Tonight I finally finished scanning all of my film from last month’s European vacation. I haven’t run through the dust-and-scratches phase of Venice yet, but Vienna is complete, so now you can check out the photographs. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of variety in the material, you may very well give up half way through the album. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I still haven’t eaten dinner so a detailed analysis will have to come later. For now, here’s a summary of the blog posts from the first half of the trip.
In Soviet Russia, plane boards you
In Soviet Russia, drink consumes you
In Soviet Russia, subtitle reads you
In Soviet Russia, baggage check you
Vienna smells of autumn
Wet and the colds
Quest for the Crown
I marveled that the Wombat City Hostel was a fantastic place to stay for the budget-minded backpacker. After reflecting on this somewhat, I thought half-jokingly to myself that a hostel is only as good as its patrons. I didn’t mean to conjure misfortune, but that is truly the case.
Last night after returning from a day full of walking all over the city centre, I decided to take a little nap before going out in the evening. Unfortunately my roommates were new and they weren’t in the mindset to let this happen. Though one of them was trying to sleep with the lights off, the other four were raucous: snickering, belching, and slapping each other on the back throughout most of the evening. I think they may have been smoking something too; quite often there were incredibly abrupt moments of hushed silence followed by usage of a pungent air freshner and the opening of a window.
Around ten they apparently all decided to go to bed, at which point I got up and headed out to Flex. It was surprisingly cheap, only nine euros for cover, and drinks were just above three euros on average. The music was decidedly German techno, and very hard to dance to, so after another of my classic international bar misorders (ordered: beer Edelweiss, got: vodka cooler Ersthoff Ice) I took the last U-bahn home and decided to call it a night. Unfortunately most everyone on my floor had other plans. Though my German speaking roommates had acquiesced to settle in for the night, they were about the only ones. Virtually every one in the building was fall down drunk, shouting at the top of their lungs, and frequently tripping over furniture. After brushing my teeth I ran into at least four giggling girls barely able to grope their way down the hall. Eventually they found some company and the clanging and shouts began anew. My roommates were just as displeased as I was about this, but they took it a lot less well, often abruptly jumping out of bed to pound on the ceiling and kick the wall in disapproval. Predictably, this didn’t help and just made matters worse. Not until roughly six a.m. did the cacophony finally subside.
In any case, I am done hosteling for the week and am now trying to regain my composure in the Schönbrunn Palace parks. Thankfully the rain seemed to break with the morning, so I am sitting on a bench in close to complete solitude enjoying a very affordable brunch of Camembert and beer which I purchased at Penny Mart for a paltry 1.80. To clarify how cheap beer is in Austria, let me say it again. A whole Camembert wheel AND five hundred ml of beer for 1.80. And I didn’t even get the cheapest beer. It’s not that bad either. My cold seems to have returned, and my lips are about as dry as a sun-baked prune, but I at least it isn’t raining and I can sit here in relative peace, watching the squirrels play and thinking of German-themed Sierra games.
There are so many ways that one can look at a situation. Take for instance, my predilection for brown-bagging it in parks alone while listening to the more melancholy selection of Final Fantasy piano arrangements. Some people would say that these are signs of antisocial tendencies, the rather immature and depressing behavior of fool absorbed with his own drama and dwelling on the past. Then again, I could say that this is proof that I truly am a romantic, deeply in love with life and the moments I’ve been fortunate to share. Unfortunately the paucity of supermarkets in the city center of Wien makes this less than ideal. I’m short on cheese and sufficient apparel, it’s about fifty-four but the wind is picking up, making it feel a lot more like somewhere in the forties. Though not completely removed from the sounds of construction and traffic, I do have an eight euro bottle of Riesling which I bought from a very attending wine seller across the street from the University of Vienna.
Sometimes I wonder how old I will have to get before I can attain closure and resign myself to the truth about the difference between being in love with a person and being in love with a concept. Maybe experience will never bring me the answer, maybe it requires a degree of emotional training.
It’s funny how what’s important to you changes, or doesn’t with time. Cartoons and toys disappear as one grows from dreaming about doing to the act of doing itself. Parks, buildings, and slow, quiet hours that once were boring now become yearned for. Yet…
After breakfast at the hostel I decided to walk into the Ringstraße, the inner ring at the city’s center. It’s a little over a mile from Westbahnoff down Mariahilfer Straße through a chain store part of town that reminds me of affluent downtown in San Francisco: molded fascades, boutiques and record stores, and a moderate degree of construction. At the end of Mariahilfer Straße the scenery changed immediately at Museumsquartier. Now I’m sitting directly in front of Hofburg Palace on a bench in the chilling cold and cursing myself for having left my wine opener and knife in my bathroom kit at the hostel. I should have brought my winter jacket and muffler, or at the very least worn my lohn johns (left to air out in my locker). It’s only eleven, but I’m thinking some wine would be very good right now. Perhaps a Riesling.
