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The 60 degrees of Austria

July 18th, 2009 Comments off

We left sweltering Vienna Saturday morning, having learned that the temperature in the city as we walked around had topped 100 degrees, with a fair amount of humidity and at times not even a whisper of a breeze.

It is now Sunday morning, and at our campground in Innsbruck, below a snowy mountain top, it dipped into the 40s. It is wonderfully refreshing.

The trip here on Saturday was mostly through a steady rain. The skies were grey (so photos will suffer) but the scenery was nonetheless stunning as we drove up into the Alps.

I think the line in that movie soundtrack — the hills are alive with the sound of music — is a bit inaccurate, frankly, but maybe the word “hills” was necessary for the cadence.  These are not hills. These are majestic mountains in every  wonderful sense of the word, with steep sides and unmistakable peaks. And more amazing: the pastures and forests that frame the mountains are every color of rich, vibrant green.  This is quite a sight for a couple from Las Vegas whose measure of green is the fake grass in the back yard.

We spent three or four hours Saturday in Salzburg’s historic (yeah yeah, everything in Europe is historic) old town. We were almost sucked in to buying a beautiful chess board with characters representing medieval Europe, but thought better when we realized we already have two chess boards at home and we don’t play chess.

In Salzburg we lingered around a church cemetery unlike any I’ve seen: the burial plots were  individually covered with all types of flowers, versus just grass or stone work. And the headstones were not stones at all,  but custom-crafted metal works and other materials. Each burial plot was distinctive. No CC&Rs here.

Our search for authentic Austrian food took us to a hidden dinner house where, between the four of us, we had ham, sausages, pork, schnitzel, steak, mushrooms, potatoes, sauerkraut, dumplings, soups (mine had a marvelous fried-cheese dumpling floating in a clear broth with tiny pieces of carrot and chives), and dessert of warm apple strudel with vanilla sauce and whipped cream.

My health coach, Monica, is going to kill me.

The final leg of the day was to get to our campsite in Innsbruck before dark.  As we pulled up at 9 p.m. Saturday, our stomachs tightened, and I don’t think it was because of the pork, ham, sausages, sauerkraut and vanilla sauce. The campsite was under reconstruction. Three different camping and tour books had mentioned this as the only campground in Innsbruck, and it didn’t exist.

We stopped at a nice hotel 50 yards away for advice, and the desk clerk said we had two options: stay there (a double room with breakfast, 80 Euros) or she could refer us to a campsite three miles away that had not been mentioned in any of our books. I asked Daughter and Fiancé if they wanted to stay at the hotel to get away from us for a night. They asked us if we wanted to stay at the hotel and get away from them for a night. We all agreed that we were getting along grandly so we would stick together and go to the other camp site.

Well, that might have been a misnomer, calling it a camp site.  The place was a pizza house with a large swatch of grass behind it, large enough to hold maybe 50 campers and tents, and the proprietor put in electrical power outlets and a dinky small bathroom facility (one man’s shower, one woman’s shower, you get the idea).  He did have a great pizza menu, though.

So we spent the night and this morning we woke up to the sight of snow above us.

We’re not in Vienna any more.

Vienna: Musical toilets, a mob museum, and shopping for diamonds and fridge magnets

July 17th, 2009 Comments off

In our planning, Jeanne read somewhere that Vienna would be a disappointment, that it had gotten old and tired.

Well, old is fine, but tired it is not, and we can now see why it is one of the five most-visited cities on the planet. We heard that on our jump-on-and-off tour bus that we sat on for several hours Friday as the temperature pushed toward 100 degrees.

On the way to the bus tour, the girls needed to visit the WC (my new code for a potty stop). In the underground station we found the “Vienna Opera Toilet” and it played such lovely waltzes to attract customers (at 60 cents a visit) that everyone who walked by, even if they didn’t have to pee, still broke into a stuttering dance as if they had to.

Beyond the fancy pay toilets, Vienna is a very very very impressive city, for its palaces and parks (half the city is green space, one of the bus-tour recordings noted) and plazas and public buildings (among the many museums is the Museum of Crime and Law Enforcement, a name not nearly as endearing as Las Vegas’ Mob Museum). 

It’s a great place to shop, too.  Jeanne is on a march across Europe looking for the most fitting refrigerator magnets to mark our journey.  And  don’t know why, but it is very stressing for me.  Yes we are spending thousands of dollars on this trip but I can’t let go of the fact that a magnet that condenses all of a city’s scenes into a three-inch-by-two-inch magnet might cost 4.50 euro at one shop when we could have bought it two blocks earlier, at another cart, for 4.25.  Twenty-five cents, wasted!

