"Today a new sun rises for me; everything lives, everything is animated, everything seems to speak to me of my passion, everything invites me to cherish it."
- Anne de Lenclos
I'll never forget stepping off the plane and feeling that crisp, icy air you simply don't get in Australia, and thinking "Yep, this is no dream - I'm really, finally in Europe!" Of course, nothing overly exciting or fascinating happened that morning - but that doesn't matter, coz it was so exciting and fascinating just to be back in Europe after having talked about it and thought about it for so long. I was actually pretty familiar with Vienna airport, with its yellow-and-black "Ausgang" signs everywhere, and was overcome with deja vu when we arrived at the industrial glass-and-concrete Westbahnhof train station.
Later that day, once me and Paul finally found and checked ourselves in at the Wombat Hostel, we went for a walk down the main street in Westbahnhof (the district we were staying in) for a coffee. God knows I probably needed one by this stage, but at the same time I wasn't conscious of my tiredness 'cause I was so thrilled at just being in this city on the other side of the world, with total freedom to explore and do whatever the hell I want. It seemed like a dream come true, and I knew then that me and Paul had just begun something we would remember for the rest of our lives.
Well, I haven't even been in Europe for a full week yet but already I've got plenty of stories to tell, far too many to relate on this very confusing Hungarian keyboard. But I'll do my best to give you a few appetizers for the non-stop raving session I'll have when I get back - and believe me, it WILL be non-stop!
To start, the plane trip from Melbourne to Vienna was a nightmare. Me and Paw were seated next to a Bosnian woman whose two-year-old son cried literally for about 20 of the 21 hours we were on the plane. At first I felt sorry for the woman, since a few of the Austrians were staring at her like they'd never seen a crying baby before, but then I started to get pissed off myself coz it was obvious that she was only making the problem worse. Instead of getting the little brat to just shut up, every time he started whimpering and carrying on she'd stroke his head and coo it, only encouraging him to do it as often as possible. As a result, I can honestly say that I only slept for about half an hour on that entire plane trip, during which I dreamt I was at a rave (I managed to doze off listening to the highly repetitive techno channel). The rest of the time I spent drinking Almdudler, an Austrian lemonade that tastes remarkably like Strongbow, reading Colloquial Polish, and watching Tom Cruise fuck shit up in Collateral.
Anyway, we arrived at Vienna airport at 6:45 in the morning, and after a pretty confusing two-and-a-half hours we finally managed to find our hostel. I felt and looked like a zombie by then, but at the same time it was absolutely thrilling to be back in Vienna, so we went for a long walk down the main street in Westbahnhof to get a coffee and some Danneman cigars. Anyway, my fingers are already starting to hurt from pounding this ancient keyboard, so instead of going thru all the sights we saw I'll just make a few observations about Vienna.
First, the people there are unbelievably law-abiding. Even if a road is two metres long and there's not a car in sight, the people will still stand there for up to two minutes waiting for The Green Man to appear. Naturally I could never be bothered, but whenever I crossed the road with the red man still lit I'd feel like an absolute hardcore, since it is so NOT the done thing there. Serious and law-abiding as they are, however, the Austrians' English cannot be faulted - every time I walked into an Anker or Tabak and ordered something in English (usually a schnitzel roll or Viennese coffee), they wouldn't even blink an eye. However, they seem to be able to spot tourists from a mile away: I got quite a few stares walking around the city and I could tell they knew I was a foreigner, despite my central European looks. I think it's because of my tanned skin, which is rapidly becoming less and less tanned at any rate... currently it's overcast in Budapest and the temperature is about 1 or 2 degrees.
I guess the standard question I have to answer here is, What's my favourite memory of Vienna? Well, first off I have to say that my favourite memory of Vienna also leaves me feeling extremely bitter, for reasons I'll explain in a moment. But to answer it briefly, it was sitting in the dark in the foyer of the Wombat Hostel, hand-in-hand with one of the most gorgeous girls I've ever met, eating her Finnish lollies and musing about random crap into the early hours of the morning. My bitterness stems from the fact that, even though she was obviously up for it, we never got to get any cozier than just sitting there, pressed into each other, basically because Paul was also there and wouldn't go to bed until I did (not that I hold it against him, but it WAS kinda frustrating...). At any rate, this wouldn't have been much of a problem except that it was the first and only night I got to spend with her in Vienna: she'd just arrived that day whereas me and Paul were leaving the next morning. In other words, I'd only been given 24 hours with the archetype of the sort of girl I came to Europe for. She was Finnish but spoke with a beautifully refined English accent, and physically, had exactly those Piscean features that I love: dreamy blue eyes, rounded, pale face, highly kissable lips... kinda like a brunette Scarlett Johansson. But anyway, that's all I'll say for now, suffice to say that the moment I turned away from her for the last time, after a quick hug, I felt pretty awful. And to be honest I can't get rid of that awfulness.
That said, I'm very happy for the time I got to spend with her, and generally me and Paul had a wonderful time in Vienna: I loved it every bit as much as last time and in terms of Old World European ambience, I can honestly say it that shits all over Paris. The only problem is that it is EXTREMELY expensive, as Paul has been reminding me ever since we left (I think in order to justify our premature departure there).
