Thursday, 29 September 2011

Bonkers Travel Round Up - Unfeasibly Long Place Names, Curious Sanitary Ware And Other Oddities

So the summer is over, though with the current heatwave you wouldn't think it in Britain this week; the only mellow fruitfulness to speak of round here involved the spotty bananas I mashed up with Ideal milk the other day. Eight weeks on the road left me little time for blogging, unfortunately, though I did at least manage to report on the perfume highlights of the last few months.

However, it's been a while since my last "pure" travel post, so while my memories are fairly fresh, I will pick up where I left off at the end of July.

The second trip got off to an eerily smooth start - the surprise discovery of the Chanel Les Exclusifs range at Birmingham airort was just the start of it. On the plane there was no one else in my row, the flight arrived early, there were none of the usual queues at passport control in Stuttgart, and my bag was first off the plane. My hire car had air conditioning, and being diesel, was incredibly economical on fuel. Yes, it was a Skoda, but the build quality of Skodas has improved immeasurably since the mid-90s, when the company's mission statement used to be: "Step by step into the second century" (click on the fax below - lovingly preserved since my meeting at the Czech plant in 1996 - to enlarge the logo!).

What else? My first hotel allowed me to extend my check out till 1pm, provided two plump pillows!, a switch to activate the extractor fan - or not - in the bathroom!, and a choice of shady spots for my car - a life saver in the 35 C heat prevailing at the time. And the very first person I interviewed turned out to be a huge fan of our client, especially the lady in customer service, whom he described - most tantalisingly - as "so much more than a friend".

And then there was my "corridor vignette coup", whereby I managed to slip in and out of Switzerland for only two euros, instead of the usual 30 or so (40 CHF). I may have slightly fudged my itinerary to qualify, nipping out of the prescribed corridor between Germany and Switzerland into the adjacent reception rooms of Austria and Slovenia, but I figured I could play my "hapless tourist" card if I was rumbled. It worked for me a treat that time I rode a tram in Frankfurt without a ticket.

And the other triumph in Switzerland was to buy a wrap in McDonalds for under £10, which, despite the predictably high ratio of wrap, really did look as though it might have contained chicken somewhere deep within its floury folds. And whatever it was, you had to love the free Coca-Cola glass that came with it!

So there were a lot of things that went well. And to be honest, apart from failing to clock that Hungary had its own currency, my ineffectual mime of "smoked paprika" in a Hungarian branch of Tesco, and one or two hairy escapades involving Slovenian post offices and a communal laundry in Austria (which may warrant a separate post), most of the trips were free of incident. Of incident perhaps, but not oddities. So here is a round up of some of the things that particularly struck me on the last three trips.

Much of Austria is underground

Now Olfactoria may take issue with this statement, as she lives in the relatively above ground city of Vienna, and her summer house is not a cave dwelling either. However, if you drive from the Swiss border to Innsbruck, you are obliged to negotiate upwards of 30 tunnels, some mercifully short, many claustrophobically long, and all of them dark and dull. I couldn't help thinking that it would have been easier just to knock the mountains down rather than turn visitors to Austria into toll-paying troglodytes.

Curious sanitary ware and other toilet humour...

A rectangular toilet

"Rectangular" being the operative word... This was in my hotel in Udine, northern Italy, another unfortunate "near miss" kind of term. And "near miss" is arguably yet another one!

Papering over wise cracks

I consider myself a seasoned traveller, but this was my first brush with edifying toilet tissue: a homily in a roll, no less, with each sheet bearing a different nugget of wisdom. Here are some of my favourites, though they lose a bit of their snappiness - and all of their rhyme - in translation.

"Bad luck is a door which sticks as you are running to the toilet."

"Happy is he who forgets what cannot be changed."

"A financial genius is a man who can earn money faster than his family can spend it."

