The hills are alive with the sound of music… not quite. With limited time on our hands and piles of laundry in our bags, the trip to Austria took to a different dimension. There were no Salzburg and Linz, but there was Mauthausen. There was no Stephansdom, but there was Schloss Schönbrunn. And there weren’t much of the usual wanderings around the country, but there were loads of Filipino hospitality.
Bad weather continued to hound us the morning we left our hostel in Prague to the Eurolines bus station for the trip to Vienna. For the first time, other parts of Prague came into view, although dark clouds and strong rains weren’t much help in providing a better glimpse of them. The 14 of us had to take three separate taxis because there was no way we could get to the metro with the heavy downpour.
We reached the bus station nonetheless and in a matter of minutes, we were on our way to the Austrian capital, passing by the Czech countryside and an atmospheric town, which, based on a map, I think was located somewhere in Moravia. Was it Brno? I don’t know. There was no way for me to know.
A few hours later we reached Vienna. It wasn’t raining but clouds still filled the sky. Our setup gets a little complicated here. See, my dad has been a regular visitor to Austria and Switzerland for the past three years, conducting seminars for Filipino communities in both countries. In his visits to Austria, he would stay at the house of Ptr. and Mrs. Mar Tare, a Filipino couple who migrated to the country more or less two decades ago and have born three children there.
So when we were in London, my dad floated the idea of us staying with the Tares and saving a chunk in our accommodation while providing an opportunity for us to meet the family. However, we have already reserved in a hostel and canceling in our case would mean having to pay a penalty. Besides, some of the group were uncomfortable bunking with the family, thinking the sheer number of us would provide an additional hassle to the household.
A minor debate ensued and eventually, we decided that our family — five of us — would cancel our hostel booking and stay with the Tares and the rest going on with the original accommodation plan.
So now we were in Vienna and we were waiting for Ptr. Mar, who arrived minutes later in a black car with his son Marjun and another Filipino (aaargh, I forgot his name) who’s a fellow member of a local Evangelical Protestant church. Marjun and the other guy went to accompany the rest of the group to the hostel near the Westbahnhof Metro station, while Ptr. Mar drove us to their house, located at 22nd district, at the outskirts of the city.
After getting ourselves acclimatized to what would be our beds for the next three nights, Ptr. Mar drove us to the Kagraner Platz Metro station. We met up with the rest of the group after a while at the Westbahnhof and toured a little of Vienna for the rest of the day, with Marjun acting as our guide and interpreter. Stores were mostly closed as it was a holiday, Marjun said, although he didn’t know what exactly what the country was celebrating (I’m guessing it was Corpus Christi but I’m not sure).
The next day, as clouds made way for sunshine, we went to Mauthausen, a bucolic town near Linz that otherwise harbors a grim past via the KZ Mauthausen concentration camp. After a train ride to St. Valentin, where we recharged in a nearby Billa, we had another ride (albeit a very short one) to the town. The camp was pretty far from the train station but Marjun negotiated with a bus driver, who apparently took pity on us and drove us to the site itself despite it being a few kilometers off from the bus stop.
The site contained quarries, crematoriums, gas chambers, and disturbing pictures depicting the extremes of human cruelty. The sobering experience was later offset by a walk to the bus station — we passed yards and yards of meadows, friendly rural folks, and a forested area.
That night, because it was our parents’ wedding anniversary, the Tares cooked for us a special dinner. The rest of the group, as well as another Filipino family, the Dela Cruz, dropped by the Tares to savor the occasion.
The next morning, we were scheduled to have a more comprehensive DIY tour of Vienna, but our laundry was starting to smell. Because of the heavy rains in Prague and a lack of laundry service at our hostel there, our dirty clothes piled up. We figured we couldn’t postpone our chores so we spent all morning washing our clothes. As such, we didn’t have much time to see more of Vienna, except for the Schonbrunn a few hours before it closed for the day and a wee bit of the city center.
We were in the process of deciding where to go next when Shayne, the youngest daughter of the Dela Cruz, met us at the city center, telling us that her parents cooked dinner for us and that the meal is already waiting. We couldn’t turn down such hospitality and graciousness. We ditched the rest of sightseeing and went to their house, where we watched videos of her late sister who was unfortunately killed in a car crash last year.
After the dinner, my dad had to go to the airport as he was going to Switzerland for another one of his seminars while some of us left to retire for the day. Tito Boy’s family stayed with the Dela Cruz for a few hours more.
Early the next day, Ptr. Mar drove us to the Eurolines bus station, where we would be moving on with the trip. Next stop: Budapest.