Dear Family and Friends
After forty-two years I revisited the scenes of my youth in Vienna.
Wien, Wien, nur du Allein,
Solist Stetes die Stadt Meiner Traune Sein.
(Vienna, Vienna, of you alone, so is the city of my dreams.)
It was amazing how much, and how little, things had changed.
The first impression was of cars, people, speed, crowds, modern buildings, rebuilt old buildings and that every thing was rebuilt and a little smaller than I remembered. But then the second impression was of the same laid back atmosphere I remembered.
The waiter who does not hurry you, or even look at you, until you lift your hand. The perfect correctness of sitting at a table on the Cobenzl and watching the view all afternoon, while drinking a coke and just being.
I arrived at the Vienna airport about three in the afternoon and took a cab to the village of Modling where Judy was staying. That was all new. I don’t know if Wien had an airport when I was there before. If it did it was in the Russian zone, as was Modling, and certainly was not for American use.
The village of Modling is about 16 Km south and west of the city, on the edge of the hills which form the Wienerwald (Vienna Woods). It is 20-minute walk beside the Modling brook from the hotel to the bahnhof and a short 20-minute ride on the Schnellbahn from the village bahnhof to Wien Mitte station in the city. The Wien Mitte is only a half block away from the Hilton hotel, where we started so many tours, and another short block to the Ring Strasse.
The Ring streets were boulevards built by the Emperor Franz Joseph to replace the fortified wall of the inner city which he thought passé. The No. 2 Strassenbahn goes counter clockwise, around the ring, as the No. 1 goes clockwise, past the City park with its golden statue of Strauss, past the Bristol Hotel, the Stadtsopera, Parliament, City Hall, museums etc, and around by the Donau Kanal and back to the Hilton. We got to be pretty proficient on the streetcars and Schnellbahn. Learned how to get a fare card from one machine and stamp it in another machine to show when the use started. Eventually we even stopped getting on the wrong Schnellbahn. During the week we rode everything, every day, and they only asked to see our tickets 4 times on the Schnellbahn and never on a streetcar. Two of the times we were asked for Schnellbahn tickets we were on the wrong train or had not stamped them properly. But no one seemed to get upset.
Our usual itinerary would be to stroll to the bahnhof, go into the Hilton and take a tour or a do it yourself ride on the
Strassenbahn. The first day was an orientation tour of the city.
The second day we rode the No. 38 Strassenbahn (just like old times) out to where I used to live on Lanner Strasse, the two locations of the high school in the neighborhood (just off of Peter Jordan Strasse), then up the hill to Turkenschanz Park and then back on the streetcar and on to where I remember living the best, on the Kaasgrabengasse. (That is cheese makers lane) None of the buildings that I lived in were still standing. They have all been replaced by six or eight unit apartment houses. Where the Kaasgrabengasse intersected with Grinzinger Allee the old streetcar barns are still standing. They took the tracks up, and now use the buildings for bus maintenance, but they are there.
Grinzing looks the same as I remember it. I am sure that there are some new wine gardens but they are all in the style of the ones I remember. And out of the uphill end of Grinzing is the road to the Kahlenberg. It is the highest spot in the Wienerwald. Have the woods really grown up so much in only 42 years? I remember more open views from the road. Now, until you reach the top and stop at the Cobenzl, or the overlooks on the Kahlenberg, and can look out over the vineyards it is much more wooded than I remembered. We took the Strassenbahn and Autobus route to the Cobenzl and Kahlenberg for a quite lunch and tour of our own on Saturday.
Traffic is not laid back. It is quick and impatient. Streetcars have right of way over every thing except traffic lights; then come Autobusses, which are supplanting street cars on many routes; then all of the other cars and trucks; then bicycles, which have their own lanes painted on some of the sidewalks; and last in priority are pedestrians. Do not stand in a bicycle path or someone in a hurry will pedal right over you, and then fuss at you for it.
