Saturday, August 6, 2011

Slow down, you crazy child...

Hey, guess where I am.

(Or, more precisely, "Hez, guess where I am."  I'm in a lovelz hotel in Vienna.  No free wi-fi, but free use of a couple of desktops in the "business center."  Because this is my first time in this part of Europe using a computer that is not mine, it's my first experience with what I assume is a German keyboard.  Which switches the "y" and "z" kezs (dammit) around from their usual Qwerty setup.  This is not the easiest thing to get used to.  Also had a hell of a time logging in to my account at work, because I know that my password involves "whatever the hell is over the 8" -- and it definitely isn't the same thing that's over the 8 in these parts.)

The other downside about tzping (shit) from the business center is that I can't post photos.  Which isn't particularly troublesome todaz (aargh), as I didn't take any, but will probably grow to be a problem over our next two days in Vienna.   

Today was mostly a travel day.  We started from Budapest early - conveniently having our rest stop at a truck stop in Hungary which included a small souvenir store, so everyone (on every tour bus out of the country) could unload the last of their local currency.  (I gave my parents the last of mine; adding to theirs, mom was able to buy a small jar of paprika.)  Then, we went across the border for lunch in Bratislava, Slovakia.

We had been in Slovakia on the way to Hungary, but didn't see much of the place.  This time, we had a speaker tell us about the history of the country and its economy, followed by a short tour of Bratislava, and some free time.

Things I learned about Bratislava and initial impressions of the place:  Modern Bratislava is a young city.  Which is really bizarre because it has a medieval castle, a Plague monument, and most of the other trappings of a standard European city.  Here's the thing, though:  Slovakia became an independent country very recently.  It was only 1993 when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- and, when they had been a unified country, Prague had done most of the heavy lifting from the "capital city" point of view.  So, I mean, with Bratislava as the capital of a shiny new country, all of a sudden it has to host all necessary government buildings.  Not only that, but Slovakia didn't have a ton of income potential at the time of the split, and has recently undergone a bunch of dramatic economic reforms (our speaker didn't specifically identify any other than the institution of a flat tax) and has very quickly developed a positive income-producing economy, with a ton of manufacturing and tech going on.  The Slovakian people are (rightfully) very proud at how they turned their economy around and have one of the best rates of GDP growth in the EU.

While Bratislava has a lot of old architecture, it also has a lot of new stuff.  Our tour took us down what appeared to be a main street of sorts (opera house at one end, some embassies along the way), and it seemed very new.  Planned, even.  There was, for example, a long thin fountain running down the road, spanned by a cute little bridge -- it was supposed to be evocative of an old castle moat.  And it was pristine.  Adorable.  Every few blocks or so there would be some sort of whimsical statue designed to get your attention (often accompanied by a whimsical street performer designed to get your coins).  Everyone on our tour thought Bratislava was just a charming place -- I agree, although the cynical part of me wonders how it will be in a few years, if perhaps Slovakia fails to weather the current world-wide economic ... issues.  I don't know how to put it exactly -- it's just that the current version of Bratislava looks like one that has been calculated to be a perfect little European city -- with a good balance of old and new, sidewalk cafes and street performers, and a stage set up for free concerts.  And a little voice in the back of my head asks what it will look like when the shit hits the fan (as shit so often does).

And then it was back on the bus and on to Vienna.  (Thanks to the free wi-fi in the Budapest hotel, I downloaded the Billy Joel song for the occasion.)  I haven't seen much of Vienna -- we just had a couple hours between arrival and dinner.  I spent it buying a watch battery (do watch batteries always crap out on vacation, or do I just notice it more then?) and aimlessly wandering a main shopping street in Vienna.

Initial impression of (main shopping street in) Vienna:  I get this.  I put my earphones in, cranked up the tunes and bopped along the street, something I haven't really done since London.  I didn't feel a need to take in the street noise, or that I'd be missing something if I didn't have all five senses focussed on the act of walking in a strange city.  Vienna, or at least this particular bit of Vienna, is familiar to me.  It's like Oxford Street in London, only with a few differences:  (1)  about half the signs are in German; (2)  the street is totally closed off to traffic, so it is totally pedestrians only (which allows for street performers); (3)  there is a massive, impressive, crazy ornate cathedral (which, if you polished it up, would look like the world's biggest wedding cake) at the other end of it (I'm pretty sure the tour is going there later, so there should be photos for whenever I can post again); and (4)  there are about 12 guys dressed like Mozart trying to sign the tourists up for some Mozart-related thing.  But, basically, I can do this.  It's a European Pedestrian Shopping Street -- I understand its tempo and can fit into it.  

I bought some stuff -- nothing particularly interesting, but it involved my first purchase (slightly off the touristy pedestrian shopping street) in a market where locals shopped and I couldn't count on the salesperson speaking English (she didn't).  But there were nods and smiles and I know what a price in Euros means, and everything went off without a hitch.

This was just a first impression, based on one street -- I expect I'll have a different impression of Vienna once I've seen a bit more, but, right now, it feels more like the Western European cities I've visited than the others in Central Europe.

(Oh.  And the dinner?  Totallz tastz.)


1 comment:

peg said...

I love using keyboards in Europe because it's search and find. It let me know that I was really someplace else.

Oh, Vienna. Lots of memories of the city and the pedestrian shopping street. And the good eats.