Viennese leisure

The plan for my weekend in Vienna was not to engage in tiring, albeit rewarding, visits to museums and mad walks across the centre, but to tell the truth, I nearly gave in to temptation since my coming coincided with the Long Night of the Museums. On this occasion a combined ticket allows visitors to enter a large number of museums until 1 am and a good deal of people take this once-in-a-year chance to visit cheaply. There was a drag effect on me, but in the end reason prevailed and I stuck to my original intention. After all, to convince myself it was sufficient to conjure up historical memory: last year I was up until the small hours, legs sore with an excess of standing and walking.

So this time I would shun culture and head for the Prater. The bike-sharing facilities remembered my registration of a year ago and I was enabled to move freely across town riding convenient public bikes. Defying the gusts of wind that swept the sky clean, I arrived at the railway station, crossed an avenue and approached the big wheel that loomed large over the horse-chestnut trees. Walking around the attractions I admitted I had never been a fan of the fair. As I child I was hardly ever taken to these places, so that a friend once saved me from gross ignorance by explaining I’d win a free ride if I caught the brass ring dangling over the spinning seats of the merry-go-round.

Below the breakneck loops of the roller-coaster, I also remembered that at about 16 I travelled to Austria with my family, and had watched my brother and cousin ride that machine and get off as white as a sheet. But I had snubbed it, more on principle than by conviction. Did I want to show my parents that I was superior to popular, childish amusements? But now that I was ready to let my hair down, being alone seemed to be a valid reason not to buy a ticket. So I just observed more petrified expressions and listened to hysterical cries as the carts came whizzing down daredevil drops.

Even without riding any attraction, to watch people have fun was entertaining enough. Their happiness ended by infecting me and somehow I became involved in the joyful atmosphere of this permanent amusement park, maybe for the first time in my life. I took out my camera and discovered the pleasure of catching snapshots of this world of movement, light, and colour. The chilly morning wind, now subsided, had brought along a change of weather, but the fizziness of the Prater still made up for the sadness that the sky was clouding over and clear blue was giving way to autumnal greyness.

By Sunday drizzle had set in and made the town damp and bleak. I headed to Schloβ Schönbrunn, its huge body veiled over by a humid atmosphere that faded shapes and colours. Even the Gloriette sitting in a prominent position on top of the hill struggled to emerge from a grey shroud. I bought a ticket for the full circuit of the castle, but after a while I was counting the rooms hoping for the tour to end quickly. The excess of ornament weighed me down and the closed shutters made me feel as if I was locked away in a dungeon. When I finally got to the final hall, I broke free from self-imposed captivity and rambled out into the huge park. Grey as the weather might be, the outside was much better than the outmoded regal residence whose only aim was to defy good taste in the name of flaunting wealth. I needed the immense gardens, which make the visitor feel like a tiny ant, to give me a breath of oxygen.

In the afternoon I walked through the dreariness of the outskirts to reach the bus station. A note of sadness seemed to emanate from every house and building – it must have been the effect of the weather, surely. However, not even a town with a heavy communist legacy as Bratislava was able to convey the same feeling of miserable city environment, maybe because this is to be expected from eastern Europe and is one of its features. Be it as it may, I was glad to be back in Bratislava by the evening and stroll in the cold air along the central avenue that leads to the National Theatre, then along an avenue of rundown blocks towards the hostel for my last night.