A Travel Vignette

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From an Austrian Travel Diary (1997)

Marching Through Vienna

A Bob Djurdjevic Column, September 1997

VIENNA - After another good night's sleep, I did follow R.'s advice - to cross the Stadtpark in front of our hotel, and then go for my "march" along the banks of the Little Danube, a branch of the river which is nearest our hotel. Since the price of coffee is exorbitant at the hotel, I tried to get a coffee-to-go at several places along the way. No luck! Not even at the little kiosks which sell the subway tickets (which I never buy anyway). Finally, I gave up and walked into a little "hole in the wall" bar on the south side of the city.

I spoke in German when I ordered the coffee, so no one should have suspected a foreigner except perhaps for my "weird" looks (by the Viennese standards). I wore my Miami U. hat over the Serengetti glasses (yes, Emily, the hat had dried out overnight and is looking again as good as new! So don't worry... :-). I also wore my Perth sweat shirt and my red shorts. Plus I had my black back pack slung over my shoulder, where I kept my wallet and the camera.

Anyway, the tiny bar's occupants stared at me for a while, and then went back to their beers and wines. Yes, can you believe it, they were already downing those even though it was only about 11 a.m.!

After that I crossed the river and walked all the way back to the city, eventually ending up at the old Hofburg Palace. As is usually the case with me in foreign cities, some Austrians asked me for directions. And as is also usually my luck, I was able to give them to them. Guess Vienna, the downtown part anyway, is becoming as familiar as an old hat?

By the way, while walking along the Little Danube, I saw an old lady, certainly 70+ years old, walking a dog and wearing a Georgetown Hoyas t-shirt!!?

Rockers at Hofburg Palace

I was disgusted with what I saw around the City hall and in the park right in front of the Hofburg Palace. Not only was there some garish-looking circus tent spread out in front of the beautiful Vienna City Hall. But some big rock group was obviously getting ready for a concert tonight in front of the Hofburg palace.

They had two stages set up, with loud music already blaring the loudspeakers bigger than any I had ever seen. I had no choice but to go in front and around them, as they had blocked other paths. When I was about 50 yards or so in front of the stage, I felt my chest heave in and out because of the pressure caused by the loud music from the speakers. I put my hands over my ears to protect my ear drums.

Now, as to why I was disgusted...

When I took a closer look at what was between the two black stages which the rockers were setting up - it was a horseman with a sword and a flag - a monument to the unknown soldier. And in front of it was a huge promotional Cola Cola can.  What a desecration! I took a picture of it (see the header of this vignette). It seemed obvious that it isn't only America that is being dumbed down by the NWO.

Nor is it probably an accident that the OSCE offices (inside the old Hofburg Palace) were only a couple of hundred yards away, across the big plateau in front of the palace. The New World Order has evidently reached even into the inner sanctum of what was once one of the world' most powerful empires. And is beating its savage, pagan drums on its doorstep.

Tasting Spanish "White Sect"

On my way back, just past the Opera House, I walked by the fancy restaurant ("Korso") to which HB took me on my last visit to Vienna in March. Just outside, there seem to be some Spanish promotion going on, as a small crowd of people gathered. An older man, dressed in a traditional Spanish costume, was serving something out of a barrel in a very artistically demonstrative way (he was pouring a drink into small sherry size glasses with a three foot long thimble.)

As it turned out, that was Spanish white sherry (I think the label said "white sect"). I noticed that he had no trouble serving whoever was interested, including some young girls no older than about 16. I also tasted half a glass of the sherry. It was really good.

Checking out

I've been coming to the Marriott's at the Parkring for at least 6-7 years now. This was the first time that their spa, an important reason (for me) to have chosen that hotel, was not working. Every day, the staff at the fitness center would tell me that it would be fixed "tomorrow." After I had heard the same thing today, my third day there and the day I was supposed to check out, I blew my top.

I got the usual "I only work here"-lame excuse by the pool attendant.

"You also work for the hotel to which I am paying exorbitant rates and NOT having the full services delivered in return," I replied angrily.

I then stormed upstairs and asked to see the manager. Predictably, he/she was not available. So I unloaded on the supervisor who was available, and who promised to pass on my heat to the hotel's general manager.

As if that weren't enough, when I was checking out, the same supervisor was handling my bill. "A lot of phone calls," she said, glancing at it before handing it to me to check.

At first, I casually scanned it. But her comment about "a lot of phone calls" caused me to look more carefully. Not only did they charge me 11 schillings (about $1) for every local call I made to my AT&T access number, but I noticed that there were larger amounts, say 250 or 300 schillings (between $20 and $25 each). Since I never made any long distance calls, I asked the supervisor to explain to me what the charges were about.

She printed out the telephone numbers I had called. They were all the LOCAL Vienna IBM Global Network access numbers.

"And you're charging me $20 or more for the local calls?" I asked, sounding agitated.

"Just a moment, Sir," she bought herself some time, probably recalling our earlier conversation about the Jacuzzi.

She walked over and talked to a man in his mid 30s. After a minute or two, both of them returned to where I was standing.

"Sir," the man spoke up (who turned out to be the front office manager whom I had missed earlier - Manfred Lipphard), "what were all these calls about to the same number?"

I explained that that was the local number IBM had given me for access to the Internet, and that all these calls were my sending or receiving e-mail messages.

