Since the 1890s, when the Giant Ferris Wheel went up, it became more and more an amusement park – the sort of place that I generally loathe.
However, Prater has a certain charm; it is fairly small, its rides are not too noisy and the ‘Toboggan” is one of the world’s oldest wooden slides. This afternoon, while children enjoy the miniature train pulling in to Lilliputbahn, a personal trainer publicly humiliates clients that sweat profusely in ill-fitting sports attire. Perhaps best of all, though, Prater is home to Vienna’s most famous beer garden, the ‘Schweizerhaus‘.
When in Vienna – the hardcore among you may remember this from the Tina Turner tour – I try and see my pal Norbert. Very briefly, he came to stay as a student at my house to learn English.
He arrives today late as usual, with his substantially younger girlfriend, Karo, and unable to park. Forty minutes after our agreed appointment time, I have to walk in punishing midday sunshine, away from all the closed roads surrounding the stadium, to find him grinning in a two-seater convertible Mazdza.
He has a funny, towel-like hat, to protect his neck from the torrid sun, and looks like a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Yasser Arafat. It’s great to see him. Karo slides onto the gear stick to make room for me, and we’re off on a short dash.
In fact, it’s barely a hundred yards because Norbert shrewdly notices a police car behind us. Karo, sliding saucily onto my lap by now, tries to assume a diminutive posture – to fox the police into thinking that there is only one person in my seat.
Norbert suggests dining at the infamous Schweizerhaus – on pork knuckles and Radler (a German word for shandy). Excellent. But we’re surrounded by hungry, boisterous AC/DC fans with tasteful T-shirts depicting skulls.
One or two look as if they may ordinarily eat live chickens, dismissing any cutlery as entirely superfluous.
So, while the fans gnaw raw meat, Norbert launches into an apt story about three-legged ‘porks’, which I more or less follow. Yes, it’s definitely something to do with pigs. ‘And do you remember when I was lying on the floor with your daddy?’ he asks abruptly. Ah, yes, between them they fixed my leaking radiator in the dining room. Still, it’s a funny way of describing a situation.
Norbert and Karo are now gearing up to a rock-filled evening. As is so often the case, though, I have to retire to bed for a short spell. You see, tonight is the big push to Serbia via Hungary, and it may well be an elongated adventure.
To that end we’ve been given a sizeable float for road tolls, and some “border swag” (a ‘Black Ice’ tour T-shirt, or three) to oil our passage past corrupt customs officials.
Oh, and it’s my birthday tomorrow. Crazy Sandra has designed, as a thoughtful gift, a splendid sign for my windscreen..