A seventies time warp en-suite

The bathroom of my Vienna hotel had floor-to-ceiling tiles in a pervasively beige colour scheme accented by brown and orange daisies - and an avocado suite! I was catapulted right back to my teens in the 70s. A bottle of Badedas bubble bath and a suggestive canister of Tickle deodorant would have made the scene complete!

Shit happens

On one of the rare non-subterranean stretches of Austrian motorway I spotted this lorry delivering a consignment of Portaloos:

Chupa Chups water towers (aka more strange things on poles)

Well, I assume that this silver ball on a pole is a water tower, having encountered broadly similar structures in the US, though some of those are admittedly more like leggy sputniks.

Window box frenzy

Window boxes on Tyrolean chalets are nothing out of the ordinary, but I nearly swerved into a ditch somewhere near the Austrian/Slovenian border on spying a chalet that was almost completely obliterated by window boxes in shades of purple and white. I wish now that I had photographed it, but it was a windy, mountainous road with nowhere where I could have safely parked. The photo below is a total lightweight in the window box density stakes, but if you multiple the number of boxes by a factor of three, and make the blooms extra voluminous while you are at it, you will be in the right ballpark.

Peremptory traffic signs

I came across this rather startling traffic sign several times in Austria. I am sure it is very effective in preventing the phenomenon of "Falschfahrer" (drivers mistakenly driving against the direction of traffic) which so bedevils the German motorway network. There are frequent radio announcements on German radio, warning other motorists to watch out for this "wrong driver" and on no account to overtake, in case he or she happens to be bombing along the other way at that precise moment.

Unidentified main courses

I was in some pretty remote spots over the summer, where sometimes it was a struggle to make myself understood in English or German, my "go-to" languages in Central Europe in which I can invariably conduct my interviews and get by generally. I was routinely baffled by menus in Slovenian, Hungarian and Czech - even in Serbian once - though I wasn't actually IN Serbia! (My Slovenian hotel was run by Serbians). Thus it was that some of my meals were the ultimate "pig" or "fish in a poke" - twice the unknown fish in question came complete with head, which is not something I would knowingly bring upon myself.

The board pictured below (from Slovenia), is a rare example of a menu with an English translation, for which I was understandably grateful.

Micro chapels

Everywhere I went in Central Europe, I spied tiny chapels: sometimes by the road, sometimes perched atop hills, while others had merely been plonked randomly in the middle of fields. They were so very, very tiny that I could have sworn some of them had been cut in half.

Every era of hotel room

The bathroom shot above nicely showcases the 70s throwback decor of my hotel in Vienna, but across my various trips I enjoyed the full spectrum of period decor, from bediggled baroque to loft dwelling minimalism. No prizes for guessing which I preferred!

Disappearing waste paper baskets

Now if anyone reading this works in the hotel trade, they may be able to explain whether I am imagining this trend, or whether there really has been a move of late to cull the population of waste paper baskets in hotel rooms. I remember that - regardless of the category of hotel it seemed (and here's where I may be mistaken) - there used to always be a bin in the bedroom and one of those annoying flip top or mini swing bins in the bathroom. Recently I have noticed an absence of bins in the bedroom, and have had to resort to drastically overfilling the little bathroom bins with all my empty mineral water bottles, fast food detritus, balled up tissues and discarded Google maps. Obviously I cannot feature a photo of the bins in the bedroom, as they have now vanished, so here is one of the uselessly diminutive style of bathroom ones instead.

And - rather symbolically, you may say - given its white colour, this bin appears to be disappearing too, like a polar bear on an ice floe...

Random museums

I didn't have time to visit it, but was intrigued to note that Vienna boasts a Museum of Contraception and Abortion (Museum fuer Verhuetung und Schwangerschaftsabbruch). That is right up there in my book with the wackiest museums I have ever come across - in Kansas City, if my memory serves me: an exhibition devoted exclusively to Caroline Kennedy's dolls, a museum of ghost trains, another one of barns, and my personal favourite, a museum featuring jewellery made entirely of human hair.

