A new city was what we needed. We'd done Florence, a space whose people had been pretty friendly, but had never felt entirely welcoming. Maybe it was the roadworks, which blocked some streets and affected the public transport, or the hugely busy alleys stocked with trinket pushers and a particular style of traveller I already detailed previously. Or just the edge of desperation you'd glimpse out of the corner of your eye - the peeling paint, empty stores, beggars on the corner.
That public transport system almost conspired against us on the way to the airport. We'd been nice and early, but Google Maps, which had been unreliable previously, suggested it was fairly close and there were frequent connections every half hour. When we got to the stop, we asked the locals if we were in the right spot and they said yes. But Sam's GPS suggested the stop was further on, so we wandered down the road and in the meantime a bus passed us. Finding no stop at where Google thought it was, we came back and I decided to ask the bus drivers of various lines as they arrived whether or not they went to the airport.
As I stepped up into one cabin, leaving my bag with Sam, the driver, despite being in conversation with me, shut the doors and accelerated off. I tried to explain that my bags were back at the stop but he wouldn't open the doors. We wound around the back streets for a while until we reached a new stop, at which point I got out and sprinted back to Sam. He was still there, laughing, and I knew which route to take, so I suppose it all worked out.
Of course, when we got on the bus (the one that had first passed us when we detoured further down the street in search of "the right" stop), the tickets we had bought were not valid for that line. So we forked over money and stumbled to a seat. On arrival at the airport, still an impressive three hours early (we had assumed that as an international flight we ought to leave ninety minutes before departure for check-in closure just to be safe), no one could tell us where we needed to go. There was no Air Berlin or Niki desk; one person directed us upstairs, one person said we couldn't check in because we were too early, one person pointed along the end and the person there sent us back the other way.
Eventually, we checked in through Alitalia, of course, and made our way to the gate. We caught a bus that took us to the runway (it was a small airport) and trod up the stairs of a small plane. One benefit of being early - we were seated in the second row, with huge leg room and no waiting to get off. At least, that's what we thought, until the hostess came and asked us to move to the very back of the plane because the weight distribution of the half-empty flight (twenty people at most) was wrong. I felt like asking if it was because I was black but didn't know if it would translate to German. Still, it was a surprising luxury, as we were able to have two seats to yourself and could put our bag under the seat next to us, giving us leg room. So, from city to sky, there was a general sense of clusterfuck.
Disembarking in Vienna was like entering the first world for the first time. They have recently done some serious work on their public transport and connections and it shows. The airport is astonishing in its modern design and efficiency, and a high speed direct rail to the city centre takes you in on leather seats and green energy in sixteen smooth, quiet minutes. We bought from a terminal in English that also granted us three days of public transport in the city and a return trip to the airport for a bargain price. Off one train and straight onto the underground, riding fairly painlessly through peak hour traffic to our destination. And our hostel was just around the corner, right along the biggest shopping strip in the city.
The city was spacious, breezy and ridiculously clean. The transport system was elegant in its simplicity and easy to follow. Our rooms, for roughly €25 a night each, are a private twin with ensuite and fridge in a complex with kitchen and games room. And my large window opens out onto a garden view. We wandered down the huge street in search of dinner, and a tip from a cool bar named Freiraum saw us head to Schnitzelwirt, an institution for forty years just off the main street. For €6.50 we got two huge schnitzels each and a salad. Delicious, and massive. We returned to Freiraum, the kind of chilled lounge/bar/café that we just don't do in Australia, sat down upstairs and drank green tea and an iced moccacino, a house specialty. Well, Sam first drank half a pot of boiling water before realising he had to put the teabags in.
Strange how days can turn around like that.