Hey! It's December. Which means it's finally time for me to complete one of my 2016 resolutions: to visit foreign lands each month. Thought I'd try and finish off with something moderately spectacular, frenetic, or perhaps just interesting. Actually I've been ludicrously excited about this trip since about 2 days after I booked it, for all kinds of reasons which I shall deftly reveal over the course of three blog posts, starting with this one.
Anyway, like most trips this started with a couple of buses while listening to podcasts about serial killers. Left the flat earlier than I do for work, thus plonking myself into the horrors of rush hour traffic and crowds. Leaving Surbiton was a PITA with so many commuters, and at Kingston I missed the express bus by seconds. Got the non-express and I think, throughout the whole ride, only 4 other people got on between Kingston and Hatton Cross.
In Hampton Hill I was startled by the "La Familia" restaurant, having on Thursday night watched a Storyville documentary about Beitar Jerusalem's rabid and proudly racist fanbase's reaction to their signing of two Chechen muslim players a few years ago.
As we got close to LHR there was time for some plane spotting out of the bus window.
I was writing lots of notes, not because lots was happening but because I have a new pad and this made me happy. Think I need a pencil sharpener though I'd be a bit worried about carrying blades through security.
At Hatton Cross just before 10, normally I'd jump on the tube but a 482 bus to Heathrow was arriving as I walked up so I thought screw it, stay topside and see what happens. Well, what happens is you skirt around the airport perimeter, with lots of planes buzzing you as they land, and you reach T4 in 5 minutes. Much better than the tube. Then you go into the cargo area, and past the VIP and Royal suites, and eventually to T5. Took about 20 minutes and is much more enjoyable than going underground. Completely free too, thanks to the tongue-twisting Heathrow Free Flow Fare Free Zone.
In the terminal I decanted everything into trays at security and then, once they were out of my reach, realised I'd not separated my mobile phone holster thing that always sets off alarms, so prepared to wait for secondary inspection. Though first, I set off the metal detector and had to go through the weird x-ray machine and then have my shoes swabbed.
My bag was not secondarily inspected, and I got out of the way to put things back together and my coat back on. Most other people crowded around the conveyor, getting in one another's way, and one super aggressive man took it upon himself to collect all the empty trays while muttering. Settle down son.
Escalator up to Galleries First was broken so a nice empty lift dropped me off near reception and a friendly smile welcomed me in. Only my second visit here, I was very much looking forward to a nice fat buffet breakfast and was not disappointed. Turns out you can also order food to be delivered to your table off a menu here as well. Fancy.
And then, champagne. I plonked myself in the corner of the "Champagne Bar", basically 5 self-service bottles of regular and rose with two sizes of glass and a jug of orange juice. I went for the demure smaller glass, which probably explains why I needed so many refills during my wait.
I briefly thought about asking for the possibility of a paid upgrade but decided against it, largely in an attempt to stop myself from getting horrendously drunk as the effects were already kicking in. I also got a bit rageful in a football debate about some anti-ginger sentiment, and almost let out an audible laugh when there was a tannoy announcement asking if anyone had misplaced a Fortnum and Mason bag. Oh, first class lounge, you are so stereotypical and I love you.
Well, I did love you until the piped music tortured me with an appalling cover of Take My Breah Away. Eurgh. This was my cue to leave - well, this and the time. Flight BA684 was leaving from gate A12 in half an hour, so I badly misjudged how long it would take to get there and arrived, as usual, to a crowded gate where boarding was yet to start.
A brief constitutional through the crowds of T5, then back to the gate and now it was boarding, with priority being well enforced. So there I am, plonked in seat 6A, on the left hand side of the plane in the first row behind business. No-one sits in 6B which is nice, in fact the 6 seats in the row only have 3 people in them.
It's boiling hot though. Grr. The curtain directly in front of me feels a bit "here's what you could have won", a feeling which is only made worse later by 5C's deliberate placement of their champagne bottle so I couldn't help but focus on it. Grr.
But that was later. For now, we closed the doors on time and taxi out to the runway, which gives some fantastic opportunities for plane spotting. Seems the window here isn't one of those which does much to blur photos. Good. I'll enjoy that later.
We seem to climb really slowly, which gives me great views of ... oh, hang on! That's Thames Ditton and Surbiton! I can see Helen's cottage and my flat from here! Though seemingly not any worthwhile photos, now I come to take a look. The rest of South London looks great, and there are nice views of the Thames Estuary when we reach the coast.
Getting pretty low there, cap'n. Or are those mountains just getting pretty high?
I'm all out of superlatives.
Some flat land with buildings on it. How boring. Must be awful living here.
