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Vienna Vagabonds: A Train Story, Part Three

by Tara

12:00 AM

After trying to change our tickets to a middle-of-the-night train so we can sleep on the way, hopefully avoiding homelessness for the night, we find that the ticket office is closed. Looks like we're stuck with our 9:50 AM departure. We settle in for a long wait.

12:15 AM

A security guard arrives shortly after we sit down, informing us in a don't-get-too-comfortable-here-you-dirty-vagabond tone of voice that the station closes from 1 AM to 4 AM. He also scolds Tyler for having his (clean) shoes on the wooden bench with what feels like our hundredth finger waggle in the last twenty four hours.

As Tyler works on a new feature for his software, I think about what we're going to do during the three long hours we'll be out in the cold Vienna night. Wander around taking photos of monuments by night? Hope the McDonalds is open 24 hours? Fall asleep in a park?

12:55 AM

We wheel our bikes to the elevator and make our way down and out of the Westbahnhof train station, into the dark, cold, night.

Vienna, Austria by Night

1:15 AM

Everything in town is closed except the strip clubs and McDonalds. Thankfully, McDonalds is open until 3AM. This means we'll have only one hour to kill outside in the cold! We buy coffees, ice cream, fried apple pie, and soda, feeling simultaneously exhausted, nervous, hopped up on sugar and caffeine, and excited from the rush of a new adventure. While we bring out our laptops to take advantage of free internet, replying to emails and writing, our bikes are outside, visible through the window next to us.

2:00 AM

A bedraggled man, clearly here for nothing more than the warmth on a cold night gets shooed away. I feel for him. Living outside can be rough; doing it in a city with no resources to one's name must be terrible.

2:30 AM

We feel like kids during a lock-in where you're supposed to stay up all night, thrilled with the novelty of no bedtime and high on loads of sugary snacks. I always ended those things in the sleepers' corner, feeling a bit ill and wishing I was in my own bed. Tyler, of course, made it through, but would then collapse into an unmovable heap at home for twenty four hours the day following.

3:00 AM

McDonalds closes, so we rejoin our bikes outside. Now it is time to wander around in search of somewhere open. We know that finding a place really isn't going to happen; we're just trying to stay warm by walking.

The cold air is good for keeping me awake. Every few minutes I ask Tyler, "what time is it?" as I count down the minutes until we can re-enter the train station.

3:15 AM

I am glad we normally don't frequent the streets this late. The only things open are crappy outdoor kebab stalls, and gross strip clubs with flashing neon lights. There's an ambulance outside one of them—I wonder if someone had a little too much to drink? We don't stop to find out.

3:30 AM

After walking fifteen minutes in one direction, and fifteen minutes back (only a half an hour to go!), we decide to sit on a bench in a small park. I briefly consider busting out the sleeping bag to use as a blanket, but Tyler convinces me this is a bad idea. We want to be mobile, able to leave at a moment's notice.

A man with a cigarette walks through a hedge, sees us sitting in the park, stares for a moment, then re-enters the hedge. Bizarre. As he re-joins the sidewalk, he whistles a tune. There are strange folk about, and it occurs to me that we are some of them!

3:45 AM

We begin our walk to the train station, hoping it will take exactly fifteen minutes, and that stereotypical German precision will come into play with the station opening exactly on time.

3:50 AM

We've miscalculated, and arrive early. There are a few other travelers waiting as well. There's also an elderly man sucking on a cigarette while arranging a stand for newspapers to be sold. One by one, he places v-shaped pieces of cardboard into slots on a metal rack (so the papers don't fall through the holes?).

4:00 AM

A man comes to unlock the station doors precisely on time. We rush inside and take the elevator (big enough for both us and our bikes!) upstairs to the waiting room. While Tyler drifts into a deep sleep on one of the many chairs, I lay on the floor next to the heaters. I consider taking out our sleeping bag again, but think better of it.

5:00 AM

Security guards arrive, waking everyone up, and asking to see tickets. One poor guy, clearly here only for a warm place to sleep, gets shooed away, just as the McDonalds' man had. He babbles pitifully, accidentally dropping his newspaper and an empty beer can on his way out. He stoops to pick them up, then leaves the waiting room.

We feel sorry for these guys. Our brief encounter with being homeless (by choice, with money, with a tent, with other options) really sucks. I can't imagine what it would be like day in and day out, in a city, with no resources. It has to be crushing.

7:30 AM

I leave to buy some pastries, coffee, yogurt and bananas for breakfast. When I return, I try twice to wake Tyler. He is dead to the world, so I let him sleep. A few minutes later, a loud German voice, garbling unintelligibly over a loudspeaker wakes him. Why do they even bother with these things? I can never understand them, even when they are in English.

9:20 AM

Half an hour before we're due to leave, we make our way to the platform where our train to Salzburg is waiting. It is a chilly morning. With the go-ahead from one of the station attendants, we load our bikes into a big cargo area in one of the cars.

Train Cargo Car

Tyler helps another touring couple put their tandem on the train, while I grab our things and go off in search of our assigned seats. When trains are bike-friendly, traveling is no big deal. Finding them, that's the tricky part!

9:30 AM

I locate the seats we've reserved, two in a compartment of six. The opposite-facing window seats are occupied by a friendly pair of elderly German-speaking women. Our seats face each other by the door. It is warm inside our compartment. Listening to soft German chatting, we fall comfortably asleep.

