I’ve become quite savvy at planning out a day of touring on a whim, usually over breakfast. While I had a big chunk of our six-week trip planned (hotels and trains mostly), I didn’t have specifics in each city lined up. We have two tour books (I know…very geeky, but somewhat helpful in this case) and the wifi at whatever café we choose that morning. We each go through the tour books and any information we can find online about each city we are currently in and then compare notes. There’s usually a solid 10-12 ‘touristy’ things to do in each city, and I proceed with pinning them all on my ‘Maps with Me’ app. From there, it’s quite simple. We stop at each site, take photos, go inside, do the activity – whatever the location involves – and move on. Yes, it sometimes feels like we’re just completing a checklist, but since we only have a few days in each city, we try our best to optimize our time. And believe me, we’re squeezing in a ton of fun while doing this! Stopping to have a coffee in between stops, or grabbing a sausage from a street vendor, or just visiting local retailers as we stroll the streets. After all, these are the things that really allow us to experience the culture.
So in Vienna, we spent our first day cramming in all of the sites to see. We saw (to name a few things) the Hofburg Palace, the Haus der Musik, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the MusuemsQuartier, the Spanish Riding School, the Burgtheater, the Rathaus, Karntner Strasse, the Secession Building, and tons and tons of culture. I mentioned before that the first thing I noticed about Vienna was how nice the sidewalks were. And that’s still what I think of. The entire city was flat and accessible…crossing the street, restrooms, monuments…everything. Prague and Vienna cannot even be compared. I love them both, but for different reasons.
I would say that Prague is a place I’d like to visit often but Vienna is a place I could live. The people are equally as nice and overly helpful in both cities, but Vienna has a more active feel, a hustle and bustle about it that gives off a certain energy. Prague seems to be a little more laid back, thriving on their great history and not letting the beauty in that go. Oh, and the German heritage present in Vienna threw me for a bit of a loop. Everyone looked like me – blond hair and blue eyes! I’ve gotten used to being a minority in that sense.
So after a day of touring Vienna, and overeating every few hours, we had pretty much wiped our ‘to-do’ list clean. This was intentional though, as we wanted a day to just enjoy the cafes and restaurants, the culture and the people. And that we did. We spent the next morning having brunch in a restaurant along the MuseumsQuartier. After a visit to the Leopold Museum and a quick stop by the Secession Building, we decided to head to Bratislava a day early. We were both fighting colds and knew that an early, restful night’s sleep, without getting up before dawn to catch a train, would be good for us.
That’s the beauty in being nomads. We have no timetable or check-ins. We just have a journey we’re working to complete. We had bought the EuRail Global Pass for our trip, which allows us to travel on any of the European trains for the time we are visiting. This worked in our favor and we were able to hop on a train an hour later.
By dinnertime, we were in Bratislava. We exited the train quickly (there’s usually only a few minutes to get off, which can be tricky with our backpacks and a wheelchair) and headed towards the end of the platform. A very nice woman with a young child had stopped us as soon as we got off the train. “Sprichst du Deutsch?”
“No, English…” I responded, ashamed of my only spoken language.
But it’s simply amazing how human beings can communicate knowing only a few of the same words. She grabbed her bag of groceries and her daughter’s hand, and then, with her already full arms, grabbed my 40-pound backpack out of my hands. She indicated, with a very troubled face, to follow her. When she pointed at two flights of stairs going down, Tony and I tried to indicate that it would be no problem. She was so concerned, I could see it in her eyes. But Tony bounced me down. Just as smooth as anyone else walking down. She led us through the underground tunnel, which was cold, made of cement, and dark. A bit eerie to be honest. For some reason though, I felt safe with her.
Then right in front of us were another two flights of concrete stairs. Only this time going up. Without being able to communicate, we just proceeded with our routine. I hopped out of my chair and started crawling while Tony carried the wheelchair up. As I lifted myself up the second step, I heard the woman mumble under her breath, “Oh my God.” And I knew she was amazed and worried all at the same time.
We got to the top of the stairs and I retrieved my bag from her. We thanked her in English and German, as best we could. But just a few seconds after we parted ways, she came running towards us. “Bus? Taxi?”
“We are taking a taxi,” I responded, and she pointed us in the right direction. I knew she watched us from afar until we were safely inside and driving away. I’m not sure if she was some sort of guardian angel or just a mother. A mother’s touch is always so obvious, the caring and loving that generates from them. Either way, it’s another reminder of the good in people. This is why I love to travel.
I can only hope I continue to find as much generosity and love in Bratislava tomorrow.
Please feel free to read Tony’s perspective of our trip at http://www.whereistony.com.