Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria, III

After what I judged to be an adequate amount of swearing and cursing, I reluctantly left the small glass enclosure and stepped back out into the misty rain. An older gentleman was waking by at that moment and I stopped him and politely asked if he could help me with the persnickety ATM. “Do you have a Volksbank account?” he asked with an incredulous eye. I said that I didn’t and he brightened visibly with the aura of someone who knows the answer to someone else’s vexing question. “Oh! Well, it won’t work for you then. You need an account at the bank first.” Great. An ATM that only works for this particular bank’s customers. What else could go wrong? With strained patience I asked if he knew of any other ATM’s in the area. He thought of for a moment and then replied that he believed there was one in Landeck. “Yes, I’m familiar with that one. It’s out of order though.” He thought again. “In the next town back down the main road. Just go the other way from Landeck. It’s not far. There will be one there, I’m sure.”

Not seeing a lot of choice, I thanked him and then jogged off into the drizzle, took a right on to the main road and kept on running. It was about three miles to the next village and then about another mile or so into the village until I found the ATM. The building that it was attached to was being renovated and was covered in scaffolding. This did not inspire me much. I pulled out my card and walked up to it. The screen… was dark. No power was being fed to it at all. Doom, having obviously been following me for the last few miles, finally walked up and made it’s self known. What the hell now? As I looked around the town, I watched happy couples scooting along under umbrellas and disappearing into eateries and pubs. There I stood, soaked, bone weary, and in the wrong town even. My reserves were getting really low, as was my morale. I schlepped off back toward Landeck, this time loping more than trotting. I could feel the blisters forming in my soaked sneakers as my cheap cotton socks betrayed me.

The rain stated to let up as I approached the inn. I wasn’t sure what the next plan of attack was but I didn’t have any money so staying here was out of the question. “Back on the train.”, I supposed. I hoped that there _was_ a next train. It was getting late, after all. I opened the door and my sweaty, rain soaked skin went cold and I could feel the blood drain from my face. Sitting at a table were Action Girl and Irene, just finishing up a big dinner with beer and dessert. They were obviously expecting me to return with money for the bill, not to mention rooms for the night. Ooooooh, Crap! The two of them looked at me, smiling and a bit fuzzily through the consumed beer. The Hostess came over to me and stopped short. She was obviously caught off guard by my appearance. I had been gone a good long while now and I was thoroughly soaked and wiped out.

“What happened?”, She asked, “Did you find the ATM?” I said that i did, but it was broken so I had to try the Volksbank one. She interrupted and said that it wouldn’t work for my card. I told her that I found that out, so I ran to the next village. “Wait,” she added. “You ran?”.
“Yes”
“Don’t you have a car?”
“No”

Her eyes boggled as she began to figure out just how far I had run my little foreign butt around her home town… in the rain. “So… Did you find the ATM there in the next town?” I was obviously uncomfortable and I explained that it wasn’t functioning either. She chewed her lip for a second and then told me to wait here. This was not going to be pretty. I was sure of it. The ladies looked rather aghast as well and the meaning of my failed run and their now eaten meal sank in. A short moment later, the man who was obviously both the owner and the cook emerged form the kitchen, still wearing his apron. He didn’t speak english so the hostess explained to him what had transpired. As she was telling him the story, I could see that he looked rather upset, then as she continued, gesturing up and down the road in the directions I had run, his face became more resigned. I was soaked, bone weary, starved and more embarrassed than I had ever been before. I must have looked every inch of that list because he wiped his hands on his apron, walked behind the bar and took out the largest beer glass I have ever seen outside of a novelty shop. After filling it to the rim, he slid it across the dark stained bar right in front of me. I was somewhere between thanking him and refusing it, but he held both his hands out, palms toward me and made a pushing motion. I thanked him with my best “Danke” and took a long, LONG drink.

After disappearing into the kitchen for a few minutes, he reappeared with a gigantic plate of food and a replacement victory-cup sized glass of beer, placed it in front of me and again made the universal sign of “Yah, yah. It’s for you.” I thanked him again and again and dove into the best wiener schnitzel I’d ever had. Shortly after, he came over to our table and sat down. Pulling out a scrap of paper and a pen, he wrote down an address. He called over the Hostess and she relayed his instructions. “You stay here tonight and when you leave and get to an ATM that works, you mail him the money for your bill.” I couldn’t believe it. This was faith in action. He didn’t know us from Adam, we weren’t even his countrymen but he was willing to not merely trust us with paying for the meal but also two rooms.

