English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Trying to Put a Resolution into Action

It’s 10.10 and it’s raining. It’s cold in Vienna, around three degrees; the coldest it’s been since a short cold snap back in November. Christmas passed in cosy winter mildness, perfect for strolling round Christmas markets and standing for hours sipping glorious Gluhwein. Gluhwein: the reason I’m walking in the rain this morning. I consumed so much sugar over the Christmas season drinking that sweet and spicy brew that the extra calories have remained around my waist and so I’m walking wherever possible. Today I have no excuse not to. After an early start, I’ve finished teaching for the day (work is quiet at the moment) so it doesn’t matter if I end up all bedraggled. I walk the length of Mariahilfer Strasse in the direction of town, down towards the museums to take a right towards the Opera. I’m checking out a language school. It’s time to get back to German classes, one of my resolutions for the year. The small group of casually dressed smokers huddled together, without winter coats helps me find the school. It’s busy; reception is buzzing. I see from the literature that they only offer courses of twelve hours per week, three hours per day, four days a week. I may be able to manage that, maybe fitting an afternoon slot in between split shifts, but when I peek into the classrooms at the cramped, poorly lit, outrageously hot, sparsely equipped, slightly manky and just a bit smelly learning environment I bolt before even speaking to the receptionist. I think I need to look around.

Whenever I’m in town I always take the slowest route back to my tram stop to enjoy the views. I pass the Opera, the wonderfully old and grand building that still looks stately even in the rain and I wander down Kaertner Strasse. It’s not so busy. There aren’t many shoppers. It really does feel bleak and all January-like. There are lots of fifty per cent sales and I resist the temptation to browse the shops. I reach St Stephan’s Cathedral which looks suitably serious underneath the black clouds. I stop to look at it; I always do. There are tourists contorting themselves into all sorts of shapes trying to fit the whole thing into their camera frames, but no matter how many times they try they will always be too close to get it in. There are the usual street performers, guys painted gold posing as Mozart, moving at intervals to scare the children. And lined down the side of the cathedral are the Fiakers, the horses and carriages. The horses have had blankets lovingly wrapped around them to keep them warm while waiting for customers. And the drivers, both male and female press their bowler hats onto their heads as they stand and chat.

I’m cold and hungry and don’t have anywhere to go other than home, but I don’t really want to. The tourist in me still remembers the first time I came here and loves to retrace the old steps and just stand and look for a minute or two. Reluctantly I turn left down Graben and walk back to Shottentor to get my tram.

Gluhwein on sale everywhere at Christmas

Horses lined up outside the cathedral


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