Tag Archives: Transport

Oh, Vienna! (1)

I had been told before visiting Vienna that the Viennese were a tad rude and unfriendly. However, having lived in the Land of the Po-Faced for four years, I figured I could hold my own on that front. So, following a last-minute dash to buy sandwich bags, I was on my way to meet Manfredas to get the train to the airport.

After an easy 50-minute flight (or just enough time to drink one tiny, over-priced bottle of wine), we landed in Vienna. The great thing about travelling with a German is that they are, well, German. A guide book had been procured, maps acquired, travel itineraries to and from the hotel worked out, and 72-hour public transport tickets purchased. This meant that, once I’d recovered from a fit of hysterics at how much the voice in the lift sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger, we were already on the most direct route to the hotel.

We checked into the Hotel Mercure, where Manfredas surprised me once again by producing some tea bags he’d brought with him – just in case they didn’t provide them at the hotel. Germans…

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Where’s the food?

At this point, we were pretty hungry so we decided to head out into the night to see what Vienna had to offer. Luckily for us, the hotel was right opposite the Naschmarkt, a huge area with all kinds of international cuisine, but I only had one thing on my mind.

SCHNITZEL!
SCHNITZEL!

While listening to the “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP” from the kitchen of the chef beating more meat into submission, we savoured our Schnitzels, sampled the local wine and, by the time we were finished, the Naschmarkt was shutting down for the night. When plans fail, Linda’s “bar-dar” comes into play and beep, beep, beep, sure enough, within around three minutes, I’d located a likely spot for a nightcap.

Dreamy, right?
Dreamy, right?

The bartender was as overjoyed to see us as we were to find an open bar so it was a win-win from the off.

Happy Linda
Happy Linda

We were just sitting down to enjoy our (probably) last glass of the evening when we were joined by Helmut. At first, we were happy that a local wanted to speak to us, then we realised he was possibly on day release from the local asylum. To say he was hammered would be an understatement but there was something about his mother dying in a car accident, his grandfather being a famous race car driver, him being in an orphanage, umm, umm, maybe a daughter somewhere, the secret service were looking for him but couldn’t find him… And then he cried. And then he laughed. Then he held onto Manfredas for a very long time. And then we left.

Night one down.

Having checked the weather forecast (of course), we knew that Friday was going to be the best day weather-wise so we were up and about early(ish) to make the most of it. After a quick breakfast at the Naschmarkt, we started walking toward the Museum Quarter.

One of the first things you’ll notice in Vienna are the amazingly cute traffic lights. They were part of an initiative by the city’s PR team, after Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision, to put LGBT issues on the agenda. From some of the reading I’ve done, it sounds like the country still has a long way to go, but I guess every little helps.

Once I’d been dragged away from the traffic lights, it was on to see Vienna proper.

My new trick - spouting water out of my head
My new trick – spouting water out of my head

It is impossible to put into words just how beautiful this city is. I think I said “WOW” more in the space of a couple of hours than I ever have before in my life. A few photos don’t even begin to do it justice but hopefully you’ll get the general idea.

It is stunning.

After being wowed out by the Museumsquartier, it was forward to Stephansplatz, home to the imposing (and too big to take a decent photo of) Stephansdom.

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Dizzy from the majesty of it all, Manfredas suggested a time-out at Do&Co. You can buy the most expensive döner kebab in all of Vienna here but, as €26 would pretty much cover my weekly shop in Berlin, I decided to settle for just a drink. Knowing I’d be laughed out of my local in Berlin for ordering a Spritzer, I snorted a little when Manfredas said that was the Viennese drink of choice, but hey, when in Vienna.

To you, Vienna!
Wein in Wien!

Surprisingly refreshed by the girly drink Spritzer, I was ready for more. Having left the guide book in the German’s capable hands, because:

German + Guide Book = No-Brainer

I was rather surprised when we emerged from the U-Bahn here:

Argh!
Argh!

Seemingly, the Prater is a must because of the funfair and giant ferris wheel but, after the splendour of the morning, it felt more like a jarring eyesore.

A "must"
A “must”

It does run alongside quite a nice park, but all the shrieking in the background made it less than relaxing for a stroll.

Trying and failing to get into the carnival mood
Trying and failing to get into the carnival mood

We decided to meander back into the city along the canal, which was a much better idea.

And, of course, it’s when you walk a city that you find all of the unexpected things it has to offer. It turns out that, on a sunny day, half of Vienna heads to the beach or, to be more precise, the City Beach. Young and old alike (some disturbingly topless) were sprawled along the bank of the canal, in deckchairs, on the ground, or pretty much anywhere else they could find a space.

