Tuesday, 31 August 2010

10/11-08-2010 : Vienna Rest Days : 19km

In the morning, Milans gives us breakfast. What a host. I wish I spoke more Serbian because it would be nice to express my appreciation in his language. Mihailo assures me that I know all the important words: coffee, beer, water, thank you, cheers ... and an untranslatable (but excellent) swear word.

We spend a few hours in Milans's van helping him move various bits of junk and furniture around the city. Some of this time I spend bouncing around in the back because there is nowhere for me to sit up front. This experience was a regular feature of my childhood and the memories come flooding back. Now, as then, it's like being on a really low budget city tour bus, without narration, and where the open top seating has been exchanged for a semi-obstructed pain of dirty glass. Today, I find it's a very small price to pay for our B&B and I'm happy to do it. The best I can say about my similar childhood experiences is that I don't recall feeling obliged to pay for my B&B.

Milans drops us downtown and we fall into a funky coffee shop. I sample a variety of green teas while Mihailo goes to apologise to Eva who he recognises as the girl from the cyber cafe nearby. They both join me and several hours pass with good coffee and even better conversation. Eva has lived in Austria all of her 19 years and most of that time has been spent in Vienna. I am very interested to hear her thoughts on life in this city. She seems much more politically aware than I was at that age and speaks passionately about her views which we discuss for some considerable time. Interestingly, she is for Austrian independence and against a united Europe. We all arrange to meet up again tomorrow when she finishes work.

After the cafe, we take another mini tour with Gane then go to meet Dan and Claire. Stocked with cold beers and crisps the five of us head to the Stadt Park where we sit for hours drinking and chatting. I play some rusty guitar and we sing some songs. Everyone has a go on the harmonicas. Impressively, Claire becomes an expert at note bending after only a few goes!

Dan and Claire tell us they are both climbers and talking with them, I feel a strong urge to dust off my own climbing shoes. As the light abates, we head to a restaurant for schnitzel and pitchers of beer. Everyone is great company and it has been a good, relaxing day. I think we could all talk long into the night but sadly, our host Milan needs to let us in when we get back. So earlier than we would wish, Mihailo and I amble through the streets and tram surf back to Milans's place.

I smile for a while through more incomprehensible Serbian chatter. Slowly, the odd word is becoming familiar.

Another night with a mattress that doesn't deflate!

Remember not to say please and thank you!

After breakfast, I borrow Mihailo's laptop and head off to my favourite coffee shop. As I ask for my coffee with a 'please' and offer 'thanks' when it arrives, my thoughts drift off to my new Serbian friend. In his attempt to make me more 'Serbian', Mihailo tells me not to say 'please' and 'thank you' all the time. Unfortunately, I think this behaviour was bonded to me at an elementary level and I have recently learned that it will take some shifting. So any 'Serbian' conversion (no matter how voluntary on my part) will be a slow one because I find it hard to stop uttering automatic 'pleases' and 'thank yous' all over the place.

Maybe it might work better the other way around as I am often surprised to discover that Mihailo isn't 'English'. For example, if he needs anything, Mihailo will almost always ask for it without a 'please', and then accept it without a 'thank you'. My initial reaction when I experience this is "Huh. That's a bit rude!" - forgetting completely that the Serbians I have met don't appear to be bound by such trivial politeness. It seems that in Serbia, when you are with a friend, there is no need to say such things. It's always implied. In fact, to keep proffering 'pleases' and 'thank yous' is to suggest that the two of you are not such close friends after all and the relationship is purely a formal one. It sort of makes sense really. I may experiment with this when I return home ... but in the meantime, thank you for reading!

After the coffee shop, I head out on my bike to explore Vienna in greater depth. I really enjoy riding through cities. It always galvanises my view that the bicycle is the ultimate machine. My geeky side has always enjoyed map reading and navigation so I create a need for the map by getting myself lost intentionally (figure that one out!).

It would appear that either I am following sports events through Europe or they are following me. In Vienna, Moto GP is on and many of the streets are closed off. The race isn't actually taking place in the city but crowds have gathered to watch it on huge, outdoor TV screens strategically positioned in parks and squares throughout the city. The race isn't starting until later but I come across one such TV screen with its crowd swelling in the afternoon sun. Austrian beauties in minimal sponsored Lycra stalk the crowd so I decide to linger for a while :-).

Where was I? Ah yes, Lycra lingering done, my exploration takes me onwards to the Museum quarter. This is a wonderful and vast area littered with gardens and statues. It is a joy to walk through and I could spend days here. So, I opt for an unsuccessful hunt for a camping shop and then return to my coffee shop to utilise their WiFi once again and update my blog. The music is chilled. I munch on focaccia and slurp vanilla mochaccino (roughing it as ever then!!). Mihailo pops in to say 'Hello' and then goes to meet his Serbian friend Tica, who is studying architecture here. I must say, Vienna is a very suitable place to study architecture!

Caffeine levels rising, I move on to green tea. Hours pass. Mihailo returns with Eva to join me and I abandon the blog to chat. Eva suggests she could show us some sights of the city that we've missed and off we go. Later, we all head for a bar to meet Tica and her friend Jovana. Another evening passes in the midst of great company.

After too many beers to be in control of a bicycle (by Austrian law at least) I make my way back to Milans's while Mihailo gets the tram.

I am going to miss Vienna, it's been a welcome break from the road and I never thought we'd be able to stay here for free (thank you, thank you Milans!). I feel strangely attached to the place. Much like with my visit to Prague, while the architecture and history is great to see, I know that it's the company kept and connections made that I will remember and cherish.

Making the most of my last night with a mattress, I listen to music until 2.00am. I find myself irritated at not being able to remember lyrics, which doesn't make for such entertaining sing along sessions - the curse of playing lead guitar.

I suspect we will not be up at 6.00am as planned.


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