Perhaps I’ve watched “The Sound of Music” too many times. Yes, I know that was Salzburg, but, hey, it’s Austria and Vienna is pretty darn close (I looked at the map). So I expected some kind of magical city. One with music oozing up from its very subway staircases. A city with style, class and a clean kind of mountain clarity.
But that’s not what I found.
Vienna is a big city. Really big. It’s rich with bustling busy-ness, preciously-maintained old buildings, dancing horses who live downtown (does the horse manure go in the “green waste” trash bins outside their city-center stalls?) and people. Lots of people. Vienna reminded me of San Francisco. Without so many vagabonds and homeless.
Now I realize that I only received the very briefest introduction—just a sample taste—of this cosmopolitan city. We were there for just a full day (and boy, was it a full one—keep reading my post below on Prater to see how we tied the day up with a bow) and how could I get any true sense of Vienna from less than 20 hours? But I’m not totally sure I’d return.
We did the “Up Close” version of the day’s introductory city tour. On Viking, the “Up Close” tours involve using the locale’s public transportation system and more walking, usually at a bit faster pace. Under the tutelage of our tour guide, we learned to punch our subway tickets, read the subway maps and travel under the city to get where we wanted to go. And, in case you wondered, Mom does just fine on these more “involved” tours–she’s a savvy traveler who’s ridden subways around the world and she’s a strong walker and not a slow ambler.
We walked all around Vienna, returning to the ship’s dock just before lunch (the standard city tours used a bus). After lunch, I opted for the “extra shore excursion” (as in, no cost, but do sign up early because slots go fast) featuring a visit to Vienna’s Farmers’ Market with Chef Noel. Another subway ride for this one (Viking buys booklets of tickets and passes a ticket out to passengers on these tours at no cost). We taste-tested our way through antipasti, cheese and juices. I definitely didn’t need dinner tonight. Okay, well, I’ll just skip the appetizer, thanks…
A large percentage of the passengers chose the optional “Mozart and Strauss Concert” excursion. It’s advertised as, “Lose yourself to the timeless music of two musical masters, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss.” Hmmm….sounds like a classy way to spend the evening. But probably not my style.
Instead, Gary, Marla and I pop on the subway after dinner and ride to the near stop for the Prater, a rollicking (especially on a Saturday night) amusement park in the midst of the city. Generations of Viennese have been thrilled, amazed, amused and entertained for years at Prater. We joined them.
Three roller coasters and one very large Ferris wheel later, we could say we knew why Prater is so popular: It’s not Disneyland.
Now, I really like Disneyland; I grew up seven miles from “the happiest place on earth” and for a few years my singular goal in life was to become one of the guides (plaid vest, blue skirt, leather cap, little riding whip thingie). I still smile when I think of entering the front gates by the Disneyland Railroad.
But Prater was definitely not a part of Walt’s imaginings. In fact, it is likely one of the reasons why Walt developed Dsineyland as he did; he would have simply stopped drawing Mickey Mouse if he thought his dream park would ever be compared to a Prater.
Prater is earthy. And raucous. And unpredictable. And garish. But we had a great time!
Dogs wander along beside their owners strolling through Prater’s thoroughfares. Ride operators don’t even glance up from their phones, texting unconcernedly as the Ferris wheel spins overhead. Beer and more potent liquids are the beverages of choice at Prater. Neon, loud music and swirling lights compete for your attention.
And the rides! There is no way some of these rides would ever be allowed in the United States. OSHA and insurance companies—and mothers—would squelch the highest swing ride, would pad the inside edges of the roller coaster (I think I’ll have bruises under my left arm at least until I return home) and would definitely add at least two additional forms of security strapping to the ride that throws its passengers upside down. You know they would.
We watched some of the rides (at this point in life, round-and-round action doesn’t really set well with my inner ear) and rode others. And we laughed until our stomachs hurt.
Returning to the ship after 11 pm (“back on board” was just after 12:30 am), we mingled a bit with the classy crowd who’d attended the Mozart/Strauss concert. Gee, they sure looked spiffy in their nice clothes and, to a passenger, they said the event had far exceeded their expectations.
We nodded. Of course they had enjoyed a great time. But we’d been to Prater!