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Vienna

Vienna

In the morning we said tearful goodbyes to our cycling guides, Richard and Andrea.  They had been wonderful guides and worked so hard to make sure all of us enjoyed ourselves.  They had shared so much with us about the history of their country and their own families’ experiences living under Communism in the Czech Republic.  We had all come to really love the two of them over the past week.  Richard will be going home to his family in Australia for the winter and Andrea starts with the next cycle tour group tomorrow.  I can’t help but think we were a very special group for them.  We will certainly miss them. Then we boarded our bus and took off for Vienna.

Our bus driver was listening to an Austrian radio station with an interesting mix of German pop songs and bad American hits from the 70s and 80s.  We all had a special moment together when a John Denver song came on and we all sang “Country rooooooaads… take me hooooome to the plaaaace I belo-hoooong!” as we entered the Vienna city limits.

Our goodbye photo.  I love this fantastic group of people!

Our goodbye photo. I love this fantastic group of people!

My first impressions of Vienna from my bus seat is a sophisticated combination of old and new.  Elegant historic baroque buildings interspersed with ultra-modern skyscrapers… woven together artfully into a complementary whole.  I wouldn’t have suspected that it would work but it does.

 

On the streets of Vienna

On the streets of Vienna

Bicycles are EVERYWHERE.  Every sign has a bicycle locked to it.  Vast seas of bicycles await their owners’ return in bicycle racks on the sidewalks.  Vienna boasts an extensive bicycling network of separated bike lanes with their own signage and little stoplights. It is an urban cycling paradise.  Craig and I will only be in Vienna one day so we won’t be able to cycle here.  I hope we will return one day to bike through this amazing city.

Walking down into the Fairness Zone

Walking down into the Fairness Zone

We checked into our plush room at the Hotel Stefanie and hit the streets for a little walking tour of the city.  We walked  toward the Danube and wandered into a modern art gallery / furniture store.  It was interesting but that was enough shopping for us.  As we crossed the Danube we were intrigued by the cobblestoned area below the bridges along the river.  The walls all along the river were covered with brightly colored graffiti.  We had to get down there to explore.  And so we toured perhaps the most interesting art gallery of Vienna… it is called the “Fairness Zone.”  Miles and miles of amazing street art and multi media sculptures embellish the land under the bridges along the Danube River.

Some of my favorite graffiti art in the Fairness Zone

Some of my favorite graffiti art in the Fairness Zone

Craig and I assumed the “Fairness Zone” signs on the walkway referred to the street art which was obviously being encouraged and celebrated.  Sections of the walls even incorporated large outdoor canvas sections which had been covered with art.  There were many political statements and whimsical imagery.  Much of the art was simply superb.  This was the “Fairness Zone” where everyone has a voice.  Vienna is known for it’s lofty fine art galleries.  But here, everyone could contribute.  It was quite beautiful and moving.

More amazing street art

More amazing street art

I researched the area later and discovered that the real meaning behind the “Fairness Zone” signs is much less inspiring.  During the busy tourist season, evidently that area gets heavily congested with walkers, joggers, children playing and cyclists.  There have been altercations between the cyclists and non-cyclists and the city has begun their “Fairness Zone” campaign to encourage everyone to play nice together.  I have to admit that I much prefer my initial interpretation.

A knitted tree in the Fairness Zone

A knitted tree in the Fairness Zone

Craig and I worked our way back toward our hotel to find a nice non-touristy restaurant for lunch.  We walked and walked but nothing looked inviting.  Then I spied a large entryway leading to a courtyard with a few people sitting at tables.  There was no sign but it looked restaurant-ish so I walked in.  It was a small open tiled courtyard with about 15 old tables sitting around at odd angles.  People were sitting at a couple of the tables eating and drinking.  It wasn’t clear at first if this was even a restaurant and we stood there for a few moments uncertain what to do.  Then a woman got up from one of the tables, walked over to another table, took their empty plates and disappeared behind a door.  The kitchen perhaps?  She seemed to be the waitress.  We waited a bit longer and then she appeared again and walked right by us, completely ignoring us.  Craig got a bit angry about this and wanted to leave.  But then I spied a sign on the wall above one of the tables.  It said “STURM” (STURM!!!).  What are you talking about, Craig? I said.  If we wait until we find a friendly waitress in Austria, we will NEVER EAT!!  Besides, I WANT SOME STURM!!!!  So I sat down at a table.  Craig joined me and we waited to see what would happen.

A delicious glass of STURM!

A delicious glass of STURM!

Eventually the woman acknowledged our existence and brought us some menus.  I ordered sturm and goulash soup and Craig ordered a beer and turkey medallions.  Everything was yummy.  And we even got the waitress to crack a smile before we were done.  It just takes these Austrians a little time to warm up.  We were entertained by several other people who entered the courtyard and stood around feeling silly, not knowing what to do, like we had done.  We didn’t offer them any help and they all eventually left.  I guess they didn’t notice the STURM sign.  The restaurant could use a bit of help in the marketing department… if they even care.

After my second glass of sturm, we could stuff our bellies no longer and walked back to our hotel for some snoozing.  Both of us were feeling quite under the weather by this time with sore throats and sinus headaches.  We needed a nap.

We had agreed to meet everyone in the lobby at 6:00 for one final dinner together.  Bonnie got a recommendation and directions from the front desk for an Austrian restaurant within walking distance.  And off we went into the cool Vienna evening.  The restaurant was a bit pricy, but fabulous and we all savored our final evening in each other’s company.  Some of the group will be staying for a couple more days.  But Craig and I and several others will be leaving for home in the morning.  I am sad to leave Europe.  This has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.  We gave each other big goodbye hugs and departed for our rooms for the night.

See more photos from this day on my Crazy Guy on a Bike journal HERE

Craig made this awesome little video of our day in Vienna. Enjoy!!

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