Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Could have told us, Wolfgang

I mentioned last night that Lara and I had a positively average trip to Vienna in Austria (with the exception of the 2hr long Robbie Williams concert). I have been wanting to write some thoughts down since we returned but have been a bit busy.

Anyway, if you are Austrian, or even German for that matter, you might want to scroll on down and save yourself some heartache. I am not entirely sure I can do this without being intemperate - what with our weekend being ruined and all that.

Lara and I are respectful travellers. We eat the food, we try to speak the language, we do some homework and we enjoy new customs. In return, we hope only that our hosts will acknowledge in some small way that we are trying, that we are different to the many inconsiderate tourists and that they might offer us the hand of friendship and help.

Our main gripe therefore is that pretty much everyone we came across was so damnably rude, and unhelpful. Throughout our three day stay, we came across only ONE polite and pleasant Austrian - a waiter at Cafe Mozart (quaint, I know!!). Our hotel room was dire. A Travelodge room is cleaner and more presentable. The reaction of our Receptionist was complete indifference. She eventually showed us some other rooms and with no other options, we took one. Shop keepers, ticket inspectors, waiters and even the tourist attraction attendants - unpleasant, impatient and rude.

The icing on the cake came as we tried to balance our cultural diet and attend a recital of Mozart's best bits. The tickets were sold to us on the clear understanding that a glass of champagne in the interval was included (you can see where this is going, eh!). So we stepped out into the bar at the interval, having enjoyed the music of the first half very much, only to be confronted by glasses of champagne on sale for 4 euros.

Well, on top of the rudeness of its residents, Vienna is horrifically expensive. No matter how hard we tried, and I promise we did, money just seeped out our wallet. Even washing your hands in a public loo cost 50 cents.

So, having endured two days of handing over vast quantities of money for overpriced services to unpleasant people, I kind of blew my top at the servile little creep who demanded more money for something I had already paid. Sadly that old Anglo-German battle of wills came to the fore, and they stood their ground. I demanded the manager (like a good little Englishman!) and roundly berated her for the entire interval.

I had ruined the evening and Lara was not pleased. The second half was less enjoyable and for my part, I spent it trying to figure out how to get revenge on the way out! In the event, I did nothing save telling her what I thought of her. I think I called her a "vile Austrian cheat", or something like that.

I'm not proud of myself and I regret it hugely. It soured our trip and didn't exactly enamour me to my wife, which of course got me even more irate. I had just had enough.

Another gripe concerns their complete disinterest in tourism and tourists. Their main antiquities are unkempt by any standards. There is little effort to create atmosphere or drama. The lawns of the Hapsburg Palace are just rough areas of grass. It is all just pretty crap really.

Worst of all, this is a major year for Vienna. It is the 250 anniversary of Mozart's birth. Thousands more people than normal are in town to celebrate that fact, and indeed it was a factor in my choosing Vienna in the first place. Vienna is on show more than ever but nothing is evident that shows Vienna cares. The airport is a building site, St Stephen's Cathedral is encased in scaffolding, the Belvedere was a mess and undergoing works, and absolutely nowhere will you see any acknowledgement that Mozart even existed, let alone that he makes the single biggest contribution to Vienna's notoriety and global reputation. Everything about the place, just shouted, "We don't care!"

All of which brings me to the final analysis. Why are the Austrians so bloody miserable and rude?

I sense a real issue over their German neighbours. One gets the feeling they think they are the posh bit of Germany. It either has to be an inferioirity complex or a superiority complex. What ever it is, it cannot be much fun being Austrian but speaking German. A nation should have its own language, no?

Also, as someone who has travelled in Eastern Europe relatively extensively, I found it notable that I required constantly to remind myself that I was in Vienna, and not much further East. Perhaps, that is the point, though. Maybe their heart is further East.

Austria's contribution to history makes fascinating reading, and now having met a few of them, I can see why. For the avoidance of doubt, they are less the benign, Alpine, strudel eating, opera lovers we think they are. They are a grumpy bunch with a bad attitude.

So save your time and money. St Petersburg, Prague, Berlin and Budapest are all more attractive, more friendly and less expensive and listening to Mozart in Vienna is just the same as listening to him at home.

Footnote: We arrived at Vienna airport as early as we dared on the way out. We checked in over 2 hours before the flight - only to discover that more than 100 people had beaten us to the door!! Ant and Dec were on our flight too!


Cllr Iain Lindley said...

That's a shame. I visited Austria (Zell-am-See, to be precise) a few years ago and encountered no such problems. It was clean, the local people were friendly (my German is basic at best!), and the scenery was breathtaking.

I wonder if Vienna is suffering from Mozart tourist fatigue. I'd recommend heading into the mountains in Austria or (particularly) Switzerland, they are a real treat.

victoria said...

hey I don't disagree with Richard in that the Austrians were indifferent to us as paying guests. My encounter of Vienna was romantic because of the company I was with, beautiful because the achitecture is divine in places, and the shops are fab. Wonderful because I saw Robbie, drank champagne and ate good food all weekend with my man and met good friends for the show and dinner. However... I could have gladly got into several rows with the attitudes of the hotel, shop assistants and waiting staff, all of whom want a tip I might add!
Indeed it is with ease that alot of euro's get spent in a short space of time, and on seemingly little! It is a shame that you came away feeling quite so sore with Vienna, I have no desire to return there either.

Adrian Yalland said...

Richard, I have visited Austria so many times I cannot remember how many. We go summer and winter! Next year we hope to buy a house near Villach! I have never once encountered any of the expereinces you mention. I find the Austrian's a great bunch with wonderful tastes in beer and music, and appaling taste in leather trousers!