Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Taxi!

Back again in England after a trip to Austria. Of course things didn't run as smoothly as they could have, but then that's not surprising - nothing ever does when I'm involved.
We left home and caught the train to London, stopping overnight to view a friend's art exhibition in Earl's Court - land of the Australians - or so I thought, the Italians and Greeks seem to have taken over - but never mind. After the debacle of the rugby world cup, I suspect most Aussies have crept out of sight until it is all over.
Anyway, I digress. The flight was on time, we got an upgrade to business which was great, so arrived in Vienna raring to go. A taxi should have come to pick us up, but we waited and waited - and carried on waiting and still there was no sign. A telephone call from him indoors who had come with me, informed us that we weren't on the taxi firm's list, so to catch a cab, keep the receipt and get the money back later. Some hope. I know the form, give the receipt to the cab firm and they will deny all knowledge - give it then to BA and they will say it is the cab firm's fault. We paid up anyway, and the receipt is still languishing in my handbag.
The hotel was very odd. The reception area was grand, as was the dining room and bar, but upstairs was a shock. The room we were given was long and narrow, with two single beds placed end to end down one wall. There was a bathroom, a wardrobe and a dressing table, with a window that opened directly out onto a busy street that had a sign pointing to Bratislava! I felt as if I'd returned to the dormitory of that nightmare called boarding school - but single beds meant I got a good night's sleep, because him indoors fidgets and snores and generally keeps me awake when we share a double.
We then discover this particular hotel is nowhere near the centre of Vienna, and that everything is shut. It is a strange phenomenon in Europe that the streets of towns seem to be deserted, we drove the length of France and Italy and barely saw a soul - and it was the same with this part of Vienna.
The next day we had to go by train to Tulln - a small town on the Danube (called the Donau in Austria for some reason) where I was scheduled to do a book signing. Him indoors decided it might be a nice idea to go earlier than planned, check out the hotel and town and then ring our friends who were going to meet us and tell them we had arrived.
The train journey was fast, on time, and the train itself was immaculate - why the hell can't BR take a leaf out of their book and at least try to appear to run a proper public transport system? Anyway, we arrive, with two large holdall, my handbag - which weighed about the same as the holdall, and one small bag which contained necessities like contact lenses, books, spare shoes, makeup - you get the drift. We exited the station, followed the sign we thought said taxis and kept walking. When we realised we were actually heading towards a park, we stopped and asked a couple of men the way. They were lounging outside the railway station which actually looked like a pub - their response was as helpful as if they'd been imbibing beer for the entire morning. They had no idea where the taxis were, hadn't heard of the hotel, and couldn't tell us where the road was where the hotel was sited.
Him indoors was getting very red in the face and pink around the ears by now. Those bags were heavy, he hadn't had a cigarette for over an hour and he was getting cross. We asked a woman with a bike, and luckily she seemed to be better informed about her town. With a mixture of halting German, pidgin English and lots of hand movements, him indoors decided he knew where we had to go and set off.
Half an hour, two roundabouts, one major road and a bewildering amount of street signs later, we see the bookshop which is supplying the books for that evening. We go in, get the most wonderful welcome, and a taxi is ordered to take us to the hotel. Bliss. My feet are killing me and my handbag is beginning to drag on my shoulder. Poor him indoors feels as though he's been weightlifting for the entire morning - and he has - you should have seen what I packed.
Well, you know what it's like, girls. A dress, a suit, a couple of jackets, trousers in case it's cold, shoes for walking, shoes for dancing, shoes that can only be worn when one is sitting down for long hours at a time but look fantastic.
Our taxi arrives, we get in and are immediately gassed by the driver's lack of hygiene. I long to open a window, but there is no handle and the driver has the switch up front. I try to hold my breath, but the journey's longer than I thought.
We arrive at the hotel, fall out of the cab, take a deep breath of fresh air - actually it's not that fresh, but better than in the cab, and stagger into the hotel with our bags, to find it is the most lovely place and the owners are delightful. Set on the banks of the Danube (Donau) it is newly refurbished, and our room is positively luxurious compared to the one we'd had the night before.
