Gruss Gott. 

Back from my travels and blessedly, quiet times ahead. What with the travelling and the gawking at central European architecture, been on the go constantly for two weeks. Overall, Vienna and Bratislava are places I could visit again although I think with people rather than being solo. After all, there are only so many games you can play, so many books you can read and so many playlists of music you can listen to before you need to engage other people in random conversation.

The flight out to Vienna was smooth enough. Long queues at the airport full of middle-class travellers with nasal voices (think Ed Miliband before the surgery). On the plane, I was stuck at the end of a row with a couple who couldn’t leave each other alone and I’m sure he was playing with her boobs, even kissing/licking them throughout the flight. I didn’t look, didn’t want to give them the attention though I did consider filming it to put on YouTube; again, if they want to make a spectacle of themselves, they should be given every opportunity for public humiliation.

The hotel in Vienna was grand, really nice rooms that I managed to turn into freezers by virtue of the best aircon system I’ve had the good fortune to use. Sleeping was not a problem the two nights I was in the Regina (would recommend folks). Breakfast was utter chaos however, there really should have been a queue system. Staff were slow to clear tables and it didn’t feel like a particularly relaxing, enjoyable experience. Though perhaps if I’d gotten my tired carcass out of bed earlier, there might have been a bit more tranquillity. Best part about a continental breakfast, lingering over it. Not like a British Breakfast where you have to shovel it in before it congeals.

It’s probably my overall perception but everything in Vienna seemed to be backwards. When I’ve been to other European cities, I normally have good instincts about where to go, what direction I need to be walking in and plotting a course from a to b. Vienna, every choice was wrong. When I left the U-Bahn to get to the hotel, I walked south rather than north for ten minutes before I realised I was heading in totally the wrong direction. It wasn’t all bad as I found a couple of places quite by accident to visit later. 

Sightseeing was limited to the city centre, looking at the outside of the buildings (but the inside of countless cathedrals and churches seldom is enjoyable any more), through the parks and walking along the Danube. Though naturally there was time for proper Viennese coffee and long, relaxing dinners. The restaurant I discovered on the Saturday – Siebensternbrau – is another venue I’d heartily recommend. They have 1 litre steins of beer which are just so, so tasty. I had two, felt quite bladdered so had a ½ litre before staggering off elsewhere. My choice was the Dark Prague beer which was more Krombacher Dunkel than Köstritzer (i.e. milder over sharper).

The Saturday I was there, was pretty dog tired which did not make for a happy Joe. I tried to sample the night-life but had to give up at 11.30 and trudge off back to the hotel. Kinda pathetic, really. This is what comes of being screwed out of sleep by summer’s final revenge with all that heat and humidity the previous week and three hours schlepping around central Vienna. Managed to drag my ass over to the Bahnhof to take the train to Bratislava, revived on Pumpkin Spice Lattes from Starbucks (say what you want about chain coffee shops, they provide some comfort). There don’t appear to be many NIMBYs in Austria and the Slovak republic as every farm had several wind turbines. In fact they were dotted all over the landscape, generating clean, renewable energy for Central Europe. Here, you’d get some shrieking, Daily Express reading moron bleating about the views being spoiled (try living in an inner city sometime, hicks) despite the promise of cheap electricity and cleaner air.

Bratislava – sorta reminiscent of Vienna (after all, Austria ran/owned the place for a while) what with the multi-storied buildings and the 18th/19th century facades. But there are also some very noticeable differences. Bratislava city centre seems to be organised on a series of squares rather than streets and roads so navigating around can be a little tricky for the n00b. Streets are often cobbled (nightmare on suitcase wheels), Soviet-era planning is very noticeable and there’s less money around for superficial repair work as a lot of the plaster was crumbing from buildings. Still, it was a picturesque city with many tourists (including, I’m sorry to say, boozy Brits getting hammered) and locals enjoying a Sunday afternoon.

And the hotel, Arcadia was amazing. Five star, central location, the suite was practically the size of my flat and the spa was fantastic. I spent a couple of hours sweating, cleansing, chilling (in the non-Vauxhall sense of the word) and rebuilding my sanity little by little. Stay in a hostel and save cash or stay in luxury and to hell with the future: easy decision for me. What did throw me was the fact that these hotels have porters to carry your bags which I’m just not used to, I’ve always been self-reliant. If I packed it, I carry it. In the evening, I found a café, had a nice, simple meal of cheese and potato dumplings rounded off with a slice of Torte and a mojito. That’s my sort of evening.

I have to just mention that the hotel was otherwise full of American tourists who appeared to be on some sort of general European walking tour. All retirees in their early 70s and all dressed in some creepy uniform of a turquoise polo shirt (Epsilon Programme anyone?), khaki shorts and white knee-length socks. In the restaurant at breakfast, I felt like I stumbled into a cult. Still, they were polite enough though one table was talking about “the good old days”, saying stuff that only the war/baby boomer generation could say; you know the sort of stuff. I bit my tongue but wanted to…correct them on a few details.

Work was work on the Monday, listened to stuff, made seven pages of notes, missed the train back to Vienna by a minute so was forced to wait an hour for the next one (though if I’d have been hastening to the airport, I’d have been so screwed) but even that allowed some down-time and the ability to change clothes. I swapped my suit jacket for my Fallout 4 hoodie which the driver of the train recognised when she saw it and we had a brief chat about the game. Monday evening in Vienna was definitely more sedate compared with Saturday. I went to Epos, down the road from Siebensternbrau which is a Greek restaurant and again, well worth the visit. Portions were not jumbo (I don’t think my waistline will recover properly from the meals), it was all reasonably priced and the smoking was kept to a minimum. No Retsina though, they’d run out. Ditto Riesling so had a very mediocre Sauvignon Blanc.

Tuesday: possibly one of the best days of 2016. A better breakfast experience than Saturday though with the same levels of chaos – I just chose to assert myself. After I left my suitcase with the hotel and checked out, I started walking towards the tourist areas to start buying souvenirs etc. Although a weekday, I wasn’t at work, everything I needed to do had been done so the only thing I could do was enjoy myself. The weather was exactly the right temperature, the air smelled clean and Vienna is miraculously free of winged rodents. Just one of those days where everything goes right. Ottokrieg beer has to be avoided – I drank three in half an hour at the airport as it was just so…more-ish. And the five (mini) bottles of champagne on the plane probably weren’t the most _sensible_ of ideas. Totally worth the upgrade on my ticket. 

What goes up, must come down and my mood on Wednesday dipped rather suddenly. It began well enough but the goodwill was eroded by the content of my inbox, two group Whatsapp chats with messages going off every fifteen seconds (irritating) and the fact that two people ate most of the stuff I brought back from Vienna for the office (27 people) in a fairly non-surprising bout of greed and selfishness. Whilst I know I can’t control every aspect of existence, I’d have liked it if Tuesday’s vibe could have continued a little longer.

Not much else to report. I haven’t totted up finances after my sojourn but I’m sure I massively overspent so deliberately set out to keep the rest of the week cost-neutral. And if I can resist drawing on petty cash until Friday, so much the better.