Running Vienna

When we arrived, I asked our host where he suggested I run. He took out a map and showed me the streets from our apartment to Schoenbrunn Palace and promised kilometers of garden paths. I went the next morning, a fifteen minute run to the palace gates which open to the public at 6:30am.

I loved it.

I said Thank you, God. This summer break, running outside was bliss. The cool morning temperatures, breeze, and occasional rain. I ran the park’s paths for an hour.

I wanted to explore Vienna on my morning runs too so the next routes were up Mariahilfer, through the Museum Quater and along Burg Ring and the Danube Canal. Nearly everything I found, I found by accident. I tried to remember what direction I came from and at some turns, made a note of graffiti or statuary. I got lost a lot. I ran farther than I meant to. When I approached someone for directions, I used the train station nearest our apartment as reference. One man laughed and said, “That is a long way away.” He made a zigzag with his hand and told me which street to watch for and I jogged away hoping he meant long for a walk.

One morning I planned to meet a new friend at Belvedere for a run through the gardens. I looked up the route and knew enough of the streets and landmarks to guess where to turn. I ran and ran and ran, heading toward Belvedere, going wide and getting lost in a maze of short streets and tall residence. I stopped to ask a woman in a parked van if she spoke English. No. “Belvedere?” I said. She nodded and drew a map in the air, said, “So. So. So-oo-oo. So.” I nodded and got lost again.

Map of Vienna

Getting lost was fine. I carried fifty cents for a public toilet and learned which ones were nicest. I rarely ran fast so hearing Westbonhof was a long way away didn’t worry me. I looked up. I doubled back to see if I recognized a landmark. Later in the day I showed Justin and the kids what I’d seen that morning.

But after a few days of running the city, even the quieter streets, I found myself leaving the center early, returning to fit twenty or thirty minutes of Schoenbrunn paths in my run. My last week of running was entirely Schoenbrunn. I arrived when the gates opened and ran the flat paths and the hill. I made up patterns and loops. I got rocks in my shoes. The tree archways made me happy. The rose garden made me happy. The old men sitting on benches made me happy. I get giddy around other runners after so many months on a treadmill. I nod. I smile. I sometimes run to catch up and hold a pace, just to play running partner for fifteen minutes.

Map of the park at Schönbrunn

I met one runner on our way to Schoenbrunn and we seemed matched enough in pace that we ran a long loop of the gardens together. I loved it! We met up again my last morning in Vienna, by chance, and ran a few lengths of the park together. She’d just returned to Vienna after a year of traveling. She mentioned the value of connecting with people from the place you’re visiting. Agreed. I was so glad to meet both of my Vienna running partners.

My last run through Schoenbrunn, I went by a motley collection of broken statuary and columns piled in an empty fountain. It’s the corner of Schoenbrunn opposite the zoo, probably ignored by most visitors. But after the tree archways, that mess of stone was my favorite part of the garden. The haphazard jam of the leftover pieces – the different colors, shapes and sizes of carved stone – is beautiful. I stopped one morning on my run down the hill, on a path behind the fountain. I stood and looked at the floral design of tiles on the arch. The carved faces. Giant chunks of column. Maybe those pieces find their places at the end of hidden paths. Maybe one day they are given their own benches for us to sit on and look at them and think how lovely. Maybe they just stay together, leaning long enough that the pose gets comfortable.

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