I don't want to explore the town - I want coffee and to put my feet up. Him indoors has left our friend's phone number and address at home in England, so has to look him up in the phone book. His announcement is greeted with horror - he had planned for someone to come and meet us at the allotted time, and the lady had even cleaned out her car in our honour. But never mind, he would come straight round on his bike, and then take us on a guided tour of the town.
We end up in a restaurant - where they still smoke - everyone smokes in Austria and there are ashtrays everywhere - so civilised. Strikes me as odd that we run around like headless chickens obeying EEC rules, when most of Europe don't take a blind bit of notice!
I digress. Brigitte is lovely - she is the lady who cleaned her car - she buys us lunch and takes us on the tour of the town and into the most amazing church. From the outside it is grand enough, but inside there is enough gold and murals and ceiling paintings to take your breath away.
Then it was back to the hotel, bath, change, make-up, posh frock and jacket, hair etc., to be picked up by Brigitte and taken to the evening venue. What a fabulous turn-out, and so many lovely people who were determined we should enjoy ourselves. Gerhard Fidler and his wife were great, and we got along well even though we couldn't understand a word either of us was saying, the bunch of flowers were magnificent, and the food that was laid out quite marvellous. I of course didn't have to speak, which I expect was a huge relief to everyone, but I did sign lots of books and managed to get understood by some. The wine for the evening was supplied by a reasonably local vineyard, and I can definitely recommend their chardonnay!
Next day, having recovered from the flashing of the cameras the night before, we said our goodbyes and got a cab to the station. The train took us back into Vienna, and we approached a taxi rank. Him indoors showed the driver the letter heading of the new hotel we would be staying in - and rather worryingly, the driver got out a large magnifying glass to read it! Yes, a magnifying glass - I know, it could only happen to us. We arrived safely, and he asked if we wanted him to wait just in case our booking wasn't confirmed - we assured him it was - he didn't look too certain - but he knew of a very nice hotel that he could book us into. We left the taxi and trailed into the hotel. Bliss, lovely room with balcony, a tram-ride away from the centre of Old Vienna. Twenty-four hours of doing as we please - shopping!
Vienna has lots of shops, all of them well known and mostly designer labelled - heaven for girls, not so much fun for our men. But at least he wasn't hauling heavy holdalls about. We were too late to see the Lippizana horses, but I reckon we managed to walk the length and breadth of old Vienna in those two days - our feet were proof of our labours!
The taxi was supposed to arrive at a quarter to five - this is the same firm who had lost us on their list when we arrived - this time we made sure we were on it and phoned them up beforehand. I digress - again! They were supposed to come at quarter to five. We had walked Vienna, were sitting down for coffee at four, and they turned up - hurry, hurry, must get to the airport. No chance to argue as our bags were loaded up and we were firmly shoved into our seats.
Arriving at the airport three hours early, we tried to get upgraded again, but BA were having none of it. The flight was then delayed - and again - and again - and five and a half hours later we flew out of Austria. I was hungry and so was him indoors, and when the smiling stewardess handed us a sandwich and a chocolate biscuit, we both stared at it in horror. Two glasses of wine eased our hunger pangs, but we weren't happy bunnies.
Arrival at Heathrow, caught the coach to Gatwick by the skin of our teeth. Arrival at Gatwick, missed the southern train by one minute and had to wait for an hour until the next one. It was now close to half past eleven at night, and we'd been on the move since four. I managed to feed him indoors with a cornish pasty to keep him quiet.
Arrived at our local station at five to one in the morning. Guess what? No bloody taxis!!!!!
Found the nearby taxi office, sat down and waited for three quarters of an hour for a taxi. Got home at one thirty in the morning - knackered, in need of coffee, food and sleep, not necessarily in that order. Fridge empty, milkman hadn't delivered milk - but the bed was made-up and looked most inviting.
Thank you Tulln for a wonderful chance to see your lovely town - my advice is to move that sign which seems to say taxi, and organise a rank outside the station. The people of Tulln are lovely, helpful and oh so nice, and we had a great time. But next time we visit we will go by car, then we can be assured of not having to walk everywhere!

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