonetheless with an afternoon to spare in Vienna I take to the streets with map in hand, determined to explore with an open mind and a fresh outlook. So I head towards the centre, a short walk from the hostel, and am quickly and very pleasantly rewarded for my efforts.
It is a beautiful summers day and people are out enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. I join them and spend several hours strolling through the Museum Quarter towards Parliament Building and the Town Hall before wandering back through the beautiful Volksgarten to Hofburg Imperial Palace, ensuring I stop for a glass of wine and a mandatory Weiner Schnitzel on the way.
I am completely enraptured by the whole experience; lush green parks, flower beds an explosion of colour, abundant rose gardens, their perfume and colour intoxicating.
Everywhere is awash with happy people; families picnicking on manicured lawns, others strolling or sitting on park benches, young lovers embracing, whispering sweet nothings to each other, while elderly couples hold hands in quiet companionship. People cycle or jog along tree shaded pathways or chat together drinking coffee alfresco at street cafe’s.
Buildings remembered as grey and dirty are vibrant; amazing intricate architecture white and sparkling; ornate gilt details glittering brightly, statues celebrating Vienna’s finest artists and musicians stand proud and tall, elaborate fountains of sweet cherubs happily spouting water.
Tickets are being sold for opera’s at the State Opera House and Mozart and Strauss Concerts are being advertised at the Schoenbrunn Palace. Young musicians have carried their heavy harps or cello’s from who knows where to busk on street corners, classical music filling the air. Tourists are soaking up the sights and sounds of the home of classical music and the arts. The whole city is a cultural celebration and finally I understand Vienna.
Back at the hostel I sit in the large and colourful common area next to reception and watch people come and go. The hostel has an enormous amount of beds and there is a steady stream of people checking in. My dormitory is on the fourth floor, down a corridor past numerous other dormitories and I am delighted to have not only one power socket by my bunk, but two, which means I can recharge my phone and my tablet at the same time! I also have a reading light and a little shelf and I am in hostel heaven!!
The hostel also has a lively bar but it is too noisy and “young” for me so I spend my evening in the common area. Other people sit side by side on the comfortable futon sofas but they are all connected to the internet, focused on their devices and no one mingles and rarely talks and I sit quietly writing and reflecting upon my surprisingly pleasant day, a solitary island amongst them.