travel diary [vienna 2007]

my most unstructured travel diary yet, restructured as best as i could. not well enough. i'll write a better intro late, although possibly not.

08.11.2007 - thursday

so what's my first impression of vienna? to be honest i haven't had one yet. climbing out of the subway it could have been london, piccadilly circus. wherever. the big city shat onto the world. on the surface they're all the same. all this is, first impressions go to shit.

the journey over here was easy enough. on the plane we were looking for three seats together, but the best we could find were two rows together, both with a guy in the aisle seat. i asked one of them if he'd mind moving so we could sit together, but he was with the people sitting across the aisle from him. the other guy wasn't, but he made no effort to give a shit. wouldn't any normal person have offered to move? i was too disgusted (maybe that's going a little too far) at him to ask if he'd shift his ass.

but corey did pretty well on the flight. and despite what i said, he didn't wet himself once.

all else i remember from the flight is the shadow of the plane, against the cloud it's surrounded by a circular rainbow. is it my eyes or the window glass or just simple science? i don't hold my breathe hoping it's magic.

and then from the airport into the city, our train carriage had a blackout, so every time we entered a tunnel it went pitch black - the perfect time to throw stuff at martin. the journey took us through an industrial sprawl of shiny metallic pipes, twisting and networked into terrifying structures that seemed to go on forever. all steam values and heaters and coolers. then breaking away from it, the straightest and brightest rainbow. there's your missed photo opportunity

after settling in at the wombat hostel (picked by martin and jen due it sounding fun and having private double rooms) we walked along some kind of busy road, took a side street and tried to find a restaurant open at half four. at 'crap tourist' time. i mean, school's barely even out. but we'd been up early, missed lunch and now needed dinner. i've already learnt that this is the classic european mistake, that nowhere is open until at least six, but sometimes you just can't help it

nutritious joy was found in an empty italian, guarded by lassie and staffed by a single guy, who produced our food remarkably quickly considering he was alone. he was a little unsure when we ordered two bottles of wine to start with. maybe he isn't so aware of the bad british reputation for drinking. maybe we didn't understand they'd be litre bottles. they were good pizzas. and after our strudel dessert (apple all round, except me who had topfenstrudel, a kind of sweet cheese, because he'd run out of apple) we headed back towards the main road and braved an interesting looking cafe bar.

it started awkwardly, with us first trying to take someone else's table and then trying to order at the bar (if they will be slow, etc), but we eventually got some beers. staring at the moldy brown nicotine stained walls. the high ceiling, chandelier. plain weirdness, if the words make sense together. this cafe surely doesn't. the waitress hated us, but we didn't like her much either. i actually quite liked the place, at least in my memories, once the smell of cheap tobacco has faded. how the newspapers were shackled with wood. how if even the people looked miserable they didn't look lonely.

back at the hostel, which is large and busy (lying in bed now all i can hear is a mixed language gabble from the street outside, and the odd tram rattling past), we descended into the basement to check out the cavernouse hostel bar (the wombar, like womb but more marsupial). you could mistake it for a night club, only people are playing twister and we're playing myer.

then i'm staring out of the window, thinking what does it mean to be in austria? or to be austrian. anything or anywhere. and more and more i'm getting disappointed because the answer seems to be there is no difference. and i know this is a fucking lie. or that i've drunk too much. or whatever.

because looking around the bar, around the whole hostel, i can't deny that the age of the people around me bothers me. when did everyone suddenly get so young? at what age did i miss out on all this fun? how many summers did i waste? i haven't crossed the line yet, i still feel safe, but i know it's creeping up on me. and it will fuck me.

