I’m rolling down the Danube, reentering familiar territory on the northern bank of the Danube. Now the language makes more sense, and the river that has run through so much of my travels returns to view once more, wide and brown-grey, rolling through time.
People have lived in the Alpine foreland just west of Vienna, the Vienna Woods, since the Paleolithic. The area had fish, wild plants, shelter, and was on the way to a lot of other places. The Danube flows between the Alps and the edge of the Bohemian Massif to the north, and is a natural highway. Eventually farming seeped into the area, and the people later called the Celts moved in. The site of Krems, upstream of Vienna, has been occupied steadily since the Neolithic.
A few hundred years after the La Tene people settled the region, Rome established a town at Vindobona (between modern Rotenturm Strasse and Marcus Aurelius Strasse), then the larger settlement of Caernuntum downstream. People remained in the area, the Germanic tribes, the Huns and Avars swept in and out, Slavs drifted through, and then Germanic people reasserted themselves on top of Rome’s presence.
There are parts of the city, and times, when you can feel that age. On foggy evenings, the city feels as if she were brooding over the long past, recalling wars and plagues and imperial glory. There’s a tension between the old Vienna tourists want to sample, where Mozart and Beethoven lived, where the Empress Elizabeth “Sisi” reigned, and the modern city of the UN and OPEC, where most Viennese live.
I prefer the old city, Vienna 1, but I’m a history person. I understand that Vienna is not a city in amber. There are political undercurrents that I only vaguely sense, reasons why women don’t wear traditional dress here the way they do elsewhere. I see the Turks and others sunning in the parks and enjoying the museums in greater and greater numbers, and wonder what Prinz Eugen would say. (OK, I can guess, and its not suitable for this blog.)
Vienna 1 is people-sized. It has a human scale to it that other big cities lack. I can get around easily through the medieval maze without as much fear of being flattened by cars (Paris) or bicycles (Brussels, Amsterdam, Bruges).
So I’m on my way to rest a little, re-pack everything, perhaps shop and museum visit, before heading west and south to home. It seems fitting to end my trip here, where my first Central European adventure began, back in the early 1990s.