9:50 AM

We awaken as our train pulls out of the station, heading west. We are carried along without effort, watching a stream of fields and houses, fields and houses, fields and houses. It seems flat, almost two-dimensional compared to our bike rides. It's like watching a film-strip on fast forward, each shot blurred with the next as the frames fly by.

11:00 AM

We drift in and out of sleep, lulled by the soft churning of our modern train. In my waking states, I think about how we would have spent months covering this terrain, embedding into our muscles and minds an indelible memory of each and every curve in the road. We would notice slowly changing faces, slowly changing architecture, and the subtle nuances between them.

Austrian Countryside

Now, I don't even know where we are in relation to anywhere else. It is a strange sensation. I've grown used to being intimately connected to my place on the earth, locating myself through mountain ranges and river valleys, curving roads and border crossings. But now all is a blur. What time is it? What day is it? Where are we? I have no idea. Across from me, Tyler is asleep.

Austrian Countryside

12:00 PM

Our train pulls into Salzburg, and we head to the cargo car. This is it! This is our final connection to Munich! I am hoping to stop at a store and pick up a bag of Mozartkugeln (delicious gold-wrapped, Mozart-decorated chocolate balls filled with marzipan) while we're here in Mozart central, but one look at the train-schedule monitor changes our plans. We have four minutes to make our connection! Here we go again!

12:01 PM

First, we take turns carrying our bicycles together down the steep flight of stairs leading to the other platforms. Then, with another looming stairwell before us, we spot an elevator! So, we push down a long hallway following signs for it, and platform 22. It is the slowest elevator I have ever encountered. Go, elevator, go!

12:04 PM

We make it to the train just as it pulls into the station. With a sinking feeling, we notice it is a "RailJet". As we learned yesterday, they don't take bicycles. No way, no how.

We ask the conductor anyway, and sure enough, we aren't allowed to board. He tells us that there's another train to Munich in an hour or so that should have room for bikes. Oh well. By now we're used to this, and we take the news in stride. We'll get there someday.

12:06 PM

The train pulls out of the station and we are forced to wait once more. We look at the schedule, find where we'll be leaving from, and wheel our way over. Tyler grabs his laptop, and we begin searching for cheap places to stay in Munich. *Gulp* This won't be much better than Vienna.

1:00 PM

Our final train pulls up, and we let out a quick cheer when we see that oh-so-wonderful bicycle logo plastered on the side of several cars. Yes!!! Loading is easy, and there is plenty of room. There are several others there are already; a few road bikes, a cheery beach cruiser, and even another loaded tourer!

1:10 PM

As we pull away from the station, we meet the fellow cycle tourist. He's from France, on a 3,000 kilometer route through Austria, Germany (and a few other places). He is on his way to Italy though, chased off by bad weather.

Train to Munich

2:00 PM

Outside of Munich, the French guy bids us farewell and disembarks in search of sunnier climbs.

4:00 PM

We pull into Munich's central train station, and depart, exiting the train into a gray, rainy, loud, bustling city. We made it! The marathon isn't over yet, though, for now comes the hotel hunt. We set off in search of the cheapest we'd found online, a few kilometers outside of town.

4:15 PM

We soon realize there is no need to bike that far; there are literally dozens of hotels within a one block radius. Surely one of them must be suitable! We take turns asking around.

4:30 PM

After encountering some shocking prices, and some places unwilling to store our bicycles, I find the Hotel Dolomit, with the cheapest prices thus far. They have internet. They have bike storage. Sold. I run back to Tyler with the news, and we wheel over to our home for the next three days.

4:45 PM

We check in, we store our bikes, and we take the elevator to the fifth floor. Key in the door. Door opens. There is a bed before us, with a puffy white comforter and two big pillows. We flop on the bed and soon fall fast asleep.

Our marathon is finished at last!

Tyler's Note:
Sort of… we still had to write, edit and publish all of this. That effort was almost as monumental as the experience itself. At 3:37PM on May 22nd, the marathon is truly over. Now to go see the city, and start this whole process over again. Adventure!



It's fantastic, how you went through this horrible journey. Why don't you try youth hostels?
Posted by Yps on May 22nd, 2010 at 11:49 AM
Here are the POIs for your GPS of all youth hostels in Germany:
You will probably also find other useful POIs on this site. Here the POIs for Russia:

You need to download the program poiloader from the garmin website to upload the pois to your device.
Posted by Yps on May 22nd, 2010 at 11:56 AM
Well done!! Now breath easy and enjoy the champions league!!
Posted by Eliza on May 22nd, 2010 at 12:55 PM
Wow, what a frustrating and long journey! Congratulations on getting to Munich, and thank you for taking the time to post all this despite your exhaustion. I always look forward to your reports.
Posted by Okir on May 23rd, 2010 at 1:43 AM
Glad you made it safe and sound in spite all the roadblocks. I admire your resilience, guys.
Posted by Mary Niedenfuer on May 23rd, 2010 at 9:08 AM
Yay! You two are super heros!!
Posted by Karina on May 24th, 2010 at 2:07 PM
Thanks for all the supportive words everyone! Germany is proving to be well worth the trouble it took to get there :)

Also, thanks loads Ingrid (or was that Yves talking?) for the poiplaza link! We have all the hostels near our route in the GPS now. Great stuff!
Posted by Tyler on May 30th, 2010 at 7:17 PM