Exploring the rubbish bins and garbage trucks of Vienna – a new perspective on travel

I knew that this trip to Europe would be quite different to any other trip I’ve made there – I’ve never had a three-year-old in tow before and if you happen to know any three-year-olds you will know that they are quite a unique species. Curious (about particular things they want to be curious about), independent (especially about things they are not quite able to do themselves) and anxious not to be left out of things (in other words, don’t want to sleep when their parents think they should).

Fortunately, I have managed to raise a particularly nice one who looks like he has the same love of travel as me. I’m very pleased about that! However, he also has a love of something else: all things related to waste disposal. Rubbish bins (or garbage cans, depending on what kind of English you speak) and the trucks that empty them are highest on his agenda of things he loves (after Mum).

Before we left for Europe, I must admit I had promised him we would see all different kinds of rubbish bins on our trip. We have lots of German books about rubbish and they feature all the different and innovative recycling that Germany does (some of which we haven’t quite caught on to yet). Maria, one of the friends we went to stay with in Ireland, even indulged his love of rubbish by writing a blog post especially for him about the rubbish bins on the tiny island of Inis Meain.

Aida Cafe in Vienna with the gorgeous Stephansdom in the background

Yet somehow I still wasn’t quite prepared for the intensity of our rubbish bin and garbage truck experiences in Europe. It started on the first proper day of our trip, which involved just my son and I heading in to the centre of Vienna. I had in mind showing him the enormous cathedral of Stephansdom (no, I wasn’t expecting a three-year-old to be interested in a cathedral, but I thought the size and the pretty pattern on the roof might entice him) and then keeping his interest with some cake from the famous pink Aida store on the nearby corner.

Alas, something else was in store for me. We emerged from the U-Bahn into Stephansplatz, arguably one of my favourite spots in Vienna, and can you guess what my son spotted immediately? A garbage truck doing the rounds, emptying the CBD of rubbish. It was reasonably early in the morning and Vienna wasn’t too crowded yet, so he persuaded me to follow the truck. I’m sure it looked quite odd – a woman and a child in a stroller who kept stopping every time the truck stopped – but my son was thrilled to see a genuine Austrian “back loader” rubbish truck in action. The ones we see here are “side loaders” – operated all from inside the truck – so being able to see the rubbish man pull the bins over to the truck and hook them on thrilled him. I later made a mistake of summarising the day by talking about the man pushing the button to empty the bin – my son corrected me immediately by telling me that he didn’t push a button, but pull a lever instead. You can see who was watching more closely. Every now and then, another rubbish truck crossed our path, but this one was collected glass bottles only and my son deemed the noise of all that glass falling into the truck too noisy for his liking (thankfully).

A garbage truck in central Vienna

Anyway, this garbage theme continued throughout our trip. In fact, I’d estimate that 10% of my photographs feature bins and rubbish trucks. Bus, train and car rides tended to go remarkably smoothly because my son could stare out the window and search for new bins, although for this reason he was most upset about using Autobahns and other highways because they were lacking in places to dispose of your garbage.

But of course you probably don’t want to hear all about the garbage trucks of Europe. So let me get to my travel-related point. What this taught me – or reminded me, perhaps – was that every single person has a uniquely different perspective on travel. You can take one thousand people to the centre of Vienna and each one will remember it in an entirely different way.

In turn, this reminds me not to be too judgemental about other people’s travel experiences. Heading to Bali (from here, just three hours and a few hundred dollars) to enjoy cheap cocktails by the pool is not my idea of what travelling should be about, but for other people, that’s just what they want. Joining a whirlwind bus tour of Europe isn’t my idea of fun, but other people have a different perspective on that and will enjoy it. Everybody’s expectations of travel are different and the ways people like to travel are different.

Viennese rubbish man; Viennese pastry

And thank goodness for that, because otherwise the centre of Vienna would have been overrun with travellers hell bent on following the local rubbish truck around with us. It may have continued all day but eventually the friendly rubbish man turned to us, waved, the truck drove off into the far distance, and my son allowed me to take him for a piece of cake after all.


  1. Aw, bless him. 🙂 It is a good reminder though to enjoy the journey rather than the destination so to speak. If you have certain expectations with a child when travelling I imagine there would be disappointment. However, just enjoying the ride with them would create wonderful memories. We want to travel with M but were wondering about a “right” time. Obviously there isn’t one! They are all just different.

    • Yes exactly, not having high expectations is the way to go although R did fantastically well, we were amazed! I don’t know about a “right” time but I’m still glad we didn’t do the long haul flights between 18 months and 2.5 or so – three plus worked much better.

  2. Interesting take on travel Amanda. I think trucks and tractors would be the highlight of any little boy, anywhere in the world. Funny that just this week I also blogged about Rubbish removal.
    I also love Vienna.

    • You blogged about rubbish? I am heading straight to your blog!!!! I hope there are some pictures for my son to enjoy 😉
      Vienna’s a lovely city, isn’t it? I visited it frequently when I lived in Bratislava and it was nice to return.

  3. Hello, this was a fun read for this mother of three boys. Mine are 16, 15 and 7 now but I remember three very well. The big two had fantastic toy rubbish trucks, really good quality ones which lasted for years and years, as did their joy in rubbish removal.

    Mine are not great travellers… it’s such a shame… but I’m persisting. Have to say that lounging around in bali has been HEAVEN for me at times, but really I’d rather be with you having a coffee in Vienna.

    • Ha ha we have similar fantastic toy rubbish trucks, they are very robust and am sure will continue to entertain my boy and his mates for some years to come – because people keep telling me this interest could last for years!

      And yes, coffee in Vienna does make a nice change from lounging in Bali – one day! (if you came with us you’d have to follow the rubbish trucks too!)

  4. How sweet. Reminds me of a trip my brother won to New Zealand when he was a teenager … he mainly took photos of cows! (The trip was a prize for being a great judge of prize cows!) I remember wanting to see the scenery and he’d be telling me about the different farms he’d visited and the great cows and bulls he’d seen …

    • Love it!! Everyone has a different perspective … though cows may well be preferable to rubbish trucks? (Except that you’re unlikely to find cows in the middle of Vienna, I guess)

  5. Cathedrals? Bah. Boring! Viennese rubbish bins and garbage disposal, what a great trip! A magical experience from the wonderful perspective of a three year old.

  6. Love this! My guys were fascinated by rubbish trucks too! Thanks for Rewinding.

  7. Very novel post. I never knew that blogging about rubbish was allowed, never mind it actually being interesting!!

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