Unromantic Weekend

99.02.08

Evening Standard, 8 February 1999

A scream of a weekend

Monica Porter was expecting a romantic break in Vienna with a smooth and  seductive Hungarian businessman…what she got was more like something out of  Psycho Meets the Third Man

IT WAS the sort of offer no red-blooded woman could  refuse. “Let me take you away for the weekend. How about Vienna? It’s beautiful,  and so romantic.” That’s what he said. Romantic. But boy was I in for a bummer.

“He” is Laszlo, a Hungarian businessman based in  Budapest. We’ve known each other a few years, and on my last visit  to that city our friendship bloomed into an incipient affair. He was smooth and  seductive as we sipped drinks in swanky bars and sailed around in his shiny  Mercedes.

So a weekend in Vienna sounded a pretty good deal. Candlelit dinners in art-nouveau restaurants. A room in a  cosy hotel, perhaps an evening at the opera, and loads of Sachertorte.

The arrangement was that I would fly there from London  while Laszlo drove from Budapest and picked me up at the airport. When I landed he was there to greet me with a kiss. So  far so gut. Then we strolled out to his car and my spirits sank. Instead of the  Mercedes, he put my case into a rusty old Lada, explaining that the Merc was out  of action because of engine trouble so he had to use his “second” car.

I groaned as I got in. It was grimy and smelly. Worse  still, it made alarming noises as we set off towards the city complemented by  flashing red lights on the dashboard. Laszlo looked worried and stopped to peer  under the bonnet. I was relieved when we finally arrived (about an hour late, as  Laszlo got lost). It was early evening.

“Where’s our hotel?” I asked.

“Oh, I didn’t book anywhere,” he replied nonchalantly.  “Don’t worry. Vienna has lots of hotels. We’ll find a room easily.”

We spent the next two hours spluttering around in the  decrepit Lada, searching for a place to stay. Thanks to some mammoth  international convention, all the decent hotels were full. Then, down a narrow  sidestreet, we spotted a dingy hotel with a “vacancies” sign and went in. The  drab foyer was empty but for a creepy-looking receptionist who eyed us warily.

“Forget it,” I hissed at Laszlo. I had no intention of  checking in with Norman Bates.

In the end, we drove back to the airport and booked into  the Novotel beside the terminal building. We were shown to a characterless,  white plastic room. I didn’t care. By now it was 10pm and I was exhausted, and  starving. Weakly, I led the way down to the restaurant.

“I’m not hungry,” said Laszlo, “but you have something,  if you like.”

I ordered a meal and a glass of wine, while he asked only  for tap water, which I thought a bit odd.

Afterwards, as I headed for our room, he said he was  popping out to the Lada to get his “things”.

Within minutes he returned, carrying two bulging plastic  bags.

“What’s all that?”

“You’ll see.” With a knowing smile, he proceeded to empty  the bags of their contents: heaps of salami sandwiches and fried chicken (all  wrapped neatly in tin foil), soft drinks, pastries, apples and bananas. He laid  the stuff out on the table, then started scoffing a greasy drumstick. I was  speechless.

Laszlo had brought enough food from home to last the  weekend.

Amazingly, he expected me to share it with him. Picnics  in a hotel room. What kind of cheap date did he take me for? Then he told me  about his problems. Business was bad. He had the tax authorities on his back.  Useless employees. A grasping ex-wife. Threats from gangsters … For the next  two days I had to listen to his woes on the tour bus, in the parks, on the giant  Ferris wheel (while I tried to concentrate on that scene from The Third Man). In  Sacher’s I had a slice of the famous chocolate cake and he consumed another  glass of water. By now you get the picture.

But, you might ask, what of the (dare I say it?) nights  of wild passion? The raison d’etre of any romantic weekend break. Well, as  every woman knows, when a man behaves badly there’s only one thing for it. You  let him see the gates of paradise, but keep them firmly shut.

Laszlo thought he’d get me on the cheap. But I made him  pay, big time.

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