Sorry once again about the long wait for this post; I’ve been busy pretending to be a journalist at the Gloucester Citizen for the last week. Hard-hitting articles to which I contributed include “Spoons was closed today but we don’t know why” and approx five million school nativities. I’ve also had a monstrous cold, which has kept me just too cranky to be productive. So you’ve probably been hotly anticipating the second part of What I Did On My Holidays if you number yourself among my avid readers. If you don’t, then I’m a little hurt, and I suggest you read this for context. Here’s what happened after we hopped on the bus from Bratislava to Vienna…
FREE: Walking everywhere
We disembarked in Vienna at midday, bleary-eyed (in my case) from an early start. Having decided to walk rather than get a transport pass, and knowing that Vienna is significantly larger than Bratislava, we’d wisely screenshotted a google map from the Hauptbahnhof to our hostel. Sadly, Google coldheartedly and repeatedly lied to us about where the Hauptbahnhof was, placing it several miles away from its real-world location.
For half an hour, we marched cheerfully down the nice, straight route we’d earmarked, until a few signs and a passer-by informed us that we had been walking in a direction perpendicular to the correct one for some time. My attempt to get directions was only moderately successful, in that I was able to ask where to go, but didn’t understand a word of the answer. Nonetheless, we got back on track, and had a lengthy but more productive stroll towards the Westbahnhof, where our hostel (Wombat City Hostel) was.
On the subject of walking, we calculated that we covered between 10 and 15 miles a day on the holiday, having walked for about 5 hours/day. This excessive perambulation was due to a combination of unwillingness to pay for transport, fear of the confusing tram system, and a desire to actually get to know the towns. If you think the distances involved are impressive (or perhaps foolhardy), you’ll be even more gobsmacked to know that they were done at Megan Pace*.
*This term refers to Megan’s customary walking speed, which falls somewhere between “runaway train” and “speeding bullet”.
£10: Lunch in a well-researched restaurant
After our uninspiring Bratislavan lunch, we decided to plan better this time. We therefore chose Cafe Dreschler, whose cheap midday menu was highly recommended by the Lonely Planet online guide. The day’s offering was a tasty-sounding pork dish, followed by tiramisu.
On arrival, the waiter sat us down and told us that the tiramisu was unavailable due to popular demand. We smiled, pretended we were not heartrendingly disappointed by this (WE WERE), and chose our drinks. The waiter then informed us that, sadly, the drinks we’d chosen were unavailable, so we amiably accepted an alternative and ordered our dinner. Five minutes later, the waiter turned up again and said, to my great chagrin, that the meat option was sold out.
We waited, watching delicious-looking tiramisus floating tantalisingly past to other people, until our second choices arrived. Mine was an (actually rather delicious) lentil and bacon dish, and Megan’s was the veggie option. I’m told it was tasty, but it was visually disturbing.
All in all, lunch confirmed my growing suspicion that the whole idea of planning is a massive con and doomed to failure. This confirms that being generally spontaneous was the Right Thing To Do.
FREE: Self-guided walking tour of the town including monumentally tacky Christmas decorations
We spent the afternoon ambling around the very grand city and exploring the Christmas markets, which were phenomenally overpriced. The cathedral was huge and stunning, and surrounded by decadently attired tour guides doing a hard sell for various events.
The imperial palaces and government buildings were huge and elegant, and surrounded by completely horrible Christmas decorations. I greatly enjoyed these, because I’m too ironic for my own good. They included massive cupcakes, candy canes, flashing baubles and giant tinsel candles. 10/10 for effort, Vienna.
3€: An intellectually rigorous piano concert
Also from Lonely Planet came the information that it’s possible to attend concerts in some Vienna concert halls for 3 – 5€, which seemed like a fair deal. After much deliberation, we eschewed the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and booked a piano recital featuring composers whose names we recognised.
A slight error of calculation meant we arrived later than anticipated. We sprinted up three storeys of a golden staircase and arrived, sweaty and barely on time, to be greeted by the rudest ushers I have ever encountered. They ignored our desperate attempts to communicate, speaking to and about us in rapid-fire German and the universal language of contemptuous glances. After shuttling back and forth between two equally disdainful men, we finally realised that they were insisting we check our coats into the cloakroom, and were reluctantly allowed in. (For a fuller idea of the experience, watch this fantastic Mitchell and Webb sketch which perfectly captures a similar phenomenon.)
We lived to regret our choice of concert when we heard the thunderous applause drifting over from the main auditorium where the Philharmonic were playing. What’s more, the pianist’s virtuosity didn’t make up for the fact that his programme turned out to be fairly esoteric. It included a Rachmaninov something-or-other which was quite hard work, and the world premiere of a Macedonian Dance written in what I’m pretty sure the pianist said was a 26/15 time signature. Anyone who reads music will know that this is not necessarily a good thing.
The pianist managed to save the day at the eleventh hour by coming on for two entirely unwarranted encores, seemingly oblivious to the audience’s lukewarm applause. The encores incongruously consisted of some mindblowingly good jazz improvisation on the theme of Gerschwin’s Summertime, and a classical piece that I recognised but couldn’t identify. They were vastly more enjoyable than the rest of it.
17€: Belvedere gallery
We passed a very pleasant final day in this palace/art gallery which houses several paintings by Gustav Klimt. The Lower Belvedere was underwhelming, unless you’re into the more disturbingly misproportioned enclaves of Medieval art. I felt downright betrayed by the absence of anything even remotely shiny in the “medieval treasure chamber”. We were equally unimpressed by a contemporary exhibition featuring grey canvases covered in holes and bits of sand.
The second part of the visit was the Upper Belvedere, which turns out to be where all the Klimt paintings are, along with an impressive and well-displayed selection of other modern art. I’d highly recommend it – there’s enough to keep anyone entertained for a good half-day, without being overwhelming.
7€50: A three hour wait in the airport
After the gallery and a quick goodbye, I hopped back on the lonely bus to Bratislava, and spent a lonely three hours in the airport before the gate opened for my lonely flight (yes, I may have been a little over-cautious about timing). Fortunately, I had a depressing but excellent book to read: namely, Hilary St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I highly recommend reading it, as I did, with no idea what it’s about – the direction it eventually takes is much more effective if you don’t read any spoilers whatsoever beforehand. In my melancholic hours of reading, I ended up spending quite a lot on airport food, which was regrettable given the rubbery quality of the delicacies on offer.
£5: “Easybus” to London Victoria
I won’t go into the flight itself, because I’m still emotionally scarred by the terrifying turbulence. Suffice to say that by the time I arrived in the UK, I was somewhat frazzled, and a little late for my bus. After wrestling with the E-passport gates (which do not like glasses) and finally being assisted by a reassuring lady, I finally found my way to the outside world.
In a shock fit of organisation, I’d booked my travel from the airport months beforehand, but it turns out that Easyjet’s bus service very much doesn’t live up to the name. I was sent to four different locations, before finally reaching a queue in which I waited until well after my “guaranteed seat” had driven off. I escaped eventually, and thus came the inauspicious end to my exciting holiday.
That’s it for now, but I have lots of exciting posts lined up for the coming weeks, including one about what on earth I’m actually up to now that I’m not at uni. There may also be another 12 days of Christmas series, if you’re lucky…