The Story Behind the Madness
Having been in the “study first” mindset for the past month or so I’ve unfortunately missed out on a few big trips that I could’ve been taking. I said “see ya” to friends touring Italy, to mates heading to Belgium (probably not the best idea anymore, but, hey) and to others going as far as Iceland! So, in an effort to kill the green-eyed monster by overfeeding it, I booked my own major trip, the last tour I can really do before exams start in earnest.
As I write this I’m sitting on a train in Hungary (that should give you a clue to where I’m heading…), having just finished up in one of the most impressive cities I’ve visited yet. But there’s more to come. I’m planning to visit three “Jewels of Europe”, one lakeside village and three countries this weekend. Take that, green-eyed monster. I’m finally catchin’ on to your game.
Of course, the best made plans of mice and men often go awry, and so it was that my lightning tour got off to a bit of a false start on Wednesday. I spent a jolly two hours waiting in the freezing cold Mannheim bus station for a bus that wouldn’t accept me… Because I’d booked the same bus for the next night.
I tell you what, I don’t think there’s been a time this whole journey that I’ve felt more like a fool. I just don’t do that sort of thing. I’m much more organised than that!
There were a few upsides though, now I come to think of it. First of all, I got to experience snow, honest-to-goodness snow, for the first time in my entire adult life. I mean, the snow doesn’t get much more impressive than shapeless flecks of frozen rain in Mannheim, but it was still snow and still a hell of a first time. I could have danced if it weren’t for the large group of Turkish men hanging around City Döner (Ohh, how I could eat a yufka now). But then the whole nasty bus business happened.
The next day was pretty hard, to be honest. I spent the whole thing feeling defeated and stupid, noticing that everything just seemed to be going wrong and fearing to start anything else in case I fuck up again. The day turned around completely though when I decided to buck up and head down to Mannheim’s Christmas markets. While obviously not the most impressive Weinachtsmarkt in the world, spending time with some new and slightly older pals under twinkling lights and drinking oh-so-delicious Glühwein really cheered me up. It’s plain to me now that kicking some of life’s more stupid and petty funks can all be a matter of just lacing your shoes and getting on with it. I was so close to just staying home, but I plucked up the courage and managed to fix my broken day.
That night I managed to catch the right bus and by the next morning I was well on my way through snowy Austria.
Day 1 and (a bit of) Day 2
If the pitiful snow of Mannheim the night before impressed me you should have been there in my brain when we started to drive past blankets of the stuff in central Austria. Beginning as sporadic patches that I first mistook for fields of white flowers, we eventually drove into a winter wonderland, dotted with snow covered firs and a thick layer of perfectly white and fluffy snow. The whole world turned that beautiful pale shade that I was promised of European winter. I was blown away by the sight and the sheer scale of the snowfall. When we stopped for ten minutes at a resthouse I had to step out of the bus and just be amongst it. It’s an amazing thing, feeling real snow crunch under your boots for the first time and seeing mountains in white and hugged by freezing mist. It’s also amazing how easy the temperature felt. Honestly, I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Thanks, H&M sweater; you’re the best.
My first destination was Vienna, capital of Austria. My stop, chosen because it allowed for a quicker bus ride, was actually much further away from the city centre than I realized and surrounded by bizarrely rustic housing and little else. I spent about an hour walking through this area before finding a U-bahn station and heading quickly to my destination. Here I must digress and praise the Viennese public transport system. It’s just so simple and efficient. At least, it’s easy enough for a barbaric auslander like me to figure out.
Though I didn’t get as much time in Vienna as I initially wanted (bus problems, ya know?) I did manage to see a big chunk of the city… And what a city it is. It has it all, from psychedelic houses to stately palaces and gothic spires. In fact, factoring in the incredible Natural History Museum, I don’t think I’ve ever been more impressed by the architecture and decoration of a city before. The benign but extensive Christmas light infestation might have something to do with it, but still, Vienna is a pretty one. If only it was surrounded by visible mountains and had some Amsterdamian canals it would be perfect.
My first stop, which I found pretty much by accident, was the famous Hundertwasser Haus, a converted factory that has since become a beacon for the creative and crazy. It’s a multi-storied, warping, flowing building with a roof-top forest and colours overflowing. The artist and architect behind it, F. Hundertwasser, made it to reflect the ever changing and chaotic nature of life. Only an organically shaped and beautifully colourful building can be a suitable for humans with healthy souls. I like this way of thinking…
But central Vienna is a nest on a much grander scale, fit for kings and queens and heroes. The Rathaus, with its gargantuan and almost overly-grandiose spires, the sprawling Hofburg and National Library, the ecclectic stylings of the Museum Quartier and even my humble little hostel were all breathtaking. I had to spend a couple minutes sitting on a statue base and letting my arse go numb with cold just to take in the wide wings of the National Library fully. I couldn’t feel my cheeks for twenty minutes, but it was worth it.
The Christmas markets sprawled across the city were, of course, all very similar, but still wonderful. Although it was nice to walk around with hot punch in hand and enjoy all the colours, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would all be better with friends or lovers. Christmas time definitely can get a little lonely for the solo traveler, something you just have to either beat… Or drive you to become a troubled creative. Either or, really.
My bed for the night was supplied by Hostel Ruthensteiner, a truly comfy little establishment nestled in the west of the city. Ruthensteiner feels like grandma’s house, if grandma was a bit quirky and liked to invite a bunch of interesting travellers over every night for drinks (probably Absinthe). Though I could only stay a night, I wish I’d had another. I feel like Ruthensteiner was definitely the place to meet “my kind of people”.
In the morning I visited the Natural History Museum with the intention of not staying for long and giving myself time to visit other galleries. Boy… That didn’t work out. You just can’t spend less than two hours in this magical maze. This is a cabinet of curiosity on a truly monolithic scale, full of the most beautiful and interesting natural treasures. Though I didn’t get around to visiting any of the other exhibits I had planned, I feel like by spending time in this incredible building that I’d walked through the story of the world. There were also a lot of pretty rocks. Ooh, shiny.
The Adventure Continues
So, I’ll soon be pulling up in the next city on my tour. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep writing, but I have a feeling the next installment on this adventure will have to wait for a day or two.
Vienna was really incredible, and I’m glad I managed to get there in the end. Let’s just hope things go as smoothly over the weekend! Touch wood!