Finally we were on the plane and away, flying off to yet another destination on yet another continent. My friend Silvia had asked me several times earlier in our trip if we would make it to visit her in Vienna, but with all that we had booked and organised in our year long travel I could not possibly see how we could fit it in! However, I had to marvel at either the coincidence or the destiny that was taking us to Austria, as only days earlier the name of the country was not even in our vocabulary. The flight over was very comfortable, and I must add that Egypt Air proved to be an excellent airline. We were both suitably impressed with the comfort, cleanliness, food and customer service.
I was snapped back into reality by the announcement that we were arriving in Vienna. “We are in Austria, we are in Austria”, I kept repeating to myself. When was the last time? Perhaps, 1995, or was it ’94 or ’93? It doesn’t matter……a long time sine I had seen Silvia anyway. As we landed, I smiled secretly to myself. Despite the fact that I am the first to say that I love a challenge, gee it was nice to be back in a land of cleanliness and organisation. I was rather looking forward to a few days of “easy” after so many months of “tough”.
The “ easy” began immediately as we waltzed (now, was that pun intended?) through immigration with the officer barely looking at our passports. I think it was at this point that Alex truly realised how valuable an Australian, as opposed to an Ecuadorian passport, really is. Yeh, this was going to be easy!
On the other side, there was Silvia waiting for us, just like I rememberd her, but with much shorter hair. We greeted each other warmly and I introduced Alex. Silvia actually holds a very special place in my heart as she is really my very first overseas friend and the person I credit my travelling passion to. At age 13, Silvia and I were matched up as “compatible” friends, through programs at our high schools. This was almost 30 years ago, when there effectively was no internet and snail mail and the occasional phone call was the modem operandi. As the years went by and we exchanged mail, gifts and ideas, I realised that there was a whole other world out there and that I wanted to be part of it! Thank you Silvia! Needless to say, at age 21 or 22, she and Austria were one of the first places that I visited. Over the years we have faithfully remained in contact, and I was excited at the prospect of meeting her husband Paul, and children Philipp (5) and Mara (3 and a half), who I had seen pictures of and heard so much about.
Silvia lives very close to the city centre, which we arrived at easily and efficiently on the excellent bus and train services. We would soon meet all of Silvia’s beautiful family. First there was Mara and Kahlia (the children’s Australian nanny), then Philipp, and finally Paul. What a wonderful family you have Silvia. A superb husband and gorgeous children. Paul and Silvia have a wonderful parenting style, which was a pleasure to watch. The result was disciplined children, who yet still knew how to have fun, and entertain themselves. I must add here that both Paul and Silvia speak English and that they are raising their children bi-lingual. It was quite remarkable to watch, and actually quite simple and uncomplicated. The children always speak English at their English speaking kindergarten. At home Silvia always speaks to them in English as well whilst Paul speaks to them in German, which they continue to do when speaking as a family. Silvia nd Paul speak German between them. They are constant in their resolve, and the results are remarkable. In the 8 days that we spent with them we saw the children oscillating between the two languages effortlessly. As a native English speaker, I might add that for children of their age, their English is perfect! Congratulations Silvia and Paul!
We really did have a cruisy eight days, relaxing, sleeping, going for runs (Ombi), sleeping in (Alex) using a washing machine to wash our clothes (much more “fun” than washing by hand!), catching up on e-mails and blogs, and generally just recharging our batteries, which were rather depleted on both ends! Both Paul and Silvia worked during the day, but we did some fun things together on the weekends. One of our outings was to a place called Leopoldsburg, just on the outskirts of Vienna, in the forest. We all took a bus out there, and after ascending a hill with magnificent views of the Danube River and Vienna, which is remarkably big, we enjoyed a picnic lunch, and later coffee for the adults and ice-cream for the kids. Great coffee in Vienna, I might add! Another day was spent in their swimming pool outside, splashing around and having fun. This really is the life!
I should add all the wonderful coffee, food and meals we had. Not only is Silvia a vegetarian, like me, but she also has a similar eating style. I cannot remember the last time we had that amount of good food in so few days. For that too I would like to thank you Silvia!
Speaking of coffee…….we may have just about had coffee overload at Silvia’s house! And that is NOT necessarily a bad thing. Paul was the one mostly responsible for the constant flow from the percolator! And being a huge fan of (good!) coffee, I found myself with a slight problem, of hand to mouth disease! A good coffee (or two, or three or four….) is a good……..right?!
We were rather getting into the whole relaxing thing in Vienna, and our bodies were beginning to thank us for it, but surely you cannot come to Vienna and not see the city centre and the main sights. So, we spent a couple of days doing just that! To be honest, the first few days were “difficult”, in fact because they were so easy. We had almost become used to doing it the hard way, as there had been no other option. I personally think that the way to go is to do the more challenging counties when you are younger (like me!!!!) as places like Europe, especially northern Europe, are so “doable” and could be done effortlessly as one gets older. Did I say old? Does one actually get old?
No trip to Vienna would be complete without a visit to Schonbrunn Palace (www.schoenbrunn.at), right in the heart of the city. It was once the residence of various individuals from the Hapsburg Empire. The palace is indeed imposing with its many and ornate rooms and the surrounding gardens, besides enormous, are impeccably well kept…..really, just as you would expect of Vienna! Take the time to investigate why this palace even came into being. I will give you a hint…it was a gift! And obviously an extremely expensive one at that. Strolling through the centre presented us with some buildings of spectacular architectural heritage, and I could not help but ponder at how very differnt they were to the other things we had seen recently. The world truly is a remarkable place, and I wonder whether I will be able to visit it all in this lifetime? I am sure that I will die having tried! Perhaps if I do, and I live to be old enough, they will have devised transport and the possibility to see other planets!
The adage is old, but true…all good things must come to an end! After a brilliant, relaxing and restful time in Vienna, it was time to move on. Our next destination would be north-eastern Italy, to visit Nadia, my Dad’s godmother, who he has not seen since he left Italy, some 55 years ago. Long distance public transport is one thing that has certainly gone up considerably since the euro was introduced, so Silvia jumped on line and helped us find a car share, which is cheaper. This is where someone is driving to a particular place, and you pay them for being able to ride with them in their car.
On the last night we all said our goodbyes, as we would have to get up early the next morning in order to meet the driver of the car we would be travelling in at 6.30am, at a station not so far from Silvia’s. We thanked them all for allowing us to have had such a great and restful time. As usual, such goodbyes always leave me with food for thought. Very early the next morning, Silvia got up to say goodbye again, and we were off. The next adventure awaited us!
Dedication: To you Silvia! My very first international friend and the person whom I credit the beginnings of my interests in travelling, discovering the world, and different cultures to!
“If I die whilst travelling, it will be doing the thing I love best with the person I love most” – Ombretta Zanetti.
(Photos: 1.- Street performer, Vienna. 2.- Parliament House, Vienna. 3.- Ombi & Silvia, Leopoldsburg, Vienna.
4.- Dinner with the Kassar – Hoechedlinger family. L to R: Silvia, Mara, Philipp, Paul & Ombi. 5.- Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna. 6.- Philipp enjoying an ice-cream at home. 7.- Mara & Ombi sunbaking by the poolside at the family home, Vienna.)