Anyway boys and girls, I'll leave it there for now - I've been on this for almost an hour because the bizarre, rock-hard keyboard means I can't type at my usual 95-words-per-minute rate. I hope you're all tanned and healthy, and yes I'll send some photos with my next e-mail coz I don't have any more time for now. Ciao!
The elegant old Vienna was marvelous ;), but it wasn't the same after you and Paul had left. There was no-one whining about food or crapping into my ear ;) Were you on tranquillizers on your last day in Vienna? I thought you had taken something else, because you were grinning continuously at my accent. Hmp.
So, you left two days earlier. I am just wondering why were you in such hurry to leave Vienna for Budapest lil_blond_boy? ;) Was the hostel so traumatizing for you? It seems that your suppressed fear of homosexuality is very mild. You are the one sharing the apartment with Paul, and I would say you seemed to be very pleased about this fact ;) And has it snowed for you, who was waiting for snow so impatiently in Vienna? :)
[ . . . . . ]
Are you hopelessly addicted to Sisus? I do have to apologize. My intention was not to take the pleasure of chewing gum from you, honestly. The nearest store where you can buy Sisus is just 50 meters away from here ;) I haven't heard that you can find those sweets anywhere except in Finland, Estonia or Sweden (probably). Because I am the one to blame, I will try to make amends by sending some Sisus to you :) What is your current address and where will you be staying in a week?
Now I really need to go to bed. Kauniita unia! (=Sweet dreams!)
Post scriptum: Your Finnish language skills surprised me completely. Dobry!
"There are no foreign lands.
It is the traveller only who is foreign."
- Robert Louis Stevenson
* * * * *
Yes it's time for another mass e-mail, and again I don't know where to begin. Me and Paw have been in Budapest for almost a week now, and to be honest I don't like it as much as Vienna. Compared to Vienna, the city (at least the Pest side, which is where we're staying) is pretty dark and depressing: the buildings are all soot-coloured and falling apart; a far cry from the lovingly maintained, cream-coloured buildings of Vienna. While in Vienna I felt compelled to go for long night-time walks by myself, I haven't done this at all since we've got to Budapest, except to satisfy a junk food craving that I got last night. Which reminds me: the junk food in Europe is unbelievably good; in fact it's not like junk food at all. The burgers actually LOOK like the burgers in the picture, and they even taste like you'd imagine the burger in the picture to taste. All the ingredients are there, perfectly placed, and the cheese doesn't even stick to the wrapper! (probably coz there IS no wrapper; they're served in little cardboard boxes instead). I thought this anally presented junk food was a purely Austrian peculiarity, but as it turns out Hungary is exactly the same. The main difference is that in Vienna, McDonald's is clearly the King Pin of junk food (I only ever saw Maccas outlets there, plus a few Subways), whereas in Hungary Burger King seems to be the fast food of choice (too bad they don't call it Hungary Jack's). However, kebab joints outdo both of these in both cities: there seems to be a kebab joint around every second corner, always manned by some fat Arab with dirty hands. The only problem is that ordering kebabs is a bit of a gamble here, coz half the time, instead of giving you a kebab as we know it, they hand over a paper plate covered in shredded meat, vegetables and rice, soaked in a pretty crappy watery yoghurt. This has happened to me in both Austria and Hungary (in Hungary kebabs are known as "gyros"), with the result that I've now been put off purchasing kebabs. Which is probably a good thing anyway, considering how much I've been eating... I dunno why, but since I've got to Europe I've been eating ridiculously large amounts of food, and it'll only get worse once I get to Poland, where my relos will undoubtedly force-feed me several kilos of sausages, ham and cabbage every day. One good thing is that I've found Paul to be remarkably wife-like in domestic situations: our daily dinner ritual is for Paul to do all the preparation, cooking and serving of food, while I lie in bed reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, my only contribution to the whole process being reciting the particularly funny excerpts to keep the chef amused.
Anyway it's time for us to go, and I've realized that I haven't written a single thing of relevance.... I'll try to make things a bit more cultural next time round, and yes there'll be plenty of photos coming up too (we're actually crossing over to Buda, the nicer side of town, after this to do some sight-seeing and photographing). I hope you're all well, and if I can end on some words of wisdom: appreciate the fact that where you are, everyone can speak the same language that you do. I have to say that I finally appreciate what it's like being a foreigner in Australia, coz in Hungary, even the young people don't speak English, which after Austria (where everyone speaks it perfectly, except for the old men in cigar stores) is a bit of a shock. As a result me and Paul have developed quite a sophisticated sign language (we figured it'd be easier than trying to learn Magyar), which will certainly prove useful if we ever make any deaf friends.
Anyway, I best be off now... the dude who owns this joint seems to be getting pissed off at me for some reason.
Thanks for all your e-mails to date, it's been genuinely good to hear from you. At the moment me & Paul are just checking our e-mails before heading out to Bahnhof, a "music club" recommended to us by a girl who did our washing. To be honest I'm not really in the mood to go out tonight but seeing as it's Saturday I guess I've got no choice.
