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Published: June 26th 2017
January. Morning time. It was cold but fresh when the taxi arrived to take us the 4 miles or so across the Runcorn Bridge that spans the river Mersey to the train station. The sun was bright. It was a typical winter's day. Roisin and I were both clad in what we term our 'Moscow' coats; thick thermal jackets that served us well several years ago when we hit Red Square and its environs that make up the touristy bits of Russia's capital city. Then we experiences temperatures of -20°C. Hopefully we won't be experiencing those sort of temperatures this time. Surprisingly, neither of us will be stepping foot on a ship this time. In fact we'll be lucky if we even see a ship.
Not long having returned from the Caribbean, we have decided it is a little too soon to be heading back to sea so we're taking a long weekend away in the build up to Roisin's birthday which will be spent exploring the delights of Austria's premier city; Vienna.
‘Going anywhere nice?'
the taxi driver asked as he pulled away from the kerb.
Not wanting to alert anyone that the house will be
empty for a few days, Roisin replied ‘London', without a hint of hesitation. ‘Just overnight' she was quick to add. ‘Are you going to take in a show?' ‘Yes' ‘Which one?' ‘Guys and Dolls',
Then Roisin turned to me and said softly but for the taxi driver's benefit, ‘I hope they don't have a party while we're away.' I
n an attempt to indicate that the house won't be empty anyway.
It was my turn to add to the illusion. ‘No, and I hope he keeps away from my chain saw. You know what he's like when he's been at my absinthe!!!'
Realising what I'd just said I give Roisin a look and mouthed: ‘I've gone too far, haven't I??!'
As soon as I'd paid the taxi driver, standing in front of Runcorn train station I turned to Roisin and said ‘Guys and Dolls?? Guys and f**kin' Dolls?? You could have at least said ‘Cats', ‘Les Mis' or even ‘Phantom' but Guys and Dolls!!' ‘I'm sorry! I panicked. I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition. ‘Well he's probably gone away thinking that Michael Myers is somehow related to us!!'
The train journey to London took just on two hours. After a short walk to Euston Square, we boarded the tube to Paddington where we embarked the Heathrow express and fifteen minutes later we were pulling in to Heathrow terminal 5.
Our flight is not until tomorrow. Tonight we were staying in the IBIS Hotel on the Heathrow outer perimeter road. Checking the map, the bus number 423, a free shuttle.
According to the map, the 423 bus travels directly along the outer perimeter airport road, known as Bath Road, stopping a few hundred yards before he IBIS hotel. Simple enough? Our landmark was to be the Holiday Inn. Once we see the Holiday Inn we knew to alight at the next stop. Within minutes of leaving Terminal 5, the 423 had turned in to Bath Road. From here it should be plain sailing. The Holiday Inn soon loomed in to view…then as quickly as it loomed in to view it loomed out of view as the bus turned right heading for Hatton Cross tube station. We hadn't even time to assimilate what had happened before the Holiday Inn disappeared from view. Through one of the long
stay car parks we could see the IBIS. The bus should join back up with Bath Road, we both agreed albeit unconvinced.
Sitting half way down the bus added to our problems. When there was no sign of the bus doing a u-turn I tried to head back to the driver. I didn't want to disturb him whilst he was driving and when the bus was stationary passengers were moving down the bus making it impossible to walk against the flow. At the next red light. I darted up the bus to the driver and explained our predicament. ‘No, this goes to Hounslow bus station. You need to change at the next stop and take the bus back to Bath Road!!!'
The driver said.
The bus carried on its way towards Hounslow depot whilst we were left in the wake of its exhaust fumes. Left standing, with a medium size case and a very busy two lane duel carriage way. Not only that, there was a two foot crash barrier between us and the opposite bus stop and no footbridge!
We waited for a suitable break in the traffic then it was like Lester Piggott against
Willy Carson….only without their horses!! And with the 11 times champion jockey a spritely 80 years old and the 72 year Mr Carson's career highlight of 5th place in the reality television show I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!. It was no surprise that we both struggled with the barrier. Well after all Messrs. Piggott and Carson were renowned for their flat racing!!!
The bus wasn't long in coming and sure enough took us back to Bath Road where we made our way to the IBIS and within 5 minutes of alighting we were finally checking in.
The IBIS lies just outside the Northern Perimeter Road. It is on the route of the airport shuttle bus known as the ‘hopper'. Even though the hotel was only a mere two miles from the departure hall at terminal 3, the Hopper costs £4.50 per person. A notice in the foyer advertised a local taxi firm charging £10.00 flat rate to any of the five Heathrow terminals. For the extra £1 we decided to push the boat out (and there even wasn't a cruise ship in sight!!)…well as far as you can push out riding in the back of an
'02 reg Mondeo (and ‘push' we nearly did as well!!)
Vienna airport lies about 11 miles south east of the city centre. The fastest way to get to the centre is by City Airport Train known as the CAT. The journey is nonstop and costs €12 single or €19 return. However, during my last visit back in October I discovered the S-bahn also ran from the airport to Vienna centre. The S-bahn stands for schnell bahn
or express train. Although badged as an express train, it is little more than a regional train that stops at a number of stations en route. At only €2.20 one way there must have been a catch. Did the S7 travel via Moscow? Did you have to share a carriage with several sheep, some cattle and a number of chickens? No…no….no and no!! The train was of a good standard with minimal graffiti and the journey took only 25 minutes. These left the airport every ½ hour as opposed to the CAT, every 15 minutes. However for the €32 saving the ‘not overly excessive' delay was most welcome.
