So you are stranded in Vienna after your plane has been rerouted by a shadowy organisation staffed by computer whizzkids, double agents and a baddie boss who is being blackmailed by a transvestite junkie. You are a parent and your kids are demanding entertainment, fun and sugar based nourishment. In short, for a few stressful hours, you are literally up the Danube without a paddle and you need a plan to save your sanity, if not your wallet. So what are you going to do? Here are my slightly alternative proposals for the discerning, the desperate or simply the inquisitive:
1. It’s an obvious one to start but Vienna boasts the world’s oldest zoo at Schönbrunn. They have a great collection (loads of media friendly baby animals) and it is sited in the grounds of the rather special former imperial summer palace. So be original, and give it a miss.
2. Go to a museum. Like the great European cultural centres – London, Paris, Bratislava – Vienna has a museum for even the most discerning culture junkie. Perhaps best avoided with children is the Schnapps Museum in the 12th district, although if you are offering, and the Narrentum in the 9th, with its displays of body parts and gruesome physiological exhibits. But annoy other people with your indifferent offspring at the Technical Museum in the 15th, the Military Museum in the 3rd or, best, the Kinder Zoom Museum at the aptly named Museumsquartier downtown.
3. You want cheap and cheerful? Then ride a tram. Vienna has one of the biggest networks in the world and you can travel all over the city for the price of a Big Mac Menu (all school kids up to 15 years of age travel free during summer holidays – July and August). From Stammersdorf to the north, Mauer and Oberlaa to the south and Hutteldorf to the west (forget east) just jump on and off, see all the sights you could possible want to see, and some you don’t.
4. Forget the tram. So last century. Instead, board the bus routes 1A, the battery powered 2A, or the 3A and criss-cross the city centre in circuitous, tourist friendly routes taking all that first district has to offer. So much cheaper than a Fiaker (the horse and carriage) and cooler than Steve McQueen on a Triumph in the Swiss countryside. A bonus is that you might get to sit next to a very rich, gorgeously attired pensioner who last left the 1st district when the Russians withdrew in 1955.
5. Bus? Phooey! Hit the Badnerbahn (half train – half tram) boarding at Karsplatz and get a return ticket to Shopping City Süd (SCS) at Vosendorf, about half an hour south, passing through parts of Vienna that only English trainers and the police would venture. Once Europe’s biggest shopping mall, it is ideal for the oppressed parent where children can run around in air-conditioned freedom free from traffic, dogs and rich old ladies with precision walking sticks. There are also two large stores selling adult entertainment but this might be awkward to explain at customs.
6. Head to the Prater and its fairground, a potentially devilish place full of kitsch, charm and chain smoking stall holders with the persuasive skills of serial killers. Even the most sceptical and stubborn of parents, fearful of their life savings, will quickly realise that resistance is futile. But in moments of stoic desperation head to huge beer garden of Schweizerhaus and lubricate your liberal countenance with over-rated Budweiser but some of the best roast pork since Asterix. At all costs, avoid Kolarik’s Luftburg (same owners). A bigger rip off than the guys who convince you you can shoot with a rifle and a service ethic best described as pre-medieval.
7. Coffee and cake – like Laurel and Hardy, English football fans and unplaced optimism, or Vienna and smoking at bus-stops, coffee and cake are one of those rare instances where two things fuse beautifully and need nothing more than savoured, silent consumption. The added advantage of summer is that cafes are often empty indoors so you can look local by avoiding the outdoor tables and observe at first hand the legendary obdurate Viennese service. Be warned, however. Often one is charged with selecting cake from cake counter whilst waiter looks on. At all costs take no longer than 4 seconds or you will be picked up by your creased lapels, carried past the jeering, perspiring kitchen staff and deposited on the pavement.
8. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. It feels like your underpants have fused themselves to your body. You need air conditioning. Where better to cool off than Vienna’s premier indoor soft-play area: Bogi Park It can be reached by the Badnerbahn (stop Gutheil-Schroder Gasse – direction Baden) or the bus 16A – direction Inzersdorf – from underground line 6, station Am Schopfwerk. In summer it is largely empty, which will encourage even the most unadventurous parent to get on that slide or bouncy inflatable without fear of ridicule, although one must endure the aroma of slightly stale feet. Or is that the restaurant?
9. Go swimming. Zee options:
Go private: the best one might be Schönbrunnerbad but you will need fashionably small swimming trunks, the right sun-glasses and an understanding of the difference between, Ich bin warm and Mir ist warm.
Pension busting: indoor and outdoor fun to the south of Vienna at Therme Wien and only 20 minutes from airport by car. (See previous blog post for not very many more details.)
10. Come and visit me. We have a swing, a sandpit, a piss-poor paddling pool from the cultural edifice that is Toys’ R’ Uns, a playhouse (doubling as my not-so- secret hideaway), swing ball, a scooter, an axe, other assorted dangerous implements in the garage, a list of chores as long as the alleged charges against former finance minister, Karl Heinz Grasser, a neighbour reminiscent of Mr Fredrickson in Up and, at the moment, more mosquitos than a toilet during the building of the Panama Canal. I can offer free transfer to and from airport (local taxes apply), a Beertender, simple food, and the chance to interact with a couple of original Austrian children who speak English with a cockney/Viennese accent.
For more details, consult your smartphone. It is why your maker gave you Google.
© RJ Barratt 2013