Solo Eurotrip, Vienna Part 1

Backpacking is a bit like playing a fantasy role-playing game (Baldur’s Gate anyone?) – you go to a small town, find an inn, order a drink, talk to a few people, try to get a few hints on where to go next to advance the story, and be on your way.

At the hostel in Prague I talked to a few people who just came from Vienna, as well as a girl on the hostel staff who travelled to Vienna often. They unanimously recommended Hostel Ruthensteiner, so that’s where I booked.

PS. If I forget to mention this later, yes, I highly recommend it as well.

It was pretty awesome.

There were 3 guys and a girl behind the counter, and they reportedly speak 12 languages between them. Of course, 4 people and 12 languages doesn’t mean 3 languages per person, because there are many overlaps. They all speak German and English, so assuming no more overlaps, that’s still 4.5 languages per person on average!

There was a Chinese family that checked in after me, and the blonde girl actually spoke pretty good Mandarin to them. I was impressed. I should have spoken Chinese, too, just to make their lives slightly more difficult.

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They call themselves a “musical hostel”. That sounded nice, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Then I walked in on someone playing Vivaldi in the common room. Pretty cool!

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There is a communal piano in the common room, and people play it continuously from 9am to 11pm every day (not when I took the picture, which was early morning). Anything from classical to crazy pop stuff. The piano really made the hostel a lot more Vienna-y. Favourite common room on this trip!


Roommates for the night were an older German couple (German guy #2, German girl #2) from Stuttgart, and South Korean girl #1.

South Korean girl #1 was cool. She was on a working holiday in Vancouver recently, and actually lived 2 blocks away from my old workplace in Yaletown (downtown Vancouver). How cool is that?!

She is on a backpacking trip to see all the small (and big) towns in Austria, and just came from Salzburg (a city in western Austria), and will be heading up to Munich for Oktoberfest in a few days.

Booking accommodation in Munich in October is a competitive sport, and many people book a few months or even a year in advance. South Korean girl #1 didn’t, so she planned on taking an overnight train there from Austria, spend a day there, and then take another overnight train out of Munich… dedication.

On the next day, everyone (besides yours truly) moved out, and a new batch of fresh meat moved in. They were South Korean girl #2-3 (travelling together), and South Korean girl #4. It was the most anti-social night of my trip.

South Korean girls #2-3 arrived early in the evening with a HUGE pink suitcase, and spent most of the evening in the room, doing I don’t know what.

They didn’t speak much English. The only thing they said to me was “where’s the towel?”. Probably their first time staying at a hostel.

I also felt bad for taking 5 minutes to understand what they were asking. Their pronunciation of the word “towel” is almost exactly how I pronounce “tower”, and I thought long and hard about towers in Vienna… Wasn’t trying to make fun of their accent or anything – I have an accent myself too (well, I suppose everyone does, but I’ve never lived in a place where my accent is mainstream, and I don’t even know if such a place exists!). I just had no idea what they were saying. Maybe that scared them? They never spoke to me after that…

On the next morning they spent about 2 hours getting ready, including about 1 hour on makeup. And about another hour getting ready for bed at the end of the day. I guess their standard going-to-bed routine involves applying pastes and stickers(?) of various colours and consistencies to their faces. No wonder they needed a huge suitcase – they have a beauty salon in there!

There was also South Korean girl #4. She was absolutely the most anti-social person I met on this trip. She didn’t even respond to “hi”, and actually holed up in her bed, inside her blanket, on her phone, and turned towards the wall. The whole time. I don’t think I saw her face at any point. Why stay at a hostel if you don’t want to talk to anyone?

Since roommates weren’t much fun, I decided to go on an evening walking tour to get an introduction to the city, and went to dinner with a few people on the tour afterwards.

Among them were Canadian guy #2, and Filipino girl #1-4. Canadian guy #2 was an electrical engineer from Edmonton, taking a one-month vacation to backpack around Europe. Filipino girl #1-4… I have no idea what they did, and they were about the same age as me. Got some cool travel advices for Philippines, though! Upon learning that I was travelling by myself, they were very impressed (really, it’s not that difficult!), and became extremely friendly… that was slightly weird.


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Vienna was, at one point, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire (even though at that point they were “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire”). It was the place to be if you were very good at what you do, and have high ambitions.

Many famous musicians called Vienna home at some point in their lives – Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Beethoven, and of course, Mozart.

“Mozart loved tight pants. Back in the days they didn’t have elastic material, so to make tight pants, they have to wear them while they are still wet, and shrink them.” – Tour guide.


 

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There were a bunch of people dressed up in period costumes trying to sell tickets to some concert, in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It was pretty funny. I don’t think anything screams “tourist trap” more than a bunch of people selling tickets in costumes.

I passed by the cathedral many times, and at one point one of them tried to show me what they were selling by flipping through a bunch of images of ballerinas and symphonies, probably from Google Images. Uh, yeah, I think I know what ballet is.


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Did you know that hot dogs are called wieners because they were invented in Vienna? Wien is the German name of Vienna. The first hot dogs were made by taking soft pork sausages from Frankfurt, and adding beef to make them stiff. So now hot dogs are called wieners everywhere in the world, except in Vienna, where they are called Frankfurters.