09.11.2007 - friday

we were in bed relatively early, but we had started drinking at 5pm. the bed is comfy but i slept badly, like there was a thought i needed to comprehend to fall asleep, but it was coated in something impregnable. like a gobstopper. it seemed almost rational at the time.

and up too early, for all you can eat (sounds dangerous) breakfast. i'm on a different time zone to these guys, but nevermind. i'm sure i can handle it without complaining too much. something like that.

but why are there so many australians here? there are always australians, but this hostel is so huge. it has 280 beds, and even more in a second hostel just around the corner. it has it's own bar and a huge communal area. with a comfy space. it's very yellow.

after breakfast we caught the subway over to the museum quarter. straight to the galleries. it's not my style, i wanted to walk, but it's all good. there's time to see the city yet. museums (natural history/science especially) differ in quality, but are essentially identical everywhere in the world. not bad like starbucks, but it's a similar feeling of travelling without moving. it's a grand museum though, and i enjoyed it immensely, mostly through taking photos. so i'll leave any further description of it to them:

unfortunately we can't see the museum of medical oddities, due to bad timing. so instead we have tried to see st.michaels crypt, but failed to find it. again, it's probably bad timing. we sat in a chain cafe (not realising it at the time) and ate strange food without dessert. strange on paper if nothing else. austrian menus are not something i'm good at understanding yet. then we wandered off to somewhere else. i'll tell you about it another time

10.11.2007 - saturday

i dreamt i was drinking wine. it's the only sliver of many strange dreams i could remember when corey woke me up into a dark and airless room. our grim dorm. but figures, i was still drunk from the night before.

when i can, i will catch up with that, last night. but i'm not getting enough time to write. and everyone just accused me of trying to look clever when i bought my notebook out. or someone did, but i wasn't paying enough attention to notice who. really everyone is too busy laughing at the skinny waiter and the slap-slap sounds coming from the kitchen. or is that just corey? anyway, it's not like anything remarkable or profound has happened. no exhilleration. we need to get lost and fucked up.

i had a theory that a country's toilets will tell you a lot about its culture. this restrauant has the sharpest urinal, you could split your testicles on it. the cafe yesterday had an ash tray in the cubicle, like a soap dish or something. a smoke with your shit. another had a plateau style bowl, so that you could air out and inspect your 'movement'. perhaps this helps in spotting bowel cancer. perhaps my theories are all shit too.

it's raining and it's cold and i'm sitting in the basement bar waiting for food and wondering what it is i should really be doing and wishing i was younger and doing it.

my food arrives and it's pasta in a cheesey sauce. i'm eating too much cheese. this is the problem with travelling with meat eaters. as a vegetarian i'd normally look up all the vege places and go to them, and they're always good, but instead we wander around at random looking for somewhere just acceptable, which is inevitably shit. i don't mind really, and the food's been good. i just can't take all this cheese.

going back to yesterday (yes, it's going to be like that), after st.michaels church and no crypt, and our minor foray into the old city, we walked in a random interesting direction and found ourselves infront of the national library. we tried to blag our way in as students but failed utterly. as if he wouldn't take a young persons railcard, the prick. it wasn't at all worth eight euros but we went in anyway. the other option was wet.

it's a gorgeous building though, all endless sweeping marble staircases, pillars, and a huge open space. the collections here are centered around armour and musical instruments, which makes no sense, and fails to inspire or interest me. i want action and drama. and blood.

emerging from the library the weather had improved and the night had descended. we walked off, taking an unplanned route, being drawn towards the big and impressive buildings, all lit up against the gloomy sky. i had no urge to know what they were, but they were pretty.

back on our side of town we went in search of the happy chinese, where my tofu dish came with beef. tofu with fucking beef. they were very decent about changing it though, considering it was my fault really (hey, putting v's on the menu never hurt anyone). excellent fried rice. and now i can't get "folks fleisch" out of my head. which isn't quite as bad as "kinder fleisch". er.

so here's the deal. a guy corey works with knows an iranian guy whose friend is having a birthday party, and we were all invited. and even better, it's being held in a well dodgy area, surrounded by massage parlours and strip joints. right down a dark alley. brilliant.

[in my notebook here it says "moment of clarity amongst cloudiness. revelation. if only i could follow it through", but i'm going to ignore it because i have no idea what the fuck it means]

but anyway, the party was being held in a creative studio space kind of place. very cool. very off the map. it was fancy dress but we were obviously grossly unprepared.

but right now. on my left two guys, older, sit in silence and stare at the TV above me, which i failed to switch off earlier. on my right is a group of pretty young kids shouting and acting like pretty young kids, like they all want to fuck each other. who wouldn't? and on the TV is just a black and yellow spiral, i want to vomit on it, and those guys are still staring at it. fucking hypnotised.

