Austria was our destination after a week in Italy. It involved some vaguely unnerving — and therefore exciting — differences. Bobbing along over the sun-hazed Alps on a Tyrolean Airways Dash 8 turboprop (!), I thought it out.
I knew there would not be nearly as many Americans in Vienna, at least not on display. It’s a wonderful city, as we were to find out, but not as big a tourist draw from the United States as Italy is. The only reason we tacked it onto our trip is that my wife’s niece took a State Department posting there, and had a second bedroom in her apartment.
Therefore, the place would feel more “foreign.” Not that Italy is a McDonald’s, but it’s easy to find the Americans there. They have cameras growing out of their chests (yep, me too). Many of them turn up their noses at the coffee and loudly ask for ice. As I walked down the Via Della Scala near our hotel in Florence, I heard a woman announce rather stridently that the Boston Bruins had swept my team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Final. I meant to throw my coffee on her, but I was looking for some ice.
But Americans in abundance or not, Italy was wonderful. Austria would be good too, but a different cup of espresso. My German is not nearly so good as my Italian, so there was that challenge. The food would be different; we were blissed out on Italian freshness and peerless quality. Schnitzel, on the other hand, is weighty stuff, albeit delicious.
And Vienna itself is perhaps not your typical European city. Invaded (and almost taken) by the Turks in 1529 and 1683, Vienna is a cultural melange, with a distinct Eastern European overtone. This was the eastern edge of Christian civilization for centuries; beyond it began the Muslim world. Napoleon occupied Vienna, and therefore Austria, twice; Hitler clamped it in his vise between 1938 and 1945. Had the Turks prevailed in either of their sieges, they surely would have used the city as a base for conquest of southern Germany and the Balkans. Vienna was, in a sense, the deadbolt of European history.
So onward to new and unfamiliar delights.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr
Photographs by Adam Barr