How I avoided Vienna’s crazy drivers and bicyclists with a couple of subway tickets

By John Toth
Bulletin Publisher

VIENNA, Austria – The streets are better paved in this beautiful city than in neighboring Budapest, but the drivers here are also crazy.

I’m relying totally on my GPS to get around this city as I approach the hotel. I actually had nightmares of the GPS getting lost or breaking while I was in the middle of anywhere in Europe. I would be stuck and eventually would have to ask for directions.

The GPS had to be invented by a guy.

It makes me look like a local driver who knows his way around. But, it doesn’t work when the driver doesn’t listen to several warnings that a turn is coming up.

So, I’m making a turn from the wrong lane during rush hour because I have to make this turn no matter what, and all these locals around me are all upset. Then the bully bicyclist comes along so that he can yell at me because I almost hit him, and for a while it seems like Vienna is filled with haters.

But, of course, it’s not. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and also, one of the most expensive. Those euros were flying out of my wallet at a record rate.

We’re pulling up to the hotel, but, of course, just parking in front of it would be too easy. Only buses can park there, so I park anyway and check us in. Getting a parking ticket here would not mean a lot. It’s not like they could come after me in a few months asking for the money.

I actually got a ticket in Budapest for driving in an area off-limits to cars. I was looking for the paid parking lot when a police officer decided that this poor, lost tourist should get a ticket. He had trouble reading my Texas license. That’s when it dawned on me that the ticket will make a great souvenir.

I felt like the officer and I connected for a moment. He and I both knew that the ticket was not going to be paid, but he had to do his job, and I understood.

In Vienna, I got away with all the desperation-fueled traffic violations without police intervention. The bicyclist didn’t scream loud enough to be heard over the car horns, and the rude drivers went on their way after shaking their fists. Like that was going to make a difference. I was going to make that turn no matter what it took.

The hotel clerk was laughing after she heard my story. She suggested getting around Vienna by subway. What? Vienna has a subway? Things have really changed since I left in 1967.

She gave me a map and explained how to buy the tickets. She recommended a 48-hour unlimited pass for 10 euros.

The entire city is connected by subway. There are street cars and buses here too, but the subway rules.
Now, to find the apartment complex where I lived for about six months as my mother and I settled into a new life back then (soon to be repeated when we immigrated to the U.S.)

The subway took me within a block of the place. This is amazing. What a treat. I was there in 20 minutes.

The old apartment house had been fixed up a little on the outside. Of course, it’s picture time.
I used to go to an after-school daycare center just on the other side of the tracks, I told my daughter, Stephanie. Let me see if I can find it.

We walked right to it – after all these years.

Then I pushed my luck a little and tried to find the factory where my mother worked. It used to be within walking distance from the daycare.

I found it also on the first try, except the building had been torn down. Two out of three isn’t bad, though.

That’s enough nostalgia. The rest of the time we are focusing on being tourists in Vienna.

This city is a lot of fun, and Stephanie didn’t want to leave. I promised her we’d be back. I feel her pain. I felt my pain, too, as the euros kept on flying away.