The First 36 Hours

by JP Morgan on May 27, 2011

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It’s almost midnight on Friday evening and I’m sat in the corner of a loud cafe/bar on the main square in Linz, Austria. The Danube River is flowing under a bridge at the end of the square and rain is still coming straight down since about midday today. Let me catch you up on the last 36 or so hours.

The RyanAir flight went by like a blue and yellow carnival ride as I was heavily engrossed in an iBook about social networks.

Austian immigration smiled and stamped without a word and I walked hands in pockets straight by the conveyor belt carrying bags of stuff and between the sliding doors to the smiling face of my three meter tall couchsurfing host George.

“Do you want to go to my place first…or I guess you don’t have to drop anything off, so…” he was saying as we pulled out of the airport lot and onto a very German, smooth-paved motorway.

George took me straight to the lakes so I could see how each one was a different color, from neon turquoise to deep, deep blue. We went to a “beach”, which was really a green grassed park straight to the water’s edge dotted with lots of white skinned speedo and bikini’d bodies.

“We don’t really know these ‘sand beaches’ in Austria”, George explained.

On the way back to Linz, we stopped at ‘LandZeit’, a food and service stop on the side of the highway that people travel from far to because the food served there is first class and cooked on site from scratch. Even the waffle cones we ate the three scoops of ice creme out of were mixed baked and rolled there.

“If my body could do it, I would live off ice creme,” George told me.

“Wow,” he continued. “I’ve never seen anyone finish faster than me. Usually I’m always done first.”

“Yeah, well I’m an American. We’re good at that,” I responded. “You should see me eat popcorn. I use two hands.”

We stopped at a shop to get George’s favourite bread, a special recipe which would come to symbolise his charming peculiarities.

“Here’s your couch.” George said pointing to a futon with fresh linens piled on it.

We sat in his office and chatted as our conversation descended from stories of travels and travellers to George’s long list of allergies, heart problems, psychological disorders, medications, Dr and therapy visits and his impressive self coaching and recent growth. George is a remarkably open person, willing to share everything an unshaken by odd conversation, which I always appreciate and enjoy, however this combined with my insatiable curiosity, brought the conversation deeper than it may have needed to and before the first night fall I already had my CouchSurfing host in tears recounting tales from his haunting past.

Emotional conversations can be good psychological exfoliants though. An hour later George was sobered up and off we went to his employee’s birthday party at a small bar down the street in the Center of Linz.

Isabelle turned 24 yesterday and ten of her closest friends, plus me, had come out to celebrate. I’d only spent about €6 so far that day on a sandwich and some groceries, so the party food Ingrid dished up served as a nice final and free meal for this super budget travel adventure.

Stephen, from Romani, told me about his non-dogmatic spirituality and how the book “A Course in Miracles” was the truth. Then we shouted and laughed stories when we discovered his position as a city building inspector made him the guy who I most detested back when I was building properties in the USA.

“You are the son-of-a-bitch who makes me rip out and rebuild a $5000 set of stairs because the steps are 1/4 inch too short!” I accused Stephen.

“Yea, that’s me!”

Matthew, a man George hadn’t seen since high-school, is a “gallery-ist” now and was wasted while telling me over and over again how great America is.

“New York City is amaaaaazing,” he said touching his heart and with a glimmer in his eyes. “I’m going to go back there again. I have to. I just have to.”

I relish the few moments that people compliment the country I am bound to have come from, even if they are pissed off their head.

I also met Dr Miya, a Japanese-Koren art professor from LA and her boyfriend Theo, a Trauma surgeon, who she had met after getting into a cycling accident.

By 2am the smokey bar was getting to me and stanching my clothes and not typically enjoying crowds bugger than one person, George was happy to leave then as well.

Thanks to a quick wash back at the flat, my clothes were clean and dry by morning.

“Did you have plans for today?” I asked George as we were finishing breakfast of cheese, fruit and God’s greatest gift to humanity: dark German bread.

“Yes,” he responded, sounding surprised. “We are going to the lake in the Czech Republic.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, vaguely remembering him mention this yesterday.

We glided over long roads curving over green hills and through lush forest, holding the smooth pavement like the BMW’s do in the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ car commercials. It wasn’t a BMW but it was obviously made by equally skilled engineers.

As we passed the Czech border, made up of a small simple sign reading “Czech Republic”, I looked long with imagination at the gravel lot where the demolished border guard buildings had once been.

The slight thump in the road as the pavement changed from Western to Eastern Europe, was all that physically separated the two regions now and for me, when borders go from steel barriers with armed guards, to a slight bump in the road, it always means something very, very good has happened in this world.

But Czezh Republic isn’t on the Euro yet, so when George went to pay for his 10 boxes of Czech famous flavoured sugar wafers at the border Duty Free Shop turned randomly-located Discount Shop, his card got denied.

“But it did actually work,” George attempted to explain to the team of confused Czech cashiers. After a long wait and phone call to his Austrian bank, they let us leave with the wafers.

The lake there was similar to the one in Austria, but with the clouds and mist now…it had a different eerie feeling to it. We walked around the touristy village surrounding the lake, quiet in the off season. I enjoyed being somewhere with such fresh air that you could breath it all the way down to your toes and so quiet that you could hear everything your feet said with wert little movement on the earth beneath them.

Back in the car George and I talked about our individual reasons for not watching TV.

“There was one of these reality TV shows. They were supposed to be ‘surprising’ the person at their house, but before the door even opened, the camera was showing the person from the inside going to open the door. How can they tell me this! It is so impossible! When they do this to me it makes my brain crazy!” George told me.

“Hmm, yea. It’s something like that for me too.”

Next stop was a World Heritage town called Cesky Krumlov. On the way into town, we remarked at the remnants of communism; propaganda loudspeakers on telephone poles now used to report community events and government food shops turned co-ops.

The old town was nice to walk around in, though after having walked through countless towns such as it during my earlier years travelling Europe, at best it brought me back to those times and not the history it represented.

On the ride out of Cesky, George told me the graphic story of each of the ten people who had died when he was working for the ambulance service.

By the time we got back to Linz, I was half asleep, clutching each breath of life I had remaining and it was pouring buckets outside.

“Let’s wait another half hour for the other couchsurfer to call and then if we hear nothing, we can go to eat,” George said as I finished washing the dishes from breakfast.

“Oh…you are going to come?”

“Oh…did you want to go alone?”

“Well, if you want to eat together, that’s fine. I just figured I’d get some solo time in today,” I said planning out some reading and latte drinking in my head.

“Ahh, OK. Then I will go meet my friend instead.”

After a cafe latte and some more reading of my engrossing iBook, I spent €8.50 on an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet which included sushi and ice creme (I went easy this time) and then came here to this loud cafe/bar where your’s truly is still sat in the same corner, now 90 minutes later, twiddling out a one-take draft travel journal post for you on his iPhone with his dexterous thumbs.

I hope you enjoy reading this at least half as much as I have enjoyed writing it for you.

Until tomorrow…

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

English Sisters May 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Hello John
and so the adventures begin 🙂
We did enjoy reading and well done for keeping to such a tight budget 🙂
Bye bye
The English Sisters

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Tim A. Cummins May 28, 2011 at 3:16 am

Great stuff, John! Eat some ice cream for me!

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