Monday, June 19, 2006

Austrian Travel

Everything worked out OK, but I thought you would be amused to hear about some of the mysteries of Austria travel.

First of all, it turns out that there are different types of hotels there. For example, there is the 'Pension', like the one I stayed at in Vienna, and the 'Sporthotel', like the one I stayed at in Innsbruck. What's the difference between them? I don't know.

The funny part comes with the Innsbruck reservations. The conference website suggested that participants stay at the Insbruck Sporthotel Igls. There was even a conference bus from this quaint old building in a tiny Alpine village. But our travel agent, I guess, thought 'Sporthotel' was the name of the hotel. And so I ended up staying at the 'Innsbruck Sporthotel Penz', a dorm-like hotel out by the airport.

It was very odd when I arrived (I wrote to Andrea that it was like being in the Twilight Zone) because I never saw the shuttle bus I expected, never got the phone calls I expected, and they had never heard of the conference.

What was really funny was, the next day - still not realizing that I had been booked into the wrong hotel - I got into the shuttle bus and was transported to this beautiful hotel in its little Alpine village - and stranded there! I had to wait around for an hour and a half for a ride back! (Happily I spent the time taking photos).

Second, there is more than one train between Vienna and Innsbruck, an 'express' and a 'milk run'. They depart one half hour apart from each other. It is clear the travel agent did not realize this, as the itinerary and the tickets differed by that half hour both ways.

On the way there, I went by the ticket and ended up on the right train, though it turned out to be the milk run, stopping at every possible destination between Vienna and Innsbruck. It was OK, though my ticket reservation had me in a compartment (instead of a typical railway seat) that I shared with five very large and progressively more drunk Hungarian police officers on their way to a bicycle trip in the mountains. They were very nice, but there wasn't much room for me!

On the way back I went by the itinerary and caught my train at 5:00 instead of 5:30. This time I turned out to be on the express run, which would stop only at Salzburg, but when I went looking for my seat found the car didn't exist. Yup - my train was actually the milk run that started a half hour later (it wasn't even posted on the departures board, so I had no way of knowing until someone told me). I spent the trip in the dining car drinking very large Austrial beers and filling up on weinerschnitzel.

So, like I said, everything worked out OK. But for a while there it felt a bit odd.

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