We obviously thanked him profusely and then staggered (some more shakily than others) up to our allotted apartments. All I can recall after getting to the room was having a quick shower and falling into a duvet that must have been two feet thick. To say I slept soundly is an epic understatement. I was the last one up in the morning and with head lightly pounding from the vat of beer the night before, I headed down stairs to thank our host again. Irene was there grinning happily. “Guess what?” she squeaked. “They accept Swiss Franks and I had enough left over from Zurich to pay the bill for us all!” After a brief inner battle, I decided to go with “Happily Relieved” rather than “AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

A few minutes later were were whistling along on the train on out way to Germany. I will never forget that very large act of kindness and I hope I can get back to the inn at Landeck some day. If I can, I’d like to thank him for his kindness one more time and enjoy his cooking guilt free. Next time though, I’ll bring some Euros with me. The ATM’s there are not to be trusted.

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Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria, II

We walked in the front door and were immediately greeted by a smiling young woman standing behind the bar. The techno music playing quietly on the radio contrasted mightily with the dirndl she was wearing and the dark stained, chunky pine seats and tables. Action Girl and Irene wandered over to a table and I asked if she spoke English. I really didn’t know much German at this point in my life and the hostess spoke hesitant english. I asked if they took credit cards, and naturally, they didn’t.

(On a side note, this is something that I have found maddeningly common in both Germany and Austria. No one, short of big hotels and tourist trap restaurants, seems to be happy when you pull out the plastic. As soon as… THE SECOND!… you cross into France or Switzerland, everyone will take your Visa or MC card. Even the street vendors have these wonderful little contraptions that look like cell phones with a slot down the side to swipe a card. Why these aren’t commonplace in the Germanic countries, let alone the U.S., I have no idea.)

I wasn’t surprised in the least that my credit card wasn’t going to cut it so I asked about an ATM. Was there one near by? She told me that there was, just down the street in the village. I thanked her, dumped my pack and told the ladies that I’d be right back. I stepped out the door and started heading into the village. Walking was striking me as being painfully slow and since Action Girl and I had been running lately, I felt up to a short jog. I picked up the pace and trotted along the road. And trotted… And trotted. The village, it turned out, was a fair bit down the road. Now, I know that distances always feel longer when you don’t know the route, but this was really a bit of a haul. I finally reached the town center after what I would guess was about two to two and a half miles. The problem that next confronted me was that the bank was not obvious to the passer by. I looked for a few minutes and feeling that time was not on my side, switched my tactic to finding someone who could help me find the ATM.

Everything was closed. It was after five now and there was not an open shop or a pedestrian to be found. Then I saw it. Miraculously, the apothecary was still open! I stepped in and fulling expecting to have to resort to hand gestures and pantomiming to get the help I needed, asked the white clad pharmacist if he spoke English. He replied with a “Ja”, rather than a “Yes”, but I was hopeful. I slowed down my speech a bit and asked where the ATM was. The man immediately brightened and said “Oh, well den, whatcha wanna do is goo over to da square and maka left at da fountain. It’s in front of a blue buildin’. Ya can’t missit!” I stopped cold. That was not the accent that I was prepared for. The sensation was the auditory version of taking a drink of coffee when you expect it to be milk. “Umm. Where are you from originally?” I asked, interest peaked. “Oh, I’m from Grand Forks. Dat’s in North Dakota, ya know.”

I thanked him and headed out the door, brain reeling just a bit. After a minute or two I found the ATM. It was out of service. Naturally. I decided to pop back in to visit my friendly countryman at the apothecary and inquire about any other ATM’s. Yes, there was one just down the road. As it turned out, back toward the railway station. Did I know where that was? Actually, yes I did. “Well, it’s past the rail way station and den it’s just a little past it. Dare’s a road off to de right an dat’ll lead to a lil’ bunch of buildings and dare’s an ATM dare, I think.”

