It’s always stressful arriving in a new city in the dark and alone. No matter how much research you’ve done in advance, faced with an automated ticket machine which won’t deliver what you think you want and with a growing queue behind, some panic is inevitable. I’m trying to get a ticket from the airport to town and end up buying a 72- hour ticket. A kind young man reads the German text on the ticket and tells me that it includes the ride from the airport. Most people are taking the regular train and not paying the extra for a sixteen-minute ride. But this is the tricky bit – which platform? Following a small crowd seems like a good idea but what if they are all going somewhere else? A young man opposite takes off his headphones to answer my question. This train is gong to central Vienna – phew. From there it’s only a few stops on the Metro so I’m half an hour early to meet the guy who is going to let me into my Mr B&B apartment. It’s huge and charming, large enough for a family. It’s too late for supermarkets to be open so I go into Stephensplatz, where I’m told restaurants will be open. It’s a choice between takeaway pizza or Japanese noodles. I go for the noodles – cash only and by now it’s 10.30 pm and I’ve got thirty minutes before closing time. Vienna, it seems is an early-closing city.
Friday morning, I find the local supermarket and stock up on breakfast things – bread and butter for toast, cheese and cold meats. I also find the thermostat for the apartment so I can turn down the temperature at night to sleep. I’m starting with the museums and in particular the Fine Arts Museum which is housed in one of two identical neo-classical buildings in the Museum Quarter. It’s slightly cheaper to get a combo ticket for three museums, but I suspect that the Fine Arts will keep me busy for all of the morning. It’s a very grand building inside – marble staircases, elaborate decorative walls and pillars everywhere. This mostly houses the collection of the Austrian Arch-dukes and includes items purchased from Charles I’s collection sold off after his execution. The display starts modestly with artists I’ve never heard of who don’t impress, but it grows. These days I tend to skip religious paintings unless they grab my attention. Velasque suddenly appears – portraits from Spain showing how the Austrian Grand-daughter, Marguerita Theresa, is growing up.
There’s Carravagio, Titian and Van Dyke. Tintoretto is represented and there are loads of wonderful Rubens. Bruegel takes up most of a gallery and there’s Cranach in the side rooms. There’s Durer and Holbein with a small collection of Rembrant. The café looks stunning viewed from the top floor and my legs are ready to have a rest. Looking at art is hard on them. The Viennese sausage is ordinary but the espresso and small salad are good. The waiter seems disappointed that I’ve not ordered any cakes – clearly their speciality. Suddenly a group of Out to Swim guys appear. It will take them the rest of the afternoon to get around here I tell them. I briefly contemplate taking in another museum, but my legs win and I head back for a nap before my walking tour of the city, laid on by Vienna Valentines for the swim meet tomorrow.
The meeting place is outside the Vienna Post Office Bank designed by Otto Wagner. This building is considered the finest of the Art Nouveaux period of the early 19th Century. It stands opposite the later-build neo-classical stucco Ministry of War. Alex, our tour guide is super organised with a team of helpers whom he disciplines with a rolled-up poster which has his notes written on the back.Conductor-like he directs his team who react with mock fear. One lad has a book of images which he shows at various key points in the tour. The post office is indeed spectacular and we are able to go and look at the interior of the bank then around the back to inspect the joining up of the later part of the building.
From here we are on a roller coaster of the diverse architecture of this small period when Vienna rivalled Paris as the art capital of the(western) world. Klimpt belongs to this period. Alex is at pains to point out the significance of the Seccession movement – a break-away group of artists dedicated to high quality art and fed up with the conservative tastes of their contemporaries. Alex talks at length about the diversity of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire and how architects from all over came to Vienna. The Buildings he shows us reflect the diversity of the Art Nouveaux period – including the influence of American architecture. It’s an interesting introduction to the ongoing conflict between conservative elements and the popular innovators. The tour ends up at the Café Savoy, where we are to register for the swim meet. Phil and Mark have been on the tour and I suggest a local middle eastern restaurant I spotted earlier,just along the street. It’s perfect – Turkish/Persian cuisine, just right for filling up the tank for tomorrow.
Saturday, the swimming day, means an early start, getting breakfast out of the way early enough before the warm-up and races. Everything is so close in Vienna that public transport takes no time at all. The pool is sweet and sun-lit with six-lanes. There’s also an area divided by a boom at the shallow end where we can swim down – Bliss. Out to Swim have managed a huge contingent of 23 swimmers for this meet, which alternates yearly between Vienna and Amsterdam. I rarely race 200 metres freestyle so it was good to get it out of the way first up. Was a bit slower than my entry time – I was thinking more of a 400-metre pace but still came away with a gold. Out to Swim seemed to be everywhere, so there was hardly any rest. I was either racing, getting ready to race or cheering someone on. 50 Backstroke followed with a decent time and another first. The 100 Individual Medley was a nice penultimate event of the morning. My rule for Butterfly is only one length of the pool. This translates to 100 IM in a 25-metre pool and 200 IM in a 50 Metre one. The morning finished with the 4 x 50 Medley relays. Out 200 + years didn’t get placed but the youngsters won 100+ and 120+ and battled it out in the same heat. Exciting stuff.
The afternoon was quieter for me with only the 100-metre backstroke and a 4 x 50 freestyle relay. Once again, our younger teams came away with results – a fantastic ending to the day. Out to swim was the top club at the meet. 22 Gold,14 Silver, 6 Bronze – overall 42 medals. Time to retire to my Mr B&B to snooze and re-group before the dinner. I’d booked the party by mistake and managed to swap it for the dinner. It was a good move as I ended up on a table of swimmers from Sweden who actually came from different parts of the world – much like our swimmers. I was sitting next to a Swede who, like me had been an actor and producer but was now working with older autistic people. Fascinating. It was only a short Ubann ride back to my place to collapse into sleep. My body was complaining – a lot.