Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vienna, and Vienna to Krakow with LOT

Wien is an invigorating city for indefatigable seekers of intellectual and productivity-catalyzing inspiration. The city exudes a synthesis of the impeccable Germanic-Scandinavian functionality, historicity and/or civic beauty is the rule rather than the exception, there is a refreshing nonconformity with regards to retail standardization, particularly with regards to the cancer of the most ubiquitous Western brands. And it’s all packaged into a Hochdeutsch language milieu despite its extra-German localization. Five stars by my book!

The visit began swimmingly. I disembarked from the Airport-to-Centre Standtbahn at Rennweg, followed by ever-unfailing (knock on wood!) situational awareness instincts straight to the unmarked, picturesque row-house (row-house in the German sense, to be sure, not the Washingtonian one) which bears the Pension Bosch, and delighted in allowing the grandmotherly proprietress to show me around my efficiently appointed studio. At 40 EUR per night, inclusive of an exquisite Teutonic breakfast, I was not complaining about having to walk some feet to the shower, which was not en suite.

The day was spent, true to my personality, busily engaged at two of the town’s one-of-a-kind cafes. These were not local versions of Costa Coffee; rather, classic Viennese cafes are relics of 19th century urbane society, all priced for pauper-ish intellectuals and/or riffraff. Both classes would surely comprise the class of patrons in the ancient and less distant past alike. Waitstaff were dressed to the nines – in black tie, no less. But Melange went for about 3 or 4 EUR, Reisling (about 93mL) for 2 or 3.

Morning brought the bittersweet reality of imminent flight. Forthcoming travels on LOT, particularly inbound to the ojczyzna, are unequivocally occasions of great joy, for the journey and destination alike. The morning’s ride aboard LO 228 would be extraordinarily special. Not only would I enjoy breathing-in the usual airline formalities in the poetry of the Polish language, but I’d enjoy the twin rarities that are an international LOT journey aboard the ATR and, furthermore, an international sector that does not have Warsaw’s OkÄ™cie as origin or terminus. Minutia for the vast majority, but meaningful to me.

Arriving at Wien Schwechat, I found myself in possession of a comfortable 55 minutes until scheduled departure time, but I swiftly discovered that generous buffer to be insufficient for the deluge of humanity assaulting all the Austrian Airlines check-in counters, including the Business Class / Star Gold area. (OS serves as the ground-handling agent for LO @ VIE.) Somewhat perturbed, I fluttered around the large check-in hall, searching for some anomalous distribution of the mob, all to no avail. I was quite convinced that, were I to wait at the shortest line available to me, some 20-30 minutes might easily elapse before I could check my bag. That would not do, given the constraint of baggage check-in cut-off time. And so I hopped to a kiosk, obtained my boarding pass, and dashed directly to the security check preceding the B30s bus gates, where I successfully passed through with my grossly oversized roll-aboard, over-sized liquids and all.

LO 228 was every bit as worthwhile as I’d anticipated. The load on the 9:40a push service was light – some 15-20 passengers on the 72-seat (+/-) aircraft, leading to speedy boarding of our ubiquitous Cobus tarmac bus. Boarding of the AT7 proceeded via the rear door – the only option on this type and its AT5 cousin – where one of the two F/As issued greetings and offered a selection of the day’s press, from which I grabbed the Puls Biznesu. (I don’t recall whether non- Polish language titles were available, and I was disappointed to see the Warsaw Business Journal, my usual pick, as out-of-stock, which is unfortunately a common situation in recent years.)

I’d be ensconced in 13D on this sector, a most fortunate choice for a trifecta of reasons. First, owing to the rear boarding and deplaning of the aircraft, rearward seats offer superior convenience, and row thirteen is the second-last row of economy. (Note that business class is the last two rows on most international services of this aircraft, occupying rows 15 and 16.) Second, the noise of the twin turboprop powerplants is considerably less pronounced and, furthermore, less bothersomely variable in shifts of frequency than is the case up front. (If that sounds a bit odd, your experience with turboprops is clearly limited; or you’ve been flying too much Business Class!) Finally, the herd instinct is invariably to book-up the forward seats, leaving the prime rearward seats not only desirable for their own sake, but also for the considerably greater likelihood of having empty seats all around for spreading out.

Our taxi commenced some minutes late, around 9:50a, and our Eurolot-operated aircraft was airborne around the top of the hour. From there, we proceeded along a relatively straight course to Krakow, bisecting the Czech Republic, itself covered by thick white cloud, and crossing into Poland not far from the city of Zywiec – incidentally, where I’d be heading after touching down at KRK. Clouds thinned somewhat over the Carpathian mountains and the Zalew Zywiecki, i.e. the lake just north of Zywiec, was dimly visible. Indeed, our aircraft flew almost directly overhead the dam that marks the apex of this most-recognizable geographic feature along the 200-odd mile flight path of the VIE-KRK sector.

Service onboard slightly exceeded expectations, the non-existent Warsaw Business Journal notwithstanding. An almond-topped muffin – plastic-wrapped though nonetheless substantive in size and acceptable in taste – was offered by the crew soon after take-off, an improvement over the sickly pieces of cheese and cured meat that I was expecting based on past experience. In the beverage service that followed shortly thereafter, I selected the usual combination for whenever I enjoy the good fortune of being a guest of LO, indeed, a duet that is only available on this very airline: black tea with a generous circular slice of fresh lemon (and I swear, they brew Lipton, admittedly a tea of the proletariat, though an unfailing brand when paired with fresh lemon), and blackcurrant juice. Mmmmm, I could go for both right now!

Descent began all-too-soon; normally, I’m quite impatient when travelling on the AT7, with its 500 kph cruise; but this 200-mile hop is wicked short, quite counter-intuitively given its over-flight of three countries. Snow flurries greeted our arrival at John Paul II International Airport, and I enjoyed further good fortune still by just catching the 11:16a departure of the ironically-christened “Airport Express” train to Krakow Glowny. In all, it was a grand morning: first impressions in Wien, a sensory symphony with LOT to that lovely country on the banks of the Wisla, and all in time to catch an early lunch in central Krakow.

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