I didn’t realize exactly what I was getting myself into before this trip. It’s not that anything’s been a surprise, exactly (in fact, everything has gone almost miraculously well: I’ve caught every train, made every flight and even took the exact right number of euros out of the ATM for my layover). I wasn’t mentally prepared, but I knew I wasn’t prepared. It’s been something like eight years since I spent a night in Stansted. I’m pretty sure that’s the only trip during which I’ve spent more time in airports.
For what it’s worth, the Vienna airport isn’t bad. They seemingly want to stamp your passport every time you head to the bathroom, but otherwise I have no major complaints. Free wifi, an okay number of power outlets, and the above-average number of screaming children are offset by relatively humane bathrooms. Protip: the chairs between A and C terminals are your sweet spot for internet access and charging capability.
But this isn’t to say that the trip has been sunlight and roses. Tbilisi is not exactly easy to get to, and this weekend, neither is Vienna. I’m told that some storms backed things up, and my flight was overbooked. They offered me business class to add an initial leg to Frankfurt, but I balked: Frankfurt is the only airport I’ve been through that insists on swabbing your laptop for explosive residue when you’re merely trying to get to a connecting flight to the US or a Schengen country. They’re nuts over there — driven mad, perhaps, by the vast empty expanses of their concourse — and I didn’t want to put my connection to Tbilisi at risk: I suspected that if I missed it I’d be losing a full day. Besides, I was sort of looking forward to sightseeing during my layover in Vienna.
Two people at the gate changed my mind. First, the agent, who offered me cash instead of an upgrade. I was still wishy-washy and worried, though, until a grizzled Russian executive, who was lined up at the desk to arrange for a ride in the jump seat to an eye surgery appointment and seemed to be straight out of a Bond movie casting office’s “rejected: drunk” pile, emphysematically gurgled assurances to me that the Vienna/Tbilisi transfer was a piece of cake. “It’s no problem,” he said, occasionally clutching his throat, “I’ve done it many times. Besides, you’re on the manifest, your bags are checked through. They have to wait for you.” That seemed convincing enough, so I took the deal and started wondering whether the Frankfurt airport had a casino suitable for blowing $400 of Austrian Airways’ money.
As it turns out, the gate agent was confused, or he confused me, or I’m just bad at this. My time in Frankfurt was short — as always, their crazed security almost made me miss my connection — but I found myself in Vienna pretty much in line with my original schedule, and with much of the day to kill before my flight. By this point I was delirious with fatigue, so I performed the world’s slowest toothbrushing, sat on a bench for a while, and eventually figured out how to pick up my voucher, check my garment bag and board the CAT train into the city.
From there I hopped on the U3 to the Stephansplatz — an efficient but boringly off-the-shelf European subway line and central square, respectively — then wandered around until I found a cafe that looked bearably non-touristy, but which still had wifi and some English on the menus. Cafe Mozart served me some overpriced but tasty tafelspitz, then I headed around the corner to the Hotel Sacher and had some Sachertorte (a damning IFA post is forthcoming) before strolling through the Burggarten, then doing my trip from the airport in reverse.
I’m now sitting at Terminal A’s Cafe Johann Strauss (as you might have already inferred form the name, it’s not as good as the other one), drinking a pleasantly metric-sized beer, and reveling in the suddenly-working-again wifi. My flight’s been pushed back an hour, to 10:25, and if everything goes according to plan I should be getting into Tbilisi around 5 or 6 AM. At this point catnaps actually seem to be doing something, and I’m further from collapse than I might have expected. I am really, really, really looking forward to being in a hotel room, though. The vagaries of wifi access and waterproofing mean that I may not be able to liveblog the shower I’m going to take when I get there, but my suspicion is that it’s going to be GREAT.