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En route from Finland to Austria, Andrew Lang attempts to see past the large man with the window seat to the nature of the landscape below. On landing in Vienna, Andrew is slightly shocked at the sudden onslaught of the German language, the efficiency of the underground rail system and the availability of alcohol on public transport …

AL Gottstein mugshot 08

It was a fine day for flying from Helsinki to Vienna and it is obvious that across Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, forest cover averages about 30-40%. Unfortunately I was in the middle seat and the slightly younger and slimmer (but not by much) Austrian version of Clive Palmer on the window prevented a really good audit.

I suspect he was about as rich as Clive too, and had the best headphones, wrist watch and little i-Pod thing that money could buy. And he consumed two 160ml bottles of Perrier champagne at 10 Euros each (juice and soft drink was available free of charge).

We came in to land over the Simmering power plants, just to the south of Vienna, beside the Danube. At least one of these is a district heating plant that has been converted to biomass fuel. Up the Danube on the other side of Vienna is the well-known (in waste-to-energy (WTE) plant circles) Hundertwasser plant. The rave reviews of this plant (in industrial building design magazines) possibly woke city planners up to the fact that industrial power plants fuelled by less nice fuels, like mixed flammable municipal waste, could become iconic landmarks.

Hundertwasser power plant Vienna

The now iconic Hundertwasser WTE power plant, redesigned in 1989 by artist and eco-architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, following a fire.

So the Hundertwasser plant was on the must-see list of places that the Japanese girl on the other side of me was boning up on. So now, thanks to this early design breakthrough, the later 80 or so WTE plants in Germany, and the many hundreds of new ones across Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and elsewhere, are often also quite appealing in design (you can check them out at the Confederation of European Waste to Energy Plants [CEWEP]).

But landing in Vienna airport came as something of a shock. Until now I had only been hearing occasional Germans holding forth loudly in small groups in Helsinki, and they had been balanced by even louder and more self-assured groups of Americans, the occasional mating pairs of French and Spanish, and a trickle of Australians and Brits. But now in Vienna it was all Deutsch and nothing else. The Austrians were laughing and calling out, greeting each other in passageways, and being big and brown and brash. I hurriedly caught the direct link train to the city transport system. This goes every 30 minutes, takes about 15 minutes, and is super smooth and not that expensive.

A trip underground across the city from one side to the other by U-bahn (I assume the ‘U’ stands for untergrund) got me to the Westbahnhof, where I managed to squeak on to the 7.56pm train about to depart for Salzburg via my destination of Linz.

I got a seat in a carriage which had pairs of seats facing each other with a table in between. Across the aisle sat a girl on her own but the other three seats were soon filled by three young men who have arrived with food and a can of beer each. They demolish these. I am slightly shocked, as on my Ballarat to Melbourne train consumption of alcohol is strictly verboten.

A man pushes a heavy trolley with sandwiches, chips, soft drinks, and a capsule coffee maker on it, and sells me a very good coffee for about 1.20 Euro. The young men buy three more cans of beer from him. The girl buys one also. Obviously something is going on here, with alcohol consumption on public transport being quite ‘normal’.

About an hour and a half later I decant myself in Linz and grab a taxi (an indulgence for me, but I needed to get to the hostel by 10pm and it was too late to learn the bus system). The taxi driver, on finding out I was Australian, said his daughter and her husband had been in Australia for six months, riding their motorbikes all over the place, and that they had a great time. The ride from the station cost 6.20 Euros and I was put out at the hostel door, with the taxi driver (by now almost a blood brother) swearing that he would ride his motor bike around Finland. I will have to take taxis more often.


The Hauptplatz in Linz, Austria.

One more thing, about WiFi: It was free in Singapore airport, on the Jyväskylä-Helsinki train, in the Helsinki airport, in the Vienna airport, and on the Vienna-Salzburg train. In this hostel it is free (though you can only access it in the lobby where kids were sitting playing computer games with adolescent music playing too loud – i.e. audible). But in fancy hotels you have to pay extra on the already steep room cost. And in Australian airports it is at some steep per hour cost. In Australian trains (okay, the Ballarat-Melbourne line anyway) it is apparently regarded as not a necessity. There is clearly a law of nature applying here.

Regards from Andrew, in Austria.

The Buzz would like to start a conversation on the need to utilise biomass and bioenergy in Australia, so please contribute your thoughts via comments or by using the form here. Andrew Lang can also be contacted via The Buzz or on LinkedIn.

The feature image is of Linz, Austria.