Writing: on board the EuroCity train from Katowice, Poland to Vienna, Austria. Just a couple of hours ago I was on the verge of exploding.
So I guess my second‐to‐worst nightmare was realized this morning. So far, this month of July is the worst July I had in my entire life and, quite frankly, it sucks goats’ asses.
What, what, what have I done wrong. I woke up in time; took the taxi to the station, arrived there early. Bought the first‐class ticket to the Czech border (beyond which my pass is applicable) and went to the platform.
Now, remember what I told you about Wroclaw Glowny? This is one ugly train station I wouldn’t wanna touch with a 10‐foot pole. I have seen 200 years old farms in Ontario, full of horses as well as horse‐shit, still looking and smelling better than this place.
But still, whenever you’re adjusting to new realities, there still is a part in your brain that keeps seeking some common grounds; some universal rules. And my universal rules were simple: a sign upon a platform, stating the departure time, must always show the planned departure time and not the arrival time at the current station—and, more important, trains must never leave before their scheduled departure time.
Reality, in turn, apparently decided to raise its ugly head and flip a huge middle finger right at my face. My train was scheduled for 6:08am; I was there, NEXT TO THE TRAIN, when it departed 4 minutes earlier while the sign upon the platform read “6:04am”. To me, that meant that my train was just the next one coming.
A guy who left the train—MY TRAIN!—told me that the train he just left is not going to Katowice. Two minutes later, he grabbed me and went with me to the attendant, and translated the words I really didn’t want to hear.
The train is gone.
Now, the situation here was even more desperate than the situation I faced in Amsterdam. The next train leaving Wroclaw towards Vienna includes 3 (!) changes and will not arrive before 6:30pm or so assuming no delays. If you had seen the trains leaving Wroclaw Glowny, you would understand why making the assumption of “no delays” is the stupidest thing one can do when following strict schedules over the weekend. Those wagons look more fit to carry cows, goats, sheep and other means of lunch; not people.
I was really on the verge of just losing it all, and then decided to calm down. I guess that’s the hardest thing to do once you realize your plans are kaput—relax, understand that what’s gone is gone and plan your next move.
Seeing that nothing good will happen if I take trains, I started looking for flights while exiting the station and approaching a taxi. A phone call to poor Jeroen, who had to wake up at 6:15am to listen to my troubles—and we both researched for flights.
Arrived at Wroclaw’s airport. Desolate place and the ticketing agent told me that it’s going to cost me around $800 to get to Vienna on time—about 4:30pm, assuming no delays. Shortly after, Jeroen came with the bad news: no flight & train route would do (I considered flying to Bratislava and take a one hour train; price seemed reasonable at $285, but only later realized that the total elapsed time of the route is 24 hours), after considering all major cities surrounding Vienna.
Desperate, very desperate. I exited the airport not knowing what to do, but still my mind was racing.
And then, it came to me. I rushed to a taxi‐cab driver.
– “How much would it cost me to get a ride to Katowice?”
What I wanted to was to basically do the first part of the train ride—by taxi. That’s 200km away and €150. I asked the driver if he could make it on time—he replied with a firm “yes”.
I jumped into the car and asked the driver to hurry up. He had 2.5 hours to complete a 200km distance, and he did it in 1.5 hours. I’m telling you, he drove like a pro. 150 km/h on the A4 highway which is limited by 100 km/h, and he was very upset at people having the nerves to drive 120 km/h while blocking the left lane that—so he believed—was created only for him.
So, yes. My train ticket—about €25–30—gone; €150 to the taxi‐cab driver—gone.
But then again… whatever it takes. I decided to make it to Vienna despite any difficulty—even if it means renting a car and driving through unknown highways with crazy Polish drivers all around.
The end result? I got to Katowice on time, 25 minutes before the connecting train’s departure.
Fuck you, Polish railway system. I truly and genuinely dislike you.
Getting through all of that stress after having slept only 3 hours the night before, seemed to have really taken its toll. As soon as I was safe on board the EuroCity train to Vienna—in a cabin vacant of any other living things—I reached the final conclusion that I have absolutely no patience to see anybody, hear anybody, talk to anybody, chat with anybody, nothing. All I wanted to do was to write, and then write more—which I did.
It took the train about 3 or 4 hours to make it to Wien Simmering (“Wien” means “Vienna” in German), which is a major transportation hub in Vienna for trains coming into and going out of the city. I left the train, did a quick check to ensure I still have everything with me. All OK.
I am in Vienna. Not that I was so happy to be in Vienna specifically; I think I was happier about the fact that I survived that awful day so far.
It was very hot in Vienna when I arrived. The sun was out and I believe the temperature was above 30℃. Hitched a ride on the S7 S‐Bahn train and arrived at the Ostbahnhof, from which it’s a short walk to my hotel, Congress Hotel Vienna.
Perhaps this trip is taking too much of a mental toll on me, but I was under the impression that the Congress Hotel which I booked was a really cool, big, nice hotel. Imagine my disappointment when I approached and realized that it was a 3‐star hotel, very small and quite far from the city centre—about 4 subway stops.
Tired, weary and a bit hungry, I checked‐in and got completely appalled when I realized that the room has no air conditioning. Not even a fan. It was so hot in that stupid room that, even as tired as I was, I couldn’t sleep for more than 15 minutes after taking a cold shower. Waking up after 15 minutes, I was sweating again.
Realizing that trying to get some sleep is an exercise in waste of time, I decided to cut my losses, dress up and just go out to see the city. Following some bad advice from the hotel’s receptionist, I took the U3 subway north—one station beyond Stephanzplatz (which is the station I should have taken) and upon exiting and looking around I really didn’t see what the fuss is all about with Vienna. Really nothing special except for scores of cafe’s and restaurants—mostly serving drinks and desserts.
A bit disappointed, I was looking for a less crowded place to sit down. Still at the tourist trap area, I went to a cafe and ordered a Wiener Schnitzel—well, being in Vienna and not trying this thing out is a bit silly, I thought. Very overpriced, but you know what… it is indeed tasty. Fried breaded veal cutlet served with potato and side‐salad—very filling.
A short stroll around the corner for some ice cream, and I decided to head to the venue. Getting to the Stadthalle meant taking three subway lines; not pushing luck this time around.
Public transit in Vienna is a pleasure—after spending slightly more than 24 hours in Poland, I was so happy to use, once again, a public transit system that actually makes sense even if you don’t speak the local language. 20 minutes later, I arrived at the Stadthalle subway station and started following the herd towards the venue, a mere 3 minutes walk away.
The Wiener Stadthalle (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiener_Stadthalle) is a sporting arena located about 3km west of the city centre, close to Vienna’s Westbahnhof. It is frequently used as a music hall—big names in the industry have played here before—and it seats 16,000 to the max. It is surrounded by quite a few establishments for shopping and dining, as well as a nice park to walk in or rest your ass upon one of its benches.
The weather was still very hot, despite the time being around 7:00pm. I seem to recall a sign showing a temperature of about 32℃; humidity was very high, and I decided to enter the venue as quickly as possible because, if the temperature was going to be any less annoying, it must have been inside.
Picked up my ticket; some mess around the entrances as there was no particular line‐up to join—just a bunch of humans jammed together all wishing for the ticket scanners to do their job already and let us in. Once inside, I was not surprised at all to find out that there’s no air‐conditioning there and ventilation was too insignificant to serve as any comfort. Not as terrible as the Hala Stulecia experience the day before in Poland, but still.
My seat was at the front‐row, mid‐right section; as I arrived, the arena was already pretty full. Daniel and Jacqueline came all the way from Switzerland to see the show, so we met for a short little while and caught up with things. Always happy to meet nice people along the way.
Disliking the idea of getting completely dehydrated during the show, I went outside to buy some water to sip over the next 2 hours. They have this practice in quite a few venues in Europe, when you actually pay for your drink and your cup—and upon returning the cup (which usually looks like a small milk jug) you get your “deposit” back. €2.80 for water, €1.00 for deposit—essentially, they make extra dough due to people simply not wanting to bother with returning their jugs after the concert (who has the time and the nerves to wait in line after the concert to return a small milk jug for €1.00?); in some places, locals know this habit and scour the arena for empty milk jugs right after the concert is over—essentially, a modernized version of the homeless seeking out empty cans in the streets for the purpose of cashing in on the deposit.
Back at my seat; the concert was scheduled to start at 7:30pm, but started 10 minutes later. The band entered the stage to the sound of a few thousands of people screaming their minds out.
Being able to actually listen to Mark singing, after the sound fiasco in Poland, was already a blessing. We’re back on track… Woo‐Hoo. Nobody seems to be sweating off their asses (at least not on the stage) and the band’s back in business.
