Thursday, August 7, 2014

DAY 48 – 2 August 2014; Prague to Vienna

As arranged Christo and Mohammed arrived at the hotel as I was having breakfast. After they had had their coffee and juice we left for the parking lot with the luggage. The parking lot attendant had got the car cleaned as promised and she was looking bright and smart for the rest of Europe. The payment of nearly Euro 50 for parking and 490 Korunas for cleaning were paid and we were authorised to move out of the garage. After the luggage was put in and the windshield cleaned we had Christo and Mohammed affixing the green stickers on Czech Republic. The two were to guide us without any hassle on to the highway. In fact, we did roam around quite a bit, 90 minutes in the city including fuelling, before we safely hit the highway to Brno. Time went by quickly with pleasant chatter with the two new companions on the drive. En route we stopped at a McDonald’s outlet for Christo and Mohammed to have breakfast while Lal and I settled for a coffee. However, I was soon tempted by a cheese cake and had that with the coffee. Soon we were back on the highway and Brno was reached soon enough. Mohammed guided us to a shopping mall from where would say our goodbyes. It is not easy in such moments and is difficult to hold back emotions and tears. The swelling of the former in the mind found expression in the large drops that wet the cheeks. I do wonder in such times as to when I will meet these good souls again, and if ever will. And what did I do to deserve such good friends and their hospitality?

Anticipating that fuel in Austria would be expensive I tanked up in the last fuel station of the Czech Republic near the border. After crossing over to Austria I stopped at a fuel station near the border and bought the Toll Card. The weather was bright and sunny and the roads were made to transit responsibly fast. I connected up with the telephone service provider in Austria and stayed in regular touch with Thomas, with who we were to stay in Vienna. The Navigator was tasked with leading us to the house of Thomas on Kliviengasse in Vienna. I am most thankful to Manoj in Warsaw to have insisted that we carry the equipment with us. Thomas had asked me to let him know when I was nearing Vienna so that he could guide us from the highway to his house. But, the Navigator did a star turn – it led us directly to the door step of Thomas without any hassle. He too was quite surprised to see us there without having to micro manage our passage to his house. I parked the car inside the house compound and we offloaded the required luggage to the rooms provided for us. Thomas has been in Vienna for nearly three decades and works with the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN. His wife Ancamma has been working in a hospital near their house for nearly three decades. Both of them made us feel completely at home in a short while and cooked us a hot steak meal, which we feasted on as if there would be no tomorrow! I decided on a short snooze before venturing out for a driving tour of the City.

Thomas had coordinated a meeting with Malayalees at the Prosi store at 7.30 pm. To keep that appointment we had about three hours at our disposal. Thomas had been requested to get the car along to the Prosi store. So we did the city driving in her too. The railway station from where deportees were sent to concentration camps from Vienna is very close to Thomas’ house. After having been to Auschwitz the sight of the railway station made me imagine what it would have looked like in 1940-42.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife had set off WWI. We were in Vienna on the 100th anniversary of the sad event. The drive through the City brought home the might of the Hapsburgs. The Hapsburgs moved their base to the Duchy of Austria in the 13th century. Till the 18th century the Hapsburgs ruled and continuously expanded their base through ‘convenient’ marriage alliances and annexations. To understand the influence they had over the centuries it must be known that they ruled Austria, Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, Sicily, Naples, Hungary, Croatia, Spain, Bohemia, Portugal, Empire of Mexico and many other smaller principalities. It was their might that saw the passage of history for over 600 years in Europe. Vienna is one of the principal places of that influence. In the short time that we had we could just flavour what would require at least a week of intense visit to cover. We did a whirlwind tour of the Hofburg, which was the Hapsburg Monarch’s Palace. Thomas explained to us very vividly the story of the sculpture of the horse and the horseman, which had to be corrected after it was cast to be placed where it is now. Thereafter we walked through the colonnaded archway to the Art History Museum and the Museum of Natural History. The Michaeler Platz fascinated me and I could have stayed there for the rest of the evening. The fountains, buildings, horse drawn carriages and the Roman ruins that were excavated in 1990 all lent their charm to wonderful Platz. We headed to Zanoni for the special Viennese ice cream. It was every bit as delicious as it was said to be. The St Stephen’s Cathedral was awe inspiring and is the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. Its history spans over 800 years. The brilliant spires and towers magnify the surrounding landscape. After that we just had enough time to take the inner ring road and pass the Parliament, Rathaus (the Governor’s Palace) and the City Park. Neither the Danube nor the Schonbrun Palace could be enjoyed. Well, some things have to wait for another visit.

By time we reached Prosi a fair gathering of Malayalees had collected. The next half hour was consumed by photographs and affixing of the sticker for Austria, which was done by Thmas and Prince. The latter, as his name aptly suggests, is an extremely flourishing businessman in Austria and their CSR activities span Continents. He and two of his brothers, of whom Sirosh is an influential politician too (he is President of the Oversees Indian Congress), have built up the business brick by brick over the years and still is in the process of expansion. I was most moved by their efforts to build shelters for the disadvantaged all over the world. The felicitation function was grandly organised over a meal of tapioca, chicken curry, yam and an African dish that had dried fish and meat (yummy). Rosogollas were also at hand to wind up the meal sweetly. The goodbyes took some time and it was quite late by the time we got back home. Elbin and Glory had returned home by the time we reached there. Elbin had been to help a friend shift home. Glory is doing her graduate studies in Civil Engineering. We chatted for a while before calling it a day and promised to celebrate Glory’s birthday the next morning.

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