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Romance on a Budget

Bearded TitI was becoming quite excited at the prospect of the great adventure we were shortly to embark upon, yes after forty years of wedded bliss we were to be allowed the delights of European travel, unsupervised and alone, without even the services of an interpreter. I was desperate for one of the children to accompany us, but they were all agreed it would take away all the romance if they did. Once the flights had been booked my anxiety level ratcheted up another notch wondering if the food would be palatable and if the Viennese would be able to understand someone with a strong Wigan accent. Could I cope? In the few days before departure the sense of anticipation was becoming unbearable, I was wound up like a champagne bottle on a formula one podium about to pop my cork and hit someone in the eye. Memories of my childhood excitement flooding back when I would pack my little suitcase in February ready for a July departure, repeatedly asking each week in between “is it this Saturday”? In quieter moments brushing up my schoolboy German using my dog-eared copy of Deutsches Leben to avoid any embarrassment with the language, and despite being quite limited in what I could say, I was soon speaking a few useful phrases quite fluently. My wife was amazed at my progress but suspected I was inventing words. I assured her I wasn’t, but I did drop the odd ‘h’ now and then.

I didn’t sleep a wink the night before and on the day of departure I was up early rushing around riding an explosive release of nervous energy built up over previous weeks like a youngster frantically opening his Christmas presents. The weather forecast wasn’t good as we left the house for the airport and there were rumours of widespread storms over the continent, but this trip was special and we weren’t going to worry about a little rain. Flights from Manchester were subject to a little delay, nothing much, just twenty minutes or so, and we were soon leaving the sceptred isle, flying over the North Sea bound for Frankfurt, the strains of Tales from the Vienna Woods ringing in my ears from my Ipod, just audible above the sound of the engines. The landing was a little bumpy as the pilot struggled to control the aircraft on the approach, the eye of the storm seemed to be centred over the airport and the runway and apron were swamped as the rain became a deluge reducing the visibility to yards. Things were beginning to take a turn for the worse, our little fairytale was about to turn a little Grimm. The next twelve hours were spent in queues looking for information, tickets in hand boarding buses and planes and leaving them again in a bizarre game of musical chairs, watching the biggest log jam in history build up as planes land and none take off. The occasional highly strung passenger having to be restrained and sedated as another attempt at boarding once again ends in repatriation to the departure lounge. The stress was overwhelming, would this journey never end? It was getting rather late now and having given up the ghost I was taking a nap when things started to move again, it was such a surprise I thought I was dreaming. The storm had passed over and by two o’clock on Friday morning we finally touched down in the “City of my Dreams”. Things were looking far more promising now - except as it turned out in the chaos they had sent our suitcases to Cracow or somewhere even more far flung. Too tired to queue and me fast losing the will to live, Ann, who’s good in situations like this takes control saying “we’ll come back tomorrow and report the missing bags”, “don’t worry they’ll find them and bring them to the hotel”. I could only mutter “I hope so”, as she pushed me into the back of a taxi.

The night porter at the hotel greeted us cheerfully as if it was two o’clock in the afternoon, we told him about the problem with the luggage and helpfully he supplied us with a few essential items. How thoughtful, I’m now beginning to feel more at peace with the world as we go to our room looking forward to what is left of a good night’s sleep. After reporting the missing bags the following day we began to explore this beautiful and friendly city and were bowled over and delighted by its historic attractions and charm, but as you can imagine, the weather being warm and humid, we were soon beginning to feel rather uncomfortable as it became clear we needed to buy a few items of clothing. We weren’t at all confident the suitcases would appear any time soon, by all indications it would be Christmas before they arrived. The stores were mainly very up market and expensive, we chose the “Steffl” department store and were soon fixed up, walking out of the shop with, for us completely out of character designer label bags. Back at the hotel the wife’s new Sloggi knickers turned out to be black not white and not the innocent looking matronly style we expected, but the ones we tend to associate with women of dubious background, very much frowned on in parts of Ashton in Makerfield. It was too late to exchange them though, the packaging had been opened, she would have to wear them tomorrow.

On the actual morning of the anniversary we were up early for mass at the Hofbrau - no not the Hofbrau, that’s a brewery - the Hofburg Palace, the Vienna Boys Choir would be singing Haydn’s Theresienmesse with full orchestral accompaniment. We had tickets for the best seats in the house right in the middle of the front row of the balcony, I just knew it was going to be a very emotional experience and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. From the opening bars we could tell it was going to be a liturgical music master class and when the organ, orchestra and chorus lifted the roof with the Sanctus the hair stood up on the back of my neck, by the time they had finished there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. What a lovely way to spend your anniversary and such a fantastic experience, I felt so privileged and would have paid anything to be there that day. When it was all over we lingered until the crowds had dispersed and said a few prayers in thanksgiving for forty years of happiness together and another for the safe return of the wife’s knickers - and the suitcases of course. To our surprise our prayers were answered, arriving back at the hotel at eleven o’clock, the missing suitcases had been delivered, there had obviously been some divine intervention on our behalf by St Anthony in Cracow.

SkylarkAfter this morning’s experience nothing could phase or disappoint us about this trip, but we would be going home tomorrow and still had lots to see, so deciding on a romantic Sunday afternoon stroll along the Danube we boarded an underground train for Alte Donau, hoping we weren't choosing a stretch of river running through the city scrap yard or the local gas works. The loud music we heard as we emerged from the station gave the impression we were at Prater Park, but seeing the giant ferris wheel in the distance we knew it couldn’t be. It was coming from a two day festival in full flow, with thousands of people visiting the attractions and bouncy castles as far as the eye could see in every direction, clearly not at all what we wanted or expected. Naturally deflated having chosen this particularly unimpressive point on the river and by the noisy gathering, we set off at speed through the parkland adjacent to the United Nations building, undaunted and philosophical about this latest misfortune, with the intention of crossing the Danube to return to the city centre via the underground at Handelskai. It was bright and sunny today but the landscape all around was littered with debris from many storm damaged trees, and in the distance a construction crane collapsed through the roof of a church, bore witness to the recent severe weather responsible for our own travel difficulties. Back at our city centre hotel we washed away lingering memories of the afternoon with hot soapy water and put on our glad rags to round off our visit in style with dinner at Leupold’s restaurant. Here some good Viennese cooking, a bottle of wine and some beer bolstered our spirits and put a smile back on our faces, and tired out and a little tipsy we made our way back to the hotel in the cool evening air retaining only pleasant memories of an experience we will remember for a long time.

Despite a few trials and tribulations we thoroughly enjoyed Vienna and had exceptional service from: Austrian Airlines; Hotel Tigra, Tiefer Graben 14-20; Restaurant ‘Zum Leupold’ Schottengasse 7; Restaurant ‘Ofenloch’ Kurrentgasse 8


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Palfreyman - January 2014
An account of an eventful 40th Wedding Anniversary trip to Vienna