I’ve decided that I absolutely love train travel. Not the long, uncomfortable journeys on New South Wales City Rail (or City Fail if you’re that way inclined), but the trips that last for so many hours that your body wants to fall asleep, with views so breathtaking that your eyes want to fight the rest of you to stay awake and take it all in. If I had to stay on this train for another 6 hours, I genuinely wouldn’t complain.
This morning we left Vienna – hesitantly – and caught a train through the Austrian countryside. Nothing beats looking out over Sound of Music-esc scenery and humming ‘the hills are alive’ with the company of three of my best friends while writing a blog post about the past few days’ wonderful European adventures.
After The Netherlands, we headed back into Germany to visit Munich – a town of beautiful old buildings, a rather boring glockenspiel, Germany’s first concentration camp and a Bavarian beer hall that sells glasses of beer bigger than my head. It was an emotional time, as I finally started to contemplate the severity of what happened in Europe during the Second World War, and even prior to it.
One of the first things we talked about doing when we talked about and planned for Germany, was to visit a concentration camp. You learn about this kind of thing at school, you hear stories, you read snippets of information and think you’ve got a pretty good idea of what happened and how people were treated. But nothing could have prepared me for walking into a place where over 40,000 innocent people were killed, purely because of their race and religious beliefs. Nothing could prepare me for the pictures, the personal accounts, the gas chambers, crematorium, or the fact that they had so many bodies to burn that they ran out of cole and had to mass bury an unknown number of equally unknown people. I don’t currently have any other way to describe the feeling of seeing that place, but I’m not sure that I could do it again.
Though there were emotional experiences in Munich, there were also new and exciting ones. We ordered ‘Steins’ in the Bavarian beer hall with traditional meals, explored the city for an afternoon, climbed St Peter’s Tower and met a guy called Nick from England. We arrived in Vienna the next day – and what a city it was! Though Amsterdam was incredible, I think Vienna topped it with grand buildings lining every street, an incredible hostel, cheap food, and a 1.5 kilometre long market place dating back to the 16th century right outside our door. The Naschmarkt, as it’s called, sold clothes, jewellery and other bits and pieces amongst the overwhelming amounts of food – so much food! Everything was so cheap. We bought 20 pieces of some of the best falafel I’ve ever had for €2, and every store you pass offers you a taste of everything they have to offer. Trust me, after 1.5 kilometres, you might as well skip lunch and free trial everything!
One of the nicest things that happened in Vienna was meeting Nick again. We ran into him in our hostel by chance after he had left Munich and travelled on, and we spent the next day exploring the Imperial Palace (Summer Residence) with him. One of the great things about meeting people when you travel, is that it forces you to do things you may not have otherwise done. The palace wasn’t on our list, and we hadn’t done much research on it – but upon his suggestion we ventured in, and it was one of the best places we visited. We had dinner, played a game of pool and then played cards until our current idea of ‘late’, which is about 11:30. It turns out, travel really takes it out of you.
All in all, Vienna had culture. Not an in-your-face culture that beats you over the head and demands to be noticed, but a subtle and inviting culture that welcomed us with open arms and drew us into its expensive cake shops (the kind that makes you take your coat off and charges you €1 to get it back), it’s markets, cathedrals and squares. The kind of culture where people smile and shake their heads when they see four conspicuous young tourists strolling the streets whistling the Wallace & Gromet theme tune in lousy unison.
So that leaves us here – on board a cosy train, staring out the window as we head into the Austrian Alps. I love how ridges fold into the landscape at jagged angles, and how it looks like someone’s dusted icing sugar over the peaks – and I can’t wait to see what the next three days have in store.