At Wien Mitte we now had to change to the U-bahn, Vienna's metro/subway. The
tickets purchased at the airport were also good for the metro providing we remained travelling in the same direction and kept within the same travel zone. Without stopping to check the zones, we jumped on the U4 for the one stop to Stadtpark. We both got the feeling of déjà vu as the train hurled through Stadtpark finally stopping at the next station on the line, Karlplatz. What is it with public transport recently? First the number 423 bus that didn't stop at the IBIS hotel and now this! Treating it as nothing more than a minor inconvenience, we crossed over on to the opposite platform (using the overhead walk way method rather than the more direct method demonstrated on the Eastern Perimeter Road yesterday!!) and caught the next train which DID stop at Stadtpark. The reason we found why the U4 did not stop at Stadtpark on the way out was due to the platform being under heavy renovation. I'm sure that this was probably announced at some stage but over and above ‘Schnitzel', ‘Strudel', and ‘von Trapp', my Austrian German needs work!!
We left Stadtpark u-bahn station at the Johannesstrasse exit. The street where our hotel was situated, we found the hotel on Am Heumarkt only 250yards from the u-bahn station.
Unusually for mainland European hotels, we had tea and coffee making facilities in our room. However, whilst the provision of tea bags were plentiful they consisted of fruit flavoured tea or Earl Grey, not everyone's cup of tea (quite literally!!). On noticing a maid on our landing as we entered the room I popped my head out of the door. Luckily she was still there. In my best German I asked for more English breakfast tea bags.
‘Ein Moment, bitte',
she said as she disappeared through a door that I assumed led to the stairwell. And ein moment i
t certainly was. Not zwei momenten
or drei momenten
as you would expect to be kept waiting for a request as trivial as extra tea bags but with the upmost efficiency synonymous with this part of the world, a knock came at our door within a moment. As I opened it, the maid smiled and immediately held out both hands to me. As I said, my Austrian German needs work as there, before my eyes, I was presented with eight small cartons of milk!!
For our evening meal I was eager to give Roisin a taste of traditional Austrian cuisine so we visited one of my old haunts, Stadtheuriger Gigerl. When I say old haunt, I had visited this unpronounceable establishment several months ago so it was still almost fresh in my mind as to its location. However, after our short 15 minute walk from the hotel arriving in a typically cobbled narrow alley street, I still managed to lead Roisin in to the wrong ‘Keller'. On opening the heavy wooden outer door, we stepped in through a drawn curtain, there to stop the draft from opening and closing the main outside door from sweeping through this eatery. I immediately turned to the left in order to advance to the back room and was confronted with a brick wall. Before I could even register that this wall wasn't there last time I was here the waitress appeared. In order to save face I found myself saying: ‘Haben Sie plats frei?' ‘No!
' she responding in almost perfect English. ‘We are fully booked tonight. You could try Stadtheuriger Gigerl, cross over and about 50 metres over on your right!!!'
It was Thursday night, almost 7pm. The Stadtheuriger Gigerl is situated in the Innere Stadt district of Vienna, in the shadows of St Stephen's Cathedral and like Zum neuen Blumenstock, the restaurant which had a brick wall where the back room should have been, the Stadtheuriger Gigerl was also very busy but although no tables were free the kellerin advised us in a friendly tone that one should become free shortly.
An old man, looking on, had quickly assessed our predicament and beckoned us to his table as he said something in a very strong Austrian dialect to the waitress. She turned to us and said that he offered us to sit down at his table as he is leaving in about 5 or 10 minutes. Despite the language barrier, it didn't stop our new best friend from talking to me in a very guttural German of which I understood very little. I managed to ascertain that he didn't live too far from this restaurant and stopped here most nights for a drink before going home. The skill is to nod and laugh in just the right place at just the right time to make it look like you understand every syllable. From Urdu to Voodoo! From Japanese to Jive. It doesn't matter what language. The results are the same. That is until a question is asked and you're still nodding and smiling inanely as if you've just come hot foot from lobotomies ‘R us!! Luckily for me, this is a phrase I have learned in several languages. In mid nod, our Austrian host asked: ‘Was trinken Sie?' That's very kind
I thought. I explained to Roisin what was happening during which time it was our Austrian friend's turn to nod and smile.
‘Ein weiss bier und wasser ohne gas',
I promptly replied.
The man then stood up and turned toward the bar as he took his wallet out. He was met by the waitress who seemed to take his order. No sooner had the man sat back down than the waitress appeared at our table holding a tray on which sat one small glass of white wine. He took hold of the glass and saluted to both Roisin and I in turn before taking a large gulp of his
drink. It suddenly dawned on me that he hadn't asked: ‘What are you drinking'
as in, ‘It's my round'.
He was asking ‘What do you drink?'
as in ‘I drink white wine. What do you drink??!'
It was then then that a table became free in another part of the restaurant to which we were happily ushered (although scuttled may be near the mark!!)
The food, drink (yes I eventually got my wheat beer and Roisin her still mineral water) and the service were exemplary. Roisin finally decided on the goulash and dumplings whilst I selected a Gigerl chicken with potato salad.
Tomorrow evening we plan to play it safe. Roisin spotted a TGI Friday's on the way from the hotel!!
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