HomeThe trip (June-July 2005)

Ireland and Austria

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From India we went to Ireland to visit friends we haven't seen in decades (well, Tim saw them last, in 1998, but I haven't seen them since they left Jamaica in the late 1970s!). We went to Dublin and stayed with Daniel and Laureanne, and then took the train to Bray to visit Janet and Paul and their family. It's hard to recreate conversations here, and while we might say, “Just look at the pictures of the two families,” we screwed up with our camera batteries and didn't get many pictures. The only ones from Bray are the ones that Adam took, and those were all from the top of Bray head that he and JS climbed, while we sat on spilkes, paced, fumed, and generally had anxiety about their falling into the sea.

It was also interesting to see how easy it is or isn't to reconnect after a long time, and very different kinds of experiences. Mostly it was easy, and a lot of fun. But Dublin is not Toronto, no matter how much Ireland has changed since joining the European Community, and we are used to things here in Toronto that are unfamiliar to some of our friends.



A sign in the Marxergasse in Vienna; Groucho et al. rather than Karl. But they don't say, do they.

Daniel in his conservatory.

The back yard of Daniel and Laureanne's house, with tree Echiums in the background (wow!).

Daniel and Tim, and a collapsible fruit basket that we brought back from India.

Daniel's sister Catriona and Meher...
...and Daniel.

Our plan for the next six days was quite complicated. After leaving Ireland Tim and I were going to Vienna where Tim was to attend a the International Botanical Congress, and I was to be a tourist. The kids were going to get away from us and tour Germany on their own, hiking in the Black Forest together, and linking up with Konstantin and other friends from Adam's 2004 exchange. We were to meet up again with the kids in Darmstadt. So, we split up our bags and saw our two young men off.

After we parted company with the kids, Tim and I walked out and found a nice Internet café close to the River Main. I left Tim at the machine and walked out onto the street. It was  Sunday, most stores were closed and the streets half empty.  I walked on and found a place selling hot gyro sandwiches. In fact, the meat on the skewer was listed as calf meat. The cook seemed rather generous with chopped vegetables as he constructed the sandwiches. So, I got two hot gyros and walked back to the Internet café. Tim responded with a big smile, being a perpetually hungry person.

On the train to Vienna.

Beautiful caryatids in Vienna.

Dinner we bought from a store and assembled in the pension.

On the train to Vienna - Aaaaahhhhh, what a luxury! I am riding a train from Frankfurt to Vienna in first class, window seat, just Tim and me in this private compartment, feasting my eyes on German scenery, and Tim asks me, “would you like to write?” He then points out that there is an outlet for his laptop and I wouldn’t be using up the battery. Now, how could I refuse? For about a day, I have been itching to purge my thoughts onto a computer. Now is my chance.

When we reached the pension last night we found that we’d had a phone call from our friend Andreas in Marburg; apparently the boys visited with him before going on to Freiburg on the overnight train. Now all we have to do is figure out how to get and use a calling card here so we can call him back and arrange to visit, next week.

The nicest thing is that our room in the pension has a free Internet connection. With our laptop, it was easy to hook into this life-support system (we view the Internet and e-mail as an essential element of life along with air, water, food, etc.). Moreover, it was a joy to see that the pension had modernized its facilities with a DSL connection, network, outlet, etc. We even got an e-mail from from JS and Adam, from Freiburg.

Well, we have had a day in Vienna and what a lovely city it is! Drinking water is free and the subway is well developed and affordable, €12.25 for an unlimited travel pass for one week.  This morning we went to the huge centre where the Botanical Congress is taking place. We met some of Tim’s colleagues and I went on a walk through an arboretum, arranged by the botanical congress. Before the walk, we wandered around, got some lunch, and then Tim got back to the hotel to work on his talk scheduled for Wednesday. I went on the walk, and returned on the subway.

Down the street on the right is the Hundertwasser House.

Woman finds a laundromat in Vienna and becomes delirious with joy!

We also found the Lithuanian embassy.

But mainly, we were able to wash and dry our clothes.

Meher, the day we left Vienna and washed our clothes.

OK, after two days in Vienna, I am ready to offer a more balanced view of the city. Tap water is safe for drinking and is free. In restaurants one is served free drinking water as a routine, especially with coffee. In some places, toilets are free and while in others, they are not. I like Vienna for the ease with which you can get around the city. Of course, things could be a lot better for the tourist, but the city is doing all it can to make things easy for visitors. It turns out that tourism is one of the main cash generators for the country.

