November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Church of St Charles Borromes
Having decided to stay up after listening to Ricky Hatton”s fight crackling through the early morning ether from Las Vegas, I reckoned I had more than enough time to make easyJet”s new Luton-Vienna service at 11:05.
There”s a better time I think to go into the utter transport chaos that is the UK than a Sunday morning, but suffice it to say that thanks to two enterprising Croatians and a taxi - it”s a long story - I arrived in time for the flight to Austria.
And instead of the terminal trouble I had expected, Luton at 10:00 on a Sunday is a veritable oasis of calm and tranquility - vast banks of easyJet check-in desks bathed in a warm glow from the blue-lit Christmas trees dotted around.
Security was a rather utilitarian, spartan affair - I suppose it”s not meant to be entertaining - and I queued for departure using easyJet”s Speedy Boarding option. The internet check-in passengers - the majority - looked rather aggrieved to be placed last. A quick dash across the tarmac through torrential rain later, I was ensconced in the emergency exit row with a seat removed in front of me.
The Boeing 737-700 was around 98% full - ditto on the return leg too - and given that the low-fares carrier has only recently launched the service - the bean counters at Luton must be pretty pleased.
Arrival at Vienna was followed by the dreaded remote bus transfer and we”d clearly landed along with a raft of other flights as immigration took around ten minutes to process. After that however, it was a quick trot down to the hugely impressive and double-decker City Airport Train (CAT) to Vienna (”9 single, ”16 return).
These pages have said it before, but just how on earth is it possible for European cities such as Vienna and Amsterdam for example, to provide sleek, fast and good value rail services to the actual city centre, coupled with an extremely reasonable price, compared to the UK?
There was one downside however. Arrival at Wien Mitte train station involves an utterly confusing wild goose chase as to where to connect onward - coupled with the extraordinary fact that the information office is closed at weekends. How are they going to cope when the European football championships are held in Austria next year?
Having completely given up trying to fathom the underground system - and after having a bizarre conversation with the flower stall seller - my German is patchy at best - I eventually settled on what I felt comfortable with - a kebab stall - whose owner told me I should get a taxi.
Sound advice. Ten minutes later, I was walking though the lobby of the Hotel Rathaus Wein and Design on Lange Gasse just a short stroll from the City Hall. As the title implies, the Hotel Rathaus has a distinctly viticulture feel to it with each room named after an Austrian winemaker and whose reception includes a wine bottle to be tapped with a spoon if not manned.
The 39 rooms are spacious and modern across five floors and feature bottles of wine for consumption. Continuing the vino theme, there is also a wine lounge featuring Austrian varieties and there are monthly tasting's including the ”Winemaker of the Month”. Beds are extremely comfortable and the walk-in shower large and powerful. And, after half an hour of watching an Austrian football match - some very odd-sounding chants - I headed out into the night.
Christmas market, Schonbrunn
It being December, Vienna is packed with Christmas markets - and tourists - with perhaps one of the largest being the offering on Rathausplatz, open until 5pm on Christmas Eve. The Rathaus is perhaps best viewed at night - it”s quite spectacularly lit and features a giant advent calendar with 24 windows of the City Hall itself illuminated on each relevant day with a motif.
There are some 140 stallholders around the giant Christmas tree and the place is packed with myriad nationalities. Some of the produce on offer is of excellent quality - and some - I may be being a bit curmudgeonly here - had the feel of a British fun fair selling vast quantities of toys and trinkets. Best to equip yourself with a fortifying mug of mulled wine - you get to keep the mug - to stave off the chilly night air and soak up the atmosphere.
Heading into town - by this time I had a rudimentary grasp of the extremely efficient public transport system - it”s possible to appreciate just what a beautiful city Vienna is. It was apparently bombed only quite late on in the Second World War as the Allies occupied Italy, and although it suffered damage most has been thoroughly restored. A good idea is to equip yourself with a Wien Karte - Vienna Card for ”18.50 - valid on all of the capital”s transport system for three days. Remember to validate in a stamp machine before first travel.
The sheer scale of the buildings is mightily impressive and it”s easy to appreciate just how this Mittel Europa capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire reflected what it viewed as its status in the power struggle that led to the ”Great Game” of 1914. Handsome boulevards with expensive shops exude quality and class - while trams rattle around everywhere. Walking tours are available - look at the Vienna Tourist Board”s www.vienna.info website for details - that feature an architectural stroll around the Ringstrasse and Donau-Platte (Danube waterfront), while there is also an ”arts&delights” visit to the Schleifmuhlgasse - antique dealers and contemporary art galleries. And the museum quarter is well worth a visit too - more than 20 different museums, plus shops, bars and restaurants are in the vicinity.
Vienna is renowned of course for its coffee houses and they range from traditional and pricey to more modern and reasonably priced. I stumbled on one which billed itself as ”Caf” Restaurant Hummel” - 66 Josefstadterstrasse - that featured my favorite dish, goulash - well, it reflects Austria”s Hungarian proximity and heritage - replete with hearty potatoes for ”6.90. Thoroughly good value, and it”s a snug spot showing sports ” and with the food washed down with a few Austrian ”Gosser” beers, that was my idea of a good evening.
My tour was a whirlwind visit, but Vienna certainly merits at least a weekend stay. The city is also starting to gear up for Euro 2008 from 7-29 June next year - as an Englishman it was rather painful to see all the tournament logos start to appear - but the fans will have a fantastic time in one of Europe”s most fascinating cities.
Simon WarburtonEditor - ABTN
Vienna Tourist Boardwww.vienna.info00 43 1 211 14Hotel Rathauswww.hotel-rathaus-wien.at00 43 1 400 11 22EasyJet”s London Luton to Vienna winter schedule offers daily flights on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and twice-daily on Tuesday, Friday and weekends.Check for seasonal variations.www.easyjet.com British Airways and Austrian Airlines also fly to Vienna, the latter with a new service from London City Airport.