From the outside looking in, it would appear to most that my life is a vacation, but despite the travel involved, a job is a job. Regardless of where I'm at, when I'm on a layover, I'm at work. I have a very limited amount of time to enjoy the destination before I'm forced to hop back on a plane and go back home. I'm not complaining, I love the lifestyle, but it's no holiday.
This month I was blessed with 4 days off for the 2nd month in a row. Last month I took advantage of the time by flying to Toronto to spend Easter with my family, but this month I wanted to go some place new. After a good deal of time contemplating flight and accommodation options, I settled on Vienna. I'll admit, I knew nothing about the city, but it's one of those places that just sounds beautiful... like Milan, or Zurich. I booked a place to stay and eagerly awaited my mini vacation.
After arriving back from a trip to Paris, I returned to my apartment to change out of my uniform, shower, unpack one suitcase and pack another. I snuck in a 2 hour nap, and then it was off to airport early in the morning. When I'd planned the trip, the flights weren't full. Now, the day of departure the vacant seats had magically been filled and I waited anxiously to find out if I'd be let on with my standby ticket. Luck was on my side, and just before the gates closed I was handed a boarding pass and wished a pleasant flight. I made a mad dash through security and got to the plane just in time to board. During the flight I made conversation with the middle aged couple sitting next to me, who in broken English gave me advice on where to go and what to see in their city. They were such nice people, despite the obvious communication barrier between us.
5 1/2 hours later we touched down in Vienna, making Austria the 35th country that I've been to. I pulled out my scribbled directions and set out to find my way to my home for the next 4 days. Finding the bus was a breeze, and I was overly confident in my navigational abilities. When I was dropped off at Westbanhof station, I stood lost with my suitcase. My directions told me to take tram 5 to a specific station, but when I tried to find the station name I was unsuccessful. I attempted to ask the driver and was met with an angry reply shouted in German. I should have just got on the tram and trusted what I'd written down, but instead I headed to another tram that said the name of the station I was searching for. I showed the (much friendlier) driver the address that I was searching for, and he nodded that I was where I needed to be. Trusting him, I got on the tram and rode it to the station. The paper in my hand told me that the hostel would be directly beside the stop, but of course it was nowhere to be found. I know that there is a stereotype that men hate to ask for directions, but I'm far worse than any man that I've ever met. I was convinced that I'd find my way, and so I began wandering aimlessly, hoping that I'd somehow stumble upon it. I kid you not, I walked for about an hour, in circles, dragging a massive suitcase and carrying a heavy camera bag on my back. To make matters worse, it was 29 degrees in the hot sun, and I was wearing jeans and a sweater. Finally, I found the name of the street that was in the address and wearily wandered down it hoping to finally know that I had a place to spend the night. It was like a mirage after days in the desert. A small paper sign hung on the door, and I'd finally made it!! Low and behold, right outside was a stop clearly stating "Tram 5". I've never said that I was smart... adventurous, yes, intelligent... not so much.
I walked in to find a dark corridor with a staircase in an old, dusty building. It certainly didn't look like a place that anyone lived, but I trusted the signs telling me to proceed to the 3rd floor. I choose to stay at hostels when traveling solo not only to save a ton of money, but to meet fellow travellers and make the experience a bit more social. The problem is, you never know what to expect until you arrive. I was feeling a bit uneasy about my choice until I walked inside to discover a bright, modern apartment beautifully decorated with all sorts of little details. If you happen to find yourself in Vienna and need a place to stay, I'd highly recommend MojoVie. It was more like an apartment than backpacker accommodation, with cozy couches and small touches like Listerine and shampoo provided in the bathrooms.
