Vienna Weekend by Lydia Penn

Vienna Weekend

Painting: Oil on Canvas by Margaret Cooper.

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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.

Unaccompanied baggage!

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”.

I wonder!

As we boarded the plane a little later, I reflected – it certainly was an interesting weekend!

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Lost Love by Lydia Penn

Lost Love by Lydia Penn
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It was a perfect English summer afternoon. As she followed her elderly hostess across the sunlit green sward, where she had enjoyed many games of clock golf, she could just make out the figure of a man seated at a small table under a shady tree. But as she drew near, she was startled. She must be dreaming – it couldn’t be – it wasn’t possible – after all these years – he couldn’t be here.

But he was!

How strange that they should meet again like this. Inevitably he had changed, but the years had dealt kindly with him. He did not seem at all surprised to see her. Did he know she was coming? Did he recognise her? As their hostess rushed into introductions, neither gave the slightest indication that they had met before, in fact, had known each other rather well. Is this all real, she wondered. But yes, he did recognise her. “You haven’t put on weight,” he remarked. Such a banal remark! But it went quite unnoticed by their hostess, preoccupied with rearranging the plates of cakes and sandwiches on the table.

He was right. She had not really put on weight. But although she was not as slim as she had been in her youth, at least she hadn’t become matronly, she thought with relief, as she settled comfortably into the well-cushioned wicker chair.

She gazed unseeingly at the delicate porcelain china before her, and the years rolled away. How long had it been? He was in the army then, where he had obviously had a successful career. One didn’t get the Military Cross for nothing. But he had always refused to talk about it, whether, through modesty or a disinclination to relive past exploits, she did not know.

She came back to the present.

He seemed to be discussing his work since retiring from the army. The theatre? She was puzzled. It seemed a most unlikely career for him. He had always been quiet, a little tense, reserved and not at all outgoing. Had she heard wrongly? She had better pull herself together and concentrate before she made some appalling gaffe! She looked at him again. This sort of social complication would have really thrown him in the past, but now he appeared quite at ease. Had he changed so much?

She studied him as she absentmindedly took another cucumber sandwich. The sun had moved around and, yes, he did have lines on his face, but he didn’t look as old as she would have expected. Of course, he had not got much hair, but then he never did have. His father, he often said, was “bald as a coot”. Parents, family. No she had never met his family, nor he hers. She had always lived away from home in London, and he, of course, had different postings, mainly overseas.

She sipped her tea and tried to concentrate on what their hostess was saying – some story about the problem with hired help these days. She made an effort to join in the conversation.

He suddenly smiled at her, and at once her mind began to play the ” What If” game.

Yes, she had behaved very badly, she knew. She had just dropped him without a word of explanation when he was overseas. What if the relationship had gone on; what if they had married as she had hoped at one time. Would they have been happy? Had she really been in love with the man, or more with the glamour of the uniform and the prospects of overseas travel? How had he really felt about her? Had they really known each other? They were attracted to each other, but were their times together superficial, unreal? As it seemed it was now. Yes, very unreal!

She watched him accept another cup of tea. Had he always drunk tea, or did he drink coffee mainly? She couldn’t remember. And food. He appeared to enjoy those thin cucumber sandwiches – so odd for a man. What food had he liked; again she couldn’t remember. She didn’t even know what he ate for breakfast – typical English, bacon and eggs, she supposed. Together they had always eaten at different restaurants, and enjoyed a variety of different foods – she remembered paella once! Well, it had all been so long ago.

Their hostess had apparently not noticed her silence and was now waxing eloquent on the follies of the government, and the increased cost of living. As she moved her hands expressively, the diamonds and sapphire of her rings, sparkled in the sunlight. He looked again at her, as he helped himself to a generous slice of fruitcake- much more suitable for a man – and she returned to her own reflections.

Was he married? Had he been married, and was he now on his own as she was? So much must have happened during those years of her own happy marriage. Had he been happy? Did he still sail? She thought of how they had met when he had a small boat. She had sat and talked to him in the boat shed while he worked on it. But she was not a “boat person” and he had never taken her out on it. There was a strong attraction, yes, but were their interests so different? How naive she had been in those days!

How unreal all this seems, she thought again. She hadn’t thought of him for years. She wondered now what his reaction had been when she let him down so badly. For her, it had been better that way. It seemed unlikely that they would have married, She had always feared that someday he would meet that special person, who would produce the spark that she obviously had not. How would she have coped with the situation? But did that matter anymore?

She came back to the present. What would happen now when they got up to go. Would this delightful idyll be over? Would there be just a casual goodbye? She realised she would like to see him again, to reminisce like old friends.

Refusing offers of help, their hostess got up, placed the teapot on a small silver tray, and lumbered off towards the house to make a fresh pot of tea. “So refreshing”, she said. Again he smiled as they sat alone. Then he stood up. “Can we start again”? he asked, as he moved around the table towards her. She went to meet him as if in a dream . . . . . .

Lost Love
Author: Lydia Penn

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Travails of a Trolley by Lydia Penn

Travails of a trolley by Lydia Penn

Travails of a Trolley by Lydia Penn

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It lay hidden in a dark corner of the loft, a small but sturdy luggage trolley, forgotten or unwanted by the previous owners of the house, and now discovered by Edwin and a friend while adjusting a faulty TV aerial, just two weeks prior to our overseas trip. It seemed to be the perfect answer to our luggage needs.