11.11.2007 - sunday

waiting for the shower.

i dreamt i was sad and aimee was trying to console me. i was in some need of affection. i miss all the girls in my life.

i dreamt two girls were staying in our room and one of them was snoring.

i really can't eat anymore cheese.

walking around the city on this quiet sunday morning, it's so peaceful. just me, the slush of snow falling of the parked cars, and the million squeals of delight as a million snow flakes come crashing to the ground. i could stand here forever, making an inventory of the sounds made by snow. a large clump falling from a building goes "schlap". forever, or at least whilst my cheap notepad holds it together. this scaffolding is about as effective as toilet paper for keeping the soggy at bay.

going off on my own was a good idea. i really needed to get myself orientated with the city and see it my way - not taking underground public transport everywhere and debating every street we take. the zoo was the final straw. i want to explore and understand how the streets relate to one another, how the city flows. and to go in whatever and every cafe i find. but not that i have. i have found an organic vege place, possibly the only one in the whole city, but i wasn't quite ready to eat. from a street vendor, without realising what i was askign for, i bought a potato thing, like a giant crisp, and nine roast chestnuts. there's my autumn fix right there.

and my feet have almost recovered from the cold and wet. which must mean i'm back at the hostel and hanging around in the comfy area waiting for the gang to get back from the zoo.

i can't believe i'm still trying to write up friday night. i can't even remember where i'd got to. we'd arrived at the place and been forced to walk down a catwalk, something i was definately not mentally prepared for. not before beers.

what it should have been was lots of socialising, but we never broke out of our circle, except for corey. people had the craziest outfits, shiny and dayglo and large. i'm not sure how it fit into the theme, but one woman was wearing a blue burka, one where you can't even see the eyes. it was quite disconcerting when she was working the bar.

after the groovy funk i remember the dj playing 'leave home' and 'close to me'. and by the time we left the room was packed with people in al colours and hairstyles.

i can't remember if we walked all the way back to the hostel, or if we did how we managed it, but i do know we didn't pass a single mercedes on the way. and when we got back everyone went straight to bed and i went looking for food. finding none. not even behind any supermarkets.

then trying to sleep in that room with no air. my clothes stinking of cigarettes. and all this is already written about.

a new zealand girl just made me a cup of early grey. she's too awesome, although her boyfriend is a bit quiet. i gave her a prinzen biscuit in return. we met them last night in the bar and they demonstrated everything i've been trying to tell my friends about hostels. they confirmed how weird and unsocial it is here, but also contradicted it at the same time. the weird dinosaurs at the back of my notebook are from our "what's your favourite dinosaur?" conversation. and she's remarkably chipper considering her bag (with passport) was stolen from the lobby lounge earlier that day. but yeah, they answered a lot of questions about new zealand and all the time that country keeps sounding better. anyway, nice couple. they remind of someone, but i don't know who. i'd stare, but it'd be rude.

three american girls are being loudly disappointed that they're not going to slovakia. i really want to go as well, but probably only for the sake of it. it would be a cool thing to do. and there would be SK everywhere. i want to get a SK euro for ben. but the americans, they're all so done up and prim and carry around hair brushes to tidy up their hair when they remove their hats. they're weird in the most mundane way. how can you travel europe like that?

other people are going to amsterdam. and then barcelona.

is that the sound of rain? it sounds vicious. and all of a sudden everyone walking past me is drenched.

the girl i'm sharing a cushion with smokes too much. it's not the vague smell, but her voice. and i've lost the ability to identify accents. they all sound the same or different. maybe that means they're american. zombie, except they switched it off. wait, isn't he irish?

saturday, yesterday, started with the museum of crime. it was interesting enough and occasionaly gruesome, but something was missing. perhaps it was because we were the only people in there. or perhaps i should have read more of the signs. preserved heads need no description. the wooden guillotine was brutal, and the metal one just chilling. the pop art on the way out was the best thing there.

after the museum the plan was to head back into and explore the city, find a nice cafe to eat and drink. but instead we found one too soon, before crossing back across the river (the danube canal), in what would be a nice square if the weather wasn't verging on shitty. weird place, really it was a wine shop but they sold posh drinks too. my latte was fantastic and came with a chocolate dusted coffee bean. the teas came with egg timers and sugar spoons. i love how in europe drinks come on their own silver trays.

