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UNITED KINGDOM | Friday, 2 October 2015 | Views [186]

My 8 day bicycle trip through Austria ended in Vienna. Rather than pay for 2 extra nights in a hotel I looked for a local to stay with. Everyone seemed to be on vacation, but in the end I found a single woman to stay with. She'd just returned from a 3 month trip to Kazakistan (or one of those similar countries) herself. She'd been climbing, collecting books to read at home, and practicing her Russian. Because Kazikastan was a part of the former U.S.S.R. most people learned Russian, but it was not their first language. This meant that they spoke slowly, which was great for her since Russian is a challenging language.
In Vienna my hostes lived in a flat on the 3rd floor with a lovely balcony where she had squash, tomatoes, and other plants growing. The elevator was one of the absolute smallest I've every been in: 3 familiar people could probably squish in together. She shared her flat with a young lady from Italy, who was working at the University. We talked a bit about the education system in Europe compared to America. The governments have made it incredibly affordable. Usually students just pay for their room, and maybe a several hundred dollars a semester.
My hostess and I also talked about the war memorials, and the way that section of history was taught in Austria. I was very interested, but thought it might not be something to bring up. My hostest was happy to talk about it though. I had come across just a couple of war memorials on my bike trip compared to one in every village in Britain. When I saw them I wasn't sure how I felt as I realized who the memorials were for. One of them at least was primarily for WW1, which is rather a different story. Of the WW2 casualties I wondered how many of them were drafted into the army and how many joined willingly. My hostess didn't allow for any excuses for those men who went to fight, even if the alternative was a concentration camp. The only people who take care of a WW2 memorial to the soldiers she said are the old Nazi supporters. Across the country though new memorials are going up to the Jewish people, and the resistance fighters. Apparently a plaque was noticed in Vienna commemorating the "heroes of WW2". It was taken down and replaced by one for those who suffered during the war.
About 40 years ago, when my hostess was in school they were taken to Mauthausen to see the concentration camp. However the attitude they were taught was not one of liberation at the end of the war, but rather of a bit of resentment. In Austria there is a holiday to mark the day when the last Allied soldier left. I could understand this, but my hostess did not think well of the sentiment behind it. At the end of the war many of the old Nazi supporters remained in the government and continued to run the country.
In Vienna I had my first experience with the underground, which is fantastic! It's so convenient and easy to use. I really had only one day to explore Vienna so I had only a small taste of the famous city. In the morning I went to see the morning exercise of the Lipizzaners. Truly it was just an exercise. A couple of the horses were working on some fancy steps; alternately picking up hoofs diagonally across from each other and doing a quick prancing step. I was taken aback to see one female rider among the 5 since I thought it was limited to only men.
Afterwards I stopped to grab a sandwich and hop on the underground out to Schonburnn Palace. Given my record long tour of Windsor castle I was doubtful that I would be able to see all 40 or so rooms in the 2 hours I had. They suggested just a 45-60 minute visit so I took a chance and decided to do it. Incredibly I did leisurely walk through the whole thing in just over an hour. I was so grateful that they had not stuck descriptions on everything in the rooms, but simply provided an audio guide that gave the general overview of the room while you looked around. There were many bedrooms, too many dinning rooms to use properly, and also the study of Franz Joseph (Emperor at the beginning of WW1), along with several other writing, sitting, and entertainment rooms. Even though he was the Emperor Franz Joseph really put in an amazing amount of work each day getting up around 5:30 am, eating lunch at his desk, and working all the way till evening.
I also learned a bit about the other famous Austrian ruler: Empress Maria. She fought a war to defend her right to rule after her father. Her husband was elected Emperor of the Holly Roman Empire (basically Germany), so she really ruled alone over Austria. She is perhaps most well known though for her 16 children. Yes really 16. I believe 11 of them lived to adulthood. They all looked so similar in the portraits throughout the house I would never be able to tell who was who. She said upon the arranged marriage on one of her daughters something along the lines of: "If she merely for fills her duty to her husband and to God, then I will be content, even if she is unhappy." They Hapsburgs were known for their political maneuvering through marriages rather than through wars. Only Maria's favorite daughter was allowed to marry for love. I pity all those who were not.

Between the time when all the sights closed and dinner I sat in one of the small parks in central Vienna (where the phot is from) and listened to a group of musicians playing a mix of English and German songs across from the statue of Empress Maria. They atracted quite a good audiance, but it was very relaxing just a little farther away on my bench.

I ended my stay in Austria by treating my hostess to a meal at an Austria restaurant. She had a typical dish of sliced meat, pumpkin, and cheese fried in a pan to look like just one piece of meat, while I had the raviolis.

Out of consideration for the friend I'm staying with I won't add many photos now. They'll have to wait until I'm in a hotel again.


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