Monday, July 21, 2008

Greetings from: VIENNA

My greatest regret upon leaving Prague—besides not being able to spend more time there—is learning all these words in Czech that I’m never going to use again. Knihy, for example. Book. Vlak, train. Dĕvka, bitch.

On the train to Vienna, we passed Blansko, where there was a lake of green water alongside a black cliff, almost like a quarry. The vines and tree branches stretched towards the water, a verdant waterfall. Sunbathers on its “shore.” What was I doing cooped up on the train again?

Worse, the rain that had annoyed us in Prague followed us to Vienna, where it had gathered strength and now came down in a fury. What I imagined to be a beautiful, classic city was washed out in gray clouds, falling sheets of water. Not to mention that it was a Sunday, and almost the entire city had closed down. This is what Catholicism hath wrought. Where’s the Reformation when you need it?

Our hotel, AllYouNeed, has a spartan decor, like a Ikea clearance showroom. I've also noticed that European hotel bathrooms—well, at least the lower- to mid-price hotels that we prefer—have a corner shower stall, little more than a quarter-circle. A tight squeeze: I constantly bumped up against the water handle, alternately scalding and freezing me out.

We did manage to sneak into one of the famous Viennese coffee houses, however: the Café Leopold Hawelka. Despite the strengthening rain, we sat outside, mostly protected by the umbrellas, although we’d occasionally catch some spray drifting past. The interior was all dark wood and heavy curtains, the day’s newspapers on long, wooden readers. But I suspected something might be bad when I stood at the doorway and the middle-aged waiter brushed past me (it seems that you simply seat yourself at most places in Europe) and muttered, “Please stop raining.” A young, blonde waiter came to take our order, and we sent him away because we hadn’t decided yet. Big mistake, because we never saw him again. No, really. He left the café entirely. One moment he was serving customers; the next, I didn’t see him whatsoever in a cursory sweep of the inside. We speculated that he’d been fired by the grumpy middle-aged waiter, because the older one kept getting more and more frazzled as the night went on. He was the only server, and he cleared tables with a violent sweep of his hands, oftentimes spitting out mysterious German expletives. He finally wandered back outside when prompted by a table impatient to pay the bill. And while our hot chocolates certainly delicious, I had to track him down in order to settle—€4 for each drink. The experience seemed questionable. Entertaining, but questionable.

Still, I’m a sucker for bad service stories, especially when you can see the curmudgeon materialize right before your very eyes: normal human, normal human, bam!, raving madman with slightly mussed hair. And I did leave a tip, but only because I didn't want him to cuss me out after I left.

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