A nostalgic traveler’s dilemma: Explore new vistas or retrace old steps?

Vienna, Austria: I love turning a corner and finding an old city street (photo: DY, 2015)

Vienna, Austria: I love turning a corner and finding an old city street

Travelers who suffer from chronic bouts of nostalgia (i.e., me) may face a familiar dilemma: Given a choice, do we explore new vistas or revisit old haunts?  Do we step out in search of fresh discoveries, or do we retrace steps from back in the day?

When I booked my July trip to Vienna to attend the week-long International Congress on Law and Mental Health, I added a few days after the conference to do some sightseeing. I assumed that I would spend that extra time outside of the city.

The gardens of Schoenbrunn Palace

The gardens of Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

My first and only previous visit to Austria occurred way back in 1981. Vienna, Salzburg, and Innsbruck were part of my whirlwind tour through western Europe after a semester abroad in England.

Of those cities, Salzburg — small, manageable, and with spectacular scenery — was by far my favorite. I even enjoyed “The Sound of Music” bus tour that my friend dragged me on, for it included many of the city’s most beautiful sites. By contrast, while I liked Vienna, it didn’t rank as a highlight of that leg of my sojourn.

So when I planned this current trip, I figured that I would squeeze in a quick visit to Salzburg during my add-on days. Hey, maybe I’d even join the hordes of other American tourists for a redux of “The Sound of Music” tour!

A Schonbrunn Palace grounds selfie

A Schonbrunn Palace grounds selfie

Ultimately, however, I decided to stick to Vienna. To my great delight, Vienna came alive for me this time around. I now understand why it is such a global attraction. The heart of Vienna is simply beautiful, with stunning architecture, public sculptures, and old city streets seemingly at every turn. The city also offers relatively inexpensive eateries and cafes serving up hearty food and beverages.

Schnitzel

Hearty (if not healthy) dinner of schnitzel, fries, and salad at a cafe near my hotel

Vienna exudes a sense of cultural and intellectual history. Given that I was attending a law and mental health conference, I considered it semi-obligatory to visit the Sigmund Freud residence and museum. Although little of the original interior decor remains, there were plenty of exhibits and photographs to give you a sense of where he lived and practiced during the early 20th century.

The stairwell leading to Sigmund Freud's practice and family residence

The stairwell leading to Dr. Sigmund Freud’s practice and family residence

An exhibit at the University of Vienna presented an unexpected opportunity to roam around the main building of one of Europe’s oldest universities, founded in 1365! For an urban campus, it was a notably serene academic setting.

Courtyard of the Main Building of the University of Vienna

Courtyard of the Main Building of the University of Vienna

When I first visited Europe in 1981, I had no idea that many wonderful singers and musicians demonstrated their talents on the streets of great cities.

Since then, I have been drawn to street performers. At first glance, I wondered if this man, with his walking stick, bucket, and visual impairment, was panhandling. But then he turned on his little music player and started to sing…wow…his voice was superb. It was a privilege to tip him a few Euros.

A great singer in one of the city squares

A great singer in one of the city squares

Of course, I also had to hunt down the city’s English language bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, tucked away in a nook of old Vienna that felt like a step back in time.

In the heart of old Vienna is this neat little bookshop

In the heart of old Vienna is this neat little bookshop

Thanks in part to the conference itself, I experienced a bit of Vienna’s classical music scene. Here are three of my friends and fellow conference participants, Shelley, Carol, and Nicole, in the pews of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, as we awaited the start of a classical music concert organized for our group by the International Academy on Law and Mental Health.

Warm smiles for the camera before the concert begins

Warm smiles for the camera before the concert begins

And here’s what that stunning cathedral looks like. Listening to a first-rate music performance in such a historic site was a treat.

Concert at St. Stephen's Cathedral

Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral

The unsung star of Vienna was its subway system, which proved to be dependable, fast, and easy to navigate. In visiting a big city, I usually find that learning the basics of its subway system early on pays dividends throughout the trip. This was no exception!

Vienna's U-Bahn system was fast and reliable.

Vienna’s U-Bahn system was fast and reliable

3 responses

  1. I totally “get” this conflict between revisiting a beloved destiny (and diving in deeper) or a new place. One of the cities I long to see again is Vienna, which confounded in the best ways my expectations (steeped in the fascist history of WII).

  2. I love the photo of the interior of the cathedral. What a treat to get to hear a concert there.

  3. This looks wonderful! A good reminder to give places a second chance. I’m more the type to re-visit old favorites but i need to push myself to branch out!

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