i have adventures (sometimes)

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Climbing of Poles and the Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday morning dawned sunny and cold, and I headed out early to visit Schönbrunn Palace. Well, the outside. I'm not actually super interested in palaces, and nothing can ever really top the time Emily and I missed the audio guides at Hampton Court and so instead took ourselves on an entirely made up fantasy tour involving werewolves and vampires ("Interestingly, this bowl of fake fruit was placed here because the sphere is the shape most upsetting to the vampire."). We got a lot of funny looks from the attendants.

So instead I visited the gardens, which were free. Like a lot of places I visited in Vienna, I found myself thinking "I bet this looks really great in summer". It was pretty bleak and wintery, but it was still a good place for a stroll.
The outside is perfectly nice.
The Gloriette.
View from the Gloriette.

I did pay €5 to get into the maze and labyrinths. The maze was not €5 worth of fun (apparently getting lost in hedges alone is actually more anxiety-provoking than enjoyable?), but once I reached the middle there was a handy platform so I could watch the other people in the maze and feel superior.

Haha. That guy's still lost.
Also some feng shui rocks with gendered energy (one is the male principle and one is the female, or something).

The labyrinths were much more fun. No getting lost, and full of GAMES. This sort of thing is basically my favourite. (I would spend a lot more time in playgrounds if they weren't all like "you must be 12 or younger". Booooo.)

So anyway, I spent a happy half hour or so meandering through labyrinths and finding cool things to do.

Dance glockenspiel! I tried to play Happy Birthday but I didn't have all the notes.
Chiming climbing poles. I climbed to the top and pressed the button. Nothing chimed. I want my money back. And my shoes and socks.
Next I made the most of my 24-hour travelcard and took myself off to Grinzing by train and tram. Grinzing is an old village on the outskirts of Vienna, which is apparently famous for winemaking.

Also, terrible things have happened to it since forever, according to its Wiki page. It was laid waste to in 1484, damaged by the Turks in 1529, burnt down in 1604, knocked down by Turks again in 1683, and then, just for fun, hit by the plague in 1713.

Maybe things have improved since then, but when I got there, it seemed to be just me and five old people, one of whom was coughing so violently that I had to eat my lunch very quickly and run away in case he died on the bench adjacent to mine and it would be my responsibility. I don't know the number for Austrian emergency services.

Since I didn't want to visit a wine tavern at 11am (or most other times, really), I caught the bus on to Kahlenberg, which was a pleasant trip through dead wintery forests. The main point of Kahlenberg seems to be the view - but the viewing tower was closed until May and it was too hazy to see much from the terrace. So it was at least an efficient daytrip, time-wise.

I headed back into town, confident by now in my ability to navigate the Viennese underground system. What I didn't factor in was problems on the line - or rather, the fact that I don't understand the German announcements well enough to know what those problems might be or how to work around them.

I was about three stops from my hostel when we all had to get off the train, which then went back the way it had come. I tried another line, but it was also out of service, and I tried to surreptitiously follow people, but I wasn't sure who exactly I should be following, so it just ended up being a lot of confusing below- and above-ground walking until I finally made it back to my hostel, hot and flustered and a lot later than anticipated, but still in good time to collect my things and head on to the bus station for the 16:30 coach to Bratislava.

The bus station was like an eerie, mainly empty shopping mall. I found a bus office and tried my luck there. As a side note, I've been a wuss about using German on this trip. The thing is that I really do know how to ask for eine Fahrkarte nach Bratislava, but that only works if they then just say "ja" and give it to me without asking any further questions, or only say simple things very langsam, while pointing. So I've just been nervously saying "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" to everyone I meet, which I guess saves me the awkwardness of revealing halfway through a conversation that I don't actually speak German. Which was useful this time, because it turned out that I was in the wrong bus office. After stopping and asking for directions twice more, I managed to find the right one, where I successfully bought the Fahrkarte in question with no further difficulty. (Except embarrassment about going to foreign countries and demanding everyone speak my language.)

The bus ride took only an hour, and there was wifi, and I had snacks, so all was well.

Until I arrived.

The bus station was under a bridge, which was an inauspicious start, but at least I'd arrived while there was still daylight, right?

I didn't have directions to my hostel, and without mobile data Google Maps has not been particularly useful on this trip, so I vaguely set off in what I hoped was the right direction, and ended up dragging my suitcase up steep cobbled streets through the old town, until I gave up and dragged it back down again.

At last I had to accept that I was lost. So I approached a woman sitting on a bench and asked if she spoke English. She did in fact speak excellent English, and I told her I was lost - which was obvious to her, because by that stage I'd been past her four times. I showed her where I was trying to get to, and she said "Oh, I have some time, I'll walk with you."

And that was how I met Monika, probably the loveliest person in the world. She walked me all the way to my hostel, saving me from a lot more wandering around in the darkness. By the time we got there, I was sweatier than a terrible cat, but overwhelmed once again by the kindness of strangers. It's something that always blows me away when I travel, and it makes me want to be a nicer person.

Monika, consider this a standing offer to stay on my sofa if you visit South Africa.

Monika, hero of the day.
Once I'd settled in, I wandered up towards the castle, where I discovered to my delight that the grounds were open until midnight.

For a while, I was the only person there. There was something totally exhilarating about that sense of freedom and possibility. The castle was stunning, and there was an incredible view over the city. Walking back to the hostel, the streets were strangely quiet, but I didn't feel unsafe. It just added to the general sense of magical not-quite-realness of it all.

And so I fell in love with Bratislava. So now I'm off to explore it by daylight.


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