Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

Night moves in the city of sisterly love

A brightly decorated young lady was reclining on a sofa in the window of the La Bada exotic club. When she hammered on the glass to get my attention, I wondered three things: how sad her circumstances must be; how unwise it was to walk through Vienna's red-light district at midnight; and how I had got myself in the position of declining offers from prostitutes when all I was searching for was an (empty) bed for the night.

You may be familiar with the concept of the "sister hotel". When a particularly popular place is full, prospective guests are "switch-sold": offered a room in a nearby property, which the proprietor may also owns. Last Saturday, I discovered the "distant relation hostel".

After a journey blighted by winter's opening salvo, I had arrived at the West railway terminus in Austria's capital much later than planned. Promising "pretty rooms, no curfew, kitchen and fridge", the nearby Do Step Inn sounded just right.

By the time I rang the bell and Did Step Inn, it was 11pm. The manager, Brigitte, welcomed me with a smile and the news that the hostel was full - but there was a bed at the sister hostel. Terrific, I'll take it.

Sibling accommodation, in my experience, is usually around the corner. But Brigitte produced a map and began to give complicated instructions for a cross-city expedition involving a walk, an underground ride, a tram journey and another hike. It was the London equivalent of making a late-night journey from Clapham to Cricklewood.

My heart sank. But rather than search for another hostel as the lights went out all over Vienna (except in the red-light district), I was prepared to defer the gratification of sleep. And the rate was a modest €29 (£21) a night.

Our negotiations were taking place not at the usual reception desk, but in what appeared to be the living room of a family apartment, complete with a large leather sofa left over from the 1970s. As I reached for my wallet to pay the bill, Brigitte asked: "Would you like a drink?"

A hostel manager offering alcohol to someone not even staying on the premises is a first for me. But with the clock ticking and my eyelids drooping, I knew the correct answer was "nein, danke".

TEN MINUTES later, Brigitte poured us another large peach schnapps. Knocking the stuff back in one go was the only way to tackle it, she insisted. By now, she was interrogating me about a part of the world she was keen to visit: the Isles of Scilly (which she sweetly insisted on pronouncing with a hard "c"). I could cope with explaining the trip by train and ship or helicopter, but when she demanded an assessment of the relative merits of islands of Tresco and Bryher, I changed the subject.

That leather sofa was looking rather welcoming. Might, I wondered, the €29 just about cover a night curled up on it?

"It's taken," she smiled.

Scilly me, I unwisely attempted to joke. It was time to go. Kindly but inexplicably, she awarded me a €2 discount on the room and sent me on my way.

ABOUT THE last thing I felt like was a sub-zero suburban skirmish with the U-bahn, the trams and the ladies of the night (though I must say I liked the look of the sofa in the window of La Bada).

When I finally tracked down the apartment block, the next hurdle was to remember the instructions for finding the light switches and using the three keys Brigitte had given me. A sequence that had seemed logical and manageable before the second schnapps now became an intellectual challenge to rival cracking the Enigma code. Six combinations later, I found my way into a room with the unlived-in look of an Ikea showroom (presumably few other travellers had made the journey). But Angelo, a jolly Italian, had found it - as, unfortunately, had his very well-travelled shoes, evoking the aroma of an Egyptian camel stable at daybreak. Never mind Do Step Inn; they were so pungent I thought they might Step Out on their own in search of sole mates. No more schnapps for me.

Do Step Inn, Vienna: 00 43 1 923 2769

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride