June 3, 2012: Disaster Day in Vienna and New Friends

For those who don’t know where to find them: Our YouTube Unedited Travel Channel and our 2012 European Adventure Flickr Set are here.  All of the videos are in 1080p so watching them on your television would be ideal.  They are unedited so mostly just really short clips but they can be entertaining.  We’ve currently uploaded around sixty videos and nearly one thousand pictures!  We’ve been busy.

We are in Vienna again this morning.  Today is our first day of having “no hotel” which is a bit stressful because we have to deal with the luggage.  We are taking the night train from Vienna to Venice tonight so want the girls to get as much relaxing time in the hotel as possible before we set out for a day of being vagabonds.

I got up early-ish, around six, and checked in on the laptop.  It had remained kind-of connected to the wireless throughout the night and fortunately YouTube is really good at handling bad connections and several of our videos had managed to upload through the night.  Flickr couldn’t handle picture uploads so those just have to wait and most of the videos did not make it but some did so people are at least getting something.

I went down to the lobby at six thirty and sat in the hallway as the doors were locked until seven.  Down there, at least, I had solid Internet access, even if it was slow, so that I was able to get a handful of pictures up to Flickr at a minimum and to do some posting.   I wasn’t there for long before the cleaning lady took pity on my and let me into the lobby so that I could sit at a table instead of camping out on the floor.  That was very nice.

After not too long Dominica emailed me (she keeps the phone so that she can send me emails) to come back up and get her and the girls so that we could come down for breakfast as a family.  That was probably around eight thirty.  So I went upstairs, gathered them up and we all came down to eat.

Breakfast here was pretty spartan.  We’ve gotten used to the standard central European breakfast of rolls, bread, cheese, cold meats, butter, cream cheese or other soft cheese spread, jams, juice and coffee.  Some places have müsli, yoghurt, cereals and fruits but those are more fancy.  This was pretty bare, but it was fine and very cheap, just three Euros.  So we ate with the laptop on the table uploading while we did.

The girls were pretty restless this morning so we were unable to stay in the breakfast area for very long.  At most we might have gotten half an hour.  Liesl was pretty good but Luciana was just out of control needing to walk everywhere and screaming if she could not.  The moment that we would set her down she would be out of the breakfast room, through the lobby and trying to figure out how to get outside.  Very exhausting.

So Dominica took Luciana back up to the hotel room and Liesl stayed with me long enough for the current upload to wrap up and for me to finish my cup of coffee then Liesl and I went up as well.

We stayed in the hotel room until eleven, which was the checkout time.  That, at least, let Dominica do her packing today, in daylight, rather than last night in the dark.  We had time for showers and to get ready much more slowly than usual.  I found a place in the hallway where I could set the laptop on its side and the connection was slightly better than in the window so a few more videos made it up.  I don’t think that anyone really appreciates just how much work goes into all of this media uploaded and all of these posts written.  This is serious work.  Doing this stuff from home is easy.  Doing it on the road is nearly impossible.  Staying in small “one off” hotels, bed and breakfasts and hostels makes it much more challenging as we have to learn everything anew every two days.

So we left our giant hotel room and walked to Keplerplatz to catch the U-bahn U1 from there running back to the Westbahnhof where we are planning to stow our luggage in the lockers there and then head out for a day of seeing the city.

Getting to the train station wasn’t bad.  We are figuring out the U-bahn system and have the process down pretty well.  We look mostly like locals now for that.

We got to Westbahnhof and went to the lockers on Track One which we had seen the other day. There was one, medium sized open locker so we went for that.  If we took everything apart we could just squeeze everything into the locker.  It was a lot of work but Dominica is an expert at this stuff so managed to get all of it in.  Then we tried to close the locker.  We could close the door but the locker would not lock.  Uh oh.  Maybe that it why it was available.  There is no sign saying that it would not close.  Great, the only locker around and it is broken.  This is not good at all.  No wonder there are tons of people circling the lockers like vultures – no one can find a locker.  We thought that we had just gotten lucky or just needed a different size than everyone else and had not realized initially that no one else was finding any either but thought that they were finding them further down.

A walk to the information booth was clearly in order. Maybe there are more lockers.  That bank of lockers only had maybe one hundred lockers in total, probably many fewer, which is woefully inadequate for the main train station in Vienna, a city of two million and a major tourist destination.  There much be more.  Tons more.

The clearly annoyed and poorly informed information booth worker (who did a terrible job representing his employer OBB) said that there were just the lockers outside and some lockers one floor down that we could check out.  So we ran for those lockers.  Apparently everyone else had this idea too.  Not a single available locker, of any size, with a continuous crowd of people appearing, looking for a locker and leaving.  This is it, no lockers anywhere.  The whole station can’t have more than one hundred and fifty lockers and judging from the rate of people coming down to look for them they need at least another one thousand (new locker needed every one to two minutes) just to meet the locker demand on a very slow, sleeping Sunday morning in a city that absolutely shuts down on Sundays.

Using railway lockers is one of those Rick Steves tips that we thought would make today really easy.  Nope.  I can’t imagine how anyone can get a railway station locker if it is like this.  At least ninety percent of the people who need them cannot get them.  This is a disaster. Now we have all of our luggage, no hotel room, no locker and nothing that we can do!

We tried going to the OBB lounge and they were incredibly rude.  We couldn’t stay there nor would they even discuss with us if there was anything that we could do about our luggage.  We have first class OBB tickets and are taking their overnight train and they treated us like dirt.  I am not impressed at all.  The Austrian Rail seems to do a great job as long as nothing goes wrong but the moment that they have a problem they fall apart and get really pissed off at us for calling attention to the fact that they are not doing their jobs well.  Being snobby when you are not providing a good service is just sad.  Being snobby when you are doing a good job is rude but at least you have some degree of justification.  But acting that way when you are incompetent is pathetic.

So we are furious with OBB and are quite unhappy with Vienna in general.  Any chance that we would move to this area is out of the question as having a good, clean, nice, reliable train station to use is absolutely critical to us for the long term.  We use the trains constantly and if we have to put up with issues like this all of the time and can’t trust OBB to have any ability to do anything then they ruled themselves out.  We cannot be dependent on Vienna as our transportation hub.  Hard to believe that the Austrian government isn’t keeping a close eye on the impression that Vienna gives to travelers as an inability to deal with issues in Vienna means that businesses need to carefully consider having bases or operations in the city because these types of problems can make the costs skyrocket.

As we had no options whatsoever we settled into a booth at the station to sit for about ten hours which is how long we have until our train tonight.  The station is not air conditioned and is very warm.  So warm that Dominica was getting sick but there really was very little that we could do.  OBB does not keep their main station like other railways in Europe have, that we have seen.  Things are broken, there is not the abundance of good food and groceries stores, it is very hot and very poorly organized.  It is exactly the opposite of what I would expect in a German country.

We posted on Facebook how unhappy we were and how disgusted we are with Vienna in general and definitely with OBB and the Westbahnhof.  We don’t get to see Vienna today because of the OBB and, I assume, just about everyone in this train station is a tourist who wanted to see Vienna and cannot because they are stuck in the train station judging by the number of people unable to stow luggage here like they had planned.  Imagine all of the tourist revenue that this city throws away because the this.  We were lucky, Ramona’s friends Elizabeth and Roman, who live in Vienna and pretty nearby, posted to us on Facebook that we could come to their flat and drop off our luggage so that we could go out and see Vienna!

So we ate at the train station because Dominica was not feeling well and needed some nutrients.  That took a little while just because any logistics with the kids and luggage takes forever.  One of us has to sit with everything and everyone while the other one goes out foraging.  It is really cumbersome.

Dominica and Liesl ended up eating some rather poor Thai food from a place really close to our table.  I wanted to get falafel but they ended up having leftovers that they could not eat because they were disgusted by the food so I was stuck eating nasty leftovers.  Not adding to my impression for the day.

