For the next three weeks this may be a travelogue, though I do not think I will be able to meet deadlines along the way.
Meanwhile, I am in Vienna enjoying the city, which I find spacious and serene. It has many open spaces, broad avenues and a huge park, the Prater, which is an environmental space of trees, plants, grass and benches to contemplate them, as well as an amusement park with a Ferris wheel, children’s playgrounds, picnic areas, sports center without crowding anyone or entity out. This is where Popes who visit Austria meet the national congregation.
As an initial sightseeing step I always take the hop-on, hop-out tourist bus with an open upper deck to get an overview of the city. This I did and learned a lot about Vienna from the commentary that comes through the earphones in various languages.
Among the facts are that Austria, whose capital is Vienna, is 47 percent forested. It has a lot of water supplies, mostly from natural springs. In fact, Vienna’s water supply comes to the city just by gravity, and along the way, it has so much water that it powers hydro plants for electricity. It is also one of the purest water supplies in Europe. What a gift to a country and what merit of the Austrians to conserve it by using it properly! A lesson could be had for us.
Vienna itself seems very compact due to its excellent public transportation. But walking is also quite in use as the streets are not crowded. Cobblestones on sidewalks are very much in place. It is noticeable to me that while there are tourists, they do not come in hordes but sedate groups. After my August stint in New York, where tourists from everywhere (particularly China and India), were taking over sidewalks, Times Square and parks, in Vienna they are visible but not overwhelming. Of course, you can count my two friends and I among them. It is a peaceful, comfortable co-existence with the Viennese.
The heart of the city around St. Stephen’s Cathedral has been the core of the city through the ages. The Viennese elite who built it and lived in it, never fled the city when it became highly urbanized, industrialized and more populated. They remained in their palatial homes and kept them up. These are now the beautiful buildings of the city, which have become offices, apartments, restaurants and other civilized urban places. It is an entertainment to look at the features of the buildings as they are decorated with carvings, statues and other symbolic or whimsical features. One building has a gilt ball that is known as the golden cabbage. It means something but I forgot what. Another building, a university, has what looks like a six-story eagle along one side with wings, a face, claws, all huge. And little ones are scattered all along the roofline.
As a great city along the Danube River founded by the Romans in their time of Empire, Vienna has its history, its art and culture, its fashions, its music. In one square, Michaelplatz, it has preserved archaeological remains from Roman times to the 18th century by exposing them for public viewing with a historical note and a viewing deck.
At one time in Vienna before World War II lived Lenin, Trotsky, Freud and Hitler at the same time along with other prominent and great men of history. Vienna was a city of high importance.
It is particularly known for its music, especially the waltz. In its time, Viennese composers who specialized in it were many. The Johan Strausses (the elder and the younger) are perhaps the most famous now, but they had many equally proficient contemporaries. The waltz became such a craze with everyone from every walk of life dancing it that the city sprang up with dance halls to suit every budget. More serious music if one may term it such was always present from Brahms to Schubert to Mozart, Haydn, Mahler, and the modern music revolutionaries – Berg and Schonberg.
Meanwhile, eating places serve well. Wiener Schnitzel comes in a light puff pastry. Sausages are delightful. Potatoes are served in all ways. Desserts are traditional and delicious. There is an area called the Nachmarkt, which has kilometers of food stalls with eating areas. Something like a mall of eating places serving everything, from continental food to Indian, Asian, Thai.
Austria is a member of the European Union and has had its share of refugees in the recent wave of migrants crowding into Europe. In some ways, the country seems to be turning right toward conservatism. In that, it is not alone in Europe at the present time.
But the character of Vienna in its joy of living with museums, concert halls, restaurants and parks together with serious bookstores and art galleries remains, along with its great cathedral and other magnificent places of worship.