When I woke up, we were in the suburbs of Vienna (which has been called Wien all day so forgive me). I looked dozily at the gardens for a bit and then there was a long and involved announcement in German. Tagged on at the end, the announcer said, in English, ‘Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, our next stop is Wien Westbahnhof.’
Shortly after this the train stopped. I looked out of the window. It was a big station, and we were definitely in Vienna, but the handily placed large sign said ‘Wien Hutteldorf’. I was puzzled by this. The next (and final) stop was definitely supposed to be Wien Westbahnhof. Although … I did remember vaguely reading about some re-naming or re-branding of Wien’s mainline stations. Anyway, absolutely everybody was getting off the train so I did too.
Wien Westbahnhof-or-Hutteldorf was very, very busy; absolutely thronging with people; and within a very short space of time I was feeling very panicky indeed. I saw an outside door and headed straight for it, not taking in any of the information signs around me. Outside, I stood in the sun, had a cigarette, and wondered about walking to the centre of Wien rather than going back into that heaving throng and trying to find my way to the U-bahn. But I appeared to be standing next to a dual carriageway, which I didn’t remember featuring on any of my Wien maps; and anyway, I remembered, my Wien map only shows the centre, it doesn’t go as far as Westbahnhof.
Both Wien and Bratislava had presented me with a similar problem, as soon as I had decided that my journey would include travel by boat between the two. In Wien, the station I was arriving at, and in Bratislava, the station I was departing from, were both some distance from the river with no obvious transport connection between river and station. In Wien I had compounded my problem still further by booking not the Twin City Liner, which sails from the central canal, but the Lod catamaran, which sails from a landing stage much further from the city centre. The nearest U-bahn stop for Lod was at Vorgartenstrasse but I had been unable to find out a walking route from the U-bahn stop to the landing stage. This had always bothered me; it meant that I didn’t have much time to play with in the centre of Wien, because I had no real idea of how long it would take me to get to the landing stage.
So my eventual plan was, arrive at Westbahnhof, take U3 to Stephansplatz, hop out for half an hour of Wien’s cafe culture (ie, a coffee and a cig), hop back down to U1, four stops to Vorgartenstrasse and then I had three quarters of an hour in hand for the alleged five minute walk to the landing stage.
But the plan was scuppered before it started. Because I hadn’t got out at Wien Westbahnhof. The awful truth dawned on me when I returned inside the station and found the only U-bahn line available was U4. There were NO effing maps on display (so thank goodness I’d printed one and brought it with me), but this could be because Hutteldorf is right at the end of the line so there’s only one direction of travel anyway.
My troubles were slightly eased by the fact that the person in front of me at the ticket machine queue was also English, so by nosing at what she did I was able to get the machine to display everything in English, and have the exact money ready for two U-bahn tickets (I needed a separate ticket for each journey). But by the time I reached Stephansplatz, I had no time at all to sample the cafe culture: I stuck my nose outside, clocked several grown men dressed up as Mozart (never a good sign), took a photo of an important building (no idea what it was), failed to see anywhere selling takeaway coffee, and went straight back down to the platform.
At Vorgartenstrasse, there was (hurrah) a brown sign with a boat on it. So I took that exit, and started walking in that direction, and then the signs, and the people, and the cafes, sort of … dried up. I wasn’t even certain that I was still walking towards the river, everything was just concrete blocks and cycle paths. But eventually some of the concrete resolved itself into a bridge, and there was the Danube, and there was a boat! Not my boat. But, still … the next boat had ‘Meteor V Lod’ written on it. I approached a man on the boat who might have been the captain, trotted out my standard hopeful ‘Bitte?’, and thrust my printed email (‘This email is your ticket’) at him.
‘Ja,’ he said.
‘BRILLIANT!’ I whooped, somewhat to his surprise, and found a seat where I could take off my backpack and enjoy a relaxed cigarette.
So, I am not going back to Wien. Any city which deliberately misleads its visitors by announcing one stop and then actually stopping somewhere else, and then fails to signpost its river properly, just isn’t getting my vote. Plus it has men dressed up as Mozart. No thanks.