We woke up from a long, deep sleep just in time to get off the train in Vienna. Unlike in Brno, we immediately recognized that communication would be easier here. Most people spoke fairly good English and maps were easy to come by at the train station. We quickly found our hostel and were luckily able to check in a day early. We let our backpacks fall to the floor and headed straight to bed. This – we thought – would be so much better.
Most of the following day was spent recovering from the craziness of the night before. We were still exhausted and not feeling well, so we simply hung out at the hostel watching TV until we got hungry and had the strength to get out of bed. We ate at a food court nearby (not the greatest meal, but it was at least close!), and then started making some plans.
Our first *real* night in Vienna showed great promise. We were heading out to the famed Cafe Central, a cafe that was frequented by the likes of Hitler and Freud. Coffee was reason enough to go, but the history of the place added to the intrigue. Stepping inside, we could feel the traces of a former grandeur; a certain sense of old world pride. The high ceilings, lights, and sound of an older gentlemen in a suit gave me a picture of what this place must have been like in its prime.
We ordered the Cafe Central coffee (coffee with apricot liqueur) and an apple strudel. The coffee wasn’t the greatest, but the apple strudel was pretty good and the quality our conversations that night seemed superb. As we walked back to our hostel, we were feeling great about Vienna and couldn’t wait to see more.
The tides started to turn that second day, when the rosy tint started fading from our glasses. Every time we asked someone a question or for directions, we were met with a coldness that bordered on hostility. Every place we tried to exchange some money, we were given suspect rates. People in stores stared at us with distaste. This came as a shock, especially because we are so used to the warmth and hospitality of Turkey and enjoyed a fair amount of it in Hungary and Prague as well. Despite the less-than-warm welcome, we were excited for the day. We walked around the city for a bit, stopped for some lunch, and prepared to see an opera, which we were very much looking forward to. The weather was not very cooperative (cold and rainy), so we didn’t really get to see much beforehand.
At the opera house, we trudged through the crowds up endless flights of stairs to the cheapest seats in the house. Strangely, they require to give them your coats and bags, but also force you to pay for it, which did not exactly rub me the right way. Still, we went inside to see the show. The inside was quite lovely and the opening scene had me hooked. The costumes were fantastic and the way all of the voices harmonized in melancholy set the mood for the show. The excitement died, however, two hours later when the vast majority of the show seemed to just involve two people on stage singing “mi amore” at each other. We decided to bail at intermission and just check it off the list as an experience.
Already a little down and disheartened, I also learned that one of my family members was critically ill, several time zones away. At that point, I was feeling downright helpless. I spent most of the night tossing and turning, not sure what kind of news I would wake up to in the morning.
The worst moment of all came the next day. Tired of walking through bad weather, we decided to break down and buy some metro passes to make the rest of our trip a little easier, especially since we still weren’t feeling great. We found the nearest metro stop, bought a 48-hour pass from a machine outside, and went down to the platform to try to figure out where we were going. As soon as we got down, a large man in a yellow vest ripped the tickets from our hands. “These tickets are not valid” he said. “That will be 206 Euros.” We both looked at each other, incredulous. We tried explaining to him that we had just purchased the tickets and asked why on earth we were being fined. “You have to put a stamp on this. You don’t have the stamp. You need to give me the money or we are going to go speak to the police!” Not having had anyone to talk to, no signs, and not seeing anyone stamp anything anywhere, we were pretty much flabbergasted. We tried to explain all of this to him, that it was a simple misunderstanding and that we had TOTALLY PAID FOR OUR TICKETS, to which he just responded “It doesn’t matter! This is nothing special for you! You must pay 206 Euros or we’re going to the police!” I thought that this had to be a random guy trying to scam people. We asked to speak to his manager, at which point he walked us over to some grubby looking guy in a ponytail, which did nothing more to convince him of his story. Finally, we spoke with an officer, who simply said “his hands were tied” and that we’d have to pay the fine. Looking around, we could see five other tourists IN THE EXACT SAME SITUATION. It was then that I realized we’d been duped and that Vienna’s public transportation had built a whole economy around tricking tourists.
I was unbelievably pissed off at that point. How can they treat people like that? If they hate foreigners so much, why even bother trying to build any kind of tourism? Of course, it’s all about the money, and the more they can scam out of them, the better. I was so upset, both about my family and about being screamed at like a criminal when they knew as well as I did that I hadn’t committed any crime. It was a deeply disturbing experience; I didn’t even know what to feel at the end of it. Our last day there, I was so emotionally drained that I didn’t even leave the hotel.
Disappointed doesn’t even begin to cover it. I had expected Austria to be a friendly and charming place, especially because one of my favorite professors in college was Austrian. I had pictured baroque buildings, delicious chocolates, and classical music. Instead, I found impudence, xenophobia, and greed. Never in my life had I hated a place so much. I couldn’t wait to go home.
Part of me wants to say that I wish I could take it back and go somewhere where my money would have been better spent. Another part of me thinks that this was an experience I was meant to have, and perhaps when the bitterness wears off, I’ll be able to take something positive away from it. We have only just started traveling and I’m sure this won’t be our last crappy experience.
In either case, I don’t ever think I will step foot in Austria again (at least not for a very long time) because $#@! that place.
Have you ever experienced a situation like this? Has traveling ever made you want to rage quit? I’m hoping I’m not alone over here.