"I see," he replied, looking at the bill with a worried look on his face. "Well, I am afraid you'll have to pay for them then."

"What?" I raised my voice. "You expect me to pay for the local calls as if they were long distance charges?"

"But that's what the Austrian telecom charges us," he pleaded.

"That's your problem," I snapped back. "I travel all over the world, but I have never heard of the local calls being billed as long distance charges. And if you're telling me that that's normal in Austria, then you should have posted large red ink signs advising your American guests of it. Since you didn't, about the only thing I can say to you is that your hotel has engaged in deceptive and fraudulent practices. Telling a guest after the fact that he will be charged is just not good enough."

"But we did post a notice in the rooms advising the guests that local calls are billable," he claimed.

"I know, I saw that," I agreed. "But I assumed, as most guests would have, that that meant the 11 schillings per call which you charged me for dialing AT&T. Which, by the way, is a rip-off anyway, since AT&T bills me for the call not the Austrian telecom. So you're engaging in double billing. But then to then bill me on top of that for the local calls as if they were long distance charges is nothing short of a fraud!"

By that stage, most of the people in the lobby would have been able to hear that something was seriously amiss at the hotel's cashiers' counter.

"I am sorry, Sir, but that's really not our fault," the manager tried once more. "That's how the Austrian telecom works."

"As I've already told you, that's your problem," I replied. "I am not paying a cent of such charges. Take them off my bill!"

"Okay, Sir," he relented.

After about 3-4 minutes of calculating the amount, he took 1,808 schillings off my bill (about $150). He asked for my phone number, which I gave him.

I don't know what, if anything, Marriott's may try to collect this amount. But if Gwen pays that bill, it will be the last bill she will have paid for Annex.

Catching the flights at the last minute - New York

It looks as if I am (unwittingly, I swear!) making it a habit of having to be paged at airports before my flights. First, in New York, at the JFK, I wanted to finish my FORBES column before leaving. Which I did, by about 7 pm (my flight was due to leave at 7:30). But then I ran into some computer snags while trying to connect to the Internet.

To make the long story short, I did get my column off, but it was about 7:20 when I was finished.

I then discovered that the gate was not right in front of the Admirals Club, as I had assumed, but quite a distance away. By the time I made it to the gate, I had been apparently paged several times (so said the security guard, anyway), although I never heard it (nor would it have matter if I had, under the circumstances).

The security guard just grabbed my ticket, ripped out the portion which the airline keeps, and let me go through. NEVER ONCE DID HE ASK TO SEE MY PASSPORT; OR ASKED THE USUAL QUESTIONS ABOUT WHO PACKED MY BAGGAGE ETC. !!

He did say, though, that they had taken my bag off the flight, and would now try to put it back on. "But I can't promise it will make it," he said.

"Oh, yes, you can," I replied. "The airplane is right there," I pointed through the window. "Please make sure it does, as I have a connecting flight out of Brussels."

Of course, the bag made it. But I never knew that until we landed in Vienna, as it had been checked right through.

The whole time, I kept thinking of H. and how, if she were with me on this flight, she would not have quit nagging until Vienna. And then I chuckled... Because everything did work out at the end, as it always does.

Catching the flights at the last minute - Vienna

The same thing happened in Vienna, except that this time I wasn't trying to make any publishing deadline. I looked up my gate number at the screen in the Business Class lounge, and it said B07. So, with about 15 minutes to spare, I slowly walked over toward the B-terminal gates. I went through the security and realized that the numbers started with, say, B20 and were increasing in the direction I was walking.

So I went back to the security station, and asked where the gate B07 was.

"Oh, right down there," the security guard told me, pointing in the direction I had just come from. So I went back again.

After about 6-7 gates, I stopped at a counter and asked the man where the gate "B07" was.

"There is no gate B07," he replied. "What flight are you on?"

I told him.

"Oh, you should be in Terminal A," he said, after having consulted the screen in front of him. "Your gate number is A12."

I looked at my watch. It was 17:00. I had five minutes to make it to an entirely different terminal.

No, I did not run. I figured that if I missed this flight, there would be another one. But more importantly, I figured that God will somehow help me make this one.

He did. As I was walking toward the Terminal A, I heard my name being paged on the airport PA system. They totally butchered the pronunciation. This made me mad, considering that the Austrians had occupied most of the Balkans for centuries, and that the Serb guards from the Krajina had served as Maria Theresa's honor guards at the Schönburg Palace outside of Vienna.

Anyway, when I got to the gate A12, a frazzled flight attendant took my ticket and told me that another bus was just coming for me (it was one of those gates where a bus takes you to the airplane). So as we waited, I told her what had happened.

"But there is no gate B07," she said emphatically.

"I know that now, too" I replied. "But that's what was posted in the Business Lounge. And that's what the security guard didn't know, either."

I then looked up at the sign above her head. It read, "Budapest - OS (the abbreviation for Austrian Airlines) flight 807."

Then it dawned on me. I must have misread the number "8" as a "B" on the Business Lounge's monitor, and mistook the flight number for the gate number. I could have looked at my boarding pass, I suppose, but I didn't. Because in Brussels, for example, they changed the gates on me from B07 (oh my God, it must be fate that kept drawing this number!) to B27. So what was printed on my boarding pass didn't matter anyway in the end.

I just chuckled again, thinking of Honor and thanked God for bailing me out again. I did not say anything to the flight attendant. I made the flight, of course.

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