the second comic book shop i found was rubbish. the first i didn't even bother going in.

and by magic we found ourselves standing infront of stephansdom, the cathedral of silly proportions. it's impossible to frame in a single shot, and it's larger inside than out.

it might even be the largest cathedral i've ever been in, if not the largest open space. i went back a second time and was shocked again at its enormity. like my brain can't accurately retain its massiveness. the petersplastz church (petersdom?), just around the corner, is smaller but equally impressive. round and over-decorated to the point of sickness. every surface is ornately painted or statued or gold plated. all these details condensed into one tiny space. i sat and stared like all the people who really belive in this, that it says more about the power of god than the power of money.

but back to stephansdom, after we'd eaten at another italian place where the girls had veal schnitzel and i didn't know what to think, the place with the thin waiter, after that we decided to split up into well defined groups. the girls would go shopping and i'd convinced the guys we should go into the cathedral's catacombs.

it started drab, with the old part that's been renovated recently so that it looks new and boring. so drab that we almost attempted to leave the tour group and escape, only the guide had locked the door so we were trapped. we were doomed. but the new part was much cooler, with it's jagged brick walls, uneven dirt floors and minimal lighting and bones, lots of bones. bones of hundreds and hundreds of people. a mass grave from the last plague. and the smell of TCP, the smell of death. apparently all the bodies were removed because the stench drifting up into the cathedral was so great no one could come to worship. it seems quite fitting to me, if you will insist on hoarding your dead. or worse, putting their organs in alcohol and placing them in several vaults across the city.

we regrouped at an australian bar. all they're good for is drawing on the tables. i was out of ideas so "mort aux vache" had to make do. and i refused to explain what ACAB meant.

we spent out time recovering from walking with beer and defacing the drinks coasters, an offensive advert featuring a thin and supposedly beautiful couple drinking fosters on the beach. this is where i should point you to the appendix of all our witty comments, but i didn't even take a photo of one. but they ranged from "i am empty" and "i wish i was attractive", to "i hope he fucks me like daddy" and "when should i tell him i'm 13". "fosters shrank my testicles".

tired, we went back to the hostel. me running to catch up all the time, getting left behind taking night photos.

we played some bad pool (i potted four of martin's balls and none of my own) before descending back to the bar, where happy hour made a beautiful contrast to the prices at the aussie bar and we bought drinks fast. although maybe it was just me, because everyone else had them lined up. and when happy hour switched from beer to cocktails, so did we. then came my big mistake, and this is why you ask what a drink is before ordering it, the jagerbomb. a shot glass of jagermeister placed in a larger glass of redbull. at least they weren't mixed so we could leave the redbull.

this was all over card games and bad card tricks. not all so bad. corey, jen and louise retired early for some peace, and martin stuck it out for the long run. despite my constant abuse about property, five dimensions, mushrooms and nonviolence. and that was when we met the new zealanders.

but what else did i do today? i found the weird gray house that i saw from the natural history museum window, floating above the buildings and lookly oddly plain.

i still don't understand it. what is it? is it something? or just construction work? and i found a bike rack protected by a security camera. and some decent graffiti too.

i'm not sure what this city has to offer. but possibly i'm seeing it on the worst days under the worst weather. the snow was glorious, but i doubt the slush and greyness and constant drizzle (they have an average of 14 days of rain in november) does the city any justice.

now i'm wondering where they're at and what they're doing. the zoo couldn't have been that interesting, surely?

12.11.2007 - monday

where it went wrong was the australian with the bottle of vodka. people like him should be thrown out of bars. and they would be too, if they weren't so good for business. he was buying vodka by the bottle and circling the bar area offering 'shots' to anyone who would give him attention. but shots aren't shots when they're almost triples. then martin bought another pitcher, and between us we'd already drank through three litres of wine and however much beer. then the australian came around again, sometime before 4am.

we'd already been through cards, jenga and backgammon, and a disgusting bag of rum kokos. i tried to get the new zealanders to join us in a game but we scared them off. or bored them. or whatever.

it was a stupid night of drinking and i was up at 9am for breakfast. like an ubermensch. i can't deny breakfast wasn't tough, but before no time i was perky as. the same couldn't really be said for jen or martin. i almost felt guilty.

