We started the day like true Chaletians, leaping out of bed before the alarm (which is almost unheard of) and then breakfasting on crescent rolls (ie croissants) with black cherry jam. I also had bacon and pineapple. Well, why not? We missed out on the icy-cold bath, but then I’d accidentally had one of those the night before, after getting confused with the taps and then going outside for a smoke while the bath was running.
At Innsbruck station I had to buy my ticket to Wien. I trotted out my carefully rehearsed German and I think I must have been too convincing, because the ticket person immediately responded with a torrent of words none of which I understood. So I showed him my cue card. He then told me the price of my ticket: 2.60. I was astonished, as I was expecting it to be 58.30. ‘Internet prices’ he explained; and then I looked at his screen again, and realised that what I’d read as the euro symbol was in fact a six, and he was about to charge me 62 euros. Oh well.
Hayley and I had a sentimental parting in the subway by platform 4, and then I had about 10 minutes to wait for my train, just the right time for a cigarette. But Innsbruck station had confused me about this: there was a clear sign saying it was a no smoking station, and only later did I see the smaller sign effectively saying ‘except in places where we let you smoke’. Most passengers seem to interpret this as ‘smoke where you like’ but it’s been five years since smoking was banned at British stations so I didn’t feel comfortable joining in with this and abstained. After all, I only had a five hour journey ahead of me.
One of the things I like about train travel is being able to nose into people’s back gardens and station goods yards. Once we were out of Innsbruck the landscape went Pratchettesque, with fields of cabbages, and mountains in the distance. The mountains were great, more tree-covered than I was expecting, but interesting to watch from a weather point of view: I could see clouds actually being born, and later a large cloud behaving exactly like what it is (ie, water) in the way it was rolling down the side of a mountain. After a little while the sun came out, so from top down the vista went blue sky, then mountain tops, then clouds, then everything else.
It was a good job there were mountains because the thing I don’t like about train travel (specifically, high speed travel) is that there are lots of barriers and cuttings and so on along the route, presumably to protect the amenity of those living nearby but with the side effect that those of us on the train keep getting our view obscured by concrete – or, on one occasion, a huge heap of gravel, which threw itself in the way of my first glimpse of a schloss.
Within the carriage there was a monitor. Like the electronic displays in British trains, this showed where we were going and what the next stop would be. Unlike British trains, it also, from time to time, displayed a map of the route, or the current speed of the train. I was calculating what 130 km/h is in old money when quite suddenly the brakes slammed on, hard. There was no indication of what had just happened and the monitor prudently reverted to displaying the destination. Never did find out what caused the halt – goats on the line, perhaps.
The fields intrigued me. After a while I realised what was different – no hedges. There would be a block of maize, then a block of grazing, then another block of maize, with no apparent physical division except the plants themselves. So my mental list of How I Know I’m In Austria now ran:
- absence of hedges
- lack of oak trees
- all buildings are chalets and look as though they should feature on Grand Designs
- no Union Jacks
- gardens with no houses – like allotments, but not just for veg; they have miniature chalets, and children’s play equipment, and flowers.
I was enjoying the scenery. But the OBB snack menu caught my eye. I had already finished off my liquorice allsorts (and to those of you who jeered, you only got a blog last night because of those liquorice allsorts, and they have the same, ahem, cleansing effect as prunes). Oh, yes the snack menu. Well, blow me, OBB offer tea. English breakfast tea no less. I haven’t had a cup of tea for days. But I would have had to have left my seat … I slept.
I woke up again at Salzburg, where the jackets which had been obscuring my view through the window on the other side of the carriage were replaced by a blind. Huh. Excuse me but there’s a foreigner here trying to admire your homeland. The lady now sitting next to me appeared to be learning French vocabulary, which does seem a bit of a waste of time for somebody already fluent in German, which is much harder … we passed villages and towns which looked collectively like proto-types for mini-land at Legoland, with not a single ‘normal’ house to be seen. Even the chimneys have special curved roofs.
I ate my Innsbruck apple (which was delicious) and finally cracked open the chocolate digestives. I had thought about saving these in case I needed an emergency gift (I mean, chocolate biscuits in a Union Jack wrapper, what’s not to like?) but decided that my need for an emergency snack was greater. And then, at exactly the right moment, the refreshment trolley arrived.
‘Tee, bitte,’ I said promptly, once again deceiving a railway official into thinking I am a fluent German speaker. Luckily he mimed while he was talking and I gathered that he had run out of hot water but would bring me a tea in a bit. I nodded, again clearly in fluent German, because he then asked me something and I had absolutely no idea what the question might be. I turned helplessly to the advanced German-French linguist by my side but she was no help at all (English apparently not being one of her languages). The trolley official opened a drawer and showed me the different tea sachets and suddenly I understood every word he had just said: ‘English breakfast tea, bitte, mit milch,’ I said, and we exchanged smiles.
When he returned, he gave me, for the very reasonable price of one euro 40:
- a cup of fairly hot water
- a teabag
- two pots of ‘coffee cream’.
And suddenly I understood exactly how Arthur Dent felt. But, and this is truly amazing, when I had brewed this dubious concoction, it tasted exactly like Universal Railway Tea. OBB must have done a shedload of research to achieve this. You can imagine Railway Tea researchers cruising around the rail networks of the world, sampling the different cups of tea, to establish the most efficient way of creating their own version.
After my cup of tea I noticed we had just crossed the Danube at 200 km/h, and fell asleep trying to work out how fast that is in pounds.