Click here for the Introduction.
Wednesday, September 7
The campground is a 30 second walk to the Donau River. Last night we strolled on the path beneath the stars. We reflected on our accomplishment and trials, pedaling from bicycle/English friendly Netherlands across clean and ordered Germany, navigating the roughened former East Germany, surviving poor Czech villages set amidst the most breathtaking scenery and now back to a cleaner, bike path friendly environment. I welcomed the change.
Today, we’d decided to stay an extra night. We needed a break from the seat after a week’s toil, plus I left my crippled bike in the care of an English speaking bike shop mechanic. I left directions to rebuild the wheel after they suggested it was the only way to insure its stability. The Trek will also get an updated bottom bracket, the cartridge type. I was confident and relieved - finally the bike would function properly for the next leg to Budapest.
Then we went to Vienna. The train was easy to navigate then Andy and I switched to the metro for a straightforward ride into city center. We surfaced, blinking into sunshine on a busy street, like a chipmunk peeping above ground.
|I neglected to label this one. Any ideas?|
For the first time in a metropolis, we walked without a specific goal. Baroque-styled buildings mingled with offices, coffee shops, banks; bustling office workers and tourists filling the streets. Like any urban environment there was a lot of asphalt, concrete and stone. Vienna felt a bit claustrophobic, but that’s likely due to city-overload on our part after visiting Paris, Amsterdam, and Prague, all within a month. We only spent a couple hours on foot before retreating to Tulln.
|Burgtheater (National Theater)|
But our rambling coincided with an opportune moment. As we rounded a corner we stopped. Leather suited policemen on motorcycles puttered in and surrounded a building. Chauffeurs stood next to Mercedes, obviously waiting for someone. Then army personnel stood at attention, their green helmets and holstered guns prominently displayed, guarding the same structure. We lingered on the sidewalk. A reporter carrying a TV camera on his shoulder trotted closer to the massive structure (later identified as the Hofburg Palace), shouldering a TV camera.
A few minutes passed. Salutes erupted from under the carport. Soldiers stood erect, walking police shuffled about, talking into radios, while a small crowd of suited men briskly traveled the sidewalk near us, their entourage of guards and bodyguards scanning the gathering crowd.
And then they were gone.
Andy and I swapped bewildered looks. Obviously, an important person or persons went by. Andy asked a lingering reporter. It was the Austrian president and Hungary’s prime minister. As the reporter put it, “Austria and Hungary have been aligned for years. Since the passing of communism from Hungary, its prime minister has been after the president for money. Austria is a well off country.”
|Exterior of Saint Peter's Church, tightly packed within Vienna's |
towering buildings. Photo credit: Wikipedia
We also went inside tiny Saint Peter’s Church. The building’s 1700’s Baroque stone exterior was capped with a green dome, and squeezed between taller structures. It was the classic case of ancient building surrounded my newer construction. There is something about churches that I find inviting: admittance is free, often filled with surprises, and the quiet space relaxing amidst chaotic city life. Inside, the compact space was filled with a mass of golden statues. It was a feast for the eyes. Arched ceilings adorned with paintings, dazzling every space overhead. The pews were solid benches flanked with elaborate carvings of clustered heads, animals, and saints.
|Interior of Saint Peter's Church. Photo credit: Wikipedia|
Common with other Catholic churches, there are special side chapels behind the main altar. We explored further, surprised by glass caskets with skeletons perched inside. But these weren’t just any skeletons. It was a shrine to martyrs or parish priests from what we could discern from the pictures and German inscriptions. The head was covered in elaborate costume; ribs wrapped in ornate jewels; feet clad in velvet boots. The entire skeleton was beautifully encased, the whole effect rather gaudy, yet mysteriously enchanting.