A Stroll in the park….
Sunday May 12, 2013 Zagreb, Croatia
I first wrote this essay in April of 2004. Nancy and I celebrated our twenty sixth annivarsary with our great friends Toby and Silvia and much of the day was spent at the Prater.
The Prater is an amusement park situated on land filled with trees, paths, flowers, playgrounds and open fields for the people of Vienna to relax and enjoy nature’s sunny days. The park was the former imperial hunting ground and opened to the public in 1766. Its identifying landmark is its giant Ferris Wheel. Riesenrad in Deutsch, it was built in 1897 and played a feature roll in the 1939 movie classic “The Third Man”. It is Europe’s largest and there is also has a Lilliputian Railroad that chugs along throughout the grounds on summer days.
The huge park, situated between the Danube canal and the main river channel, is also the scene of horse racing and polo matches. The division one football (soccer) team plays here as well. A private golf course is situated within the grounds of the racetrack. I’ve played there on occasion and always find it a challenge to miss the horses and find the green or fairway. The five kilometer long chestnut tree lined avenue through the middle of the park is the main venue for the walkers, joggers, bikers and skaters of Vienna.
The park is filled with people on nice days and if it’s a holiday there will be a continuous and seemingly never ending parade of citizens strolling along the Huptallee boulevard in the middle of the park. That’s where we spent a wonderful afternoon people watching.
It’s a pretty incredible sight. We sat for a while on one of the park benches located about every twenty meters or so along the sides of the main boulevard. It’s about thirty meters wide and as I’ve said tree lined. Just past the trees on both sides is another paved pathway, running parallel with the main road, and about five meters in width. On the north side of this area is the amusement park and restaurants. On the south side mostly open spaces, playgrounds and gardens occupy the space.
Literally hundreds of people passed by us during our thirty-minute pause. The thoroughfare, off limits to motor driven vehicles, is enjoyed by throngs of people wanting some sort of exercise. The bikers, with and without safety helmets, came by themselves or in groups of two’s, three’s and four’s. There were moms and dads with children on smaller bikes. A mother pulling her daughter behind in a little wagon. Some were young, some were old. Some rode fancy racing bikes, while others were peddling outdated models. There were the twin cycling wagons usually with mom and dad on the bikes and kids in the rear laughing or singing. A few double bikes with both bikers peddling in unison. Some had their dog on a lead jogging along beside their master. Some were pulling picnic baskets or grocery carts. A few were racing other bikers and some were racing time. Most were on a straight course but some were zigzagging and a few were riding along four abreast. There were bikers acting as pacers for their jogging friends. Now and then a person in a wheel chair either being pushed with manpower or electricity. There were little bikes, mini bikes and trikes. All of them were enjoying the day seemingly without a care in the world.
The inline skaters were also in abundance. Some of them were racing and some were learning. The young boy with protective gear from head to toe being encouraged by an over protective mom seemed to me over burdened and out of place. Most flew along unprotected and unaccompanied in a race against themselves.
The joggers were intermixed with those being propelled atop wheels. They too came in all shapes and sizes. Some joggers were obviously serious runners on a mission, some were not. Long smooth striders and short laboring striders shared the clean crisp air. Some wore shorts, others long tights. Some wore hats or caps, some were bear headed. A few ran in street clothes, most in athletic gear. Some listened to music on their Walkman as they ran, others just ran alone with their thoughts. Some were passing other runners, some were being passed. They wore all colors of the rainbow. The outfits were navy blue, sky blue and aqua blue. They were pink, red, rust and ruby. They were scarlet, cherry and crimson reds. There was bright orange, burnt orange, old and new orange. Green’s, gray’s and gold’s were abundant. It was certainly a calydeascope of colors passing us by.
It was an endless stream of humanity and they were all enjoying a day of leisure, a day of relaxation, a day of sharing the best of what the world has to offer. One could be alone in thought among many in action, or talking, discussing or arguing together among friends.
The intense walkers with ski poles and the grand mom and dad’s holding hands were nearly equal in number. Sisters arm in arm, old and young strolled along visiting. Young lovers holding hands and whispering to each other were counter balanced by the older couples walking discreetly side by side without touching.
Some were in casual clothing, some were in formal attire. Some wore topcoats, while others had no coats. Both men and women wore colorful scarves. There was leather and swede and cotton and denim. They had black hair, brown hair, red hair, white hair, blue hair, auburn hair, long hair, short hair, no hair. There was blond hair, striped hair, straight hair, curly hair and fake hair. Some were in all black, others had no black.
Some raced others while some raced themselves. Some raced time while others timed the race. Some competed others ran for the joy. Some hurt while some thrived.
Some pounded pavement others didn’t.
Some ran with friends, some ran alone.
I think what made the biggest impression on me was the relative quiet. Masses of people but little noise. Sure, some playful chatter but never loud or obnoxious. Multitudes of people enjoying the day without infringing on others. It has always been amazing to me that I can sit in the middle of hundreds of people and hear literally nothing. Nancy is amazed that I can hear nothing she says. Husband prerogative. Lost in thought, lost in memories. For me it’s like Simon and Garfunkel’s sounds of silence, only in reverse. How lovely.