Currywurst (pictured above) is a German snack commonly sold by street vendors, made by adding ketchup and curry powder to sliced (and sometimes unsliced) hot dogs. Yummy!


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And of course, like all other respectable German-speaking cities, alcohol is cheaper than water.

To be continued…

Solo Eurotrip, Prague Part 2

There are two types of paddle boats – one where each boat has one propeller shared between the 2 paddlers, and one where each boat has two propellers, driven by the respective paddler. Cheating is only possible on the first type because on the second type, a lazy paddler will result in the boat turning in circles.

We had the first type.

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I love paddle boats and I don’t know why. They make me happy.

Like almost all other major historical European cities, Prague is divided in half by a river. Vltava river runs through Prague, and offers a great view of many landmarks.

Boat mates were Israeli guy #1 and #2, and Canadian girl #1.

Israeli guy #1 and #2 were pretty young. They just finished high school and decided to go travel before the mandatory military service (I think?). Did you know that women are required to serve in the military as well in Israel? Conscription is pretty shitty, but at least they are not sexist about it (unlike most other countries, including the US, which still doesn’t allow women to hold some positions in the military). One of them does some software stuff, and wants to continue on with that in the military.

Canadian girl #1 works in the correctional services of Canada, in Ottawa. Her job is to answer phone calls, from inmates who are not happy with… pretty much anything. Apparently food requirements are common, and many people claim to be Muslim to get halal food, which is way better than regular food. And of course, being a woman, she also gets a fair number of wankers and heavy breathers…


At the end of the boat ride, one of the girls (Belgian girl #1) suggested we go to a famous burger place that’s known for their huge portions. I got ribs. Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

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Belgian girl #1 is studying tourism in a small town near Brussels, can speak 4 languages, and reportedly has an amazing fuck buddy.

I originally planned to visit Brussels on the way from Lisbon (since I planned to go by train). Didn’t happen unfortunately since I found out that the train ride would cost a few arms and legs, and involves running through Paris in 55 minutes to get from the south train station to the north train station. Definitely on my list of places to visit, though, especially if I end up back in the UK. It’s so close!


20150916_195031_HDRThis was supposed to be my last night in Prague. I went back to the hostel and tried to book stuff for the next part of my journey, and had a bit of a scare – I originally planned to head to Budapest next, which, despite the refugee situation, I thought would be easy since people are trying to get OUT of Hungary, not INTO Hungary.

What I didn’t realize is that if trains aren’t going westbound from Budapest, there won’t be trains going eastbound into Budapest either. Law of Conservation of Trains!

As a result, all the buses were fully booked (those buses don’t usually require advance booking), and I actually had no way of getting into Hungary. Even the flights were crazy expensive.

So there you go, the danger of impromptu travel. On the other hand, since I had nothing already booked in Hungary, I was able to just look at a map, and pick another city/country to go to.

My options were Vienna or Krakow (Poland). I really wanted to see Munich or Stuttgart, but it’s pretty much impossible to visit those cities (or any German city really) at this time of the year, thanks to Oktoberfest.

I also thought about just flying out again and into Russia, to either Moscow or St. Petersburg. Then I found out that Canadians need to apply for visas to enter Russia. Totally unacceptable. What kind of countries require Canadians to apply for visas!? So no Russia.

It was a difficult choice between Vienna and Krakow. Vienna is very cool with all the musical stuff and history, but Krakow had Nazi stuff and more WWII history.

In the end I decided to go to Vienna just because I still wanted to go to Budapest eventually, and it’s easier to get there from Vienna than from Krakow (3 hours bus vs overnight sleeper train).

Roommates for the night were Slovaskian guy #1 and American girl #1. American girl #1 was amazing. She grew up in South Carolina (or was it North?), decided she didn’t like where the US is heading as a country, and moved to Stuttgart (Germany) by herself, and now works there and speaks fluent German. She was one of the volunteers welcoming refugees at a train station in Stuttgart. It’s one thing to read about those kind of things on the news, but actually meeting someone who was there makes it so much more real.

On a totally unrelated sidenote, her looks, voice, manners, and even political views were EXACTLY the same as those of a girl I had a huge crush on years ago… it was uncanny!

Slovaskian guy #1 was loud, obnoxious, and racist (against Syrians, regarding the refugee crisis). He mostly argued with American girl #1. “Arguing” is perhaps not the right term to use here, since it consists mostly of him saying the same racist stuff and lies over and over and over again, and without any support. It was ugly.

Slovaskian guy #1 is hereby declared non-beautiful. That’s another shitty thing about hosteling – you get to room with crazy people once in a while. That said, in my few weeks travel and rooming with 20-30 people, there was only this 1 crazy guy. Overwhelming majority of people I’ve met on the trip were amazing. Still worth it.

I spent the next day on my laptop being anti-social at the hostel, booking and researching stuff… said goodbye to everyone and departed the next morning on a 5 hours bus ride to Vienna. Back to just me + backpack. Another friendships reset!

If you are ever in Prague, I highly recommend Hostel One Home. Most enthusiastic and friendly staff ever. And free traditional Czech dinner every night. FREE DINNER!! It’s also on the main road, and walking down the road in front of the hostel takes you straight to the old town square, where all the interesting things are.

To be continued…