It was with that sense of stingy spending, then, that Daughter discovered we were walking by a Tiffany jewelry store. This was suddenly relevant since the night before, Boyfriend had proposed to her at our campground in Vienna and her idea of a good time shifted from S’mores to solitaires.

We indulged Daughter, and I promised to talk Boyfriend-turned-Fiancé off the ledge with a few beers later in the day.

This was a nice Tiffany’s and the lovely staff made us feel welcomed. They must have profiled us as Class A prospects, what with our water bottles, cameras and Vegas sun visors. Real world travelers, the Gormans.

We were directed to the diamond collection upstairs and Daughter darted to the Legacy collection of engagement rings. The sales clerk looked quite pleased by Daughter’s homework. “Ah, this one has a 1.19-karat center stone. Nineteen thousand Euros, she said.

Boyfriend looked up to me. I saw him swallow hard. I waved him off, the kind of man-to-man signal: Don’t worry man, we’ll get out of here soon. Wal-mart has a fine collection of rings. And Kay’s at the mall. Every kiss begins with Kay.

I asked the sales clerk, Tanja, how she calms the nerves of boyfriends when their fiancés check out the merchandise and their eyes fall out of their sockets like they’re attached by Slinkys. “If we think we are close to a sale, that the young lady is serious, we bring out champagne,” she told me.  Huh.  That’s how they close deals in Vienna.

I made friends with Tanja, to buy time for Daughter to look at the rings, because she may never get this close to the Tiffany Legacy again. Tanja told me to say high to the Tiffany’s associates who, she assumes, have extended me fine service at the company store at the Bellagio, back home in Vegas.  Oh yeah, I said. Good friends, all.

We decided to move on. Boyfriend needed a beer.  But Daughter lagged behind, unwilling to leave the counter.

I told Fiancé that in 30 years, the wife will pore over kitchen magnets.

The joy, and the anger

July 17th, 2009 Comments off

Daughter’s boyfriend joined us on Thursday in Bratislava for the final week of our vacation. He flew into Vienna from Brussels and took the train to the capital of Slovakia,where we met him. His joining us brought back a flood of wonderful memories of how Jeanne and I had camped with her parents when we were dating.  In fact, it was on a camping trip that I proposed to Jeanne, in 1971.

Last night, at our campsite in Vienna, Boyfriend proposed to Daughter.  We realized what was going on when we looked out the window and saw them.  Daughter’s eyes gave it away. They were bright, big, filled with wonder, and wet. They kissed, talked, hugged, kissed again. I grabbed Boyfriend’s camera, better than mine, and took many photographs through the front window of the Mobi, in the evening’s twilight.  If I get their permission, I will post them.

So now it is Fiancé and Daughter, and we are so very excited and pleased for them.  He is a good man and shares with Daughter an unquenchable thirst for adventure, and laughter, and puppies, and wine and beer. Not just Belgian beer, but all kinds of beer.

So we were on such a high when Fiancé reached for his laptop computer in the upper cupboard last night.  It was not there. We searched everywhere, and couldn’t find it.  It had been stolen. Jeanne checked our belongings and found things were not as we had left them on Thursday when we parked Mobi at a dirt parking lot near the historic center of Bratislava, Slovakia.

Parking in downtown Bratislava was impossible with the Mobi, and this dirt lot — with another motor home and other vehicles — seemed the only choice. I took my cameras and laptop with me, in my backpack, as we set off for our 3-hour walk. Fiancée left his laptop behind, however. It was a big one, not easily carried.

Hours later, after we found our campsite in Vienna and after the proposal, we discovered the loss. There had been no outward signs of a break-in. We are 99 percent sure that the burglar used a shimmy to unlock the front passenger door. We think this because there were no signs of forced entry, and because when we entered Austria from Slovakia, Jeanne opened her window and it made a squeal/squeak that we had not heard before.

Also taken was Daughter’s small purse of jewelry. Nothing terribly expensive, but sentimental, including an amber ring we had bought her while visiting the 600-year-old salt mines outside of Krakow.  But other things were not stolen — our MP3 players, for instance, even some loose money. Mobi’s satellite TV equipment was untouched, too.

The loss of Fiancé’s computer is traumatic for him because it contained virtually all of the information he needs for the commercial scuba outfitting business he operates in Antwerp. He hopes he will be able to reconstruct it. If I were him I would be beside myself with anger and tears. Fiancée has a way of moving beyond trauma.

This morning is a new day. Fiancé and daughter are kissing.