Here it is, pushing 10:00 PM, and it’s funny how jetlag won’t dissipate when you insist on sleeping whenever you are sleepy. I’m pretty sure that since this is a vacation from cycling, in a little bit I will go out for a bike ride, maybe stop in at the McCafe, get some coffee which is proven to enhance sleepiness, and maybe snap a few photos.
Last night I finished dinner at the legendary Serbian restaurant Konak that serves the giant fried wieners filled with hot white cheese that comes spurting out the tip when you cut into it. It reminds me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Any time you commit to a non-cycling vacation, it is important to set the ground rules, otherwise people will accuse you of not really taking a vacation from cycling at all. First of all, it should be noted that so-called “city bikes,” where you rent a 400-lb. clunker with a basket and pedals, are not bicycles.
You can ride them ten hours a day and you will still not be cycling. It is not even clear that they use the same muscles, especially since you are using that side swinging motion to put down and take up the kickstand, twisting your thumb to ring the little bell, and especially rotating your lower back to keep from slipping off the saddle.
In Vienna, the city bikes are pretty much an amazing deal because they are free for the first hour, and there is nowhere you can’t get to in Vienna in an hour. Even if you start bumping up against your one-hour time limit, you can simply dock the bike and take a new one, which resets the clock.
And if you lose track of time it costs one euro per additional hour.
Taking it to the streets
I left my flat at midnight. “Flat” sounds much more Euro than “apartment,” and not quite as shabby, although my flat is certainly shabby, or rather shabby-nice, or shice. Or nabby.
I walked down to Westbahnhof and got a bike. You have to be kind of picky and make sure you get a bike whose seat hasn’t rusted and can be adjusted. Of course it’s tricky to be picky when there is only one bike to choose from. It was cold AF even though I had on a jaunty wool cap, a wool scarf, a long wool overcoat, and leather gloves.
Vienna is empty in February to begin with, but at midnight on Wednesday it was even emptier. There was no noise.
I named my bike “Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,” as simply pulling it out of the dock immediately had positive effects on the phenomenology of my spirit. From Westbahnhof you can scoot over to Mariahilferstrasse, or MaHu as the locals call it because, apparently, by the time they finish saying “Mariahilferstrasse” the shops are already closed and it’s bedtime.
MaHu is always thronged with people and it is a car-free pedestrian area but at midnight it is not thronged, or even thonged.
A bit down MaHu there is the Mariahilfer Church, and in front of it is a statute of Josef Haydn, Vienna’s old-school equivalent of Chrissie Hynde, I guess. The moon was standing on top of the church and everything was silent. Normally the street is so busy you never even notice the church or the statue.
The best thing about MaHu at that time was its downhill nature, and like cyclists everywhere I enjoyed the hell out of the coasting without ever giving a thought to the other half of the “what goes down” equation. MaHu runs into the bike path that rings the old city. My first stop was the Mozart statue, which was locked up behind a gate, probably to keep him from getting a city bike and cruising the late-night streets.
I pedaled a bit and came to a corner with a bunch of lit up stuff. There was still a lot of traffic but hardly any people on the streets. The bike paths were empty.
By now I was really cold. Coasting downhill, not pedaling, the icy wind, my leather gloves, everything added up to frozen. I reached the river and turned left and froze some more. Then I came an illuminated bridge. It was so pretty and there were no drunks. Vienna isn’t really filled with drunks late at night, or if it is, they are hunched over a table or bar rather than staggering the streets in puddles of vomit. Which is nice.
After a bit I veered back into the old city, where it took quiet to a whole new level. Now I was having to pedal a bit so I had warmed a little, a very little.
Next I came upon a small children’s park that was inexplicably empty. Where were all the kindergartners frolicking at 1:00 AM? So weird.
By now the cold had gotten ridiculous so I made my way back over to the ring and found the McCafe, docked my bike at 59 minutes sharp, and went in for a coffee. You order off an e-menu, which is pretty industrialized. The nice cashier woman had some nice tattoos. I sat down at a table and a woman eyed me suspiciously as she gnawed her Big Mac. The coffee and wi-fi warmed me up, so after half an hour I went and got another bike. The bike docks were in front of a big church, unlit, a ghost church.
Back on the the ring, the moon was standing on top of another statue, so I shot it.
Then I passed the coolest outdoor skating rink ever. It was a maze of ice paths in front of the Rathaus that dumped into a big ol’ rink. And it was free. And closed. And there was a Zamboni working the night shift. I made a mental note to come back sometime and show the Austrians my Olympic figure skating moves.
It’s funny that a country like Austria can have nice things like this, but all we have in the U.S. are mean things, street people, nothing is free, everything is cruel and driven by corporate profit, as if business is better than life.
When I got back to MaHu is was waaaay uphill and I got a good sweat worked up. I docked Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and walked back to my flat where I had some more coffee and waited on the dawn, which was a long time coming, but you know what? It came.
PS: I hope you’re happy now, Gary and Stu.