Life in the Big(ger) City: Welcome to Vienna

Reliable sources say that there is more to Austria than doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles…

Four days ago, I moved again. Stage Two of the Year Abroad had begun. As I was understandably quite excited about this, I committed the gap yah sin of slipping the name of my destination into every conversation I had in the days leading up to my departure. Imagine my surprise, then, when I received blank looks from supermarket checkout staff, Starbucks employees and hairdressers alike, and the common response was “Where?”

Understandable perhaps if I had been going to the back of beyond. But I am currently typing this from Vienna, the capital of Austria. As a seasoned traveller, it never fails to amaze me how little some people know about the world (I’m sure that my lack of knowledge on other subjects can also be shocking to some but hey, this is my column, I get to complain about my pet peeve!). For instance, no matter how many times I tell some of my friends that I’m going to Austria, they still remain convinced that as I’m going to improve my German, I must be going to Germany. Of course, in the case of my Russian friends, this misconception is entirely of my own making. Note to all future Year Abroaders – if you can’t think how to say the name of your next destination in your foreign language of choice, just admit it. Don’t say the name of a different location just because you know the word for it. I’m still trying to work out how to respond to a request for my address in Berlin…

So why might you know Austria? Why indeed should you? Austria is famous for three things – mountains, high culture, and The Sound of Music. No, that last one isn’t a joke, although the Austrians wish it was. Salzburg, which prides itself on being the birthplace of Mozart, has to contend with thousands of tourists flooding in every year to see the sights from The Sound of Music. Ronald Reagan reportedly played “Edelweiss” for an Austrian emissary, believing it to be the country’s national anthem. But most Austrians have never seen the film, and the music which they would prefer to hear is that of their great composers. Mozart, Haydn, Brahms, Schubert and Beethoven all resided in Vienna at various times during their musical careers, and opera is still one of the city’s major attractions. Great for culture vultures, but perhaps not so great for me – this may mean that I actually have to go to the opera for the first time in my life! The mountains are obvious, Austria being a mountainous country and a skier’s paradise. I’ve arrived in Vienna during their spring half-term, and the Viennese are leaving the city in droves for the mountains. Unfortunately, I’ve effectively missed the ski season (or I have unless I go now, and my funds definitely won’t stretch to that) but, given that I’ve never skied before, this may be a blessing in disguise. Skiing off the course and down the high street à la Bridget Jones is a possibility that could not be ruled out.

But the most important thing about Austria is that, whatever some of my friends might think, it is not Germany. Not that I’m entirely sure how they differ, having never spent more than a week in Germany and less than that here, but apparently that difference is crucial. Now if only I could figure out what it was, it might make my four months here a lot easier…

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