I’ve met four different groups of hitchhikers. That weird golumy Brazilian guy, Alex the smart young Brit, then there were two circusy dudes near the French border and yesterday I got a ride with a Polish couple. Every time I meet another hitchhiker I’m eager to ask how long their wait times are, where they’ve been sleeping and what they eat. Out of all the people I’ve met I’ve had the shortest wait times by far. Those guys have all been waiting for 40minutes to two hours. I think my average wait time is running at about 23 minutes. The only difference I can think of is smiling. I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes but they may as well try right? When’s the last time you saw a criminal smile? Only smart criminals smile and smart criminals aren’t doing any as economically inefficient as waiting on the side of road with their thumbs out. There’s no money in that.
I met the polish couple on the outskirts of Innsbruck. They’d been waiting for two hours. They reminded me of a pair of unsuccessful charity salesman – all smiles and all desperate. I felt bad for them so I went to wait at a slightly inferior stop earlier on the road. After ten minutes a van stopped, it had about twelve empty seats.
The drivers didn’t speak any English but I gibberished my way into asking if we could take the poles in. Ya ya ya they said. I waved and the poles ran over and started immediately saying thank you in Italian. That’s weird. The drivers were from South Tyrol so they were fluent. I hadn’t noticed.
Two Germans who can’t speak English
Two poles who can’t speak German and an Australian who speaks Italian.
What are the chances?
They took us the whole 474kms to Vienna.
I met my friend Sebastian. If he was taller his online dating profile* would be perfection. I like to think he’s the closest thing reality has to Carl from Love Actually. He lives with a group of young architects in, as you can probably imagine, a really fucking nice house.
That’s the view from their rooftop garden where they grow pumpkins, grapes, berries and other great things humans enjoy. Sebastian and I spent the night up there drinking beer and talking about life. Sebastian sacrificed his better taste and took a Heineken while I had a sweet wheat beer. I don’t remember what exactly we talked about but I remember feeling very happy.
I slept in.
Sebastian had told me about a famous bakery in the centre. That was my first stop. I bought a bread roll over-stuffed with mustard eggs, some pretzelbröt, a rye and blah loaf and some biodynamic chocolate milk. The loaf I bought was probably the best bread I’ve ever had.
That afternoon I met Sebastian’s girlfriend Laura. The first place she took me was an ice cream store. When we had the treats in hand she asked me if I wanted to taste hers. She may as well have sung to me, bought me new shoes and explained the meaning of life.
She was going to ?? Vienna that afternoon to buy a bike and was hoping to visit a big graveyard there. I went with her.
Beethoven, Strauss, Brahms and Schubert are in there. They’re all lying in the same paddock all with these big flashy graves ornamented with disappointed looking angels and some camp babies. Some guy called Nicolaus Dumba had infiltrated their dead music love in with a much more interesting grave.
Would you rather have a bunch of depressed angels and some catholic babies or a big naked muscly guy with a snake on your grave?
All the thinking about death made us hungry so we went to buy dinner in a nearby castle (silly Europe). The castle was full of bogans and had stalls with names like Asian cuisine and Greek taverna. I went to a German bar and got a mash of blood sausages and potato. It tasted like weightlifting, lying down and organs. I liked it.
While we were eating and laughing we missed the opening of Popfest – a free music festival that promotes contemporary Austrian music. We arrived later in the night to catch the party end of business. First stop – a discordant techno folk band that sang about capitalism, money and art. They were dressed like nuns who do sport and their keyboardist looked like a cartoon mad scientist. I liked the signer. I’ve always found it weird when bands with dissonant, jarring songs have singers with really clean and beautiful voices. Afterwards we went to the techno stage. I tried to use my exhaustion to sway rhythmically. It half worked. We got home at 3am.
Sebastian, Laura and I went on a bike ride up the Danube. I stopped them every few kilometers to pick fruit from the spoilt riverside.
At the cleaner end of the river I saw a confidently but eerily dressed man with a bulbous belly and a haircut befitting a cancerous dog. I asked Sebastian and Laura whether they would rather have his body and wardrobe or a finger dangling from their forehead. They picked the body swap but I went for finger head, too organizationally difficult if you changed bodies.
That night Bop Jo arrived. He had been traveling in Macedonia with a conservative beer lover and I had asked him if he wanted to hitchhike to Berlin with me. When we got to Sebastian’s house Bop said Oohh a lot and we made dinner with some plump orange zucchinis from Seb’s garden. It was the healthiest thing I’d eaten in weeks.
We went to Popfest again that night. I don’t think either Sebastian, Bop or I wanted to go, we were all exhausted, but we went anyway. We probably felt obliged to take Bop out on his first night.