I settled into my bottom bunk and glanced at the map left on the bed for me. It was still early in the evening and I was eager to explore, but exhaustion was taking over as I came to the realization that I'd slept 2 hours since leaving Paris over 24 hours earlier. I decided to go for a short walk around, making sure to pay close attention so as to not get lost again. I wandered past dozens of cafes and shops selling unique and interesting items, but it was a Sunday evening and everything was closed. Even the lights of the supermarket were turned off, leaving me to wonder what I'd eat for dinner. After about half an hour I could barely keep my eyes open, so I returned to the hostel and dined on a bag of Mini Wheats that I remembered bringing. As the rest of my new roommates made plans for the night, I crawled into bed and fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up early the next morning after a beautiful 10 hour slumber. I was set to see the sights of Vienna, armed with my camera and a pocket full of Euros. Just as I was about to leave, I began talking to Pablo from Argentina, whom I'd met the previous evening. I told him about my plan to have no plans and he agreed to tag along, if it was okay with me. If we were on a layover and he was crew, I'd make up some excuse as a way to decline. However, he was a backpacker and I find that it is a much different mentality. He was here to travel, and only to travel, just as I was. I decided to accept the company and we set off for a day of exploring. 10 minutes from our hotel we reached the Museums Quartier, large area of the city consisting of all sorts of museums. I'm sorry to disappoint you intellectuals, but I don't have the attention span required for 90% of museums. I'll make an exception for places showcasing aviation, chocolate, or random things not relating to history or the arts. That being said, the buildings housing the museums were old and gorgeous, begging for photos. The downside to beautiful sunny days is that they are terrible for photos. I took only a few, toting around my heavy camera for nothing. We found ourselves in the heart of the old town, lined with cobblestone streets and infested with tourists. We wandered from street to street, going inside several beautiful old cathedrals. For lunch, we opted for an affordable noodle house to splurge on other essentials, such as tickets for a tour of the Opera! Inside, we took photos and listened to our guide occasionally when the topic interested us.
After sitting in the seats watching the stage crew set up for the evening's performance, we were excited for our evenings plans... we had decided to go to a Mozart concert, since we happened to be in his former home. Having left the hostel early in the morning, we still had plenty of time to pass, so we wandered for awhile longer. We made our way to the Danube River and eventually decided to return to the hostel to grab some dinner. Myself, Pablo, and another Argentinian ate a simple meal of bread, cheese, salami, and wine... simple, affordable, delicious, and oh so European. After we'd had our fill, it was time to go back into the old town to watch our concert. We managed to get slightly lost on the way, showing up a few minutes late. Our seats were simply put, much cheaper than the rest. Sure, our view wasn't great, but it wasn't like the orchestra was dancing around on stage. We listened to the familiar music, taking in the beauty of the building that we sat in. It wasn't something I'd typically be interested in, but I'm glad that we went. It was a great performance and very Viennese. We'd spent the majority of the day walking and our feet were sore, but after the concert we continued walking through the city. The buildings were much more photogenic lit up in the dark evening than in the harsh sun.
We took photos for awhile and then finally returned to our hostel and called it a night.
The next morning, Pablo headed for Slovakia as I prepared for another full day in Vienna. I set out early and made my way back to the city. I wandered the same streets, taking the same photos, but for some reason I was happy to take it all in again. I like covering the same ground a time or two to familiarize myself with a place. For lunch, I grabbed a deli sandwich and some juice from a supermarket and sat in a park to have my very own picnic. The weather was gorgeous and I couldn't have been luckier, but my allergies had arrived in full force. I'm not sure what was in the air that was causing me so much misery, but my eyes were red and sore and I must have sneezed at least every 5 minutes. Seeking refuge from my hayfever, I decided to check out the music museum. I know what I said earlier about museums, but I was desperate to go indoors for awhile. Besides, music and sound was much less boring than art history. Some of the exhibits were very cool, such as the sonogram room. Standing inside, you could feel the vibrations and hear the noises meant to replicate being inside of a womb.
It was very cool, and after awhile inside I felt much better. I only sneezed a few times!