I gotta say that since leaving Vienna this trip hasn't been as much fun. It's still awesome of course, and I'm sure things will pick up again once we get to Poland, but for the moment I'm finding Budapest to be a bit of a hole. What's worse is that I simply can't get that Finnish girl I left back in Vienna out of my head. I didn't mention this in my mass e-mail, but there's a missing chapter to the story that explains why this little saga frustrates me as much as it does. To put it simply, we could've stayed in Vienna for another TWO WHOLE DAYS, but didn't. I won't explain the details now coz it'll just piss me off all over again, but yeah, suffice to say mate that this girl is something I'll never find back in Australia - Pure European Quality, almost impossible to find in a place like Velour Bar or De Biers. And to think that all it took for me to get her was a day. There was definitely something at work there, far deeper than just a bit of physical attraction....
Anyway, I hope things are good back at home - enjoy the summer over there and keep in touch!
First, a few photo descriptions:
PHOT0037.JPG - Paul trying to figure out a Hungarian ATM.
PHOT0038.JPG - Terez korut, Pest's equivalent of Swanston Street.
PHOT0045.JPG - Drug money. (Thanks to Paul and myself, all the residents of Block No. 40 are now heroin addicts.)
PHOT0046.JPG - Dinner. (Admittingly, most of Paul's efforts have been far better than this.)
PHOT0048.JPG - Mess on the bed.
The rest of the photos are from our sight-seeing expedition around Duna (the main river running through Budapest). Unfortunately, in my desperate on-the-spot attempt to make space on my camera, I accidentally deleted all the photos I took of the Royal Palace (which also contained me) but to be honest, it didn't look that impressive by day anyway....
Anyway, we've only got two more nights left in Budapest, then it's on to Warszawa for endless vodka and panienki. To be honest I'm fed up with Budapest: it's confusing, glum, and lacks the eastern European hospitality I was expecting. I wouldn't be annoyed about it if it wasn't for the fact that we were actually meant to be in Vienna for an extra two days, but somehow (and I know this is very blonde of me) we lost track of dates and got to Vienna airport two days early (on 30 November instead of 2 December). To our complete surprise, the lady at check-in informed us that we still had two days to go before our flight was due, which made me euphoric since I really wanted to stay back in Vienna... but stupidly, I didn't say anything, since I was convinced that we wouldn't be able to get our arrangements changed anyway. As it turned out, changing the flight details wasn't a problem, and so before I knew it, my newfound hopes had been dashed and we were sitting on the rickety little plane to Budapest, two whole days before we were meant to be. As a result I arrived in Budapest in a pretty sour mood (to say the least) and the city's overall failure to impress me has made our excessive stay seem all the more excessive. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that we haven't really met anyone here. Back at the Wombat Hostel (in Vienna) we met plenty of people, such as Emilia (the Finnish girl I mentioned before), as well as the following quirky characters:
-- Ultra-boring Aussie woman from Perth, whose boring name eludes me at the moment. We never really befriended her as such, but she did spend a lot of time eating and trying to promote Western Australia as an exciting place. (She failed.)
-- Henny, a bizarre Hungarian girl who was sleeping on the bed under me. I got talking to her the morning after she arrived, and discovered that she actually worked as a statue, i.e. one of those people who spraypaint themselves silver and stand in public without moving for money. Contrary to what I expected of a statue, she had a very intense personality, and later, when she joined me and Paul at the bar for a drink, talked about the weather in Hungary with such intensity that I didn't even know what to say. The weirdness of it all was topped off when we actually walked past her while strolling through Stephensplatz (St Stephen's Square), then realized that this bizarre performance artist was actually the person we're sharing a dorm with.
-- Connor, who did everything in his power to reinforce the stereotype of the drunk Irishman. He spent most of his first night at Wombat's sitting at the bar, dictating to me at the top of his voice about the evil of transnational corporations - every time I tried to change the subject, he'd only increase the volume of his own slurred voice and continue his humanitarian tirade, which rapidly made less and less sense but got all the more passionate as the minutes dragged on. Eventually I got tired of the spittle getting into my left ear and retired to bed early, hoping to get some sleep for the first time since arriving... however Connor, who by now had pure alcohol running through his system, followed me up together with Paul, then collapsed into his bunk and kept me awake the whole night by imitating a dying bison.
-- Finally, a random Czech-Australian guy whose name I've also forgotten (Paul says it's James but I can tell he just made that up). He entered our room while I was taking a nap, woke me up and asked me if I wanted to buy a battle axe. For a moment I thought I was still dreaming, then laughed... then realized the guy was actually dead serious. He showed me the axe and explained that he had too much stuff to take on the plane back to Australia. "I'm thinking I might wear all of my clothes on the plane, to save space" he explained.
And yeah. Not much else to report really, except for the fact that a two-and-a-half-foot crowbar passed through my skull earlier this morning.... I hope you're all well and I'll e-mail you again when we're in Warszawa.
From left: some random guy distributing pamphlets, Emili feigning interest in his pamphlets, and Paul. On Stephensplatz during our last full day in Vienna.