And finally, should any proof be needed that my business trips are just that little bit bonkers, here is a picture of some chickens in Srepenica, Slovenia, and one of a funny statue in Vienna. (If anyone is concerned, that flesh coloured excrescence is in fact the leg of a strategically placed passer by.)

Photo of chicken wrap from, photo of tunnel from, photo of Tickle from, photo of Chupa Chups from, photo of chapel from, photo of swing bin from, photo of cartoon from, other photos my own.


lovethescents said...

Veeee, as usual you have me in stitches!!! What an adventure. That toilet looks so difficult to get comfortable on. Especially for a skinny Minny like you. That would be messy.

Oh, and the over-embellished walls? They remind me of our friends' apartment, which you might remember. I think that might be generationally cultural :-)

Thanks for such a fun read!

Carol said...

ooh chickens!!! And oh I wish I could have seen those little chapels - how absolutely adorable! Per usual, Bonks, a delightful adventure-read! PS: and I would vote that you prefer the minimalist-type hotel room.

Anonymous said...

Oh V, thank you! I laughed so loud that my husband inquired after my mental health!
So this was an uneventful trip, huh?
There are so many gems in this post, I don't know where to start.
One thing I have to comment specifically though: isn't it a good thing, seeing the kind of bathtubs and statues we have in Austria, that most of it is underground??? :D

Anonymous said...

I want to go on a Bonkers road trip, they sound like so much fun! I love your observations!

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

Now you mention it, those over-embellished walls do indeed look awfully like the photos of your friends' apartment. And yes, "generationally cultural" is a good way to explain it!

Vanessa said...

Hi Bloody Frida,

I thought you would appreciate a chicken picture - they posed quite well, considering I was poking my lens through their wire netting...

And you are spot on about my preferred style of decor. The modern room with the decking on the balcony was superb and I wish I could have stayed longer!

Vanessa said...

Hi olfactoria,

I laughed out loud at your underground quip - you are a total "hoot" and a wag to boot!

: - )

(I do love your country really, and hope to come back soon, not least because I didn't eat nearly enough Sachertorte on account of the heat.)

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

If you came along on a bonkers trip, I can promise you that stuff will happen - much of it fun - and even the bad things are usually funny after the event...

And of course I can now provide a Coke glass too!

Anonymous said...

Even if you never wrote about perfume again, I'd still keep reading your blog -- best laughs today.
Your eye for detail (even while speeding along) plus the very special "Bonkers" perspective always leave me wanting more.

-- Lindaloo

potiron said...

Haha, so much fun to read your post, Vanessa. "A financial genius is a man who can earn money faster than his family can spend it." Though this statement is not exactly gender-fair, it tickles me that one would receive advise about managing ones finances while sitting on the pot. Speaking of "tickling": Having been born in the early 80s I had never heard of Tickle deodorant. Seeing the bottles I was wondering a little where exactly they were supposed to tickle you. And why exactly would that make you "stay drier"?

See you soon, Vanessa!

Vanessa said...

Hi Lindaloo,

Thanks for your lovely comment! And yes, you have rumbled me - I did indeed snap that lorry carrying its load of Portaloos while driving... I judged my moment at least - ie no other vehicles in my lane at the time - but it was still very naughty of me, I know. I just couldn't let a visual gag of such quality slip away!

I shall be returning to "non-travel related" perfume posts shortly - not that you seem to mind particularly one way or the other : - ) - and meanwhile there may be one more travel post or so left to come.

Vanessa said...

Hi Potiron,

You are quite right to point out that that statement is not very gender-fair! The "wise" loo paper is clearly stuck in the same time warp as the rest of the bathroom...

