Mirabell Gardens and Palace: Breaking all the rules.
It’s bad form to start at the beginning when you write a travel piece. This is the special exception: The fountain, facing away from us as we entered Mirabell Gardens, was a half naked woman who appeared to have two streams of water pointing in opposite directions around her chest area. It looked like her tits were leaking. I got two or three photos because I thought it was so bizarre. I walked around the fountain and when I reached the front, I saw there were actually her hands, directly in front of her chest, and she was holding two bluebirds, who were facing away from each other. The water was actually coming from their mouths. It does raise some questions about why anyone would just loll around half naked in a pond with birds in their hands at chest height, but we’re taught not to really question it if it’s Art, and this had at some point been Art. I could imagine the Georgian upper classes viewing this fountain with the same disdain with which recent audiences have treated work by Damien Hirst. Having said that, there’s a lot of stuff like this dotted around Western Europe.
The mystery thus solved, we moved on, into the gardens. Needless to say there were flowers everywhere; flowerbeds formed geometric patterns. Sitting on a bench to eat lunch, we were treated to being harassed for money by a beggar.
“Haben sie zwei Euro?” A man asked with a Turkish accent. He didn’t look particularly poor, but clothing obviously isn’t the best indicator. He waved a paper at us.
“No thank you.” I replied. The beggar glared at me, then did the one thing that guaranteed he wasn’t getting a sale from either of us. In a Western country, with (almost) equal rights, he ignored me and looked to my husband, waiting for an answer, still proffering the paper. We both stared at him in disbelief.
“NO THANK-YOU!” My OH said loudly and slowly.
“You want to buy a paper? Two Euro?” He asked, in English this time.
“NO…THANK…YOU.” He repeated, even more loudly and slowly. My other half has no compunction about talking at people in English until they’re imbued with the gift of speaking his language. It’s usually incredibly humiliating for me, as I’ll try to speak someone else’s language and fall silent before submitting to requesting if they speak English. This time, however, I just let him get on with it. After all, the paper that the guy was flogging was still in German, no matter what language he tried his sales pitch.
“You got a Euro for the bus?” He asked, still not taking the hint.
“No. Go away.” My OH replied loudly. He’s usually very polite but I think the man’s sexism had rankled him.
“Fifty cents? Fifty cents for bus?” He shook his coffee cup in my OH’s face, at which point my beloved just turned towards his sandwich and resumed eating.
The man started shouting a tirade of abuse at us, then walked off and started the exact same routine at the very next bench. I wondered, with his amazing command of colloquial English expletives, why he was wasting his effort trying to sell German-language papers to English tourists instead of making a mint teaching at an English Language School. I felt a little dirty inside, having broken my personal rule of letting my OH act like a tourist.
After lunch we decided to check out the famous Mirabell Palace, mentioned in guide books and internet must-see lists as “Mirabell Palace and Gardens.” Disappointingly, it turned out to be a council offices, which wasn’t open to the public. Not even a toilet to be had.
There was a thoroughfare which was quite pretty, and which led us across a car park and ultimately caused us to end up at the Austrian Hair Supermarket, which was as it sounds – a shop the size of a supermarket that only sold hair products. A self-inflicted platinum blonde, I just love hair products. I love finding new ones that do good things to my hair. I had bravely left home without so much as a hairdryer, let alone straighteners or a curling wand, so anything that would improve my hair’s appearance was very welcome. Thank-you, inaccurate travel guides everywhere; the hair supermarket was one of the shopping highlights of the entire trip. Across the road, there was a toilet.
I’m breaking another travel writing rule here, but I have to tell you about this toilet. As I was approaching the toilet, an older woman barged right past and into the toilet. The door swung closed and I wasn’t sure whether it was a single toilet inside or many. I decided to wait for her to finish, even though I didn’t see any lock on the outside of the outside door.
A good ten minutes later, I was still waiting. I decided to check inside. There were two cubicles, as I suspected. The older woman was sitting on one of the toilets, trousers down, cubicle door wide open, bags, rucksack and hiking poles spread about in front of the sink. I decided to step over the bags and I went into the other cubicle, as she kept speaking an unidentifiable, possibly Eastern European, language at me, getting louder. I locked the door and started cleaning the toilet seat, as she kept banging on the cubicle wall and shouting at me from the next toilet. I came back out again to see what she wanted. She just kept shouting in a foreign language.
Eventually, she declared, “Pissing!” at the top of her voice and I just gave up and left. I waited for her to be finished as she clearly wanted the entire toilet block to herself for some bizarre reason that I couldn’t fathom. Some people just can’t share toilets apparently. When she was finally done, I burst into the cubicle I’d prepared earlier and locked the door firmly. I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m sure you know the kind I mean.
Later, when I was washing my hands, I thoroughly checked the cubicle containing the toilet she’d used. The lock worked perfectly, there was plenty of toilet roll. The outside door also happened to have a bolt on the inside that she could have used for privacy, presumably in case women wanted to use the baby change station on the opposite wall to the sink. I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have done at a pay-per-cubicle toilet, where people would have been more reluctant to leave, as it would have meant forfeiting the toll paid for use of the toilet. I still can’t work out what her problem was. Tourists.