After spending time in Vienna this trip, I have gained a new insight into the world, and it gave me a chance to see my own country in a new way. Traveling always helps me see a new way of life. By visiting Europe, I am provided with a certain fulfillment that I just don't get in the United States. It makes me feel a certain bond with Ernest Hemingway as I remember a character of his named Jake Barnes. Jake was an American living in Paris who must have felt very at home, as he fit in quite well with the Parisian lifestyle which had quite the unique balance of working and living. I love the culture of Europe. People there seem free in a way not common in America.
In Vienna, people walk around as if they simply enjoy being together. It is quite common to see two young women walk together arm in arm in glee. My first impression of this behavior was, "Oh, lesbians." I later learned that this had nothing to do with sexuality, but a closeness like sisters without a care in the world, it would seem. People in Vienna do not seem like they work excessively or are overly competitive. You do not see the tell-tale signs of that: noisy traffic or stiff people in a rush - no signs of stress at all. You see men with their dogs on leashes riding the subway and women holding their children's hands walking them home from school. Friends kiss each other on the cheeks... or on the mouths. Meanwhile, strangers huddle around outdoor snack kiosks eating sandwiches or pizza, drinking coffee to help get warm. All the while, buses, trains, trams, and taxis all buzz around you giving an aura of connectivity to anywhere you need to go. Now imagine riding the subway throughout the day for three days, and no one ever checks to see if you've paid to ride! It seems that everyone is on the honor system, and for some reason it is easy to believe they might all live by it.
Now don't get me wrong. This place is no Garden of Eden, or at least not in the cold months of winter for which I can vouch. There is no grandeur of meticulous gardening like you might find in London, Geneva, or Paris; no great plazas like in Madrid or Seville; no natural wonders to speak of. I went to see the Danube River, and although serene and quite nice, it was cold, desolate, and devoid of any visible life. So this is not really the makings of your fairy tale place... however, some things just seem right here.
Many Viennese drink, but no one seems to get drunk. At a nearby table in a pub I noticed four teenage girls sit down. They shared a pitcher of beer, some cigarettes, some conversation, and left. None of any of the females I encountered seemed at all flirtatious, pretentious, loud, or were they dressed provocatively. Viennese women seem to have a certain self-respect, style, and individuality. The men of Vienna seemed almost aloof; the older ones pensive, the younger ones gregarious, without conceit or machismo. They, as the women, were stylish, yet approachable if you needed directions or a light for your cigarette (I don't smoke). Perhaps the most refreshing of all were the children. Boys and girls seemed happy and focused. Babies and toddlers looked quite content going from place to place with their parents, even in the bitter cold. All of the children were well-dressed, many with stylish coats and scarves. There were no Brittany Spears, Eminem, or Allen Iverson look-a-likes... no punks or sasses, just innocent children.
I only got to stay in Austria for a few days. In this short time I found a taste of the old world that has grown quite modern, yet fiercely wraps itself in it's own style and lives its culture with the refreshing void of or need for counter-culture. What I beheld was life content... as it should be.