Vienna, a bookgasm and cold train sandwiches
I was in Vienna yesterday for the arduous task of picking up my renewed passport. When I say arduous, I mean the ass-numbing boredom of spending five hours aboard a train. That much inactivity is enough to drive anyone up the walls. It is especially difficult for me because I have self-diagnosed borderline ADHD (and functional dyslexia, if I were in Rick Riordan Universe, I’d probably be a demi-God). I walked about a little, went and stood near the door for some time, walked to the restaurant car and got a coffee. But there is only so much you can do when you are trapped in an almost empty carriage of metal and glass with a few other people, all engrossed in their phones.
When I reached the consulate, I found out that I was early by an hour and a half. They were still out for lunch. So I was in the centre of Vienna, where winter has briefly (I hope) returned to, with at least one and a half hours to kill. Then it occurred to me, I was in the centre of Vienna with one and a half hours to kill. It was freezing, of course, but what is a little cold when you are in one of the greatest cities in the world ?
I had been to Vienna many times, so there was nothing touristy left to do. I pretty much know it, not quite like the back of my hand, but maybe like the back of my, well, front. The week before, I had come across an article about places to visit in Vienna for a bibliophile on a website called Culture Trip. One of them (and the one that caught my eye ) was a bookstore called Shakespeare and Company booksellers. I thought it might be a branch of another amazing English bookstore I once visited in Prague, called Shakespeare and Sons bookstore (it isn’t). In Innsbruck, where I live, English books are hard to come by. Even in the biggest bookstores, English sections are sparse and about half the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs. So out comes my phone, and thanks to Google maps, I now knew how to get there.
It wasn’t much of a walk from Wiener Staatsoper or Vienna State Opera house, near where the Embassy was, only about 1.5 kilometres. I walked through milling crowds of mostly tourists down a busy shopping thoroughfare, got lost twice but finally got there. The bookstore is in a small, almost invisible alleyway called Sterngasse (literally, starry street). The bookstore sign was a rather cute painting of Shakespeare and the door said, “Come on in, we are open”.
I walk in, and I’m completely taken in by surprise. It is unbearably quaint with books stacked from floor to ceiling, exactly as I had imagined Mr.Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, with actual creaking floorboards. It truly was a book lover’s dream come true. There is one main hall that you walk into, with shiny new books of various genres, looking upon you from all around. There are old, retro type frames on the wall with photos and rough paintings. Straight ahead is an alcove of sorts with a comfortable looking chair and again, books all around, some waiting to be sorted into the shelves. Then there is an inner sanctum with mainly children’s and young adult books. There are chairs all over, slightly haggardly placed, for customers to sit and read to their heart’s content. I wish I had more time, or I would definitely have taken advantage of that. From what I could see, it is run by three wonderful women (who were quite surprised when I actually asked permission to take pictures, a sad commentary on what we consider polite these days). There was only one other customer when I walked in, hopefully that was only an after lunch lull.
I don’t know if they stock second-hand books, none that I could see. So the books are a little pricey, or maybe they just appear pricey to me because I’ve been cheating on actual books with e-books lately. Needless to say, I will be visiting this store again. And now I know where exactly to take my similarly-minded friends when they come to visit Vienna
That was it for the soul yesterday. Afterwards I went back to the Embassy to collect my passport and trudged back to the train station for another unending train ride back home. The only silver lining in the journey for me was the food. It wasn’t exactly fine dining, and was rather simple, but I absolutely love the bacon and egg sandwich served aboard ÖBB trains. I think it was the fourth or fifth consecutive train ride on which I’ve ordered it. Plus it is cold (I am a strange creature who likes cold sandwiches), so, win-win !