When you explore a city by foot, it feels a little like water running through cracks until it fills in every crevice. You wander down one street, retrace your steps, wander down another, but you always know your point of origin.
Exploring Vienna by subway has been more like a game of connect-the-dots, only I’ve made the dots randomly as I’ve gone along, and connected them by chance.
I form the dots at subway stops. I get off at one, poke my head above ground, try to find out where I am. I wander around for a bit, find a new subway stop, go back down. Or maybe I go back to the first one I came out of. Another day I try a new one, but it could be in any part of the city.
Cities with an underground come with a built-in safety net: it’s a lot harder to get lost when you only need to find a metro stop (any metro stop) to bring you back to somewhere you know. As a result, I keep unexpectedly discovering new subway stops (oh, so this is where Karlsplatz lets out!), or even other entrances to stops I’ve been to over a dozen times (oh, so this is the other entrance to Herrengasse!). And just as often I’ve discovered that on days where I wandered for hours, finally retracing my steps to my earlier destination, if I’d only turned left instead of right I would have been somewhere familiar.
On the whole, I enjoy cities with subways a great deal. I like the feeling of warping from one location to another. They make me feel more confident, as if I can become lost and yet always know where I am. The safety net comforts me.
But the picture I form of a city that I explore in this manner depends, inevitably, on how I connect the dots. I’ve left many unexplored. I’ve traveled some paths more frequently than others. I know there are pieces missing, connections I haven’t made.
Tomorrow’s my last day, and I plan to spend it revisiting some of my favorite spots. But tonight, I’m going to go find somewhere new. I’m going to fill in a blank. I’m going to connect a dot.