Previously we had always travelled light with cabin baggage only. But regulations had changed and after testing airline cabin baggage size allowance on a stand thoughtfully provided by a local department store, we realised that with the smaller size now allowed we would be forced to check-in an extra suitcase to take all we needed for a five-week trip overseas. We had not wanted to purchase any more luggage – we had cupboards full already. But nothing on wheels. We found a suitcase which fitted well on to the little trolley, which had an adjustable handle and seemed ideal and in good working order. We strapped the suitcase securely on to the trolley and everything seemed perfect.

But was it?

We arrived early at Sydney Airport and while waiting to check-in, we studied with amusement the people passing by with large airport trolleys piled high with a mountain of suitcases and bags of various shapes and sizes and smugly congratulated our selves that we had all we needed firmly strapped to one small trolley. When we were finally able to check-in with Austrian Airlines we were so preoccupied with the fact that we had not been allocated the window seats we had requested, that we paid scant attention to our luggage as it was whisked away.

After a not very pleasant flight, we arrived on time at Vienna, just after 6am local time. Once landed we headed for the Austrian Airlines office to lodge a complaint about the officious stewardess who had made this flight so unpleasant and had refused to give her name. We also ensured that we had the requested window seats for the return flight. All this delayed our arrival at immigration and then to the baggage area to collect our luggage.

Only it wasn’t there.

The baggage carousel was empty, and so was the area around about. As is usual in such situations, there was no official to be seen. We spent the next hour alternatively hovering at the carousel, and walking around looking for help. Finally, we got some help from the airline office when in desperation we made our way back there. Someone suggested that we try what was a sort of ‘Left Luggage” office, and there was our suitcase on a shelf wedged between two other items. Because the suitcase had a soft top, it was classed as “fragile” and so travelled separately from other luggage. If only someone had told us! However both trolley and suitcase were in good condition and with great relief, we emerged from the airport ready to enjoy a weekend in Vienna, before travelling to Isreal.

But our problems were just beginning. As we packed to leave on Monday morning, the buckle on the improvised strap round the suitcase broke. While Edwin tried to cope with this new problem, I was frantically stitching up the side of a haversack which we used to take with us on day trips and bewailing the fact that the alarm on our travelling clock was no longer working. We finally got everything fixed and arrived at the airport with a three-hour wait for our flight. We were checked in by a girl who didn’t seem to know what she was doing and by now I was really concerned about the luggage being labelled “fragile” and wondering where it would end up. But there was nothing we could do about it now.

We were annoyed rather than surprised when on arrived at Tel Aviv there was once again no sign of our “fragile” luggage or any indication as to where we would find it. We pushed our cabin luggage on an airport trolley through what seemed an endless maze of corridors until we located the “lost luggage” counter where we began the process of filling out the necessary claim forms when someone came along and said they had located our luggage. There it was – intact, but standing quite alone in a vast empty space away from any carousel and looking like some lost traveller in the middle of an inhospitable desert.

To get into Israel had been comparatively easy. To get out was a different matter! After touring for three weeks we returned to the airport for our return flight to Vienna, where we would have an overnight stay before flying onto London. Check-in took about an hour! After an initial X-ray of all baggage, we were subject to a long and intensive grilling by an Israeli security officer. With sighs of relief, we then continued on in the queue. But as I was watching a woman ahead tipping the contents of her suitcase on to the counter, I suddenly realised that while both our cabin bags had stickers on, the check-in suitcase did not.

During the intense interrogation, I had stated that I had been given a candle by the Jewish friend with whom we had been touring Israel. This, of course, was in the suitcase. So we now had to go through the complicated business of detaching the suitcase from the trolley before we could open it. The small squat candle was finally located at the bottom of the case, taken out, examined, x-rayed then returned to us. Once we had repacked the case, again secured it to the trolley, we were on our way to another x-ray!

By now we were tired, stressed out and horribly sick of airports – and luggage! On arrival in Vienna, This time we went straight to the luggage office where we had previously found our suitcase. After some delay, it arrived.

The next morning we again had difficulty in securing the case to the trolley, as the strap continually came adrift. By now we had decided to discard the “fragile” label which was causing so many problems, and at the check-in, the suitcase was put into a large wire container.

When our luggage finally arrived on the carousel at Heathrow we were delighted to find that some kind person had secured the case to the trolley with a very strong strap which had a combination lock. Now the only problem was that we did not know the combination!

Over a leisurely sandwich lunch, we finally managed to work out the combination and thought our troubles were now over. Not so! When we arrived back in Vienna and the trolley came off the carousel, we found that it had been badly knocked about. It took Edwin some time to fix it so that we could once again wheel it along.

But it seemed that our luggage problems would never end! Back in Sydney, tired and frustrated, we stared glumly at yet another now empty carousel which had been spewing luggage fiercely from both ends – but not ours. We couldn’t believe that it had happened again. As we stood there, uncertain as to what to do, our green haversack attracted the attention of a sniffer dog and therefore that of the official with him. This area was now deserted, except for a few officials and people who were beginning to stare. Once again, now with another couple, we found ourselves in an office filling out claims for lost baggage, when someone called out that more baggage had appeared on the carousel. Our suitcase had arrived! Thankfully we trundled it off to be x-rayed.

Guess what? Before we went overseas the following year, we purchased a strong hard-topped suitcase which ran smoothly on wheels.

Travails of a Trolley
Author: Lydia Penn

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