Painting: Oil on Canvas by Margaret Cooper.
Amazing what can be packed into a suitcase and a weekend! Vienna was just a two night stopover but it contained some unexpected and interesting events – not quite the sort you would find described in your guidebook.
After a long and tiring flight we arrived in Vienna on the Saturday morning at a little after 6am. Local time. It was still very early when immigration formalities had been completed, so we decided to relax over cups of lemon tea at the nearby cafe before taking a taxi to our hotel.
Mid-March and Vienna was slowly emerging from Winter; it had been raining and from the taxi window all looked very dark and gloomy. There were still traces of snow piled on the side of the road in a dirty slushy mess.
We arrived at the hotel at about 10 am, hoping, rather optimistically, that we would be able to go straight to our room, shower and sleep. But the hotel was fully booked and we were told that the room would not be ready until 2 pm.
So, leaving our luggage, we set out with a map to explore Vienna. By now the rain had cleared, and the air was bracing and refreshing. The people we passed certainly seemed to feel the cold more than we did, for everyone appeared well wrapped up in black and looked pale and unhappy. The hotel was centrally located so it was not long before we came to a street of shops, maybe the local high street.
We found a small supermarket, set back from the road, and decided to go in and make a few purchases for our supper, knowing that once we got back to the hotel Jet lag would taker over and we wouldn’t be emerging again. We reached the checkout with an assortment of salad sandwiches, a bag of apples, fruit juice and yoghurt, only to find they did not supply bags.
Cramming what we could into the bag of apples, and juggling with the rest, we set off to find a restaurant where we could get an early lunch. Breakfast had been very early on the plane and it was now 11:30.
We were about to experience cafe life Vienna Style!
A little further along the road, we found a small congenial looking cafe. It was obviously very popular with the locals, as although it was fairly empty when we went in, by the time we left at 1 pm, it was crowded out with noisy chattering people and dogs.
Dogs were obviously an important part of the clientele; and there was no restriction on numbers. One middle-aged bearded gentlemen even had three large shaggy ones beside him. An elderly lady, with a dog on a lead, came in and was greeted warmly by the waiter. Obviously a “regular”. Looking for conversation as much as a meal, she headed directly for a vacant seat at our table – changing her mind when she heard us talking in English.
The room filled up with people smoking and drinking. Although it was lunch time it seemed quite acceptable to sit with nothing but a glass of wine or a beer. And there was no hurry with the bill either. So we sat there a while enjoying our veil fillets and potato salad, while we watched the activities.
The toilets were situated along a passage to one side but were not indicated at all. I was just about to go through a door covered with a full-length poster of a girl in a bathing suit – when out came a man! So the other plain unmarked door would have to be the “ladies”.
Had jetlag taken over completely? Was I so stupid that somehow I had pressed the wrong button? To my consternation, suddenly out from the wall emerged a large long blue object, about the size and shape of a 1kg block of prepacked cheese. As I watched, fascinated, it began vigorously spraying water all around the toilet bowl, for what seemed an age! I was convinced I had somehow upset the plumbing! As the performance continued I debated whether to beat a hasty retreat and disclaim all knowledge of what was going on, or whether to stay and see what happened next.
I chose the latter course.
But more was to follow. Suddenly the whole toilet seat began to gyrate and twist in shape until it resembled a giant pretzel! I was mesmerised. This activity also seemed to go on for some time. Then just as suddenly as it had started the whole thing stopped. Performance over! The blue object drew back into the wall and all was calm! Whew!
Well, it has been said that travel broadens one’s horizons!
On Sunday, having had a good nights sleep and a delicious Viennese breakfast, we set forth to see more of Vienna. We walked through a little park with small trees still wrapped in their winter overcoats, and soon reached the centre of the city and St Stephens Cathedral. It was a relaxing, certainly more normal day.
The taxi picked us up at 7am on Monday morning, which meant we had a three hour wait at the airport before our flight. There was very little space or seating on the concourse, but we found two seats outside the Duty-Free Shop, and just across the way from a very crowded, partially enclosed coffee shop. A young guy was asleep on one seat, and next to him was a navy zippered bag.
He woke, and as the bag was taking up a seat, we asked if it was his. But he knew nothing about it and said that it had appeared when he was asleep. He seemed totally unperturbed, but with thoughts of IRA bombing in London, and other more recent terrorist activities, I really was alarmed.
I went into the Duty-Free shop to ask if they could call security or take some action.
What followed was unbelievable!
People came out of the Duty-Free shop one by one, just gawked at the bag and went back inside.
Then a security man on his rounds came along and I called him over. The young guy, an American waiting for a flight to New York repeated his story. The security man said he would “fix it” and went off.
About ten minutes later he returned with another security man; they both looked at the bag and went away again!
After a little while, four of them came along and asked us to move, while they carefully lifted the bag from the floor back to the seat.
At this moment a young guy appeared from the coffee shop and claimed the bag as his!
But what if it had contained a bomb. . .
The security man was still hovering in the now crowded concourse when another young guy came along and dropped his bag on the ground while he took a photo. The security man at once called out to him, “Is that your bag?”, and then winked at us, as if to say,”see, I am on the job”.
As we boarded the plane a little later, I reflected – it certainly was an interesting weekend!