As we approached Vienna, the sun shone steadily and the Danube momentarily reflected blue. We passed through another lock, dropping to match the water level to the east, watching as massive gates swung toward us, a vertical opening that widened and widened, a sort of concrete-and-steel proscenium curtain. As the Atla moved forward a light breeze eased the heat–it must have been in the eighties–that felt welcome after the dankness that had prevailed for several days.
Only two more days of this cossetting.
There were activities planned for Thursday evening: some went off to a Mozart concert, others to the underground into the center of Vienna. Us? My Dear One and I took a postprandial stroll across the river toward St. Francis of Assisi church (also known as the Kaiser-Jubiläums-Kirche, the Emperor’s Jubilee Church) at the Mexikoplatz. We were drawn by its golden glow in the late afternoon sun, the Romanesque Revival towers, warm sandstone walls and red-tiled roofs.
St. Francis was built to commemorate the reign of Franz Joseph I that had begun in 1848. FJ-I was something of a reactionary, resisting democratic changes promoted by the revolutionaries of 1848 (remember Karl Marx?) and ultimately gave up Austrian territories in Lombardy and the Veneto, and gave enough autonomy to Hungary to transform the Austrian Empire into Austria-Hungary, which in any event broke up after World War I.
Excursions hold little allure as we don’t walk well with others; besides, we pretty much know what we want to do wherever we are. In most towns we dock curbside, so to speak. The Zentrum of Regensburg and Passau were less than ten-minute walk; the same stroll brings Vienna’s U-Bahn, the underground, in reach.
Martina cleans our room in the morning then tidies it up in the evening when she turns down the bed. If laundry needs doing she sees to it. Items left lying about–books, jewelry, money, things recently bought, hairbrushes, electrical adaptors–are arranged with the thoughtfulness a child lavishes on a doll’s house. We give no thought to security because the staff–and certainly Martina–are more worthy of trust than I am myself. The only thing I think she might do with loose cash would be to wash and iron it so it would be nicer for us to use.
Meals are long and regular, and there is plenty of free wine and beer with them. Cocktail hour and bar orders cost extra, but we get around that with a bottle of vodka in our stateroom and tonic and lime from the Aquavit Lounge. Social relationships here emerged more or less organically after the first dinner as strangers approach strangers and hesitantly ask, “Is this table taken?”
Our group includes us, the K’s, a mother-daughter pair from the DC area (Big K is a lawyer with JAG, Little K is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech.) Then there is the fascinating Scottish Lady, a widow who wears artistic jewelry and says things like, “When I was in Zanzibar…” We systematically secure the same table by a starboard window where Richard and Ariel are our servers. In fact, Little K reliably lies in wait each evening for the doors to open. Richard knows we like the curtains open and which seat each of us has claimed.
We five formed Team 2 in the “Majority Rules” game and came in third. That’s because we disregarded the advice of my Dear One who told us that “flashlight” was the right answer for “things that need batteries” and “sports car” was the right answer for “things a man wants for his own.” Ah well. We did however win a bottle of white wine. Then we rocked at “Liar’s Club.” This time the prize was red.
In the late afternoon of our day in Vienna, during the quiet vodka-tonic time, the sunshine disappeared behind clouds and wind slapped up ripples on the Danube. Whoops! We were moving so Captain Igor must have determined that all the passengers and crew had returned to the ship. We were on the way to Budapest. Auf Weidersehn, Vienna!
During the last of the daily briefings (most of which we have skipped), Cruise-Director Mario explained how things will go the day we disperse to hotels, airlines and the remainder of our lives.
But if we don’t go, and we miss our connections, do we get to live on the Atla forever?