I wonder how many people fall in...
I wonder how many people fall in…

So naturally, we just had to join them for a Spritzer before deciding how to spend our second evening…

A very relaxed man
Napping, Austrian-style

Stay tuned. There may be yodelling… 

The BAD little town that’s so good (1)

With Easter weekend on the horizon, I decided it was time to get away for a couple of days’ rest and relaxation. After a little deliberation, I chose the town of BAD Saarow, partly because it looked pretty and wasn’t that far away, and partly because it sounded like a misbehaving small bird, which is what I am most of the time.

Deutsche Bahn, in their infinite wisdom, had chosen this weekend to do work on several regional train lines so, with a small house on my back, I set off to get the first train that would take me to the second train that would take me to the first replacement bus that would take me to the second replacement bus…

Finally, at around 1.15, we pulled up outside BAD Saarow train station.

Blink.
Blink.

After a quick glance around to make sure everyone hadn’t turned into fairy tale characters, I got off the bus. I took a couple of photos of the train station – mainly to prove that it actually exists in real life. My hunger and need to pee brought me back down to earth and I wandered across the road to a café, looking over my shoulder every now and then to make sure the station was still there.

I sat at an outside table and a waitress promptly brought over the menu. Fancying something a bit hearty after my extensive travels, I ordered the Wurstgulasch mit Nudeln. The fact that they didn’t have wine should have been a warning sign, but I was still in a bit of a daze so I just ordered a cup of tea instead. My “Gulasch” arrived…

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If you’re thinking, “My, it looks just like chunks of sausage in an abundance of tomato ketchup thrown on top of some pasta”, I can assure you, that’s exactly what it was. Still, it was edible so I ate enough so as not to alarm the waitress, paid and trundled off.

I was actually staying at a guest house in an even smaller town, called Neu Golm (I know, right?), which was around 3kms from the centre of BAD Saarow;  I just had no idea in which direction. Seeing no taxis outside the train station, I headed for the harbour, thinking they might be hiding out there.

Spring! Finally!
Spring! Finally!

I had seen pictures of Scharmützelsee (Lake) and, well, this is Germany, so I was expecting it to be “pretty”, but my expectations weren’t even close to the reality.

As the sun danced on the calm water, I danced around merry Germans, mentally congratulating myself on having chosen this place on this fabulous weekend. Soon, however, the weight of my backpack overrode my smug delight and it was back to the train station which also houses the information office. I asked the lady about buses and it turned out the next one was in around three hours. So, I asked her about taxis. She called one and the driver said he would be there in 15 minutes. I said I’d wait outside.

Who wouldn't?
Who wouldn’t?

Five minutes later, she came out in a panic to say that there’d been an accident on the Autobahn and the driver would be delayed indefinitely. I followed her back inside and watched as she frantically dialled other taxi companies, took money for souvenirs and fended off requests for bicycle rentals and boat tours. I resisted the urge to whisper, “Relax, this is all just a dream. None of this is actually happening…”

In the end, she decided to call the owner of the hotel to come and pick me up.

Herr Scherr to the rescue
Herr Scherr to the rescue

15 minutes later, I was standing outside Landhaus Neu Golm.

Is this the real life...?
Is this the real life…?

Herr Scherr handed me a key with a key ring that was almost as heavy as my backpack, explained the dinner/breakfast times, and we were done. My room was on the ground floor, spotless and airy, with the comfiest bed I’d ever set my tired arse on. But, this was no time to get lazy. It was Easter Saturday, i.e. the last day you could buy a bottle of wine until Tuesday.

I set off for a little stroll around Neu Golm – which took around three minutes. Neu Golm, I established, consists of some houses, a picturesque church, and a “yoof” centre that didn’t look like it was going to cause me any sleepless nights.

It seemed like the only activity in the area that day was a potato sale. It was almost like someone knew the Irish were coming…

Spuds! Woop!
Spuds! Woop!

I walked back in the direction of BAD Saarow – a pretty, peaceful walk which consisted of trees and fields, more trees and fields, and some more trees and fields.

Have some trees...
Have some trees…

After surviving the armageddon-style scrum that you find in supermarkets the day before a public holiday, I meandered back to the lake and eventually to the terrace of a restaurant I’d had my eye on earlier.

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Oddly, they were closing up the outside section.

Me: Can I sit outside?

Waiter: Sure! 

Job done.

I settled in with a glass of white wine, on a cushion that they brought out specially, and enjoyed all the light I could see while reading “All The Light We Cannot See”. Spooky, eh?

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Having taken another billion photos, it was back to the hotel for dinner. With the menu rather heavily geared in the pork direction, I opted for the Schnitzel with onions, garlic and fried potatoes. It’s safe to say German portions will be the death of me.

