Austrian Salvation

Last week’s instalment described Grace and Husband’s predicament worsening as their expedition was interrupted by Husband’s faulty inner plumbing…

The Austrian town of Sankt Polten is undistinguished in any historic or geographical sphere although I imagine the residents enjoy a good standard of living. It is pleasant enough, surrounded by attractive landscapes and served by excellent facilities. But for us its overriding, stand-out feature was a large, modern teaching hospital situated slap-bang in the centre and crucially offering an Accident and Emergency department.

I felt a simultaneous wave of relief [that we’d brought up-to-date EHIC cards] and anxiety [that we wouldn’t be able to park the van]. The hospital sat among the streets and offered parking-but of the underground sort. The height barrier was 3 metres. We could do it.

We stepped out of the lift into something akin to the inside of a space ship with a reception desk. At Accident and Emergency I proffered Husband’s European Health Insurance card and passport and answered a few questions-posed in perfect, classy English. ‘You will be seen in 15 minutes; take a seat back there’ smiled the nurse. ‘Back there’ was a small portion of corridor with no more than 8 waiting patients. As people came and went I realised that of course, if waiting time is 15 minutes a vast aeroplane hangar full of chairs is unnecessary.

A trio of medics took us to a room and quizzed us further then we were taken to the urology unit across a courtyard. The accompanying nurse exclaimed, ‘you’re from Christchurch-it’s a lovely place!’

Upstairs in the urology department we waited for a short time before being taken into a consulting room where Husband was quizzed, taken samples from and examined by ultrasound so I am able to say, now [having watched the screen] that I know my husband inside and out…

One prescription for antibiotics and one doctor’s letter [for home] later we were on our way. The staff at this modern, state-of-the-art hospital had been charming, fast-acting and efficient and I silently thanked fate for our having entered Austria, for having been unable to access near-to-Vienna sites and finishing up at Sankt Polten.

It only remained for us to hand the prescription into the pharmacy-of which there were none in the hospital; the chemist’s lay in a pedestrian precinct. I left Husband in the van, parked in a small lane off the precinct and dashed in for the medication; again, while I was dismayed by the throngs waiting with prescriptions those in front melted away in moments. All the medication was stored in a wall of small drawers behind the counter-so no rummaging was required.

Twenty four hours later we were in Germany [Wurzburg] and Husband was feeling much, much better. What, we wondered would have been the outcome if we’d been in Bulgaria? And what would be the outcome if this potentially dangerous health problem occurred next year, when we are no longer ‘Europeans’ in the proper sense, when we have no European Health Insurance Cards? I imagined the nurses shrugging, showing us the exit. It was a sobering thought.

 

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Snippets from Four Countries-

I last visited Strasbourg as a teenager. But Husband had never been and one advantage of becoming ancient is that you can revisit old haunts and not remember a thing about them.

       It is a gloriously hot, blue-skied day. We are able to cycle from the site into the city, which is thronged with shouting school parties but still gorgeous with its covered bridges, medieval architecture and sparkling waterways. We stop to rest our feet [a feature of sightseeing these days] at a table outside a bar in a pretty square and remember why we like to travel this way.

        Next day we are off through Germany, taking in the edge of the Black Forest, which is all cuckoo clocks and cow bells, and catching some squally rain as we climb higher, the temperature having plummeted as we arrive at Salem, near the Bodensee, our stop for the night. Just outside the village on a hillside, the site has a small bar with the type of German beer that Husband likes. The night turns icy enough for our little heater and extra blanket to be barely adequate.

The following afternoon we cycle to the Bodensee, a magnet for German tourists though precious few foreigners. Few places are open but look set to begin the season in earnest for Easter weekend. We lose the next day’s travel due to over-excited consumption of beer, but set out for the German/Austrian border on the next morning, settling for Wertach as an overnight stop. It is a pleasant, Alpine farming town. I am startled by the cigarette machine in the washing up area.

As we are leaving an older German fellow tells me ‘We CAN NOT understand the Brexit’ and I can only reply that ‘No, neither can we’.

On to Austria, a slow crawl across the Fern Pass on an ill-chosen, holiday Saturday. But the scenery compensates for the traffic jam-snowy peaks glistening in the sun, ski runs zig-zagging down under gondolas and ski-lifts. Our chosen destination-Feriensparadies on the Natter See- is elusive, confusing Mrs Garmin, our austere SATNAV lady, who sends us off up winding mountain tracks filled with pole-wielding hikers in an unlikely quest for the site. At last we arrive to Feriensparadies, which justifies its coy location by being spectacular; a sun soaked hollow in the snow peaks with pitches facing the cherry blossom fringed lake. The staff are charming, the views are breath-taking, a free shuttle bus can take us to Innsbruck, where we can ride the funicular and gawp at the splendid medieval buildings and the services are nothing short of luxurious. All power to the Austrians!

Regrettably, after 2 nights it is time to crack on-and so on to Venice, which I don’t need to describe since a great deal has been written elsewhere about this extraordinary, watery city. It is another re-visit for me and new to Husband. As we meander the alleyways and over the bridges with our cornettos I ask him if it lives up to the hype. ‘90%’ he says, not revealing the 10% in which it fails…

TV-the opium of the masses…

                When you consider how long ago television was invented it is surprising how little about it has really changed, especially the world’s love affair with it. I imagine you could go into the most deprived, squalid hovel in the most impoverished shanty town on the planet, with ten people sharing one crowded room to sleep, cook, eat and bathe and there would be a TV rigged up somehow with scrumped electricity, the only prized item in the family. What will they be watching? Football, adverts for cars and reality TV shows; Botswana ‘X Factor’ or Delhi ‘Big Brother’.

                A month’s trip to traditional holiday destinations off season demonstrates how reliant so many are on television for their entertainment needs. No matter what nationality-Swedish, Dutch, German, British-one of the first items to be organised once they have positioned the motorhome within the emplacement is the aerial, or the satellite dish. Our own entertainment was partly addressed by watching the Austrian couple next door spending several hours attempting to place their satellite dish in a location that would offer them Austrian TV. Austrian TV? A version of ‘Masterchef’ with viener schnitzel, perhaps, or ‘Austria’s got Talent’ with lederhosen-clad dancers and an oompah band? Early next morning the Austrian couple voted with their wheels, presumably returning to their homeland in disgust and hopes of watching ‘I’m an Austrian Celebrity [?]-Get me out of Here’ in the comfort of their living room.

                I understand why this is. Much of the South of France is still closed, especially in the evenings. You can spend hours tramping the streets searching for a bar that has not yet pulled its tables off the pavement and closed its doors. We rely heavily on the PMU bars-open for gamblers; as long as the racing lasts. In the malls and the streets leading to the promenade the cafes and bistros sport faded scraps of paper scrawled with the same message: ‘Fermé. Ouvert Marche’. But none of them is. Elsewhere there are signs of opening-roofs being repaired and signs getting spruced up, though as yet no pressions getting pulled or vats of moules steaming.

                In our wondrous van there is a TV, a novelty for us and with an aerial that can access whatever local TV stations are broadcasting. In a rush of excited enthusiasm we sat down to watch French television, pretending that it would be helpful in improving our French conversation skills; but interest in the news channel’s grindingly tedious coverage of Nikolas Sarkozy’s inflammatory remarks comparing France with East Germany soon began to pall and we returned to our usual in-van activities of internet, novels, music, writing, cooking, eating and assessing the local wines-punctuated by forays into the neighbourhood to scour it for some evening life.

                Better. Better than slow death by TV. Maybe one day we will succumb…but not yet…