Thursday, October 21, 2010

midnight train to vienna

I caught a train from Berlin to Prague and was able to meet up with my friend Brendan, who I met in Ireland. Brendan had a place in the city where I could crash, which was an immediate bonus. If ever you can find a place to stay for free while traveling, the rest is cream cheese.

Brendan took me around the city at night and showed me all it had to offer on a Tuesday night. I drank cheap beer, ate a greasy sausage, and played a drinking game at a bar where you have to pound a nail into a giant tree stump with the chisel end of a hammer. As I drove the head of my nail home to narrowly avoid a first-time loss, I remembered what my grandfather always told me, "Conor, wherever you go, always leave your mark..."

I spent the next day exploring Prague. I cruised through the Old Town Square, Mala Strana, the Castle District, Charles Bridge, New Town, and Wenceslas Square. That night I was catching the night train to Vienna, so I managed to sneak in a few Pilsner Urquells before leaving to help me sleep on the train.

I got in to Vienna at six and caught the next train to Budapest. I would be back in Vienna later that night, but I wanted to see Budapest and with my Eurail Pass it made sense (I have 10 "travel days" within 2 months when I can catch any train and ride for free). So for one of my travel days I went from Prague to Vienna to Budapest, and then back to Vienna. Three cities in 24 hours. At least I got my money's worth. Backpacking is all about value....

I rushed through Budapest in seven hours but I feel like I did right by it. I walked through Heroes Square, City Park, and then saw Parliament, St. Stephen's Basillica, and the Opera House. Then it was on to Buda. I saw Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and hiked up Gallert Hill to see the Citadell along with a stunning view of both Buda and Pest. After that I rushed back to the train station to catch the 5:10 back to Vienna.

My friend Kyra (who I met in NZ) picked me up at the train station in Vienna and gave me a walking tour of the city after catching up over a beer. Vienna has a perfect blend of old-school architecture, progressive social values, and an unassuming, casual attitude among its people that could only be attained through genuine contentment.

After checking out the typical tourist spots (Stephen's Dom, Hofsburg Palace, Karl's Church, Museum Quarter) I made my way down to the Central Cemetary and visited the graves of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss. Then I sought out the much smaller St. Marx Cemetary where Mozart was buried somewhere in a mass grave along with other victims of the Black Plague.

I don't have strong feelings for any of those people, nor do I listen to any of their music, but there's something strangely intriguing about discovering someone's final resting place. I think it says a lot about the person. And besides, it's both peaceful and captivating to walk through a plot of land where there are thousands of decomposing bodies under the ground, and as many beautiful flowers and trees protruding from the same soil. There's got to be some metaphor to be gleamed there... a ying and a yang. Growth and decay. But mostly I think that so many artistic geniuses chose to forever reside in Vienna says more about the quality of its earth than it does for those who lie beneath it.


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  2. Wow, I did not know that you were planning to visit Prague and Budapest too. I have friends there and you could have stayed for free. So you have not stopped in Slovakia? I live an hour and a 1/2 from Vienna (by car). Yes, Vienna is awesome.
    Glad you had more time in Prague; I love the Charles bridge and the Castle area-especially Mala Strana-saw it many times but always find something new.