“Ok,” I thought, “I’m up to this. I can do that.” I started off back toward the rail station and the inn. As I was running back, it started to drizzle. Great. As the rain started collecting on my clothes, I wondered why the hostess didn’t tell me about the second ATM in the first place? After all, it sounded closer. As I jogged past the inn, I was tempted to pop in and explain where I was going and why but I decided not to waste the time it would take. I’m also the kind of person who, when he’s on a mission, doesn’t deviate until it’s done. So, past it, I ran and on down the road. I saw the turn, crossed the river and easily found the bank. It was big, yellow and had a big sign reading “Volksbank”. “People’s Bank”, I thought. “That sounds nice.” My card went into the slot, I punched in my pin and then… It spat it back out. We repeated this about eight times.

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“You can’t be serious”…

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria.

So after twenty posts, I see what seems to get peoples attention the most is the Prague/Munich train of doom story. So, in the blatant self interest of driving eyeballs to my blog… I give unto you…

Blisters, running stitches and the nicest inn keeper in Austria.

This was a different trip than the one we did with The Doctor. This time it was a trip mainly to Austria and Germany (go figure) with Action Girl and her cousin Irene. This was a momentous trip for Irene. She had just entered college a little while ago and she had never done any traveling. What made this a really brave thing for her to do is that not only is Irene handicapped, but that she would be flying into Zurich all alone and spend one day there, solo. When I say that she’s handicapped, I don’t mean that she’s in a wheelchair. She can walk fine on her own, though with a bit of a stilted gait but baggage would be difficult. Her back has some problems and she’d need to pack light. Having said all of her limitations, youth, inexperience, and physical issues; I would also add that she is a singularly capable and fearless individual. Like I said, it was very brave of her to go, but it surprised no one who knew her.

So, we fly into Zurich the day after Irene does and met up with her. She already spied out a place for breakfast and enjoyed Zurich as much as you can when looking at it trough eight hours of jet lag. After an initial relaxation period of a few hours, we all hop on a train at the Hauptbahnhoff and are on our way. We leave Zurich behind and head to Austria. The place we are ultimately going is in Germany but this corner of Europe is crowded with country’s. Actually, it’s best to just refer to it by its geographical name, the Tyrol. Home of giant alpenhorns, edelweiss and men in leiderhosen shouting “Riiiiiicolaaaaa” at each other from high peaks.

Now, I have long ago stopped changing money or buying traveler’s checks when moving around in Europe. Money changing always seems to bite you in the shorts, although with the dollar in a death spiral, it’s probably a good idea to change all you can right now. As for traveler’s checks, forget them. No one wants to touch them and you spend you time getting frustrated trying to use them up. The way to go is the debit card. Or at least it was. Now, I believe banks are getting savvy about charging you extra (imagine!) for using your ATM card in a foreign ATM, but in the beginning, it wasn’t yet on the list of the 10,000 user fees that banks use to syphon your account dry. Action Girl and I were used to traveling this way and we explained this to Irene before she left for Switzerland.

We traveled through idillic looking countryside and watched rolling hills get steeper and craggier until they turned into towering Alps. It was spring time and the weather was warmish but no warm enough to melt the snow on the lower slopes of the mountains. We kicked around the idea of stopping since it was getting on toward the late afternoon. It was off season still and the weather was starting to deteriorate and with the thought that we might arrive at our destination in Germany too late to find a place to say, we considered taking it slow and spending a soon to be rainy night at some little town along the way and continue on to our Bavarian destination in the morning. The next station was the small Austrian village of Landeck.

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It was small, pretty, and best of all, we could see a guest house and restaurant just a short walk from the train platform. Taking the rumbling in all our stomachs into account, it seemed like a good idea. We left the train, and headed to the inn. Action Girl and I were back in our element; backpacking through Europe. Free wheeling it! No solid plans! We’d show Irene how it was done. Now all I needed to do was get my hands on some Euros, and I’d be all set to fill my jet lagged, empty belly with schnitzel and beer and then head off to our duvet clad bed. Ahhhh!

That’s all. Just some cash and everything would be all right. No problem.

Right?

Riiiiight…

More tomorrow.

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