As soon as I got on the airplane to go to Vienna, I knew that I was going to be disoriented. Besides the fact that I had to rush to the airport, my neighbor on the plane spoke to me in German, of which I understood nothing and playfully pretended to understand. As you know, Vienna is the capital and biggest city of Austria, and here everyone speaks German. At first, I got along fine just by saying “ja” and “nein” to order my toppings at the Döner kebab place (amusingly called Okay Pizza), but I got into a bit more trouble when I later told a waitress “sechs” (pronounced “sex”) to tell her that my tea was six euros.
In contrast, my friend Rebecca, who I was travelling with, has studied German for years and got along swimmingly. It was for that reason that I left any important communication and navigation to her when it wasn’t appropriate to say, “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” (“I speak no German”).
The first place that we went was to Freud’s House. As the birthplace of the neurologist and interpreter of dreams, Vienna is often called “The City of Dreams.” The house was a small exhibit, but nonetheless interesting to look around and find quotes like this:
“We have been led to distinguish two kinds of drives: those which seek to lead what is living to death, and others, the sexual drives, which are perpetually attempting and achieving a renewal of life…” ~ Sigmund Freud
Rebecca’s friend, Calvin, was also in Vienna by chance, and we also met up with Miriam, Calvin’s friend and a Vienna native. Miriam took us to an all-you-can-eat / pay-what-you-want Indian restaurant. With the warm smell of spices in the air, we painted all over the walls. When I was so full I could no longer move, we walked to a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). And there we continued to look, shop around and eat: Glühwein, a regional hot white wine with cinnamon and lemon, and chocolate-covered pretzels with almonds. We continued the night with some fruit tea at a dimly lit café and talked for hours while passing the long didgeridoo hookah.
After a day’s worth of eating and rose hookah, Rebecca and I returned to our hostel expecting for the second night to not have roommates. When we walked inside our room, we were surprised to find two large men. They were from Romania and spoke poor English. One had a big scar on the side of his face; the other a thick mustache and menacing eyes. Rebecca and I tried our best to not be alarmed, but it was hard not to when the Romanian asked, “So, are you husband and wife?”
“Um, no…” Rebecca said.
“So you’re lovers?” Scarface retorted.
“No, we’re just friends. Really,” I assured Scarface and his associate.
Our answers proved imprudent later, when it became clearer that Scarface was hitting on Rebecca.
“I used your shampon,” Scarface said, rubbing his head in a shampooing motion.
“My shampoo? How?” Rebecca asked. It was then that I realized that the only shampoo in the shower was mine.
“I got you a present,” Scarface flirted awkwardly. We never did figure out what was his present, for when he said this, he swiftly threw a bag on the floor.
Throughout the rest of the night, they continued to talk loudly at inappropriate hours. And even though we couldn’t speak Romanian, we determined that “da” means “yes” and that they were plotting to kill us in our sleep. No, just kidding… but Rebecca did keep crocheting needles by her bed in case of attack.
The following day, we couldn’t wait to be rid of our Romanian roommates. We layered up for the cold outside and headed to Zentralfriedhof Cemetary, where Beethoven’s grave can be found. It was a brisk, sunny day and Zentralfriedhof was both ominous and intriguing. To cheer ourselves up, we went to Aïda, a Viennese pastry shop and espresso bar. At Miriam’s urging, I ordered the “sachertorte,” a dense chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam. She got something drowning in whipped cream, and Rebecca noshed on another chocolate specialty. By the end, a wheelbarrow was necessary to roll us out of the café.
For our last day in Vienna, Rebecca and I visited the Schönbrunn Palace, a 1,441-roomed labyrinth of the Habsburg Dynasty. We saw the room where Motzart played for the first time when he was six, walked around the gardens, and climbed towards Gloriette, an enormous building on top of a 60-meter hill. The Schönbrunn is a majestic building and a testament to the country’s historic economic and political power. And although I was impressed, I decided that eating off of plates with my face on it is not appealing…
On the whole, my trip to Vienna was unordinary and disorienting in a good way. As the gateway to Eastern Europe, Vienna has a different culture and feel. The city certainly follows an order that is not present in France. Here, pedestrians obediently wait for the “walk sign” and drivers don’t honk their horns. In fact, despite the action of my bizarre roommates, Vienna seemed to be frozen by the cold.