A comedy of errors

A tweet by the British Ambassador reminded me of a comedy of errors that happened when we holidayed in Tyrol in the 1990s.

Back then, we used to make accommodation reservations through the local tourist board. A phone call to them, back in the days when PTA (Post Telekom Austria) had a monopoly on voice services, was about ATS 7 a minute during the day (yes! Over EUR 0.50 a minute!) so it was no wonder that we would confirm by writing a letter and receive a letter back with a Zahlschein.

We didn’t do swanky, so often would stay in a small village rather than a large city. And so it happened, thinking the Sellraintal might be worth staying in for a few nights, we booked a room in Elmau.

Little did I realise that I had in fact booked a place to stay in Ellmau, close to Kufstein for us, rather than Elmau in the Sellraintal. It had been done well in advance (months ahead rather than days or weeks) and we’d taken the scenic route to get there in the evening in time for dinner and to settle in early for a hike the following day. We arrived in Elmau, which was a pretty tiddly place and there was a sinking feeling. The postcode didn’t match with the one in the letter we had. Neither did the spelling of Elmau. And to boot there was a torrential downpour and no-one about. The roads were awash, and it was getting dark. Austria’s refreshingly unprogressive opening hours were even less progressive than now.

We used to have a bag of Schilling coins in the car and I braved the downpour to call the hotel from the dimly lit phone box, my torch in the car giving off barely enough light to read the numbers on the keypad of the payphone, to check that we were in the right Elmau. The phone of the hotel in Ellmau must have been in the bar of the hotel, with a lively local entertainer playing some Schlager enthusiastically to the throng, probably also sheltering from the rain rather than voluntarily listening to whichever Hinterseer was gigging that night.

My sheepish questioning of how we could get to Ellmau from Elmau was greeted with confusion, and I think it was presumed that it was a prank call from some sloshed British tourist probably lost in Ellmau near Kufstein (there seemed to be large numbers of package tour Brits, terrorising the breakfast buffet the following morning). The village street lights went off and everything went dark. On a clear night it is probably great for stargazing.

In the end, we ended up sleeping in the car as the rain refused to abate, before we slithered our way out of the valley and towards Kufstein the next morning, hungry, cold and very tired at the bad sleep we had had as the rain drummed down on the car roof, in seats that barely reclined.

We pressed on to Ellmau to get to the hotel for an early breakfast, before sleeping until noon, when the Zimmermädchen woke us up, having not been tipped off about our very late check-in. As it turned out, Ellmau turned out to be a bigger place than Elmau, and we had a pleasant couple of days there before heading on to Vorarlberg, and I still recollect there being some good walking routes.

My sister-in-law, then a newlywed and herself already having shown herself up to be more than capable of muddling up places and stations (an incident in Parndorf and the wrong station springs to mind from the pre-Handy era) duly castigated me on my return to Vienna, as my bedraggled wife had called her from that phone box in Elmau in the middle of the night lamenting her plight.

Needless to say, I am a lot more careful nowadays about spellings of names of places, checking postcodes, and the Internet also takes some of the hit and miss out of it.

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