I am on the route 66. That’s the bus route 66, linking Liesing in the 23rd to to Reumanplatz in the 10th. I like this time of day to travel by bus because most of the passengers are retired old ladies who are mostly respectful, quiet and polite. In contrast, in the early morning when most other people travel (and this being Vienna early means, TAGWACHE!) the bus is normally full of kids of all descriptions, upsetting my delicate post breakfast balance and impinging on my personal serenity. I comfort myself with the knowledge that their brains are not fully developed, so they can’t help it.
I travel a lot by bus, u-bahn (underground) and tram, and always have done. The reason for this, primarily, is the peripatetic nature of English teaching, hopping from company to company like a travelling salesman without a car. I have been all over Vienna and I pride myself on my ability to compute the quickest route between two points in the city. It is like a public transport version of the “Knowledge” (think London, black cabs and drivers who never go “sarf!”). I know the connections, the exits, the best carriages to stand in, where the toilets are and the preeminent places to snack. If I could fit in your pocket, I would be an App.
It’s been like this since I started teaching (a more accurate term might be chatting), that second week after arriving. Although my first job sent me out of the city by train (I missed my stop and only started to get really worried when the mountains started to look really like mountains), it’s mostly been in Vienna. Then again, there was a period in the early days when we were ferried about by a mad Indian, also an English teacher, who had a car. He was a lovely bloke, clever and interesting, but he had one fatal shortcoming: an insatiable predilection for talking.
Now conversation is usually a 2-way process, but after 10 minutes in his company your will to live was crushed. It was like speaking to a Dehlite Demmentor. Now I am not the most relaxed passenger at the best of times, but driving down the motorway with him yabbering on about how India was going to take over the world and all I could think of was shouldn’t you be concentrating on the fucking road? I tried whenever possible after that to sit in the back, seeking solace in nicotine to calm my nerves whilst praying to Shiva and Ganesha for safe passage.
My first bus route in Vienna was the 48A which ran past my flat on the Gablenzgasse in the 15th district. I look back on this time with fond memories. It was my first experience of something so big and bendy on wheels, my first of not showing a ticket to the driver to board, and the first time I witnessed the Viennese tradition of messing with the laws of physics with patrons trying to get on a bus before people have got off. It was on those first journeys that I could look out of the window and fantasise how my life in Vienna would play out, inspired by those naughty “art-house” (tasteful humping) European films I had seen on late night Channel 4 in the 80s.
I say those “first” journeys. I am still looking. And I am still on a bendy bus. But today the journey is more pleasurable still because it looks like spring has finally deigned to show its sleepy and vaguely irritable face. Suddenly Vienna, like a freshly washed toddler, is beaming, and everyone is rushing to polish their car before the sun buggers off again. This also signifies the start of the big clean up (my buddies at the MA 48 again – see “Where Christmas Trees go to Die”). Naturally, as someone who aspires to have his own TV show about tidying, I approve. And as the sun shines, so do the people. Everybody is smiling, especially the guy that hangs around the supermarket trolleys trying to sell me fake copies of Augustin (the Vienna homeless magazine). This week he wouldn’t leave me alone so I gave him my trolley to take back so he could reclaim the one Euro. Or would have done, if I hadn’t used one of those plastic tokens.* More importantly, this being the rebirth of spring, thoughts turn to sex, renewal and ice-cream. And where better to try it than at the end of route 66. The ice cream not the sex.
Vienna is almost certainly no different to many other cities in the world in that the people still haven’t perfected the art of successful queuing. Indeed, it is a universal truism that the only place in existence that seems to have instinctively grasped the concept of standing patiently in a line is Britain. It is one of our proudest achievements albeit one we have not had much success exporting around the world.
But up in Vienna’s fashionable 10th district (reminiscent of Kilburn in London) just across from the entrance to Reumanplatz underground station and the start /end of route 66 you will find a place which perfectly encapsulates the Viennese attitude to standing in line: I speak of Tichy.
Tichy is Vienna’s most famous ice-cream shop. Debate rages about whether it has the best ice-cream but everybody has heard of it. Their system for queuing is such that there is no system. The only way to describe it is as a mass scrum of people shuffling in the general direction of the counter trying not to be edged sideways or backwards by the other patrons who want to kill you. In short, it is every UK expats worst nightmare.
It manages to pull off the remarkable trick of concentrating a mass of people in a small space only for those people to be completely oblivious to anybody standing near them. Matters are not helped by the brightly dressed staff who shout out the dreaded “Nächste, bitte?” (Who’s next, please?) at no-one in particular, only for the tallest, loudest or most devious to sneak in front with their order. In short, the levels of individual public assertiveness are such that any Brit going in will emerge hours later in a daze whimpering softly and wondering who they are.
Tichy opens on the 15th March and this being Austria, we could have temperatures in the 30s in February, and Tichy would open on the 15th March. You can check it out here: http://www.gastroweb.at/tichy-eis/
© R. J. Barratt 2013