We took several tours. One to the Vienna Woods, Holy Cross Abbey and Mayerling, one up the canal and down the river combined with a trip through Grinzing. The Opera season was closed and the Lipperzaner Stallions were out of town for the summer so we missed those. Each tour ended up at the Opera House, which I remember as a ruin, where we would go under the plaza and have a snack or a meal before going back to Wien Mitte and catching the Schnellbahn back to Modling.
Our room in Modling was on the second floor, overlooking the brook and trout. Every evening was cool. Open windows and usually the feather bed quilt. Every morning there was a lovely Continental breakfast with fruit, cheese, sliced meats and cereal added to the normal rolls, butter and jam. It was a 4 Star hotel in the area of Modling, which is restricted, no cars. The absolute best of village living.
There were a couple of rowdy bars just across the brook that kept things a little noisy, but cheerful. But to get up in the morning, look out the window and check out the trout below was fun.
Everywhere you looked there was a change” shop. In the Hilton, at the airport, on the street. And mostly you got a good rate of Schillings (S) 11.4 to the dollar. Almost the legal rate of when I was here before. But my goodness the prices were no comparison. The worst was getting a coke at the Hilton for S 50 ($4.38). I remember taking a date for steaks for that price. Usually a coke was about S 24, ($2,10), while an entré such as a Wienner Schnitzel was S 130 ($11.40). The four-hour bus tours ran S 300 ($26.30) to S 700 ($61.40), each, depending on what was included in the way of secondary entrance fees. We declined the one-day tour to Salzburg because we could not get to the starting point by 7 AM. It was higher. Judy had been on a tour where everything was included except lunches. She would cash two or three $20 dollar travelers checks every few days. I had a wallet full of greenbacks of which I changed a hundred every day. In the airport when we were ready to return I had to go the “change” to get enough Schillings to cover lunch. Then I had a little too much so I converted my remaining Schillings to chocolate bars.
The poorest organized thing in Austria was at the end.
After waiting for hours our flight was called. Going through passport control (we did not open them) and security (my pill box sets them off), when we were tired, without any more Schillings, and had only 15 minutes to get to the plane, we found ourselves in the duty free shopping zone. Beautiful shops, stores etc. A regular mall. Too late – they missed us.
Amsterdam on the trip back was nice. We were together, had plenty of time to make the flight, there were moving walkways to hurry us along, a clean light airport, I still had mad money in my pocket and we were looking forward to the trip home. I had been moved up to business class on the way over because KLM had over sold tourist class. No such luck on the way back but it was pleasant. Going west does not throw my internal clock into such a tizzy as going east does so I read my book for most of the return flight.
Then we arrived in Kennedy. Bus terminal modern. Long lines to reclaim luggage. Long lines for Customs. A long line for passport control where my passport was really looked at for the first time (and machine read). A policeman with an anti-drug dog worked the crowd around the baggage claim. Loudspeaker directions kept saying not to trust anyone not in a uniform with your bags or person. Dirty, confused, individual directions less intelligible and more impatiently given than when they were in German. Then we went outside to the free inter-building bus, and it was worth every cent of it, for the trip to American Airlines
Flagship shuttle. Then things got worse. Is it AA, building 16, or building 18 the AA Flagship? Do we have time to make a mistake? So we decided to stop at 18. The terminal was dark and dingy and no one is there. Then up the stars to the counter and we are told they are running a little late. Then we are told an hour late. The 11:10 PM plane in now leaving at 00:10 AM. Then the flight is canceled because the pilot is sick. Was he sick of flying late at night? Everyone trooped down to the baggage carousel to reclaim the luggage, which had been checked through to Washington and get on the bus for Washington. We arrived in Washington at 0730 AM, an hour after their first shuttle would have gotten us there. I think we will avoid AA in the future. We were tired. Martha (our daughter) had parked our car in the parking garage the day before and a quick call told us exactly where it was. Then we were on the way again with everything under control.
I cannot tell you how lovely the trip was. I have started overtures to Judy to do the same thing next year, if possible. Doesn’t Belgium and France sound like a good tour. Doesn’t joining Judy in Paris sound like fun. Can we afford it on retired pay? Wouldn’t it be worth saving up for? Can we avoid AA? KLM was lovely.
Judy and Dave Maxfield