I was still quite full from lunch, but I'd convinced myself that the time was right to have dessert. Vienna is not only famous for its music, but also for Sacher Torte cake. Any city known for it's cake is good in my books! Sacher Torte is a pretty common recipe worldwide today, but it originated at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna. The hotel still serves it every day, and there was no question about it... I needed to try it. I took a seat outside and ordered Sacher Torte and an iced coffee. It arrived shortly after, and I sat in bliss eating chocolate cake in old Vienna. I'll admit, I've had cake that was slightly more amazing, but it was still very delicious. I was satisfied and full.
Once again run down with my allergies, I made my way back to the hostel to relax inside for awhile. I chatted with some fellow travellers from Australia and South Africa. They were very cool and it was great to just spend time talking to people who feel the same way that I do when it comes to travel. One of the most common complaints I've heard since my first big trip 4 years ago is "I wish that I could travel!". Anybody can travel, it just takes determination and effort. When I left for Australia 4 years ago I worked 2 jobs for 6 months just to save up for the flights. The others agreed that they hear the same quite often. We talked about places that we've been and places that we planned to go, until it was approaching 6 pm and I decided that I needed to go. I was off to see the Schönbrunn Palace. I'd purposely waited until this time of day so that I could take better photos. With a little bit of confidence in the tram system that I'd been so confused with a couple of days earlier, I made my way to the correct stop and walked into the palace grounds. From the entrance, I thought that it was overrated. I'd came all of this way, and it was nothing spectacular. The grounds, however, were amazing. Paths were lined with perfectly manicured trees and rose bushes and it felt like a scene from a fairy tale. As I made my way to the back of the palace, the building was suddenly much more impressive. The icing on the cake was the view from the top of a hill that I climbed. I could see the palace and the city stretching far out in the distance. The sun was setting and it was a gorgeous warm evening.
Once I'd taken a sufficient amount of photos, I caught the tram back and decided to find something for dinner. I walked for a good half an hour before stumbling across a restaurant called "Weinerwald" which promised delicious authentic Viennese food. I peeked inside the empty restaurant, where I was greeted by a friendly waiter who promptly guided me to my seat and took my order... Wiener Schnitzel, of course. It was delicious! Finally satisfied that I'd crammed enough into my day, I returned to the hostel for some much needed sleep.
By the 4th day, my feet were far from impressed with me. Hours of walking down cobblestone roads wearing flip flops had left them sore and blistered. I wasn't about to let it get in my way. I still had a full day left and every intention of enjoying it. I ignored the pain and carried on walking.
This time I ventured down streets I hadn't yet seen, finding new sights and subsequently getting myself extremely lost. I knew that I'd gone far when there were no tourists to be found. The locals looked at me confused as to why I was hauling such a paparazzi-like camera down residential streets. As I mentioned earlier, I have an issue with asking for directions, so I continued walking and hoping that I was heading in the right direction. For a brief time, I grew concerned. It was still early, but I had a flight to catch that evening. What if I could never find my way back? I was finally reassured when I saw a church that looked familiar. I must be headed in the right direction! I came to a large park and had no idea which direction to turn. I reluctantly pulled out my map and found my way back to familiar territory. Relieved, I treated myself to lunch... a delicious hot dog filled with cheese, served in a baguette. It was far too big to finish, but the half that I did it was delicious!
My allergies had reached unbearable, so I decided to get a coffee and then head back to relax in the hostel until it was time to leave for the airport. I chatted to newcomers, who questioned me about the must see places in the city. A few hours passed by and it was time to go. This time I knew where to go, and I easily found the airport bus. At the airport I checked in and found myself with plenty of time, and nothing to do. It was late and the shops were closed, and my laptop battery was fading fast with no signs of a power outlet anywhere around. I waited and waited, until finally it was time to fly home. The flight back was ridiculously empty, so I occupied an entire row, waking up as we began our decent into Dubai! I was exhausted and sunburnt, but happy to be back to pack for my next layover.
It had been a great mini-vacation, and I felt a bit of regret that I hadn't had more adventures like this in the past.
I relaxed for the rest of the day, and I'm hitting the skies again tomorrow!