but now i'm sitting here spaced out. can't even barely write. i was sleeping a little in the hammock but it felt too much like death. like i was a ghost dirting beyond the tangible world. neither here nor there.

everything smells like honey. all the time.

and this notebook is shite.

and i'm so fucking blank.

before the (what should have been disasterous) drinking session we'd been to eat at a place just down the road, much to my initial disappointment but my eventual pleasure. how it works for me is my dietary requirement and urge to experience the city drives me to seek out good restaurants and eat at them. when you eat meat it doesn't matter so much. it's all good, but i'm never travelling with non-vegetarians again. not that i have any options anyway, i asked the hostel staff where was good to eat and all i got was a dirty look, "we all eat meat here". i assured her she was wrong, but nevermind.

man, all i do is complain. i should explore my career options in this.

anyway, the food at the turkish place was brilliant. i had a salad, a beautiful change to the usual cheese mit something.

today though, after dragging jen and martin from their drunken slumber, we headed over to the big wheel for that essential view of vienna. but somehow the combination of it costing eight euros and it taking half an hour kind of put us off.

instead we walked around the completely inactive amusement park. all those rides, the same rides you get everywhere ("off the shelf models" corey tells us), sitting all cold and sad and abandoned. i tried to not get frustrated at this waste of precious time, a closed amusement park. but it turned out corey actually really wanted to see it, and then i felt bad for being an ass. it was all good.

then to the hundertwasserhaus, which meant i had to take charge and lead the way. or at least guess the way and appear confident and like i wasn't just following the cool looking graffiti. the hundertwasserhaus was built in the eighties as social housing, and it's probably the most interesting social housing you'll find. it's just a shame you can't actually go inside and see all of its best features, the undulating floors, the trees growing inside and through rooms, and the green roof. it's also a shame for the people who live there, all those annoying tourists taking flash photos and ringing their doorbells.

by then we were getting dangerously hungry, had martin and jen even eaten breakfast? unfortunately the cafe under the hundertwasserhaus was rubbish. it stank of cigarettes and redbull. we started to wander around with a pathetic hope of finding somewhere, but i decided to put my foot down and try being a bit more assertive, and since i had a good place in mind (the vegetarian cafe i'd found the day before) everyone agreed to follow. sure it was back in the centre of town, but at least it was a direction to travel in, and we could always stop if we found somewhere good. it should be easy, all we needed to do was find a bus or tram. we followed the signs for what we thought was the tram, because when you're tired and hungry you'll do this. you'll even put up with contradicting signs and signs that direct you around in circles. we decided to just ignore the signs, besides, i had a map. and then later we figured out "einbahn" clearly means one way.

but nevermind, because we got there in the end and the trust in me was well deserved. die bio bar's a cute place, nice atmosphere and yellow cushions (i don't know, maybe that's important). the woman was super friendly and the food was awesome. between us, we had chips and vege weiners (apparently very authentic), potato/bread dumplings in omlette, tvp goulash and salad.

15.11.2007 - a few days later

i'm waiting for my flight back to canada, and the stupid story of this morning is still rattling around inside my head. but i'll get that out elsewhere.

on the tuesday i was too exhausted to do anything. i just couldn't be bothered to write. not even read or sleep. it's so frustrating, just wasting that time being vacant. i feel like that now too, but i can push through. and there's a kid over there making a "mamma" sound like out of rubber johnny.

the vege restuarant was right on the corner of judenplatz, where the jewish memorial designed by rachel whiteread boldly stands, all ominous and imposing. but i knew i liked it for a reason, with it's minimalist ribbed concrete slab design. nuclear fallout shelter chic.

after lunch we split up again into girls and boys, again to go shopping or to go the cathedral, but this time to go up the tower. i needed to see the city from above. unfortunately you can only go up the southern tower, up in the tiniest lift, and since the roof is so high (and pointy) you can only see half the city. but that's better than none, and the view is still worth it.

