Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Vienna, Austria

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent in the ideas of living."
-Miriam Beard

Vienna was Vienna.  This time, there was no ménage à trois, sleeping on park benches, or pleasant-smelling men.  There was simply me and my backpack, wandering the streets of a new city.

Belvedere Palace.

In an earlier post I alluded to that fact that cities have personalities as distinct as people.  And also that my travels have been a bit like speed dating (thus far, I've "dated" 33 cities in 84 days).  If this was speed dating, then Vienna would be pleasant, good-looking, and articulate.  He would possess an advanced degree, own a flat, and pay his bills on time.  But, I wouldn´t go on a second date.

There just wasn´t any chemistry.  Although there are plenty of positives to be said about Vienna (check out some of these pictures), I didn´t find this city particularly compelling in any way.

 Sphinx outside of Belvedere palace.

Some artwork inside Upper Belvedere.  These men appear a bit constipated.

Sir Mix-A-Lot´s "I Like Big Butts" popped in my head when I saw this statue in Upper Belvedere.

More on Vienna...

Vienna and Berlin are clearly brothers.  Both men speak German.  Both have the S-bahn, the U-bahn, and a plethora of bicyclists.  Both use the Euro and have similar architecture and family history.  But whereas Berlin is the rough, nonconformist brother with tattoos and a penchant for black clothing (translation:  more my type), Vienna is rational, conventional and, IMO, a bit metro sexual.  (I may be completely mischaracterizing Vienna, but it was speed dating, after all!)

The metro sexual side of the city.

In Vienna, I also met Franz.  Franz is not new, I´ve met him 53 times before on this trip (at least!).  Franz speaks English and loves female tourists.  When Franz asks me where I´m from and I say, rather wearily, "US of A" he inevitably reveals that his brother lives in Miami or that his uncle resides in San Fran.  Oftentimes, Franz himself lived in America for a time, working as a dishwasher, a tollbooth collector, or a pizza delivery man.

 The gardens of Belvedere Palace.

More garden views.

And more garden views.

Franz is nice, and since he invariably approaches me on a busy, crowded thoroughfare (as opposed to a side street), I generally converse with him for a bit.  Oftentimes, Franz has interesting travel tidbits to reveal.  For instance, today Franz explained to me that Vienna and Budapest (my follow-on destination) are quite similar; according to Franz, Budapest is just the "dirtier version" of Vienna.  This is because, as Franz reminded me, Vienna and Budapest were once part of a dual monarchy called Austria-Hungary.

 St. Stephan´s church.

After a time, Franz does what he almost always does:  he invites me to visit his store (Franz is more often than not a small business owner) or out to dinner.  This is where I undoubtedly say I´m late meeting a friend for coffee (my strategy today in Vienna) or I feign sickness or fatigue.  

Weiner schnitzel:  the Austrian food-of-choice.

A couple of times, I´ve accepted Franz´s dinner offer.  This has sometimes led to follow-on propositions along the lines of, "Would you care to get a hotel room together?"  Ummmm, no fucking way, Franz!

I hate that I am constantly on the defensive.  Yet, in my opinion suspicion towards Franz equates to safety.

 The cafe culture is alive and well in Vienna...

 I had to partake.

At the same time, Franz has enriched my travel experience considerably.  It was Franz who took me on his motorbike to the top of the Monsoon Palace in Udaiper.  It was Franz who showed me the other side of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India.  It was Franz who let me chill out on his boat in Tel Aviv, Israel.  It was Franz who painted my picture by the Sacre Coeur in Paris, France.

So, this has become my biggest quandary as a sometimes solo female traveler on a RTW trip:  Can Franz be trusted?

It really boils down to this:  Can men be trusted?

Do men always have an ulterior motive when they strike up a conversation with you and/or invite you to their shop or out to dinner?  Are there actually men out there who would be completely content with my company and conversation and nothing more?

I´m NOT trying to villify men.  Many of my best friends are men.  I´ve had the pleasure of dating several very good and trustworthy men.  At the same time, I also lived and worked primarily with men for the past nine years of my military life and I´ve seen how they operate.  While I do believe that men and women can be platonic friends, my experience is that it is far easier for a woman to be platonic friend with a man than it is for a man to be platonic friend with a woman.

Spain has the plaza, France has the jardin, and Germany and Austria have the platz.

 A dish made of potato, weiner schnitzel, dumplings and onion.

Sourkraut and bacon salad.

Would anyone (man or woman) care to weigh in on the female traveler quandary?  Since Franz is everywhere and encounters with Franz are nearly continuous, what would you say differentiates a good-intentioned Franz from a bad-intentioned Franz?  What cues or red flags would you look for in Franz when deciding whether to accompany him to a nearby bistro?  Is it probable that Franz just wants to have an intellectual conversation and practice his English?

Next stop:  Budapest, Hungary.



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