There’s something I was meaning to write a long time ago but don’t think I ever did; I was reminded of it when discussing the issue with one of the people reading this blog—not sure who. In a sense, these nightly concerts serve as some sort of a balancing point; it doesn’t matter what I go through during the day—be it an easy train ride in Germany or extreme stress riding out of Poland—at the end of the day, when this beautiful band appears on the stage, when Mike McGoldrick plays the opening notes of Border Reiver—almost nothing else matters anymore and I know that life’s back to normal. Between all the places I have been to—different cities, different people, different weather, different everything—this show serves as a superb line connecting all the dots. If it doesn’t make any sense to you, I suggest you attempt attending 87 concerts over 4 months and see for yourself.
What It Is featured, once again, great collaboration between John and Mike. A few weeks ago, the duo came up with a brilliant idea for the transition from the song’s quiet section to its outro solo, playing beautiful violin / flute sequence of F♯m—C♯m7—Dmaj7/C♯—D—E that does not appear in the song’s studio version but sounds fantastic played live. Am I the only one thinking that the “D—E” at the end should be replaced, for experimentation’s sake, with a C♯m7/B?
(Sorry about the music lingo)
Mark is back to making love with the Gibson’s fret‐board during Hill Farmer’s Blues, as well as during an interesting outro solo for Romeo and Juliet (give it a listen if you can).
As almost usual, Marbletown was the ultimate display of power: this time, the “power” wasn’t just represented by great exhibition of musicianship by John / Mike / Mark / Glenn / Matt, but also, literally, power. The Marble‐jam session sounded louder than usual; whether I like it or not—I don’t know, will have to listen to it again at some point.
I should mention that, during the entire concert, I was so tired that I often found myself staring. During the encore, as everybody and their sisters were attached to the stage, there actually was a period of a few minutes that I leaned against the stage and stared at the stage’s floor, for the simple reason that I didn’t have any power left to do anything.
One thing that was very evident during the concert was that someone apparently forgot to tell people to not use the flash when taking pictures; also, obviously nobody checked for professional photography equipment. During the concert, I was blinded many times by flashes coming from all over the place; however, the most annoying part was during the encore, when a few people around me kept taking pictures with their professional cameras—not only with flash, but also while neglecting to turn off the shutter sound. Can you think of a more annoying sound to hear while the band playing Brothers in Arms?
At the concert in Poland, I mentioned that some people were raising certain objects along with a pen in hope for a signature. I think that the record was actually broken at the Stadhalle, when someone right behind me begged for an autograph on his Mark Knopfler Signature Stratocaster guitar, waving it in the air. That was surreal.
Concert ended at around 9:45pm. I got my €1.00 back.
Walking back towards the train station, people were flocking the terraces, most of them watching Spain playing against Paraguay.
I was tired but the thought of going back to the oven called “my hotel room” made me want to wander around for a bit. Who knows, maybe if I return late at night, the room’s temperature will turn into something humans can actually live in. So, I took the subway to the Stephanzplatz; THEN I saw the Vienna people were talking about.
VERY nice city centre. Romantic, too. Restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, bars—anything, by the millions. Well, it was Saturday night with brilliant, absolutely brilliant weather to spend time rambling the streets to.
Therefore, yes, Vienna has been added to the list of cities I intend to revisit for a more in‐depth stay.
At some point I decided that I had a very hard day and it’s time for reward. I noticed some people sitting down at the terrace of a place called Cafe Europe and having interesting‐looking desserts. Grabbed a table for myself and looked at the menu: now tell me how was I supposed to pick between these?
I ended up picking the item at the left‐hand side of the right‐hand picture. It’s their house specialty. It goes for €7.10; I thought it’s a bit too expensive, but I ordered it along with some hot chocolate (I usually despise hot chocolate but the occasion seemed fitting). Then I understood why it was so expensive. Take a look:
It was HUGE. It was as delicious as it was bombastic. Of the tastiest desserts I had in my adult life.
(Jeroen, I told you, you should come with me to Vienna)
Took a while to devour this wonder of creation while gazing at people walking out and about.
Walking around these beautiful buildings, I started doing a bunch of thinking and realized that, finally, after almost 3 months on the road, this journey starts taking its toll. I realize that it may be mostly due to the horrible last few days, with travel plans to and from Poland crapping out with hardly any recourse available; still, as my goal is to convey whatever is in my head unedited to you, I should tell you that the feeling of loneliness and restlessness starts taking its toll. I am in desperate need for some rest.
But… is it all worth it? you might be asking; the answer is a resounding YES. Overall, so far, this adventure has been the single best experience I had in my 32 years of living.
Signing‐off this post, dead tired, while on board the superb, fantastic, AWESOME RailJet train to Budapest. Didn’t sleep at all last night as it was too hot to breathe; more details at the next post.
All the best,