Cinderella in Vienna
The clock striking midnight, a lost gold slipper, and…a massive row? Flic Everett recalls her Cinderella moment in the Viennese whirl.
I realised when I saw a mouse on the Palace steps that things might turn strange. Road, Rail & Sea’s other half, Simon, and I were two thirds of the way into a six week tour of Europe, researching for the website.
Nice work if you can get it, I know- but after a month of living out of a suitcase, talking to nobody but each other for longer than ten minutes, tensions were building.
Vienna is magical, though, and I was convinced that we would love every second of our three days in this beautiful, Imperial city.
On our first morning, we’d stayed at the wonderful Urbanauts, and were about to set off for breakfast at the Goldenegge café, when some irritable remark of mine triggered an argument and he stormed off alone while I sulked about with nothing but a biscuit and the Nespresso machine to set me up for the day.
So we decided to spend the afternoon apart, to recalibrate, have some time alone, and explore Vienna without annoying each other.
I went off to the wonderful Winter Palace, a fairytale fantasy if ever there was one, where horses and carriages line up outside, and statues guard the courtyards. And as I climbed the imposing steps, a brown mouse ran out, and made direct eye contact.
If I’d been feeling more magical I might have tried to decipher its message, but it probably only spoke Austrian. It seemed odd because they day before, I’d bought a pair of sparkling gold dancing shoes in a vintage shop, and had thought how Cinderella-ish they were. I planned to wear them that night.
"I swept us into a cosy, 19th-century looking place, filled with mirrors and chandeliers and white table cloths..."
We were late leaving the hotel, and we’d failed to decide where to have dinner.
Normally we eat at places we think we should review- but we hadn’t booked anything, and so we thought we’d wander down to the Naschmarkt area, where there are plenty of delightful, undercover casual bars and restaurants alongside the food stalls.
For some reason, however, I was in a dramatically contrary mood. I decided I wanted to go somewhere ‘authentic’ and ‘old-fashioned.’ Places like Hotel Sacher were way beyond the budget, and Simon was not happy with my decision.
But I swept us into a cosy, 19th-century looking place, filled with mirrors and chandeliers and white table cloths, which ticked off all my fantasies, right up until the moment the waiter brought us the ‘tourist menu’ and suggested we might like to buy a ‘special cocktail’ for €12 each.
We’d have left, but we were the only people in the place, aside from a whispering older couple from Yorkshire, who looked equally horrified by the €18 lasagne.
Desperate to get out of there, we ordered fast, and watched in dismay as a sea of grease supporting a small, bobbing craft of dried pasta arrived.
Half an hour later we felt we’d been mugged. The best part of the next day’s budget had gone on inedible food and paint-stripper wine, I felt sick with shame and rage, and Simon was trying so hard not to say “I told you so”, it may as well have been spray-painted on his forehead.
We bundled into a bar three doors down, and I drank a carafe of red wine very quickly in a bid to rescue the evening.
Funnily enough, it didn’t work- I simply felt crosser, more disappointed and even guiltier that I’d ruined our evening in Vienna.
"If the taxi driver had actually been the mouse I’d spotted earlier in human form, it would have made perfect sense..."
Not surprisingly, I picked a fight. Simon wearily said, “come on, let’s just go back to the hotel.”
By now, things were spinning slowly, like when you’re on the roundabout at the park and the big kids won’t stop pushing.
“No!” I bellowed, “I’m not going anywhere with you!” and I marched off down the street.
“You don’t know your way back,” Simon shouted.
“I do!” I yelled.
The thing was, I thought I did. In my head, Vienna was a neat grid of streets so if I simply marched up one, along the other, and down a third, I’d be back in no time.
But as I sped along, muttering, I failed to notice that I was getting further and further away, as if some urban rip-tide had caught me.
I didn’t recall till later what the guide who’d shown us round the previous day had casually said. “Vienna is like a snail-shell- its streets are arranged in concentric circles.”
I went on and on, drunk and furious, in an inadequate coat- it was bloody freezing in Vienna at midnight, and even if I’d been willing to ring Simon and beg for help, I couldn’t get a signal on my phone.
As panic grew, I started to run, passing late night garages and rattling lorries. I was somewhere on the ring road on the outskirts, I had no idea where I was, and I looked down to find that the heel of my gold shoe had come off, and I was now flapping like someone in paper slippers along freezing streets.
An hour later, I finally found my way back, limping, to the area of the Naschmarkt. The bar was closed, but I had a signal.
So I rang Simon, and begged him to come and get me in a taxi. Because I had no money, either.
“Where is this lady?” I heard the driver say to him, and Simon said, “She isn’t sure.” They drove round for twenty minutes, before they spotted me.
“Don’t say anything,” I said, climbing in, stiff with cold. Simon just shook his head.
As fairytale evenings go, it was dire- but it did involve an Imperial palace, a broken gold slipper, fleeing at midnight and a lot of royal balls talked by me.
If the taxi driver had actually been the mouse I’d spotted earlier in human form, it would have made perfect sense.
As it was, an understandably grumpy Prince Charming escorted me home to bed. And showed up with Nurofen Plus in the morning, which was a lot more use, ultimately, than any gold slipper.