Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why Am I Blogging?

by Tom Bozzo

Darned weather:
Picture 3

Naturally, today is the R&R day before the conference; tomorrow is a workday.

The travel from Amsterdam to Semmering was pleasant enough. KLM indeed has a better concept for in-flight snacks than the frankly hopeless Northwest: a couple small sandwiches (tomato, lettuce, and cheddar; tandoori chicken) that were tasty enough. Eons ago (as in just before the First Gulf War), the Times (of London) ran a very interesting look inside BA's kitchens at Heathrow seeking an answer to the question of why airline food so often goes wrong, though at the time excesses of ambition were the main concern. Snacks like KLM's where what the author wanted for economy-class food.

Having endured relatively frequent flying in the U.S. post-9/11, KLM is a welcome throwback. I have no idea how they manage to efficiently operate essentially every variety of twin-aisle aircraft (I saw the 747, 777, A330, MD-11, and was under the impression that they fly the 767 too), keep them all relatively spotless and blue-looking, put multiple blue-uniformed agents at each gate, etc. For that matter, while the ubiquitous 737 is the mainstay of their short-haul fleet, national pride or something also saddles them with a number of aging Fokkers. Heck, I saw one agent carrying an exhausted preschooler of about John's age so that the kid and his mother could make a flight departing from a nearby gate.

Vienna airport is tranquil in comparison to Schiphol, and does have a Starbucks. It's under major construction. The train connection was from the grubby but relatively efficient Südbahnhof, where the main problem was finding out what train to take for a minor destination not listed on any of the posted timetables. The guy at the information desk had to look it up online, in fact; that would be a useful functionality for the ÖBB ticket kiosks.

The train ride itself was an interesting tale of two runs, one fast and flat through Vienna's outskirts and exurbs, another slow, uphill, and winding through the mountains — a climb of 725 meters to Semmering, most over the last 30 km. The line is electrified the whole way, and I'd wager smoother than any stretch of passenger railway in the U.S., in the department of better uses for a half-trillion dollars. [*] (I'll let Supt. Stephen Karlson correct me as needed.)

What I hadn't been adequately prepared for was the additional 125 m (410 ft.) in altitude from the station to the hotel. Which made this an especially welcome sight:

On the upside, it was a decent workout, and arguably helped me better sleep off the jet lag last night. Now if only it would stop raining so I could hike up the mountain behind the hotel for some scenery...

[*] We did set out with a diesel engine at the head of the train, which eventually separated and took the front two coaches to another destination.


Looks gorgeous! Have fun.
Yes, been there, hiked the hill, thanks for the props!

The Semmeringbahn (see several posts in this archive) claims to be the world's first mountain railway, although Graf Ghega (the subject of the huge monument trackside) toured the Baltimore and Ohio's West End to obtain evidence that such a line could be built. The summit at Semmering (trackside) is about 30 meters higher than the summit of the Alleghanies on the West End. By contrast, the Pennsylvania Railroad's summit at Gallitzin is at about the same elevation as Gloggnitz, the foot of the grade.

The service from Wien to Semmering is about hourly, although the timetable treats it as a state secret. Many trips include a change of trains at Wiener Neustadt (from the flat fast line to the Semmering line.) Sometimes that includes an unplanned change ... at the end of my visit a colleague and I were riding what we thought was a through train but we had to change at Wiener Neustadt to what I learned later was a very rare Hungarian train.

Enjoy the conference and be sure to break for the chimes at 6 pm.
Thanks for the comment, Stephen. I knew you'd have some information!

The ÖBB website has correct timetable info, but of course I failed to pop it into a Stickies note before departing. I think the change in Wiener Neustadt is unnecessary if you get on the right train from the Südbahnhof, but I want to say that you can get to Wiener Neustadt from some of the other Vienna stations -- just not all the way up here.

Tomorrow, the Österreichische Post is taking us up the Hirschenkogel on the mountain railway; I'll try to remember to take pictures.
The cafe at the top of the cableway is a good place to quaff a few beers and enjoy the afternoon! I'll be there in spirit.
I *meant* cableway (there was a mistranslation of "Kabinenbahn" at some point).
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