Friday, March 3, 2017

On the Road to Vienna, or Musings of an Accidental Traveler

Upper Belvedere Palace

The lights of the airport parking garage spelled sanctuary. My hands gripped the steering wheel so hard my knuckles where white, and muscles in my arms throbbed. We just made over 80 miles of ice-covered highway to our destination. My wife, whom I affectionately refer to as M., helped me pry my hands from the steering wheel. What else could go wrong now?

We had quite a time before our flight, so breakfast seemed like a good idea. The lights were dim, but the staff assured us they were open. The dim lights should have been a warning.

I ordered my usual sausage with scrambled eggs. It was so dark in the restaurant that I couldn’t see the food on my plate. I was forced to navigate by smell alone. To be quite frank, the meal tasted a bit dodgy, but I assured the Mrs. that is tasted fine.

When we arrived for our international flight at Dulles in Washington,D.C., I felt a little unwell, but attributed it to the tensions of the early morning drive catching up with me. At our gate, I started to feel real feverish with a stomach ache. A bit of food poisoning for the road, I thought, unaware that the real fun was still in my future. Waiting to board, my wife turned and asked me: “Vienna - Now or Never?”

I had waited for this trip for such a long time, so I quickly assured her that I would be fine.
Sleep overtook me on the flight, to my good fortune. The meal served, I could only pick at it as I desired water, and little food. There was nothing that could have prepared when the plane started to descend. My stomach tried to vacate my body through my mouth. On the ground, I was advised by my lovely bride to pull myself together, or they wouldn’t allow me to enter the country - always a charming and practical trooper that she is…

We settled into our room at the Astoria, where I was given a chance to rest for a few hours. M. always travels under the motto of the French Foreign Legion “March or Die,” with no time to be wasted lounging around hotel rooms. So we were off to explore the city.

Our first stop was St. Stephen’s Cathedral. To her, an Eastern Catholic, it was more than just a sightseeing stop, but above and foremost a sacred place of worship. Ever an optimist and a staunch believer in miracles, big and small, without any warning she sprinkled some blessed water on me with a quick prayer as we entered the cathedral. It was so unexpected that I thought I heard a sizzle and pop as the holy water hit my face. However, I did notice a group of Japanese tourists backed away from me with a look of horror. It didn’t seem like a good idea, but we went on tour of the catacombs. Memento mori…. The stacks of bones of thousands of folks who had once lived, loved, and were buried under the church, was a sobering place, particularly in my sickly condition. At the very end, we saw a pit with the remains of the last plague victims, and when we started towards the exit someone sneezed. “Great! They will never let us over here. We are screwed.” We were standing on the steps to the exit for several minutes, when finally, to my relief, we could leave into the fresh air of Vienna.

The following day we were taking an excursion in which we had to take a bus from downtown. Not knowing how things work, we were taken by a small bus to a terminal near the railway station, where we were given round yellow stickers to put on our lapels. Being a history buff, I knew that patches and railways didn’t go well together… I tried to crack some off-color joke about it, whispering it my wife… I found out the Viennese are a little sensitive about their past. M. stared at me furiously expecting us to be asked to get off the tour.

My body finally healed, and the next few days were filled with visits to palaces, museums, and other historic places. In the course of it, I developed a particular fondness for the Viennese coffeehouse culture. It is a beautiful old city filled with music, good food, and history… and I cannot wait but make a speedy return to it some day soon.