Vienna: final thoughts (almost)

Day 7 and final thoughts:

We woke early our last day in order to enjoy a full breakfast and take our leisurely time getting out to the airport. On our way into the city, aboard Vienna’s CAT train, we’d flopped wearily into the nearest seat and leaned against the windows to watch the countryside flash by, and so we missed out on the views from the upper deck of the train. Heading out to the airport on our last day, we made sure to climb the narrow stairs to the upper floor, where we enjoyed fleeting streaks of little Viennese suburbs, the pitched roofs and yellow-painted walls flying by but somehow noticeably serene.

The flights home were trying, especially for Jennifer, who has a knack for accidentally winding up in conversations with the people next to her. It helped that both ladies Jennifer talked with on our two flights back were terrifically pleasant, and Jennifer had good conversations the whole way back, but it also meant she never got to sleep on the planes. Consequently, we both were tired—and Jennifer doubly so—when we finally waddled through our front door at 12:30 in the morning, and we didn’t bother unpacking at all. Instead, we grabbed the cats for some fur therapy and then promptly fell asleep.

Jennifer is a dedicated list-maker. It’s part of her job, of course, to be organized, but she’s so good at her job because she’s naturally organized anyway. So it’s never any surprise to me when at the end of a day on vacation she’ll ask, “What were your top five favorite things about today?” Our first full day back, as we unpacked and sorted through our souvenirs, she upped the ante: “What were your top ten favorite things about our trip?” I’ve enjoyed these sorts of lists myself ever since reading Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which is chock full of Top Fives, though I admit I often hesitate to call my lists “top” anything, lest I inadvertently leave something out or shunt something into a lower order of memory where it doesn’t necessarily belong. (Unlike Jennifer, I’m a chronically disorganized person and fear lists because I’m certain to leave something out or put something in the wrong order or include something absurd, and I’m constantly second-guessing myself.) Still, it’s a fun game to play, and it frequently serves us well as a way to concretely root certain parts of our trips to memory. Favorite moment during our two trips out to Dyersville to the Field of Dreams farm: Literally disappearing within three steps of entering the corn field (that’s no movie magic—you really do just vanish). Favorite historical site in Scotland: The hill fortress atop Dunnydeer where Jennifer and I ate a secluded picnic lunch amid the brisk winds and the tumbling castle walls.

Favorite moments in Vienna?

Walking pretty much anywhere. It’s a beautiful city, and the tightly compact Innere Stadt is perfect for leisurely strolls day or night. Popping down a narrow cobblestone street and emerging into a hillside clad in stone stairs leading to a looming Renaissance church is a treat on any occasion, but it was the normal state of affairs pretty much anywhere we walked in Vienna as well as the few old towns and villages we visited along the Danube valley, which meant nearly every walk was beautiful.

The Friedhof der Namenlosen. Actually, bizarre and morbid though it sometimes was, I enjoyed the Viennese fascination with death and their elaborate efforts to celebrate it in their cemeteries and churches, but the Friedhof der Namenlosen was a deeply reverential experience for us both. Here were the graves of people no one knew, people who’d washed up anonymously on the industrial shores of the Danube Canal with no one to vouch for them or pay for their burial, yet the Viennese saw fit to cultivate a beautiful and solemn little cemetery to allow these poor lost souls some rest, and even today, some seventy years after the most recent burial there, people continue caring for the cemetery. Every year a group even comes out to hold a candlelight vigil and float a huge raft of flowers out into the Danube as a memorial to the nameless folk buried there. It’s a beautiful thing.

The coffee. To be honest, I think the coffee here in the Middle East is better—stronger and more flavorful—but what I loved about Viennese coffee was its abundance. I’ve been a fan of coffeehouse culture ever since discovering it in college—I love the intellectualism, the artistic and cultural vibrancy, and the democratic blending of social strata that have long been the hallmark of the traditional coffeehouse experience—and Vienna literally invented the coffeehouse. When we sat down in the Café Benno on our last evening in Vienna, after spending several minutes browsing the Kaffeemuseum inside, it felt almost like a homecoming or a kind of pilgrimage.

The museums—all of them. At the end of our trip Jennifer and I agreed that the Belvedere was probably the best museum we’d visited, and indeed it was the brightest, best designed, and most visitor-friendly museum (in one room they invited visitors to scream as loudly as they could just to hear the echoes off the high vaulted ceiling), and it contained some of the most impressive and unique art we’d seen. But then I remember that we’d said the same thing about the Leopold when we first emerged from it, and though the Kunsthistoriches Museum was dark and oddly arranged and I’d been disappointed in the coin collection there, it held some phenomenal pieces of art, including the most singularly thrilling art experience of the whole trip: seeing Vermeer’s “Allegory on the Art of Painting” and watching a painter practice a copy of it, as though the allegory had come to life. Every museum we entered was more impressive than the last, it seemed—and even if I only count the major museums, we still barely managed a quarter of what Vienna has to offer, and that’s not even accounting for the dozens upon dozens of smaller, specialized museums in the city.

Talking with Jennifer. This doesn’t seem fair, really, to include in a list of favorite memories on vacation, since we talk to each other all the time anyway, but travelling does something for Jennifer and me. We’ve always been able to talk about anything at any time and still, after almost thirteen years together, we find ourselves amusing and intellectually stimulating. But on vacation we really get rolling, having long intellectual conversations over breakfast or cracking each other up on subway trains. Talking to my wife is one of my favorite things about being married to her, but it’s also always one of the highlights of our vacations.

And so it seems only appropriate that tomorrow, my wife will join the conversation and offer her own final thoughts (in list form, of course!).

Until then….

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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