Hmm, as a former Tickle user (yellow was my favourite!), I can tell you that it was applied in the underarm area as per usual. A place where people typically are ticklish. But you are right, excessive bursts of involuntary laughter may not be all that conducive to dryness, especially for those of us born well before the early 80s. ; - )

Yes, am looking forward to seeing you with my head in better nick - and Alicka61 is around too! We were wondering if Wordbird could possibly pop over for a little Hallowe'en break?

potiron said...

Vanessa, this is an off-topic comment from my side, I hope you don't mind too much: Just wanted to say, great news that Alicka61 will be joining in and I would so love to see Wordbird again. To have the four of us get together would be the perfect birthday present. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa,

I think all events would be amusing when using the 'Bonkers Perspective' as another commenter very accurately dubbed it.

The Coke glass would be very handy and I would promise to only drink Coke Zero, not the cherry variety to reduce the potential of extreme burpage. I wouldn't want to ruin the trip!

Vanessa said...

Hi Potiron,

No worries - it was after all preceded by my own off-topic comment! And I guess it may be a long shot, but I will ask the question...

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

Very kind of you to say so! Right, so apart from putting you in charge of non-windy in-car refreshments (maintaining fluid intake being key on these long trips), I am thinking that some of the wizzy apps I infer you have on your phone could come in jolly handy along the way.

Anonymous said...


I have a multitude of wizzy apps, some of which would be incredibly useful on a long trip such as; various map apps, a compass and one that displays nearby point of interest. I also have a lot of apps that would prove to be absolutely useless, such as a cat that mimics your voice in a high pitched tone, an app that turns what you say into a song and one tells you which celebrity you look most like.

I believe each would bring something interesting to the trip :D

Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa,

Breaking cover, despite a cold, not just to congratulate you on surviving 8 weeks of travelling for work, which is pretty good going by any reckoning, but to applaud another funny blog about your travels.


Now, How did Cat and Husband and House survive without you?

cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh.

Hazel said...

Re the Skoda slogan: perhaps they made chariots in those days? Reminds me of Unseen Translation set in A level German back in My Day in which stranded motorists ask peasant if Farmer X has a Wagon - Ach, Ja! - then, after some miles of tramping - 'Er hat Wagon, aber kein Pferd'. My, how we laughed.

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

Compass sounds fun. There used to be a style of boy's shoe that had a compass concealed in a recess in the sole. (Clark's Pathfinders, that's it). That was of course before the days of the mobile phone...

I think I might pass on the cat app - it is annoying enough that Charlie Bonkers is deaf and yowls all the time without having her mimic my voice too!

And I look most like Bjork, also John Denver when I was younger and had his haircut and glasses. Probably don't need that app either, but I am sure we could find a use for the others!

Vanessa said...

Hi Anna,

Sorry about your cold and good to hear from you - that's two Edinburgian(?) commenters back to back!

Mr Bonkers sought solace - and food where he could cadge it - in the company of friends. Cat slept most of the time and may not have noticed I was gone... : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Hazel,

That is the joke equivalent of the simple pleasures we enjoyed back then, like pressing silver foil sweetie wrappers in books and making papier mache pigs out of a balloon and cut up egg boxes.

Undina said...

Vanessa, I sooo enjoyed reading your post! The only problem with long(er) articles - which I love, don't get me wrong - is that by the end (and especially if you come back to comment the next day) you forget everything you wanted to ask! But one thing stuck in mind and I have to ask: was it really a goulash made of bear meat??

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

It is kind of you to say you don't mind long posts, because I feel sure they are offputting to many readers, and it is my aim to make the length more manageable in future. Somehow these Bonkers Trip posts always seem to grow and grow despite my best intentions!

To answer your question, I don't know, because obviously I didn't care to try the bear goulash myself, but given that the restaurant was in a wild, mountainous region I'm thinking it might not be a spoof.

Just found this article which suggests it is genuine - and controversial!

Undina said...

Yeah, I wouldn't be trying that goulash either - controversy or not. :)

Vanessa said...

Undina, me neither - I would avoid it on all possible counts!