Ah, Vienna, you enticing city! You pour me the world’s most delicious coffee, and then give me excellent drinking water right from the tap! You surround me with meaty Germanic food straight out of my adolescent years growing up in Germany and yet in you I find the most available and creative vegetarian cuisine of any city I’ve visited in Europe! You provide for me a superior public transportation system in a country that is 18th in the world in cars per capita, and in you I am surrounded by the history of the world’s most moving music as well as your ugly and shameful history with regard to the Jews.
I think I may be in love. With a city.
My friend and I spent only a few short days there this summer, but oh, how the city and surrounding countryside captured my heart. Maybe because we laughed so much throughout the visit. For example, the guide for our walking tour explained the difference between Austrian-German and German-, er, German by using the word for “coffee” to illustrate. On the one hand, Germans growl the word “KAFFEE!” On the other hand Austrians sort of sigh “Kaffee” because, hey, coffee is a GOOD thing; there’s no need to be cross about it. (I suppose you had to be there.) But you didn’t have to be there to realize that because the city’s name in German is Wien, it makes the people that live there… wait for it… WIENERS! We shared several laughs on that one, and the language teacher in me can’t help but wonder if the Wieners themselves chuckle about it, too. We very nearly slept with Mozart on the crisp summer night my friend and I visited the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) where he and others of his illustrious ilk are memorialized, if not buried. Yes, I know that requires an explanation but suffice it to say that we came perilously close to being locked inside at closing time! Visualize two middle-aged (even if we don’t look it!) ladies sprinting in bare feet toward the gate as the keeper was closing it for the night. You’ll have to read my friend Joni Carter’s soon-to-be-published short story chronicling the tale, and it’s a good one, if I do say.
But perhaps my favorite Vienna story ends with the two of us walking miles and miles and miles (okay, so I exaggerate; it was only miles and miles) so that we would not waste a ticket that we very nearly didn’t get.
Jo and I wanted to see the Schonbrunn Palace Garden, a beautiful palace and botanical garden and UNESCO World Heritage site. We were primarily interested in the gardens rather than the palace. When you’ve seen one palace, you’ve seen, if not “them all,” at least enough of them. But we wanted to see the Privy Garden and the Maze, and it seemed like we would like to see the Gloriette, too. We were limited on time so we had to be smart about our visit. We headed toward the famed site on the aforementioned superior public transit system. The bus let us off just in front of the entrance.
Walking through the gate, we paused to get the lay of the land. To our left was a building that seemed to be the starting point for tours and such. We passed through the entry door and spied a large sign reading “TICKETS” in huge letters and we headed toward it, picking up literature along the way. We took our places at the end of the longish line and perused the brochures as we waited.
“Hey, look at this,” I said, pointing to the price list I was holding. “We can see the privy garden for only three euro fifty!” We looked further and saw that the other parts of the gardens we wanted to see were a good deal, too.
“But why do they only list the “Gold” and “Imperial” tickets on the sign?” Jo asked me looking over my shoulder to the information printed on the sign below the giant “TICKETS”.
I tossed a glance at the sign before turning back to the literature. “I don’t know, but we don’t want to spend 30 euros or more, so we should just buy the tickets for the parts we want to see, right?”
“Well, yeah,” she agreed, looking back at the literature. We chatted about the different areas of the gardens. I should say, she chatted because Jo is the one who does all the preparatory work for our vacations. I just sort of tag along and get her to tell me what we’re going to visit. Works really well, I think. Not sure she’d agree, but for me, yeah, it does.
After waiting in line for about twenty minutes, we arrived at the counter in front of a slender and angular gentleman with dark hair and glasses. He looked like he’d been sitting in that chair for many, many hours. He didn’t seem happy as he shuffled receipts and such.
“Guten tag,” I said, in my limited German. “We’d like to buy two tickets for the privy garden, the maze, and the gloriette, please, oh! bitte!” I smiled broadly, because I always say that if it’s up to me, I want everyone to think Americans are the nicest people in the world.
He stopped what he was doing. His fatigued but piercing eyes darted up from the papers, and as they bored into us, his mouth turned decidedly downward. He slapped the papers in his hand down on the counter. “TICKETZ!” he snapped. Jo and I jumped in unison. “TICKETZ! You vant to buy ticketz from ME?!?”
When our startled hearts slowed down enough for us to think, we both looked up, above his head at the ginormous sign. “TICKETS.” I looked back at Jo, who had as bewildered an expression on her face as I must have had, and we turned, still in unison, to look at the TICKET salesman. “Well,” I began, mustering a slight smile, “um, yes, we were hoping to buy tickets here. Um, at the, um, ticket counter.” The last two words came out almost as a whisper.
“Ticketz!” he repeated. “You don’t buy ticketz HERE.” He pronounced it “HEE-ah,” the German way.
“What?” Jo asked, by now befuddled.
“But, the sign…” I began.
He blew air from his mouth with a “pfoosh” sound and shook his head, muttering about people wanting to buy tickets from him, and he finally looked at us both and in his Colonel Klink voice, growled, “You buy DOZE ticketz at ze entrance to DOZE exhbitz.” He shook his head.
“So,” I ventured, “we can’t buy our tickets here?”
Another “pfoosh.” And then, “Ja, ja, ja, you vill buy de ticketz hee-ah.” More head-shaking.
He grumbled incoherently as our tickets were printing, and then suddenly he paused. “You vant ze Gloriette, too?” he barked.
My friend and I jumped again and nodded our heads. “Yes, please,” I said. We looked at each other again, and then back at him as he pulled the tickets from the printer. We paid for the tickets and I said, “Dankeschon,” and tried to smile at him, which he did NOT try to return. He was still shaking his head and muttering as we shuffled away, a little unsettled. As we stepped from the “ticket office” into the sunshine, the absurdity of it hit us and we burst out laughing. “TICKETZ!” we both cried, giggling. “You vant to buy TICKETZ from ME???” Jo said, in her best German accent. I was wiping my eyes by then.
We spent the entire visit alternating between being awestruck by the beauty of the place and one or the other of us suddenly yelping, “TICKETZ!?!” followed by both of us chortling with glee. Well. The entire visit until we headed up the seemingly endless hill toward the Gloriette. This is the “miles and miles and miles” part.
We were both tired and a little sore after walking all over Prague in the days prior, and in the previous couple of days, all over Vienna, but Jo was especially done in because her feet were blistered very nearly raw. But after the “TICKETZ!” experience, we were determined to make it to the top. So we did, alternately moaning in pain and giggling, remembering our grumpy Austrian ticket salesman. We even made it up the couple of flights of stairs to take in the view from the top of the top!
The view was worth it, and so was the coffee we rewarded ourselves with before trekking back down.
See you again, soon, Vienna. And often.