I’m still searching for an artist that suits Vienna. I started out listening to Simon and Garfunkel and have now settled on Björk. Unfortunately each of them already has deep emotional significance so this is awkward and inappropriate. I do enjoy the solace, though. All of the few people around seem to be tourists, mostly families.
HIS AEDIBVS ADHAERET CONCORS POPVLORVM AMOR
The sky is grey and overcast, just as the weather predicted. It’s probably in the lower 50s, the air is damp. It reminds me a lot of Pittsburgh in the fall. The air is heavy with autumn. Last night after arriving at Vienna I fumbled around a bit and bought a ticket for the s-bahn, connecting to the subway at Wien Mitte. The train from the airport to the city reminded me a lot of the one in Paris: oddly shaped, orange on the inside, an odd seat layout; a slow amble from through the suburbs. Vienna feels a lot safer than Paris though. Train cars are not connected, people can’t migrate from car to car panhandling. Almost everyone I’ve seen so far seems to be affluent and relaxed. A lot of faces remind me of people I know back home: blindingly blond hair bobbed short, fair bone structure, and smooth, white skin.
The hostel I’m staying in is fabulous. There’s a bar, plasma TV with CNN, bathroom per 6-bunks, and a locker in my room. Very upscale and clean. I think I’m paying about twenty euros a night.
Last night it was so quiet I could hear the blood in my veins; very, very unnerving for someone who’s been living in noisy cities for so long. It reminded me a little of my grandmother’s in that way: the pitch black darkness, the silence, the dry air. Riding on the flight from Moscow, and the train to Vienna, I felt more exhausted than I can ever remember, like ready to throw-up exhausted. Still, I had a hard time sleeping, and my body tried to get me up at five. I forced myself to stay in bed a good seven and half hours, now it’s nine. I have to get moving, I only have forty-eight hours in Vienna.
Another fragment of things about Russia I recall from my youth is a reputation for engineering of questionable quality. Towards the end of middle school I developed a voracious appetite for automobile literature. Hot Rod, Car and Driver, Porsche restorer’s guides, two-stroke engine manuals, I tore through it all. In particular, I remember an editorial from 1992 Road & Track that told of all the amazing ways a Russian lemon could prove a formidable challenge for its owner. Right now, my reading light will not operate and I am forced to do my clerical work in the dark. This may be an American-made Boeing but Vginny’s dopey grin has got me thinking that this cannot be a simple coincidence. Fortunately my Visor has delightfully retro monochrome night vision so I can type. Tagging my Italian conversation book will have to wait until later.
One thing that came to mind while trying to find a sleeping position that didn’t involve a steel protrusion into my back was how does immigration work on trains in Europe? The reason it occurred to me is because I haven’t been able to get Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” out of my head for the last three days. There’s that intro to National Lampoon’s European Vacation where Chevy Chase’s passport starts out crisp and new but as the credits are displayed it gets progressively more chewed up until it’s a barely tenable mess of stamps, tears, and coffee stains. If I enter Austria via the airport, then get on a overnight train to Italy at Westbahnhof, do I have to go through emigration before I board the train? Or does it happen near the border, or, what? The same goes for entering Italy at like five in the morning, sometime when I’m asleep presumably. It’s not like they’re going to come into the compartment and wake us all up and ask us if we have anything to declare.
I’d say that the train ride is probably the biggest dodgy part of this whole trip. I read there is a train overnight from Vienna to Venice, the Allegro. However, knowing only that I booked (I think) a ticket in a sleeper car and paid with my MasterCard via the Austria rail system’s website, which I can’t even pronounce. The English version of the page didn’t seem to work for international travel so I just fumbled through it running the text surrounding the form fields through Babelfish. There were probably any number of “You must agree to be informed of this” sections that I just completely ignored.
After I received what looks like a digital ticket via email I considered my blind groping validated and immediately claimed complete victory. I really have no solid proof that I actually succeeded in producing anything other than a perceived waste of forty-nine euros, so hopefully someone at the hostel registration will be knowledgeable and kind enough to let me know if I’ll be walking to Italy or not.