Starting out on the Good Foot
After I landed in Vienna, there were fewer than 24 hours that existed between my first mission and me: Find an agreeable neighborhood cafe at which I could see myself frequenting day after day, year after year. A full night’s sleep had and a modest breakfast at home gobbled down, I meandered down my new side street to the main avenue where I knew I’d see locale after locale.
And so it was. There was a vibe on Thaliastraße that I hadn’t felt since my days in Zagreb. My mood was instantly lifted by the stimuli on the street; street cars clanging down the track, tiny stores with their doors open and goods standing outside on the sidewalk, overhearing conversations in Turkish, Viennese German, Hungarian, Serbian and other languages all flooded my senses and drove home the notion that I was no longer in a homogenized, Midwestern urban environment with more cars on any given street than people. I was surrounded by an element of chaos and vibrancy, and I savored each input as much as I could discern and digest it.
By impulse I wandered into a small, smokey cafe and ordered my double espresso. I was promptly served my order along with the standard glass of still water and cookie wafer that’s expected in every cafe here. I sipped and eavesdropped on conversations spoken in the Viennese dialect, repeating words and phrases in my head as I picked them out.
Im Notfall (In an Emergency)
Eventually curiosity roused me and I went on my way to explore more of Thaliastraße. Minutes later an uncomfortable urgency of an, um, physical nature made itself known. I instantly regretted not having taken advantage of the facilities at the cafe. Damn! I scanned the landscape, looking for a public toilet (no, I won’t use the Americanism “restroom” – it’s a toilet. Get over it and call it what it is!).
I saw nothing but it dawned on me that the U-Bahn station was nearby. Surely they must have a toilet! I knew I’d have to pay, seeing that’s how it goes in this part of the world, but that’s common knowledge and my pocket full of coins reassured me that I was equipped for any required payment.
On the verge of bursting, I hurried into the station and spotted the sign for the WC. Yes! Digging in my pocket for the coins, I saw the sign on the door that indicated that only 50 cent coins were accepted. No problem, right? I had a fistful of coins collected in my hand and surely there was at least one 50-cent piece in the lot…surely?
The Right Coin at the Right Moment
Alas, there was no 50-cent piece anywhere on my person. My heart sank as I dug through pocket after pocket, big and small. In my pants, in my sweater, in my jacket…nope, nothing. That only meant one thing: A mad sprint back home.
I won’t describe how that went, but I will say that I learned my lesson and shared it with my wife: Always, ALWAYS carry a 50 cent coin. Make that two, ’cause you never know. From that moment on, I’ve been making sure that I have at least two 50 cent coins in the mini pocket of my pants. Plus, I’m probably set for those visits to the grocery store where I’ll need a coin to use a shopping cart, right?
Fast forward to a few days later, and I’ve got my shopping list and enthusiasm ready for exploring the supermarket at the end of our street. I approach the line of shopping carts, grab a 50-center out of my mini pocket, plop it into the coin slot but it’s not going in. What?! Only one Euro coins work for the carts. Well, that just cut my shopping list down to the absolute necessities. It goes without saying that there’s a lesson within the first lesson I learned: One must also carry at least a one Euro coin at all times! I do have to say, I wonder what other coins or other monetary artifacts I’ll need to carry as I navigate through this unfamiliar terrain.
The Little Things Matter
A few days ago as I was striding down Thaliastraße, confident with my 50 cent and one Euro coins jingling in my pocket, I spied something I hadn’t noticed on my previous walks. There, in a park stood a FREE WC. Whoa! Can that really be? No coin slots? No attendant to collect my money and hand me three sheets of toilet paper? Yep, it was for real so I decided to give it shot. And it worked. Clean, safe, in good condition. What more could you ask for?
This banal experience reminded me that in most cities in Europe, you miss a lot if you don’t look for details. Instead of riding a bus that passes by endless blocks of uniform, sad-faced bungalows and the occasional cookie cutter Walgreens or CVS store, being induced into a state of semi-sleep, it’s to your benefit to stay alert and look at everything regardless of whether you’re on foot or public transport. Not a day has gone by in which I walk down the same street and notice something that I hadn’t picked up on before.
A few days ago, that happened to be a free public WC!