A Day In Vienna (and Happy Birthday Claudie!)

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Austria  ,
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

We had originally found a cheap flight from Sofia to Berlin that would have connected perfectly with our onward trip to Peru. Key flaw: Claude's birthday would have been spent in Sofia. But for just a handful of extra euro, we managed to get a nice little flight putting us in Vienna just for her birthday, and out again in time to put us into Berlin at 11pm.

All went well right up until we realised the fact we couldn't see ten yards outside the terminal window was probably going to mean flight delays. When we could see out the realisation that there was a thick layer of ice and snow meant we weren't moving for a while.

We belatedly made it to Vienna after 1pm (rather than the planned 10a.m. arrival). After copping a little sticker shock for a bus ticket into town, I will confess to having that sensation of "this had better be good".

And it is - every inch.

Vienna struck me as what a European city would look like with real money. Its how Germany would look if they hadn't had 20 years of paying the bills for reunification. The degree of affluence - never ostentatious - is mesmerising, and left me feeling like a slack jawed yokel brought to have an audience with the emperor.

My audience was actually with the empress, as that is the minimum standard of attention demanded by Claude on Her birthday, The Most Important Day of The Year. I was feeling some pressure as plans for an opulent lunch looked to be going astray with our late arrival: and hungry decisions have tended to be bad decisions.

It seems impossible not to dine well in Vienna. We picked at random from a glittering array, and every thing they delivered was flawless. German foods, wines and desserts are heartily satisfying at the worst of times, but in the hands of Cafe Lugeck we enjoyed a banquet that saw us pass away far too many of the daylight hours. I am really going to need to learn how to make the light well seasoned dumplings and tangy sauerkraut that accompanies every dish.

We raced around the city, just trying to get the lay of the land. While obviously more time would have been nice, a day trip was still eminently worthwhile. There is not an inch of litter, and we had to go down a very obscure backstreet to hit any graffiti anywhere in the city centre. The architecture was no doubt designed to shock and awe, and it achieves this result with ease.

As an aside about airport security, those put off (or reassured by) the frequent sight at European airports of fully armed troops should enjoy the nice little comedy act inadvertently put on by a soldier at Vienna airport. He was lingering broodingly in full combat fatigues, boots and a very pretty matching beret. He was caring little that better camouflage at an airport would be an ill fitting and slightly stained red airline employees jacket, and that there is insufficient terminal foliage for him to gain any element of surprise with his choice of outfit. He pawed his machine gun, tapped at his side arm, and glanced at the spare magazines of machine gun ammunition adorning the front of his vest. Then it all went wrong.

I am not sure what he touched, but it dropped the magazine of bullets clean out with a sharp clatter to the floor. Gratifyingly, every single bullet jumped out and they ran all around the floor. All traces of cool were thrown off as he scrabbled around to pick them up, a tricky feat in full gear plus vest plus kevlar - and he showed all the concern of a turtle worried that if he moved the wrong way he would end up marooned and unable to regain his feat. His fellow officers just looked at the ground and considered the shame he was bringing to their uniform. None of them helped him pick up the bullets so focused were they on giving the appearance of not hearing the giggles from the nearby airport cafe.

Its a beautiful city, and I wouldn't mind ruling it. Maybe its a good time to invade.

* * *

Breakfast in Bulgaria, lunch in Austria and dinner in Germany.  (Well, technically we ate dinner in Austria before we got on the plane but it sounds a lot better this way).  A birthday to remember. 

Our last night in Sofia embodied life inside a booming thundercloud.  We slept in a dorm with a large, loud snorer who managed to keep everyone awake the whole night long.  Iain, whose favourite hobby these days seems be waking up snorers, received kudos in the morning from other travelers who appreciated his persistent efforts.  However, they were largely futile as every time this snorer awoke our room experienced joyful silence but not for quite long enough.  Just as your felt yourself drifting off into a dreamland of softness and cotton wool your mind would be smashed into consciousness by another thunderclap of snores.

When our early morning flight was delayed I found a quiet space next to an airport heater and lay down on the floor and slept.  The extent of my sleep deprivation is better understood when you realise that this was slap bang in the middle of a functioning gate surrounded by 100 people bordered by floor to ceiling windows shining in bright, white fog and snow.  Yet still the most fulfilling sleep Ive experienced in what seemed like weeks.

Vienna was perfect.  Another fortuitous spot with sunshine, warm weather and an endless blue sky (which always make everything look better).  We began the day with an incredible Viennese lunch at a place fortunately located next door to a restaurant that advertised heavily on the maps provided by Vienna Tourist Information.  We rolled sluggishly out of the restaurant a few hours later to catch what was left of the daylight.

Vienna is a neat and tidy city - with a place for everything and everything in its place.  Beautiful old buildings, fantastic statues, white cobbled pedestrian streets and sprawling parks combined with a feeling that youve been auspiciously invited to a land reserved exclusively for the aristocracy.

A great birthday.  Thanks Iain!
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