I also took a time lapse video of when we circled too. Just amazing. Seriously folk, jump on a plane to Innsbruck and sit on the left hand side. Just do it.
Landing, you go down some covered mobile stairs and then walk across the runway. Pretty much everyone stops to take photos in numerous directions because, oh, the airport is still in amazing scenery.
I don't stop, anywhere. Just lots of wandering and taking dreadful photos on the real camera. Seriously that one above is the only even slightly usable one. Hope you didn't want to see much of Innsbruck but if you do, well seriously, I've already said you should fly in from the west so just do that.
Back to the station. I think about popping into the lounge, since I have access, but through the door I can see it's a pretty tired place and the website has told me there's no free booze until 6pm anyway so I don't bother. I'm meant to get on at platform 3 in the next 10 minutes anyway so I go there, consult a "which carriage will be where" guide and buy a Coke Zero from a vending machine.
The train is late, announcements tell me, because of "an international rail delay". So I wait on an increasingly cold platform, bobbing from foot to foot and plugging my phone into a USB brick. When the train arrives, everyone else on the platform walks or jogs to get to a different place. I am the only one who was standing where the right carriage would stop. Should I be proud of this?
Anyway, here's my OEBB train. I've got a business class ticket which, unlike in planes, is above both economy and first class. This is a RailJet train and business class means privacy, a big wide seat which reclines and has a big footrest, and table service, and power sockets and wifi and stuff. It's kinda like having a tiny little office to myself and I love it.
I also have a private monitor telling me, in three languages, how fast we're travelling, the stops and when we'll reach them (updated live with the delay), etc etc. I like how many umlauts Hungarian uses.
There are magazines and, oh, a menu. Excellent. Soon enough a man comes to ask me what drink I would like and I opt for an Austrian helles beer, which comes in its bottle and with a glass to drink it out of. Southern Railway could learn a thing or two here.
He doesn't ask for money, but I'm sure he will. The little display above my seat says where I'm travelling to so I assume the bill will be presented to me at the end of the journey.
The ticket guy arrives and wants to see my ID. He's surly but satisfied with my answers. A woman comes around with a plate of chocolates but I decline. Later, when she asks if I want another drink I look up, see we're half an hour from my destination and say yeah, go on then, another Ottakringer please. She never comes back. Neither does the first guy. Somehow I've managed to not pay for beer on this train. Seriously, I'm not sure that's meant to have happened but whatever. I'm an ignorant tourist. Perhaps you do get one for free?
Feldkirch, my destination, arrives way too quickly. It was a 2hr train ride, roughly the same length of time as the plane, but it seemed way quicker. I would love to get that train for a longer ride, e.g. Vienna to Zurich. Helen, you listening?
Anyway. Here's Feldkirch, where the train splits and changes number. And here's me, getting off and walking along the platform in the opposite direction to literally everyone else... and not realising for a good minute or so. Seriously I'm about 3 carriages up before I realise that obviously the exit is at the other end. Eesh.
It's a small station and everyone else seems to be being met by someone. No-one is going to the bus stop, even me; I've memorised the map and walk straight up the road to the junction with the main road, turn left, walk for 10 minutes. It's damn cold now. Why is it so cold in these winter alpine towns?
Through the least terrifying underpass ever and up into the main town centre, all pedestrianised and cobbled and stuff. I go past a pub where loads of people are drinking outside, all of them dressed in huge furry costumes like Mongol kings or Vikings wearing their spoils or something. It's mad. Moments later I've found my hotel, looming over a square and next to a big branch of Spar.
My Travelex supercard, a credit card specifically for using abroad to take advantage of no commission rate on foreign transactions, is rejected by reception. Sigh. The lass checking me in is very friendly and hands me my key to room 514, and tells me about breakfast.
My room is way fancier than I expected it to be. But it's cold and I can hear wind. Turns out the window is open, which seems a strange thing to do. I eat the free chocolate nuts from the packets on the pillows, put my scarf on and head out both to explore and to avoid the noise. There's some huge amount of music coming from somewhere... that somewhere being the kids having a party out on the balcony at the end of my floor, haha.
There are three guys all wearing the same t-shirt perched at the hotel bar as I leave, and the nearest one gives me a horrible stare. Meh. Out into the town, most places are deserted. It seems a pretty enough place, bigger than I expected (because my research sucks), but none of the bars tempt me in. The streets are empty but the bars are full and I'm in no mood for a language barrier fuelled last hurrah. The hotel will do me fine, but the walk is nice and I'm amused by the small groups of marauding kids who look like they're trying to be vaguely threatening but really aren't.