This morning, I decided to take a bus tour of the city but wasn’t able to locate their starting points. Perhaps this information is all too obvious for the people here, but it wasn’t clear to me. So, I asked the lady at the desk at the pension we are staying. She could not figure it out either but decided to call the agency. They said they offer a free pick up. Maybe this is the way they get their business. Anyway, I agreed and exactly at the appointed time a van came by and picked me up. On the way to the starting point, the van guy picked up ten more people from different hotels.

I went on the tour knowing fully well that I don’t like guided tours. Few scenes are more comical than a bunch of people with maps, compasses, binoculars, cameras, etc. following a tour guide like sheep and checking things off on their lists. I would have preferred to go around the city with Tim but he has a conference to attend. The tour turned out to be very good though. The guide was a woman, perhaps my age, very enthusiastic, funny, and knowledgeable. In places like Europe and India, a guide has to be good at both history and geography in order to give the tourists a good deal. And this lady was. She said she is a mom with two kids. Whatever the reason, she seemed extra patient with people with small children. There was a recognizably muslim family (hijabs, etc.) on the bus with two cute daughters and we had to wait several times until this family caught up with the rest of the group. The tour guide was nice about giving this family extra attention and I certainly admired her for this.

Anyway, we visited the Schonbrunn palace, where empress Maria Teresa lived along with her husband and 16 children! I lost track of the names of buildings and monuments we saw. Suffice it to say that it has been a feast for the eyes. I have always wanted to live in a city that has lovely buildings and beautiful architecture. North American cities are mostly bad in this regard, especially Toronto. But I suppose we have other good things in Toronto.

Talking of good things in Toronto, take for instance, the laundromats. Europe has a long way to catch up in this regard. Perhaps this is an old world thing (Indian, European,  English, etc.), one doesn’t really think about one’s dirty clothes because the customs have always had a set way of dealing with dirty clothes. But this is 2005! Tourism has become one of the main ways a country earns cash.  Pensions (B and Bs) of all sizes seem to be common in cities. Surely, cities must provide laundry facilities and pension owners must learn to answer questions regarding this basic amenity. Rather than pretend disgust at questions regarding laundromats, B and B owners should offer washing facilities or have a pick up service for wash, dry, and fold service. One must realize that a tourist’s good cheer lasts only as long as their stash of clean clothes.

Following the directions of our pension concierge, I went to one laundromat. Unfortunately, this washing centre had been closed for a while, the neighbors informed me. It was hot, the load of clothes I was lugging got heavier and I was fast losing my patience. But I calmed myself and went back to the pension and decided to attack the problem in a different way. No, I was NOT going to wash the clothes in the motel room. Instead, I began to surf the web not only to find a place to wash clothes but also to see if other tourists have posted their thoughts on this matter.

What I found was not unexpected, but still amusing in its own way. I used some key phrases like “laundry facilities in Europe,” “laundry facilities in Austria,”  “laundry facilities in Vienna,” and “laundry facilities in Germany.” I also used words like “laundromat,” “washing clothes in…,” etc. and I got hundreds of websites. Many of the websites, however, turned out to be travel diaries, advice for travelers, and travel blogs. But, the theme was that it is extremely difficult to find laudromats in Europe. The most frequent advice to a traveler was that they should choose the hotel of their stay for the laundry facility. Most hotels apparently have a wash, dry, and fold service. Had we known this beforehand, we would have booked into such a place, perhaps. But here I was, back to square one.

I did find a couple of websites with more practical and useful information including street addresses, directions, bus numbers, etc. I took down these and went on several wild goose chases, lugging this bag of unwashed clothes. Aaargh. No success.

On the very last day, Tim and I packed up our bags, checked out of the pension and made a combined effort at finding a laundromat. Following one lead, we got off at a subway station and I sat in a cafe drinking coffee while Tim went out looking for this laundromat on a nearby street. No luck. This one was apparently still being built. Finally, we had one last address to check out. This was closer to our train station where we were to take the overnight train back to Germany. Wow! this last lead was actually a live one. Hence, the picture of me standing victoriously in the front of the laundromat, waving like a mad woman.

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all text and images on this site are © M. Shaik and T. A. Dickinson 2005 unless otherwise noted; some images are © A. K. Dickinson 2005.