It was bigger than my torso.
It was bigger than my torso.

From my vantage point at the window, I noticed that something was happening at the Youth Centre.

Me: What’s going on over there? 

Waitress: Oh, Easter Fire. 

Me: Huh. Can anyone go or is it invite-only?

Waitress: Anyone can go! No problem! 

So I stumbled across the road with my Schnitzel-baby in tow. About thirty people were standing around a massive bonfire, talking, drinking and warming themselves. I bought a dodgy-looking shot from the lady working the “booze window” and made my way over. Naturally, in a village with a population of around fifty people, I stood out.

Bonfires and dodgy drinks - the backbone of any German celebration
Bonfires and dodgy drinks – the backbone of any German celebration

It seemed that the entire fire department was there and, sure enough, one of them came over to test the level of “stranger danger”.

Fireman Sam: You’re not from around here…

Me: No. I’m from Ireland. 

And that was that. Instant “in”. Soon my new buddy and I were surrounded by curious Neu Golmers, wondering how an Irish girl had wandered into their midst on Easter Saturday. Shots were downed, Glühwein flowed, many a funny conversation was had, and I soon felt like an honorary Neu Golmer.

Before midnight, I was invited along to a well where it seemed the Germans were going to dip their heads in freezing water, or something. With my bed within crawling distance, I declined. Maybe next year…

(To be continued…)

The Littlest Hobo

At the end of this month, I will be moving out of flat number five and into flat number six. Not bad going for ten months, even by Berlin standards.

My plans to change the locks in Ailsa’s place failed and I dutifully moved out at the end of June. Ailsa came back from America to a spotless clean apartment, which she was very happy about, and I was very happy that she hadn’t arrived a couple of hours earlier when this was not even remotely the case.

Aware that I was about to be homeless – again – I started putting out feelers to see if I could find somewhere to keep me off the streets for another few weeks. As luck would have it, my German friend, Adalwolfa, was going to the States for a month with her dad and was looking for someone to take over her room. Funnily enough, the flat is about a ten-minute walk from Hermann’s place so it feels a bit like coming full circle.

I’m now sharing with a charming young German gentleman and a (thankfully) sane Swede. My first act in a bid to impress my new housemates was to make a cup of tea with a spoon and a half of salt, which I then proceeded to spit all over the kitchen. Eberhart came to my rescue and pointed out where the sugar was, though probably not before thinking he was living with a complete lunatic.

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In my defence, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone keep salt in a jar with a spoon in it before. Surely that’s just asking for trouble, or is it yet another example of the much-maligned German sense of humour?

Anyway, since then, things have been going just fine. Although some of the décor leaves a little to be desired…

Um...
Um…

and the kitchen would give Hildeberta and Hildegard the willies, I have a huge room, working wifi, nice flatmates who don’t ask anything of me and, most importantly, a roof over my head. As Adalwolfa is a bit of a technical genius, I’ve also had hours of fun with her remote-controlled lighting system, hitting random buttons to see which light comes on or goes off. I’ve even managed to make it through almost an entire month with only one mini-lecture about putting packaging in the bio bin.

However, all good things must come to an end, and conscious of being under serious time pressure, I started looking for a new flat right after I’d moved into this one. And, I can hardly believe it, but I think I’ve found the perfect solution.

There is a company here called Berlinovo, which has apartments all over the city. The real beauty of this, particularly for someone with my sketchy employment history and even sketchier prospects, is that there’s no deposit, you can rent by the month, and only have to give a month’s notice when you want to leave.

The flat is small, but fully furnished (down to a corkscrew – I checked),  there are good transport connections, and I will be living on my own. ON MY OWN – how sweet those words are…

I'm this happy
I’m this happy

Regarding my current area, I will miss my new favourite bar, where it’s rumoured they eat foreigners for breakfast. I, however, have fit in like a dream, and the scary-looking locals have turned out to be lovely German pussycats, who help me with my language skills every time I go there. If there ever comes a time that I need to rob a bank or hide a body, the German that I’m learning from these characters will come in very handy.

I will NOT miss my local Italian restaurant, where the lecherous, elderly Sicilian waiter seems to think it’s perfectly acceptable to follow timid young women (yes, me) into the ladies bathroom, and attempt – repeatedly – to kiss them.

Numerous shoves in the chest failed to convince Salvatore that the feeling was not mutual.
Numerous shoves in the chest failed to convince Salvatore that the feeling was not mutual.

Anyway, for better or worse, soon I will be leaving all of this far behind and making the 25 or so S-Bahn trips it will take me to get all of my stuff from one end of the city to the other. This will probably be a walk in the park in comparison to setting up an internet connection…