We got out of the train station and took the U-bahn back to the city towards where we had been last night.  Our second U-bahn broke down while we were on it but fortunately we were only stuck for five or ten minutes.  Just enough to panic and not enough to be a problem.  But many people got off and were starting to walk and we were really worried that we were going to have to do the same from a station with which we were not familiar heading somewhere that we did not know.  It could have been really bad.  But the train moved again, we sighed a huge sigh of relief and everything was alright.

We got off at the station and Elizabeth walked down to meet us there.  We have never met Elizabeth or Roman before but Elizabeth used to be Ramona’s roommate in Philadelphia until pretty recently.  She walked us back to their apartment and we dropped off our luggage there.  Liesl and Luciana were both asleep when we got there.

We hung out for a big just visiting.  Maybe for an hour.  Then we all decided to walk down to a cafe about twenty minutes away to get coffee in the park.  We are a really nice time just hanging out and relaxing and we were so glad not be in the train station.  Our day was already pretty short as we lost a few hours dealing with the station this morning and now with the extra trip to drop off the luggage and needing another one to go pick it up and all appropriate buffer time we had very little time to go see Vienna.  We had hoped today to go up and see the “real” downtown (the modern one where the big businesses are today) and to see the Danube and to see the big amusement park that is near there that would have been perfect for Liesl but those things were too far away now.

So instead we just opted for a quiet coffee and chatting.  We sad outside for a bit but it started to rain so we moved inside for a bit.  Then a walk in the park and off to find a playground so that Liesl and Luciana could burn off some of their excess energy.

There was a nice playground near the Karlsplatz so Roman and Elizabeth dropped us off there and they headed home because they had to get ready for a concert that they are attending this evening.  We stayed at the playground for probably an hour or more.  Liesl had a great time going up and down the slides, doing rope climbs, etc.  It was really good for her.  Luciana mostly just toddled around.  Some Viennese girls played with her a bit – older girls who would help her to do things and would pick her up and carry her around.  We made some friends too.  A little boy, two years old, and his father from Taiwan who are working in Bonn, Germany, for a while hung out with us and we talked for a while.

At six we decided that we needed to get a move on so that we would have an appropriate amount of cushion between all of our moves so that we could be at the train station in time.  Missing our train tonight would be a disaster as it is the overnight, night train that is both our transportation and our “hotel” for the night.  No flexibility on this one.

The walk back to the apartment took about twenty minutes.  Dominica was very impressed, again, with my ability to navigate in the city and we got there without any issue.  We got the luggage, used the facilities, filled up our water bottles, said goodbye and set off for the U-bahn station.

On the subway we ran into our new friends from Bonn, again.  Very weird running into people that you just met in such a large city.

We got back to the Westbahnhof without any issues and with plenty of time to settle in for about an hour and eat some dinner.  We got Turkish food and mine was fine.  Dominica got something hard in her’s (I’m pretty sure it was just a piece of a sterile cutting surface, nothing bad) but she was gun shy and sharing food with Luciana so couldn’t risk it.  So I ended up eating hers and she got sandwiches from a gourmet sandwich shop which did lots of small “sampler” sandwiches in the open-face style popular here.  She really liked those.

We got to our train plenty early.  No issues there.  This is a big OBB train going first to Salzburg and then down to Venice.  So we will arrive in Venice around eight thirty in the morning.  The train pulls out of Vienna at eight forty this evening.  We have a two bed bedroom on it.  This is our first time, with or without kids, taking an overnight train with a sleeper compartment.  We are really interested to see how it works out.  Could be great or it could be awful.  We are definitely scared of doing any more of them, though, based on the luggage problems that it created earlier today. Not having a solid hotel can be a significant problem, apparently.  We had not really been prepared for how awful that could be.

I’ll wrap up tonight’s post with us getting on to the train.  We are all down with the northern portion of our trip to Europe.  We have reached our farthest eastern point and as of today leave the German world and move on to the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Spain and Portugal.  Only three countries left, but that is still three new languages for this trip.  Six countries done.  Now we spend the next two weeks plus slowly moving west again until we return to the States.

Special thanks to Elizabeth and Roman who totally saved the day today!

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