we had an hour to spare before meeting the girls at cafe demel, but the weather was being lousy and we were being unimaginative, so we went straight to the cafe. i love cafes, but these viennese cafes are in a different league. they are posh. we had a brief glimpse of cafe central, where trotsky and lenin used to meet and play chess, apparently, but we couldn't afford to eat there so left. cafe demel seems to primarily be a chocolatier, with an outrageous display of cakes in the window. and all these nice cafes, i'd already walked past them the day before without even noticing them. the idiot that i am.

we sat in the back, where you can see in on the chefs with their bags full of coloured icing or whatever. looking down the menu i was in awe of the prices. as sick as they were, i needed to know how an eight euro coffee tasted. i had the anna demel liquor coffee. it was ok. the tourist thing also dictated we had to try the sachertorte. this had to be ordered at the front, where we were given a pink ticket. not particularly helpful. we sat and waited until someone else gave their ticket to their waitress. it was all very unintuitive, and our waitress was a sour old bag (the grumpy service is supposed to be part of the charm). and i hate to sound so damn miserable myself, but the cake is seriously over rated. it's a reasonably standard chocolate sponge with the thinest layer of jam and chocolate icing. something like that anyway. maybe it was the first ever chocolate cake, in which case it would be impressive, but still..

it turned out the girls weren't going to make it, so we took the subway back to the hostel to chill out before dinner. sitting in the comfy area talking to random people, writing up the previous day, not really being able to do anything productive of constructive

at about half eight we finally got it together and went down the road for dinner, at some placed called mozart. all this mozart tourist crap, i can't be doing with it, but this bar/restaurant was cosy and very german feeling. or austrian, whatever. i ordered a cheese and cauliflower bread crumb thing with tartar sauce. it was surprisingly good. but i still wasn't ready for beer. we hung out there for an hour or so, me getting far too over enthusiastic about illicit rollercoasters and trying to absorb as much of corey's geeky knowledge as possible.

this really is the most beautiful sunset.

back at the hostel, back in the bar, what did we even do? cards or dice? martin had bought perudo with him but we never played it. maybe we played nothing, just sat there playing with bits of twisted paper (laurence's laurence law - given paper and alcohol it's only a matter of time before the table will be littered with mobius strips) and telling bad jokes, corey drawing the first preliminary art for our soon to be massive online commic "the wife beatles" - john lennon beating yoko ono. martin came up with the best joke. kate and gerry mccann walk into a bar, the bar man asks "where's the children?". or maybe it's only us who find such meta in-jokes funny.

slowly everyone disappeared to bed and me and martin were left to talk shite and steal glasses for the girls. again. we weren't planning on it but we stayed until the bar closed. well y'know, last night and all.

too soon it was breakfast time again. and of course this is when i found my free drinks voucher. useless to me now, i gave it to the woman sleeping in the bed above me. and i can't believe i ate hostel breakfast every day. it seemed a bargain at three and half euros, but it was a vegan's worst nightmare. but it did the job for me. and it was nice to get toasties.

getting from the hostel to the airport was straight forward. we stopped halfway to find a postbox, which took a remarkably long time given that we'd been provided with so many directions (too many directions, and none of them telling us the postbox was inside the building). and then at the airport we were thrown out of the restaurant, mid-game of shithead, because we weren't eating anything. it's fair enough, but then they should provide places for people to go who don't want to eat those disgusting pink cake things. i wish i'd taken a photo of them. here's a photo of some 'bread' instead:

checking in was just lots of standing around and sitting on the floor. eating apfelstrudel. the plane. blah blah blah. and that was pretty much that.

reading it back, for all my moaning and complaing, it was a well good time. i'm not sure the city has much to offer me, it's definately not essential, but it provided us with a reasonable playground. i think our choice of hostel effected our holiday as much as our choice of city. and it was a 'holiday', more than it was travelling. that's the compromise i had to make. we had a good time though, didn't we?

i've got the best fucking view right now. a full bleeding rainbow sky scarred by vapour trails. a full moon floating all bright and bold above the clouds and the twinkling of cities below. a bright peach pink cloud reflects the light from the sun long set.

vienna though, it's a bit like brussels but not as ornate, with less narrow and winding cobbled streets. perhaps i need to see it in the summer. perhaps to explore it more, for the sake of just exploring. only i don't especially feel the need to come back.

which is no way to end this. but i'm too tired to fix that now.

were not wasting paper [or grammar]
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