Hallstatt to Vienna: one extreme to another

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September 23rd 2010
Published: September 25th 2010
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We woke up early, to an alarm. Our train was scheduled to leave at 11:10 and a ferry boat ride must be taken beforehand. The hotel provided breakfast, which is always a good excuse for rising early. We filled up on cheese, more freshly baked rolls, yogurt, and fruit before heading out to get another quick fix of Hallstatt loveliness sans bags.

The town was still waking up. Locals were up but most of the tourists were still in their hotels. We wandered through the village and took a lot of pictures before returning to our own lodgings to check out. Jer’s penchant for punctuality meant we waited for the ferry for thirty minutes. There are worse things to wait for. The morning was bright and sunny, the lake was cool and calm, and I had some extra time to snap a few extra photos.

The ferry ride leaving Hallstatt was as lovely as the one taken to get there. We were nearly an hour early for our train. So we sat and read. Again, there are worse places to be stuck waiting. Eventually our train arrived. We’d befriended a couple with a toddler who were also from Seattle. We sat in the same car as them.

The porter came by to check our tickets. He informed us that we would have to get off of the train and take a bus. At least, that’s what we thought he said. He spoke very little English and the Austrian accent makes German sound like something other than German. Jer likens it to people in the deep, deep south speaking English, but I didn’t know German that well to be able to tell the difference. It sounded like something else.

Our train ride ended early and the entire train piled onto a coach bus. We traveled through several small villages in the lake district before ending up at another train station and being told to get back on. We did this, and ten minutes later we were deposited at our original destination for our transfer. Thankfully, our bus detour did not result in our missing our connection to Vienna, or, as the locals call it, “Wien.”

The ride was long and I finished my book. I pulled out the netbook and caught up on journal entries. Suddenly we were at our destination! I stuffed the computer in my bag and followed Jer out of the rail car.

Arriving in Vienna after visiting Hallstatt is akin to enjoying a very pleasant, wonderful and soothing dream and being violently shaken awake. I did not like the look of the train station; it appeared small and grimy from the onset. We walked into the station and were instantly at a loss as to which direction to go. I suggested we head out toward the bus and taxi exit; that would at least get us to the street, right?

While we were still in the station riding down the escalator, a young man wearing an “Exploited” band t-shirt panhandled Jer for change for a ticket. Jer nicely told him no. The man persisted. Jer told him he doesn’t carry cash. The man persisted. Jer told him no again and the guy finally buggered off. I realized our bags made us easy targets for other panhandlers, robbers, and the like and became very anxious since we didn’t know where to go or how to get where we should be going.

This was the first time I was relieved to be wearing a money belt. For most of the trip, it’s been an uncomfortable annoyance, but I put up with it because I did not bring my wallet. I have my purse, but I keep the camera, Euro change, sunscreen and a notebook and pens in it. Aside from the camera, everything else is replaceable, and even the camera is expendable, I guess. Vienna is the first time I’ve ever been very happy to have my passport and cards in hiding.

We exited the station on the wrong side of the station and ended up walking the exterior. This did not help my anxiousness, since the side we walked out on was remote and covered in graffiti. The small patch of grass was a haven of pigeons and homeless types. Probably harmless but how do you know? And here we are, plodding along with our rolling bag looking just like clueless…tourists. ARGH!

Mayhem. Or so it seemed. Vienna was crowded and dirty. Cars zipping by, honking, swerving around slower cars. People shouting at one another, abandoned cigarettes littering the sidewalk, grime. Dogs leashed and muzzled. Walking beneath scaffolding, careful not to walk in the bicycle lane though little sidewalk for pedestrians existed, looking both ways for trams before crossing the streets. Chestnuts and their spiny shells scattered on the sidewalks. Sex shops.

I grew more anxious. The sun I earlier praised in Hallstatt for its beauty I now cursed for the heat it radiated both above and from the sidewalk. We peered at the sides of buildings trying to find the names of streets we hoped to locate. We had a google map of our hotel destination but, like google maps at home, the information, we discovered, was not as clear as we require but it was too late to get a better map. After a few bad turns we ended up on the right track. We found our hotel. Despite passing two exotic dance clubs on the way—one with a tag line of “Come Inside” and a helpful drawing of what you may see if you do—our hotel was very nice and clean. Our room was on the seventh floor—the top floor, and was also very nice and clean.

We deposited our belongings in our room and ventured out to Wien. By this time, my opinion of Wien was very low. This was not helped when we had to return to the dreaded train station. We at least had better luck entering than we had exiting and found the subway—and our track—easily. We decided to visit old town. The U-bahn left us at the huge church that was the focal point of Vienna for so long. Saint Francis, maybe? We approached and were accosted by men wearing 18th century coats carrying three ring binders filled with shiny pictures of chamber music concerts. We humored one such fellow for a few minutes before telling him we must consider his offer. We ducked into the cathedral—which was packed—and left it a few minutes later. The concert peddler has his back turned. We avoided the others. We found ourselves in a crush of people.

What the hell is it with this place? I wondered. It was so crowded, hectic, dirty, and annoying! I inwardly concluded that I don’t like it—at all! Jer tried several times to shake me out of my sour mood. We were starving and must find food. But where does one go when one does not know a city? I eyed the dripping ice cream cones being consumed by other pedestrians, but of course, we needed something more nourishing.

Stopping off at Lush may not seem like a logical thing to do, but Jer pointed it out and he was out of shaving cream so we went in. We bought one of their last small pots of Razorantium (the shop girl confirms that it’s being discontinued…no!) and asked for a restaurant recommendation. The girl pointed us toward a place called Brasil - something and sent us in a general direction. We found the place. We waited a long time for service. We watched 15 year olds drink and smoke heavily while we wait. Smoking is still allowed indoors in Vienna, so the biergarten was still the better choice, even if the smoke was heavy for us. Our seats were in the middle of a blocked-off road. Jer ordered a salmon baked potato. I order the wiener schnitzel. My meal was better. We opt not to get apple strudel.

We decide to wander around a bit in old town. We wound up meandering through a close (or alley?) and discoverd a few interesting pockets of life and culture here and there. Perhaps Vienna isn’t so bad, I think to myself.

Sadly, Jer’s baked potato did not satisfy his appetite. We decided to do what we did in Japan when the food was not filling: we visited McDonald’s. This is actually an amusing ritual of ours. Jer always orders a Big Mac in foreign countries. The Vienna verdict? It was okay, though it only had the special sauce. And it tasted so similar to US Big Macs that he didn’t give it high marks.

We stopped at a market for some radlers for Erika and headed to the hotel. We battled for a few hours with the internet—the hotel had a terrible connection that dropped out often and seemed to particularly dislike Facebook—before going to bed. Jer and I originally thought we had two full days in Vienna but realized, after checking into our hotel, that we had just one. With this in mind, we knew we had a long day ahead of us Friday.


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