Austria (in 48 hours or less)
I managed to get out of Munich without throwing up. After that the rest is fucked. I had to spend most of the day in Munich waiting for a 6pm train to Vienna. I obviously killed the time by drinking and eating schnitzel…as one does in those unfortunate circumstances.
The train ride was aiight…mostly because on European trains they sell cheap wine. Real cheap wine. As I sipped on a bottle of blah blah blah in the dinning car I thought back to my first euro train trip and the mushrooms I had eaten. I secretly hoped someone on this train would offer me hallucinogenic drugs.
I arrived in Vienna at around 11pm. It was so fucking dark and so fucking awesome. The easy way out would have been to hail a cab and take it 25 blocks to the strangers flat I was staying in. Fuck that. I was high on a new city and had just turned the corner on the Oktoberfest hangover. I set to the streets with a shitty map.
It only took me about an hour of being lost down dark and creepy streets before I got on a train. Two trains and a bus ride later I was staring down the dark corridor of a dark courtyard with an old lady looking back at me. I swear when I blinked she disappeared. Either way, I checked the address and I was in the right place. I made my way down the twisty corridor, across the courtyard and up a set of steps to a bright red door. I knocked. I waited. I knocked again. A small pretty girl answered the door. “You’re Nick?” she said. “Yes. You’re Ethel?” I said. She invited me in and said she had to be up very early for school. Ethel showed me around the claustrophobic flat and showed me my bed. I would be sleeping on a nest of pillows in the space below her upper bunk bed. “Neat” I thought to myself. Hoping I didn’t get shit faced and stumble into her room like Tom Waits in a bar fight.
I spent my first…er..my only day..as I typically do in a new city: just burning around on foot, getting lost and wandering in and out of dark places. I had a loose direction, as I wanted to get down to the Albertina Art Gallery. Despite what my drunk loose tongued antics suggest I am actually an introvert and incredibly shy. Thus when I travel alone I gravitate toward areas I can enjoy without having to directly interact with anyone. I find myself in art galleries, museums, theatres and back alleys. It’s not that I don’t like being around people, it’s just that I don’t want to have to listen to them, or talk to them.
I find the back alleys of a city, or town, or village, to be the real guts of a community. It’s in back alleys where you see what people don’t want, or what they are hiding, or what they are protecting. Fences, gardens, old rusted out trucks, discarded needles, dark broken windows, invasive species, poems and poetry. It all lives, thrives, in the shelter of the back alley. In Europe these places tend to be where you find a city’s real character. The back alley of Vienna is where the true bravado is, where the paint stays on the stucco because it feels a sense of duty to do. Matriarchs hold watchful gazes from up high while children kick footballs around you. The ghost of angst gets lost in the back alley.
As the sun went down in Vienna, I left the Albertini. After hours of staring at the wild simplifications of Matisse’s Fauvism, I had no real direction. I did have a pamphlet of current events in Vienna. Good thing it was in Austrian or I may not have stumbled onto the opera playing almost directly across the street at the Vienna Staatsoper State Opera house…
I soon found a moderately shady guy in a dark suit selling opera tickets. It was getting close to curtain time and I didn’t have patience to haggle with a dude who could easily mug me. Thus I found myself buying (I would later come to find out I was grossly over-paying) tickets to the Vienna opera.
I still had some nice clothes that had survived Oktoberfest and I was able to get dressed in acceptable attire for the show.
For three or so hours I watched Simon Boccanegro, an Italian opera by Guiseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto score by Francesco Maria Piave. I had never been to the opera before and it was an absolute stunning experience. Everything about it felt so foreign but the sheer cultural weight of the event felt exhilarating. I spent intermissions wandering through the Neo-Classical building. The dimension stone on the outside and the imposing vaulted ceilings on the inside could be considered a carnival for the visual senses.
I left Simon Boccanegro and the opera, a truly touched person. The music, the acting, the architecture, the community, the astounding artistry of it all cut through my shitty introverted cynicism and left me feeling beautiful.
As I left the opera house I wanted to go and immediately get into a passionate conversation with a stranger about the beauties and complexities of opera. I sourced an ATM to fund the drinking park of the endeavor. I entered my pin number and something strange happened. The ATM read “pin is no longer valid”. “Strange” I thought without too much suspicion. I figured it was just a weird, faulty European ATM. Figured them silly Krauts hadn’t sorted out mobile banking yet. I tried again. Same message. I shuffled along the streets until I finally found another ATM in the metro. The same message appeared. I began to panic. I guess I haven’t mentioned it, but I was travelling with nothing but cash (now depleted) and a bank-card. No credit card (it’s a long and irresponsible story), no traveller checks, and no mobile form of communication.
I cursed like a crazy person and promptly made my way back to Ethel’s place. It typically wouldn’t be THAT urgent of an emergency, except that I had a flight out of Munich to catch the following night.
I managed to get my bank on the phone after a serious fuck-around with Ethel’s cell phone (sorry Ethel I meant to send you cash for that phone bill but I lost your contact info). They informed me that due to some unfortunate circumstance my bank card had been frozen and the only solution would be me…showing up at a bank in person….in Canada… Riiiiiiight. I gave the poor soul on the phone a whole bag full of fuck’s and shits and hung up. At that junction I decided the best course of action would be to get myself on the first train to Munich thus at least making sure I could catch my flight to South Africa. If I had to I could sort everything out once there.
I managed to book a train ticket online using Paypal. Unfortunately the online tickets need to be printed out. Or so the Terms & Conditions stated. Well I obviously didn’t have a fucking printer and at this point it was 3am, and the train left at 6am. So I did what any logical arsehole would do: saved a PDF on my laptop, loaded a copy on my phone, and loaded a copy on my e-book. At least that way I would have enough evidence of pure effort to get a pity play off some one.
I said my farewells to Ethel and her roommates, who were all equally as confused by the insane Canadian who had just blown through their flat like a discombobulated Gypsy-Lunatic.
I made the train to Munich. Hell I even got a pity play from the conductor when he started insisting on a physical train ticket. I actually made my flight to South Africa. I won’t say that “everything worked out in the end” because really it didn’t. I didn’t get see Vienna in the way I had expected (drunk as fuck on culture and history) but I did get to see enough of Vienna to feel the magic that the city possesses. Maybe in life regardless of how much time we have, all we can hope for is a little bit of magic?