White Publishing Company

Chris & Allyson vs. Europe (2013)

Tales From Vienna, Day Four: Sigmund Freud Museum. The Belvedere. A flea market. The Prater and the Wurstelprater. Goodbye to Europe.

Dear Someone,

Remember when you were a kid, and someone sent you a postcard from an overseas vacation? They usually got home before the card. Our trip is over, and by the time you read this I'll probably be back behind a desk, pushing a digital boulder uphill. I'd say that we're racing this letter, but the world doesn't work that way anymore. But memories are tastier when they're fresh. So lucky you, you're getting the full report.

You can't really orchestrate a grand finale for this kind of trip. We've been in Europe for two weeks, and I can hardly remember what we saw in day one. (These letters are for me as much as they're for you.) Some people use vacation as a way to relax, but I think they're wrong. Why not make vacation the hectic time? And that way the other 50 weeks of the year can be relaxing. Allyson and I are tired, but we aren't quitters. We saw some stuff.

We started our last day with only one big "must" on our list: The Ferris wheel. I saw it in "The Third Man," and the day before, our bartender recommended hitting up the amusement park. What more motivation could we need? You may recall that I tragically failed to find the Ferris wheel a few days before. But I still needed to jog this morning -- the Viennese custom of eating desserts with every meal requires it -- so I took another shot at it. I crossed the Danube and found it this time. The big street through the "Prater" is called the Hauptalee, and it cuts right through a nice urban green space. Not quite the Vienna woods, but it's pretty rugged by city standards. I don't know if jogging is a weird thing, or if I'm just a weird looking jogger, but I haven't spotted many locals out during my exercise routines this vacation. I'm not sure how it is that Americans are the fat ones. Hmm.

We decided that the amusement park would be a night thing, so we had the whole day to plan and not much in mind. We put our faith in the DK guidebook for Vienna, which has excellent pictures and is therefore a good guidebook by our standards. And we were looking for things you could do in Vienna and nowhere else.

The Freud Museum fit that description. How much of your life has been shaped by Sigmund Freud? He's the father of psychoanalysis, which produced a whole generation of Jewish comedians. Allyson wouldn't have a job without him. Freud lived and worked in Vienna for most of his life until he fled the Nazis. The Freud Museum (and its research wing) are in the townhouse he occupied for a few decades, while he was figuring out that men want to sleep with their moms and women wish they had penises. The unfortunate thing for us is that Freud's work didn't make him filthy rich. I guess it was historically interesting to see, but in practice we were looking at bookshelves, offices and waiting rooms. We could probably study Freud for a few years in a PhD program, but in museum terms we're talking about looking at a bunch of mid-range couches. I guess Freud liked red for his waiting room, if that means anything.

You can actually see art, though, so we caught a train from the Freud Museum to the Belvedere. Like most things in Vienna (apparently), it's an old imperial palace converted into some kind of public function. There's a palace and gardens -- remember, I jogged them a few days earlier -- and the whole thing is very pretty. The gardens are pretty neat; there's a big lawn and sculpture garden that slopes down to the entry gate, with some nice looking fountains on the way. Every museum has its highlights, and the Belvedere is lucky enough to have two: "The Kiss" and "Napoleon Crossing the Alps." You know "The Kiss," right? It's the Klimt painting where a guy who appears to have a hunchback kisses a woman while they're wrapped in an afghan. And it's got some gold in it. It's the poster of choice for many 19-year-old girls when decorating their dorm rooms. We actually wandered into its gallery when a wedding was getting ready to start -- bride was standing under the painting waiting for the procession. You always struck me as the romantic type, so I'm guessing you would have loved it. "Napoleon," you may recall from large displays in Structure stores, when that was still a thing. No brides or future megalomaniacal dictators in front of that one when we visited. What do you feel when you see a famous painting? I have to think that 100 years ago it was an entirely different experience. Now we have photos and reproductions that are almost as good at the original; by the time you actually see something in person you've seen it a million times before. I did get a little tingle looking at "The Kiss." Not so much "Napoleon," but then again I soured on Structure around 11th grade.

On leaving the museum, we hit up an afternoon flea market, then squeezed in one last café visit, this time at Café Museum. I think strudel was consumed, but at this point we've had enough dessert that it's hard to keep them all straight. That was at least enough to fuel our return to the hotel, where we packed our bags for the morning flight.

And so we've reached the grand finale! I do think it's funny that our last night in Vienna was built around a distinctly American thing. Ferris wheels are an American invention (from the Columbian exposition, if you're wondering). European cities do their best to saturate them with old-world charm, but those of us in the know understand what we're seeing. Ferris wheels are an invasive species, and once they're planted a little bit of America sprouts around them.

Which is to say, the Prater is home to an amusement park. We walked there, singing and dancing on the way. Then we took a stroll along the Austrian midway. I don't think Allyson or I are "amusement park people," but we thought about trying a few rides. The first was a water ride, which looked like the kind of thing where you get splashed a bit. You sit in a giant innertube with a few strangers, you get lifted up to the top of a tower, and then you slide down a chute to the ground. We didn't realize the other element: water jets make the innertube spin in a circle the whole way down. I don't know if you've experienced the joys of middle-aged amusement parking just yet, but do be aware that your inner ear gives up somewhere in your 20s. A few years back, Allyson and I almost vomited all over the New Jersey boardwalk after riding the spinning swings, the kind of ride they build for 6-year-olds who need a thrill. When we got out of the ride in Vienna, we had to find a bench where we could sit and feel old for a few minutes.

There was a ride more suited to older people, however. Our bartender from the night before, Wolfgang, recommended hitting up the "Schweisshaus" beer garden at the park. It wasn't hard to find, because it was where four out of five people at the Prater were headed. There had to be thousands of people drinking, sitting around a campus of communal tables that was so big it had street signs to help you find your way. It's an actual garden, with tons of green plants lining the paths, and the bars are positively industrial. Wolfgang told us that the taps never shut off, and he wasn't exaggerating: the bartenders were constantly filling mugs with Budvar, and they just moved on to the next glass rather than interrupt the flow of beer. The dishwashing system featured a conveyor belt that kept feeding the bartenders clean mugs at steady rate. We had pretzels and fries and a few Budvars, while checking out Austria's version of trailer trash. Beer is a big part of Eastern European culture, so this was actually a sincere tribute to the country that had hosted us the last few days. At least, that's how I justified the second beer.

With the sun finally down, we did finish our night by riding the wheel. Maybe the Budvar gave us the courage to try another ride, or maybe we figured that a 100-year-old ride couldn't be THAT violent. You should see this wheel -- it really is a throwback. The gondolas are little enclosed cabins, each one capable of holding a bunch of people. You go around only once, but you go around slooooooow. It had to be a total thrill for the many decades where it was the tallest thing in Vienna (212 feet). Now it's more nostalgic, but it's worth it. There wasn'troom for romance, as we were sharing our gondola with some Spaniards and pushy young Austrian couple. But it was worth it.

And so the vacation ends! Not with a bang, but a Ferris wheel. We saw some history, climbed some mountains, crashed a boat, took in some live entertainment and figured out how to ride trams in four different countries. I will confess that through it all, the greatest joy is doing these things with Allyson. There is a world out there to explore, and I suppose the greatest triumph is having someone to explore with. I'm sure there's a more poetic way to put it, but for now I'm full of Budvar and Ferris wheel fumes. Allyson is sleeping now, resting up for the flight home. I hope she knows that the vacation doesn't end as long as we're together.

As for you, do save this letter. I'm sure the they'll want it for my presidential library one day.

Yours always,


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