Austria: You can tell a lot about a place by…

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  • How dog-friendly they are-Vienna gets bonus points on this score.  I have seen dogs everywhere.  They are allowed in the city parks, on the trains, and even in the hotel lobbies.  Big dogs, little yappers, doesn’t matter.  They sit at restaurants with their owners.  Without begging.  Compare that with Melbourne, Florida, where they made a big deal out of devoting about a 100 foot section of beach to our furry friends.  Uh, yeah, that’s really worth getting your Explorer trashed over.  “Yes, we will be vacuuming up sugar sand from our carpet for weeks, but Fido got to run for a full 15 seconds before he hit the “No Dog” Zone!”  But maybe Vienna is so dog friendly because the owners are different somehow.  They have this certain quality, this je ne sais quoi, but there’s an English word for it.  Ah!  I remember now!  It’s called being responsible adults.  You know, they do things like muzzle their dogs on trains, and pick up after them, and make sure they’re on a leash, and they even (gasp!) train them so that they don’t shit in the club car, bark at the Invisible Man, or eat people when they get bored of chewing on their chains.

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  • Do they wait for stoplights-Again, high marks for the Austrians.  Stand at a street corner in Vienna, and they will be waiting for a green light for pedestrians, even when there is no traffic on the horizon.  If you’re an American, your instinct is just to go, right?  Mine, too.  You look left, right, nothing.  You start to step across.  But then you see a dozen people on both sides of the road patiently waiting, and you decide to wait yourself.  There is a civilizing influence in this behavior.  Seeing a bunch of other people follow the rules actually makes you want to do the same thing.  If everybody did that, what would the world be like?

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  • Do they help strangers-I was standing on a street corner today looking confused, which happens to me a lot.  Of course, being a man, I am not going to actually ask anyone for directions, because that would be to admit that I am a metrosexual eunuch, or possibly even Woody Allen, and I like to think of myself as more of a Matt Damon type, able to negotiate even the most maze-like back roads of Morocco like a local even when I just set foot in town that morning and have only had the benefit of reviewing my City Guide Hotel Map for about 3 seconds before someone starts shooting at me.  Anyway, I am approached by a man who asks me if I need help.  Now, this is very unusual for Vienna, not because they aren’t friendly, but because they are very private, courteous people and are leery of invading your space if you don’t ask for it, but if you do, they will go out of your way to help you.  In English.  .  Yet this man DID ask me, and I appreciated it.  It turns out that Alfred was a city officer of some kind, and I gather pretty high up, because he is living in Paris now and still has his 1st district Viennese apartment AND a cabin near a hot spring in northwest Austria.  He is wearing an Austrian Mountain jacket (a single breasted design with a belt strap around the back), and that brings me to this:

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  • Do they honor traditions? Well, clearly this jacket, like the lederhosen I have seen people wear, is a rarity in Austria, let alone Vienna, but in Salzburg, it is not at all uncommon to see people wear traditional dress.  But there’s more to it than that.  Alfred went out of his way to walk with me for about 15 minutes, and he proudly showed me some of the city sights: The Parliament Building, the University…even some of the history, such as the fact that the neo-Gothic Votive Cathedral was built in gratitude to God for sparing the life of the emperor Franz-Josef when he miraculously survived an assassination attempt.  People who know their own history honor their ancestors and are proud of their heritage.  He also made sure to tell me not to cross the street until the light had changed because “Vienna’s traffic lights are very sophisticated and everyone needs to orderly.”  If you don’t care about your city, you just don’t care about things like that.  BTW, he also told me that the Prince of Lichtenstein had recently restored a residence near the Volkstheater that cost 100 million Euro.  Oh, and remember Elise from my earlier story?  That is civic pride!

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As an aside, Alfred let me know that Wagner was playing at the opera, and when I expressed some interest in it, especially as the second opera in the epic included The Ride of the Valkyries, he was amazed, because he had never met an American who cared much about culture.  He didn’t mean this as an insult, but rather as a just a simple observation.

  • Do you need a car? Not here.  You can take a Metro, streetcar, or a train.   They even have bikes you can use for free or at very low cost from the city, and they have bike paths exclusively for the use of bikers.  Or, you can even walk one of the many tree-lined streets.  It’s all in how the city is laid out.  Now, from my place in Florida, if I tried to walk to the grocery store, I would be the subject of much pity from people motoring along in 7 Series BMWs who would watch my progress in air conditioned comfort as I slowly sank to my knees at an intersection only 11 miles short of my goal, a victim of the Amazonian weather and the fact that, incredibly, telephone poles do not provide the kind of shade that a fat guy like me can hide under for shelter.

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In short, today I just walked around, enjoyed the beautiful and sunny weather.  I did stop at the St. Stephan’s Cathedral and offered up a prayer.  In all honesty, I love all of these old churches.  They have so much majesty and power.  Glorious!  We have nothing to compare in the USA.

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I ate at the hotel. I had the Ox tongue salad, a pickled meat sliced thin and served with peppers and onions, served cold.  Tasty!  And I washed down my Hotel Stafanie layer cake with 3 glasses of good Chardonnay.  A good end to a great day!

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Tomorrow, I head to Paris.  Good night!

 

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