In Austria souvenir shops sell a sign that would look great on the mantelpiece in the good room, right next to your beloved yard glass and the portrait of your sadly departed blue ribbon greyhound . The little yellow sign has a picture of a kangaroo, subtitled “Austria – No Kangaroos”.
It really is just as well Austria doesn’t have any kangaroos because they would charge your €50 just to approach the ticket booth to the marsupial show, another €50 to talk to the salesman, who would then cavity search you and charge you €100 for your back row seat.
J-man and I should have fled the country after our first morning here. After arriving early in Vienna, a girl at our hostel recommended we go to a nearby traditional Viennese coffee shop for breakfast. After eating three croissants that magically appeared – unordered – with our coffees and all five (5) bread rolls that came with Joel’s plate of eggs, we felt fat and triumphant. Until we got our bill for €35 ($AUD1,000) which charged us for each roll we ate, each of the croissants we didn’t order, the milk in the tea and just a little extra to cover the waiter’s child support payments. Since then we’ve paid 40 cents for whipped cream that came with a slice of cake, €4 each for a breakfast made up of cold bread rolls and warm milk and we are fighting for a €26 refund from the Austrian rail system after we bought the wrong type of Vienna Card, an all-included transport and sightseeing pass, which has several different types all conveniently titled “The Vienna Card”. Well done, Austria, well done.
But here’s my favourite screw of all: On our first night here in lovely Salzburg we found a cheap Japanese restaurant for dinner. Once inside, the waiter took our drink orders then handed us a menu, which was completely different to the one displayed downstairs and much more expensive. The cheaper one was allegedly the lunch menu. As an act of revenge, we ordered only spring rolls and Miso soup. When our bill came we were pleasantly surprised to find that, with a glass of Coke and a wine, we owed close to €30. Ah, the waiter explained, that glass of wine I poured you? That was a double. It might be different in America, he said, but that’s how we do it here. Oh yeah? Go check if there’s kangaroos in Texas, jerk face.
So, I’ve taken solace in tasting some of the cheaper local delights:
Mmmm, sweet, sweet €2.50 erdnuss creme.
It’s 11.26am in Krakow, Poland and I have been up since 4am after a 12-hour train ride. I’m seedy, sleepy and have furry teeth, but this is travel baby and it feels real good! Last night, as I was rocked to sleep in the arms of the country’s efficient rail system, I thought about writing a list of the weird things I’ve noticed about Europe.
A list of the weird things I’ve noticed about Europe:
No-one cares if you die: I first noticed this when I made eye contact with a lion at Berlin Zoo. A lion kept in an unfenced enclosure, with a deep moat the only thing protecting me from its powerful jaws and sharp claws. It’s like dudes, have you not seen Born Free? Lions can leap! Then after climbing a massive church tower in Dresden and up into a giant fortress in Konigstein, I noticed the Europeans care not for protective fencing. Jump off if you want and take your enthusiastic, ice-cream-eating husband with you, for all the Germans care. In Poland I also saw someone reverse their car within mere millimetres of an unfenced train platform just as a train sped by. I actually quite like this about Europe. It’s kind of saying if you’re stupid enough to tempt a lion, test gravity or screw up a simple driving manoeuvre, you deserve to die.
Sit where you want, losers: The numbering on train seats across Europe is incredibly confusing. A few times J-man and I have been assured we’ll be sitting next to each other, only to find we’ve been placed in seat 23 and 78. But yep, seat 78 is the window and 23 is the aisle. Well, that just makes perfect sense!
Peron!? Peroff! Same goes for train platform numbering. Sure, your train leaves from platform two but which side of platform two? It’s a game of chance, skill and dumb luck. I’m just glad we didn’t get on that train headed to Elblag, like Joel suggested.
Leopard print is slimming: Many older European ladies like to wear their clothes two sizes too small in the least flattering patterns and materials possible. So what if you’ve had eight children? Treat those animal print tights like sausage skin and squeeze it all in. Then match it with some blonde, teased hair and coral pink lipstick and you are ready to scoff a truckload of Lody or Bacon Butty with all your gal pals.
Dames? Pretty much everywhere in Europe you have to pay to use public toilets, or the good old WC. It’s kind of a cool system because you can mostly be assured the toilets will be clean and fully stocked with paper, soap and the latest edition of Hello! The weird thing is the attendants who take your money are often old men in white lab coats who grunt as you walk in and then watch your every filthy move with a suspicious eye. A few times it’s been a kindly old woman, including one in Gdansk, who had her little table set up with pictures of the grandkids and Jesus and Mary. Why she still believes in god, I don’t know.
Until next time I see something weird…
One of the most exciting nights of our trip so far was catching an overnight ferry from Harwich in the UK to the Hook of Holland. When I say “ferry” I actually mean liner, complete with restaurants, a casino and an elderly Dutch bartender who cheerfully congratulated me on my pregnancy (gas). J-man and I got all squeal-y when we went into our little cabin with its bunk bed and faux port window. It was a first-time experience and the beginning of a new adventure, so we celebrated on deck – in true Dutch style – with a Heineken. Before our ship even set sail on the mighty seas J-man decided he wanted to do something drastic – shave his head. It was something he’d been considering for a while. So while on international waters, the J-man became a cueball.
Hanging out in Cambridge was like all my travel dreams rolled into one. J-man, my friend T and I wandered through the cobbled, narrow streets catching glimpses of historic, ivy-covered colleges with luscious grounds. We marvelled at all the people riding retro bikes. We went punting on the River Cam with a charming tour guide who cracked jokes about Australia’s convict past (“You Aussies keep your fingers to yourselves”), recent sporting failures (“Cricket…something something … Rugby something, also”) and tourist attractions (“You know that scene in Harry Potter where he learns to fly? That wasn’t filmed here”). We reclined on the narrow wooden boat sipping ciders, looking at the classic English landscapes and feeling alive.
But all of that was shattered by something I shall now refer to as King Intef’s curse on the flesh-coloured underpants. I wore those beauties again on my trip to Cambridge because I was wearing a vaguely sheerish dress and thought I might distract the scholars from their studies if I wore my fetching neon green ones. Anyway, the day went very smoothly until I went to the gals’ room in an old pub. Just after I sat down a woman burst in on me and screamed. The toilet stall was very long and wide and there was nothing I could do to slam the door, so we just kind of looked at each other in sheer terror – me with my flesh-coloured underpants around my knees, her dignified in a matching linen outfit. After she shut the door, I tried desperately to secure the lock, pants down, only to be burst in on seconds later by a teenage girl, who also screamed.
After urgently ushering T and J-man out of the pub I told them that was it. The Cambridge dream was over. Luckily T knew exactly how to mend my broken spirit – with fudge! Peanut butter and chocolate fudge! I haven’t actually had any peanut butter while in the UK because it seems the Brits love berry jams and Marmite on their toast and the spread of the gods is reserved solely for sweets and fudge.
I’ll admit this looks like something you might find if you were a plumber. But actually, it was a delicious specimen from The Fudge Kitchen in Cambridge. Also known as the happiest place on Earth, second to bed.
Peanut butter fudge cures all ills. Except travel hair and face disease.
(Hello! I’m actually writing this from Germany (see: öööäää), weeks after leaving the UK. I’ve also since been to Holland, where internet was mostly nonexistent. Hopefully now I’m in the land of the schnitzel I’ll be able to update more. Sheesh!)