I don’t understand Vienna. It might be because despite wanting to belong to every city, I never feel truly comfortable when I’m there, and I wish it were different because I like Vienna. It’s a proper city; it has a more than decent public transit system, stupendous architecture and one of the best opera houses in the world. And yet we don’t click. Every time I don’t click with a city, it feels like a small personal defeat. It’s almost as if the city doesn’t like me. This duality of my perception of Vienna – appreciating it for what it is and simultaneously not being able to find a place for myself in it – has been going on for years. The only time it didn’t afflict me was during my first visits when I was very small.

I usually find myself in Vienna when I’m either very in love or very depressed (or both, since in my case they mostly go hand in hand). Maybe my problem with Vienna is that I’m unable to ignore all of its negative connotations (in fact not Vienna’s but my own). I’ll always remember my midnight walk along Kärntner Straße after opera last year, but also the Weltschmerz that accompanied me. It’s not that so many things actually took place in Vienna; it’s always more about reminiscences of events that had happened before, elsewhere.

Vienna, AlbertinaAlbertina, Habsburg State Rooms

These reminiscences might be what makes us want to travel. Travel isn’t but a form of escape. Of course, it doesn’t solve anything, but we don’t expect it to solve anything anyway. To me, the most important thing about travel has always been clearing my thoughts.

Sometimes Baudelaire dreamt of going to Lisbon. It would be warm there, and he would, like a lizard, gain strength from stretching himself out in the sun. it was a city of water, marble and light, conducive to thought and calm. But almost from the moment he conceived this Portuguese fantasy, he would start to wonder if he might not be happier in Holland. Then again, why not Java or the Baltic or even the North Pole, where he could bathe in shadows and watch comets fly across the Arctic skies? The destination was not the point. The true desire was to get away—to go, as he concluded, “anywhere! anywhere! so long as it is out of the world!”

Alain de Botton, Art of Travel


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