|The Schonbrunn Palace at night|
Vienna, the capital of Austria rests on Europe's longest river, the Danube, a river whose color changes from blue to yellow to muddy brown. Wien (German for Vienna) is a city that's rich with imperial history, where art and creativity flourish. It grabs top spot on the best-cities-to-live-in survey. Naturally then, I came to expect a lot from my trip to Vienna after spending an enthralling four days in Amsterdam and Belgium.
I landed at Vienna International Airport by KLM at 11.30PM. While the airport wasn't stunning, my mind wandered to figuring out the most economical way to get to my hotel, Courtyard by Marriott Vienna Schoenbrunn. But the airport had signs only in German (seriously???), so going by the pictorial icons I figured out the fastest way to get to the city center was the City Airport Train (CAT); a 19 euro fee for a 15 minute hassle-free ride (it's cheaper to buy return tickets). What was a pain was using the automated ticket machine which for some odd reason did not accept my VISA card, plus I had to navigate the machine in German for which I enlisted the help of two friendly yet impatient and obviously tired travelers behind me.
The CAT got me to Wien Mitte station. This was at about 12.45AM. From there, I got onto the local train. Studying the color-coded train route on the map I picked up from the airport, I figured out my way to the closest station to my hotel, the Schonbrunn station. I thought it wise to reconfirm with a local on the train. When in doubt, always reconfirm (even if the person you're asking doesn't understand your language). We got off at Schonbrunn - this was almost after a 20 minute ride. The station was completely isolated, mind you it was past 1AM at this point. Nervousness was creeping in. I spotted a lift to lead me up to the exit on the main road and chose to take it over the stairs since I had a heavy suitcase on me. I entered the lift and pressed the button to go up to the exit. The doors closed but the lift did not move. So there I was alone in an isolated station and stuck in a lift (in the best city to live in); there wasn't a soul in sight who I could ask for help from. It was scary! I pressed all possible buttons frantically until I hit a red one and heard someone speak (obviously he spoke in a language I did not understand); almost instantly the lift doors opened and I ran out. When in doubt, always take the stairs! I dragged my suitcase up the flight of stairs. Grrr....
Out of the station and into the black of the night, my next worry was how to I get to my hotel, all I had was the address and the phone number but no working sim on my phone. I walked the stretch of the pavement in the direction where I spotted most buildings. I knew that the hotel was next to one of Vienna's most iconic landmarks the Schoenbrunn Palace - I saw images of the stately palace on the internet and I knew that it wasn't a structure I would miss even in the dark. Though I saw nothing like it. There were very few cars on the road let alone cabs. All vehicles whatever little just sped by. Those familiar jitterbugs fluttered in the pit of my stomach again. It was almost getting to 2AM. I arrived at the end of the pavement when in the distance across the road, I spotted the green-red Courtyard hotel sign board. PHEW! All I had to do was cross the road.
I got to the hotel and the doors were locked and from what I could see the reception desk wasn't manned either. This isn't India I reminded myself, where hotel lobbies are never closed or isolated even way into the night. The reception staff probably caught us waiting out on the CCTV and quickly led us in. With a cold 'welcome', we quickly checked in to our room, glad that we finally got from plane to bed. With a habit of some pre-sleep tele watching, I tuned into CNN that night, just when the news broke that an abandoned truck was discovered on a motorway in Austria carrying 71 bodies of refugees. Enter goosebumps...my stint in Austria has been interesting so far - I remember thinking this to myself before I drifted off to sleep.