Sunday, August 28

Improvise

In total, I spent 5 days in Vienna. It's a beautiful city, complete with lots of buskers in the streets and a trendy downtown.

Unfortunately, it rained for a good part of the time I was there, so I didn't get to see as much as I would have liked. Of the things that I did see, a tour of a royal crypt was one of the most memorable. But not in a good way. Back in the days of the plague, they had more bodies than they knew what to do with, so they just piled them into large rooms below the royal tomb. And now, for the pleasure of all the tourists, you can come see these big rooms of bones. And yes, the bones are still there. Thinking that it would be just like any other crypt (ie empty), I didn't know what I was getting into until it was too late. It just seemed so disrespectful to be charging admission to look at a big pile of bones. Apparently, there's a place in the Czech Republic that takes things a step further, using the bones as decorations.

The next day was also oriented around death. I went to see the graves of Mozart and Beethoven. Although Beethoven's grave was the real deal, Mozart's was only a monument. He died penniless and alone, and although buried in that cemetery, the exact place is no longer known. He was given a popper's burial, with only the grave diggers in attendance. And the grave itself was unmarked.

I spent my last night in Vienna with Rita, a friend from when I lived in Nice in 2002. We took french classes together. Unfortunately, she was in Salzbourg for most of the time I was in town, but as I'm planning on being in Slovakia as I make my way around eastern Europe in the fall, we're hoping to meet up again then.

Prague came after Vienna. It was quite similar in terms of architecture, and I understand why people consider them sister cities, together with Budapest. I met quite a few nice people there, mostly fellow tourists, as well as a few odd balls. For instance, on my last night there my roommates at the hostel were quite colorful. A bunch of Australian coke heads. They kept going on about needing to score some blow, and their plan was to wander around downtown asking all the pot dealers until they finally tracked some down. All of this made leaving much easier.

The highlight of Prague was learning about all of their struggles over the centuries, constantly being conquered, released, and then conquered by someone else. I get the feeling that only Poland has had a harder time. Still, the locals weren't very nice at all. I'm told that it's just people that live in Prague, but the servers and waitresses were some of the rudest that I've met. The worst of the lot was a cocktail bar, where I was yelled at to sit down when I asked for my bill (no joke!). Me and one of the others that I was with started yelling back, but were just laughed at us. I would have walked out without paying, but part of our group was staying longer, and to do so would have only stuck them with our bill.

To get to Berlin, I tried using a carpooling service. I'd been taking buses for the last while, but Germany has a service where you go to an office of a carpooling agency, check the schedule for drivers that are going where you're looking to be, and for a small fee, you get to ride with them. It cost me just 15 euros (about $20) to go about 400 km. The driver was a real piece of work. One of the most stereotypical hippies that I've met in a long time. Dreadlocks, Green Peace shirt, the works. Plus he ate like a horse. Four submarine sandwiches for lunch! Can anyone say mega munchies? To top things off, he was going to Berlin to busk with his instrument of choice. A didgeridoo! Overall, he was very likable, if a little hyperactive (I don't know why, but most hippies are. Maybe all of the pot is just to keep them from completely fiering off into the stratosphere?) The only annoying point of the trip was that his car nearly broke down. Twice. But in the end, we made it. All's well that ends well.

I've been in Berlin for the last four or five days, and it's not a bad city at all. The biggest surprise is how cheap it is. Things cost less here than almost anywhere else that I've seen, including Canada. It's even on par with Prague.

It took me a few days to find the interesting spots of town, as the official downtown seemed a little bland. But there are a few different trendy neighborhoods, and quite a few nice cafes. Geographically, the city is huge, being as close as you get in western Europe to urban sprawl.

My main point of interest in coming here was the Berlin Wall, and although mostly torn down, I managed to find a few pieces here and there for souvenirs. It's hard to imagine what life must have been like in West Berlin back in the 60's, as their half of the city was walled off on all sides. They had to airlift supplies in, as the Soviets cut off all shipments to pressure the Americans and British out. They were living in fear of being invaded at any time, and they couldn't leave the city at all for over two years after the wall went up. Even after they were allowed transportation, it was very limited and required a mountain of paper work.

I spent the first few nights here in a hostel, but Barbara, a friend of mine that lives here, got back yesterday, so I stayed with her last night. She was in Tanzania for the last two months, and is now leaving to go work in a camp to combat racism, in the south of the country. She thinks that I could be a help, so I'm going to go check it out for a while. I have no idea how long I'll stay, though. It's just nice to be able to interact with the locals, as it gives a much better understanding of the country.

3 Comments:

Blogger Eugenie said...

When you mention the piles of bones and decorations in those crypts, and Mozart, I couldn't help but think of two movies: Amadeus and Dungeons & Dragons.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmm... so you're saying people are rude in Prague? Wait 'till you've been to Moscow ;)
Well, maybe they are nicer with foreigners, though. :D

(cr)Dave

7:33 AM  
Blogger ian said...

to eugenie, unfortunately i havn't seen either movie. although after reading the reviews of dungeons and dragons, i think i might pass on it. amadeus sounds interesting :)

to dave, i wanted to go to russia, but the paper work is a nightmare! i think i might be able to get a 72 hour visa more simply, and if so i'll go to st petersbourg. but from what i've heard, most eastern europeans are the same. odd, no?

and also, apparently i was wrong. mozart didn't die penniless or alone, it's just folklore. still, he was in debt, since he spent more than he made.

2:48 PM  

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