We saw two bands.
1. An Austrian electro prog rock band who had just released music for the first time in twenty years.
2. A live techno band. A guitarist, a drummer and a bassist without a dj.
During the last band I noticed myself drifting away. At one point I closed my eyes while dancing and the next thing I remember is waking up while falling over. I figured it was time to call it a night but I couldn’t find Sebastian. I spent to the rest of the night sitting in the cold waiting. We got home at 4am.
Sebastian’s birthday had been a few weeks earlier and Saturday was his party. Sebastian seems to have a lot of friends. Every hour and half the entire party’s roster would be completely different – the only recognizable faces being Sebastian, Laura and Bop. What that meant for me and Bop was an endless supply of food, constantly replenished and always changing. My favourite were the cakes. We had a cake for lunch, a cake for dinner and a cake for dessert. We weren’t awake for breakfast.
Around the time our dessert cake was cut my friend Raf arrived. He and I met in Sweden when we were on university exchange. At first he thought I was obsessed with games but he later understood I liked other things and we developed a great friendship. We went out that night to Popfest again. We didn’t see any music because the crowds were busy and knit. Instead we sat on some slippery plastic chairs with Raf’s girlfriend Mi and talked about the past. We got home at 1:30 and ate more cake.
We slept in, cleaned Sebastian’s house and went out with Raf and Mi for lunch. In Austria they’ve got these famous wine bars that serve only wine they’ve grown and locally sourced food typical of the region. Everything is usually very cheap and homemade by someone with more wrinkles than blood cells. The one we went to was like the youth version of this. We got some locally grown Austrian wine, sour and acidic, but instead of a platter of meat over looking a cabbage mound we got a smorgasbord of creative dips, cured meats and vegetarian knick knacks.
Raff warned us not to eat that much because Mi’s mum an sister had invited us to dinner. They’d been mushroom picking in the Austrian mountains and had prepared a kind of mushroom degustation. It was heavy, endless and delicious.
Crispy mushroom pancakes
Creamy mushroom stew with potato dumplings
Creamy mushroom pasta
I don’t think Bop ever realised there was more food coming. During each course I would watch him eat seconds and thirds and then slap his stomach like a fat king after a war victory. Then another massive pot would set down on the table and Bop would turn to me with his jaw dropped, expressing something perfectly between ‘I’m fucked’ and ‘fuck yeah’.
When the mushroom banquet was as close to finished as it was ever going to be we had bowls of vegan ice cream. For what it was it was excellent but I didn’t think it was streamers and cake good just nice. Everyone else was gushing over it. I’m glad no one asked me what I thought. I guess I’m a bit spoilt.
After dinner Mi suggested we play a game. A few suggestions were swung about but nothing stuck because of language problems. I knew an almost wordless game from an acting class I did as a nine year old and suggested that. It’s called Blood Potato. Everyone has a blindfold and walks around a space. Everyone is a potato and one person is blood. When you bump into another person you whisper what you are in their ear. If you hear blood, you scream and take your blindfold off – you are now a ghost. As a ghost you follow the blood as they blindly hunt potatoes. When the blood gets near a potato you howl and make ghoulish sounds to alert the blood of a victim or warn the potatoes of an oncoming blood. It makes no difference as everyone is blindfolded no one knows where to run so people just freak out generally. When the blood has killed all the potatoes the game is over.
It’s strange and wonderful. Playing it in Austria with a family I’ve just met after a feast of mountain picked mushrooms even more so.
Our last night in Vienna was at Popfest. One Veinna’s many massive and ancient cathedrals had opened for the first time for a free performance of experimental music. We all went, Sebastian, Laura, Bop, Raff and Mi. It was totally fucking weird to have all these people from such different areas of my life in one place but what was weirder was the performance. We missed the first band. The second was a solo act – just a guy and a double bass who for half an hour did nothing more than experiment to see what other sounds his instrument could make. It would have been educational had I learnt the double bass but I haven’t. I would have more enjoyed my own performance of all the noises I can make with my mouth. Unfortunately Vienna isn’t going to pay me to do that so I’ll have to be content complaining about this guy.
The next act was a solo woman with a theremin – a pole that emits electronic sounds depending on where your hand is in the air around the pole. Maybe you can load different sounds onto it, I’m not sure, but this one sounded like a sound effect board from an 80s space alien horror. This lady was soloing on it through tracks of 80s pop rock while she sang like an idol auditionee – totally enthusiastic but devoid of any character or pleasure. It was horrifically weird and only enjoyable because I’ve never, and probably never will, see anything like it.
Rides taken: 1
Distance travelled: 474km
Average wait: 12 minutes
*hypothetical profile. He’s taken