My Girl’s Night In in Vienna
The children’s favourite bit of Vienna appears to be the trams. Not riding on them, but looking down onto the top of them from the hotel bedroom. “That one has got a seat on. I’m not sitting up there when we go to the big wheel!” says Cameron who has control of the view from the open window. Matthew pushes him out the way to have a look. For once Hannah isn’t represented in the argument. She is fast asleep. Having been increasingly grumpy all day, we brought her back for an hours rest before going out again. From our window near the rooftops of the city modern Viennese life goes by beneath us. But inside the rooms and corridors of the building, down its velvet handrailed staircase and in its old fashioned lift that clunks into action, we are immersed in tradition, continuity and quiet.
“Can we go to the Big Wheel now?” asks Cameron. Now that has become a bit of a problem. Hannah has kicked off all her covers and is comfortably sprawled over most of a double bed, snoring gently. Waking her is going to be a nightmare.
Off you go boys
“Why don’t you and the boys go,” I say to Stuart and am a bit disappointed when he takes me up on it. The boys all leave in a flurry of excitement and I sit on the bed next to Hannah. Some girls night in. I have two days in Vienna, one of the most cultural cities in the world, and I’m about to spend a big part of it having a girls’ night which one of us won’t remember in the morning.
I look out of the third floor window. At least I can tram spot like the boys. But the number 49 seems to have gone to bed, like Hannah. I watch an impromptu party in a pop up café over the road and wish I was there. So I choose the next best thing and go and find myself a beer.
In reception, the hotel owner Johannes Roller is talking animatedly on the phone. I stand and watch him for a moment. He’s a very tall man with an air of Vienna about him. When he finishes the call he greets me in very good English with a smile and I order a drink. Reluctant to go back upstairs to a sleeping child I engage him in conversation about his hotel. He tells me his family have owned it for more than 150 years, “It has had a long and very colourful history. Let me put it this way, when it was opened the first time Gettysburg had not happened yet,” he laughs, revealing his sense of humour.
A traditional Vienesse hotel
He seems as keen as I am to talk and we sit for a while in a building that is essentially unchanged in the century since his grandparent’s bought it. He talks about how he ran around the hotel as a child. And how as an adult he does the same, but on behalf of his guests. He paints an engaging picture about running a traditional Viennese hotel and how he is proud to be different. It piques my interest. “The building is old and there are certain things you cannot change,” he continues. “They are the way they are. We have renovated the hotel over the years but I believe the interior should reflect the building. We cannot ever be cool, so we specialise in being very traditional, very Viennese.”
Hotel Kugel bedrooms are all different and Johannes makes no apologies for any wonkiness a guest might find, “There is not a single wall that is straight nor a single room that is totally square.” He gestures to the outside of the building “It’s historic. You can build ten new hotels, yet with old ones you have to retain them or they are gone.”
No cream with the strudel?
I came to Vienna hoping to experience the famous Viennese hospitality. I imagined finding it in an elegant Austrian coffee house with an impromptu musical recital in the corner, watching the Viennese waltz and eating giant Apfelstrudel, with cream. But I didn’t find it there. The recommended café’s were full of tourists, with disinterested waiters, small cups of coffee, alarmingly high bills and little intellectual stimulation. And worst of all, there was no cream with the strudel.
But in this old hotel, in the heart of the city, I find the charms of old Vienna and a place that welcomes families, artists, individuals, “I do not do serve buses,” Johannes sniffs. “I can’t do them and don’t want to do them. Occasionally we have small groups sent by the tourist bureaux but that is all.”
Art is part of the place
Johannes is an art lover; throughout the hotel there are flamboyant Gustav Klimt reproductions and striking photographs of old Vienna. The Klimt paintings are so vivid that Matt and Cam are a little disturbed by the half dressed woman they have to pass each time they go to their bedroom. Our host is less keen on music. “In a city like this you run over it all the time; Mozart here, Beethoven there. You get it to the fullest extent…if you want it.” After a day spent visiting the MozartHaus and Haus der Musik I kind of know what he means.
I wander back to my room, wondering what to do next. Hannah kicks out and turns over. I look out of the window where the party raves on, and see the police have arrived. Three trams arrive at once and I note the seats on the roof. I’m starting to think to myself that babysitting is quite entertaining after all.
Time for some TV
I flick on the TV and find a BBC entertainment channel and am abruptly dumped back in dreary England with the cast of EastEnders and Casualty, and Ray Mears. I haven’t watched EastEnders since the Mitchell brothers ruled the square. I am reassured the characters are all still mad. In Casualty I’m shown that if you cut someone’s tendons with a garden implement then they will need to have their leg amputated. Ray Mears makes me realise I never want to eat a witchity grub. I settle in with my beer, and enjoy the peace, the darkness and a character that manages to be grumpier than Hannah when she’s had no sleep.
So, who had the better night?
The boys return full of tales of the Riesenrad, a symbol of old Austria and the oldest Big Wheel in the world. “It was scary. You felt like you were hanging in the air with nothing underneath you like washing on a line. And then when we were at the top there was a power cut in the fairground beneath us,” Cameron exclaims.
“But it did take two trams and a train to get there and I’m really tired,” says Matt, collapsing on the bed. Their attention is suddenly caught by Victor Meldrew and his objections to the world around us. As we sit laughing in the darkness, with Hannah recharging her batteries in the middle of us all, I decide that Vienna is just as good for a big night in as it is for a big night out.
Disclosure note: Thanks to the Johannes Roller, owner of Hotel Kugel who provided discounted accommodation to allow us to bring you this story.