Quick note before reading:
When I was still in Vermont and I had found a farm to go to in Austria on the helpx website, there were two farms on the Austrian listings in the area of Weiten. One was the farm to which I ended up going, and the other was a camel farm. Yes, some woman in the middle of Austria had a farm for raising and training camels. The thought of training camels didn't thrill me (as well as having to wake up at 6 every morning to feed them, as was mentioned on her listing), so I didn't send a message there. However, upon telling my roommates about where I was going and that they could check out my farm by finding the one in Weiten in the Austria listings, the camel farm listing completely out-shined the other one and I was soon on the receiving end of camel jockey jokes. Everyone was sad when I reported that I wasn't going to the camel farm, both because it was assumed that a camel farm is by default more interesting than a non-camel farm, and that there was no longer a decent source for camel jockey jokes.
The camel jockey jokes kept coming, even if they were at a lower frequency, all the way up until the day I left Vermont. Keep that in mind when you get to the end of this.
After a nauseating car ride to JFK international airport, I walked up to the British Airways check-in. I had a laptop bag strapped around my shoulder, a guitar on my back, and a suitcase which I knew in the back of my head was probably going to be too heavy. I gave the woman behind the counter my passport and put my bag up on the scale. 26.0 kilos. "Too heavy," she said, "but I will let it go this time."
Hot damn, works for me.
I continued to the TSA screening. I immediately noticed that the naked body imaging x-ray radiation boxes were shut off and that the woman checking IDs was very kind. I moved onto getting all my stuff into the x-ray machine; guitar first, laptop out of the bag and put it in its own bin, untie my shoes and get them into a bin, empty my pockets (wallet, coins, passport and boarding passes, pen, gloves, hat, bracelet, miscellaneous pieces of paper... I think that's everything) and I went through the metal detector. BEEP BEEP BEEP! Oh fuck, forgot about my belt. I get that off and I make it through the metal detector fine without having to receive an ultramega TSA grope-down. Reverse order of taking all my stuff off and I'm off to the gate.
Sitting in the corner with my mound of stuff (guitar on the right, bag on my left, laptop in my lap), I take another look at my boarding pass. British Airways flight 185, Gate 6. A British Airways agent comes out of Gate 5 and announces a flight to Vienna; slight setback to my mental itinerary, but I was able to figure out what to do.
By the time the plane took off, I realized only one third of the seats have been taken (maybe even less). I had a window seat with nobody next to me, so I lifted all the armrests, took all three pillows from the seats, piled them up, and attempted to go to bed. This may have been the first time I have actually fallen asleep on a plane.
The six-hour ride went by quickly and I landed in Heathrow, London with a good three and a half hours to kill. I ordered some food at Caffe Italia (which probably had the most attractive women I had seen at the airport working there), ate, and attempted to take a nap while waiting for the readerboard to tell me which gate to go to.
Finally I find out to go to Gate 26. From there I took a bus to the plane and had a very uneventful one hour and fifty minute flight to Vienna. I got off the plane and found baggage retrieval. On the way I attempted to have a conversation with this British bloke, but most of it ended up being me asking what the hell he was saying over and over. I showed my passport to the Austrian policewoman (who asked me ZERO questions. Literally. She didn't even ask for my passport--I finally assumed she wanted it and I handed it to her) who stamped my passport with a smile and I was on my way. I didn't even have to cough up the I'm-just-visiting-friends story I had come up with in my head.
I got my bag from baggage claim (thank you Gramma for tying that gaudy golden ribbon onto it) and started walking my way to customs. A big green sign said "Nothing to claim" and a big red sign said, "Something to claim" (yes, there was English with the German). Now, I had two bottles of beer and a bottle of maple syrup in my suitcase. Obviously I didn't really want to go through the red sign, but I didn't want to go through the green sign and get caught with something I should have claimed. While I was standing there stroking my lack-of-beard, an airport worker came up to me and asked me something in German. I contemplated a second what to do then just asked if he spoke English.
"A little bit," he said.
"I'm wondering..." (how much is a little bit?), "what are the things I need to claim?"
"Er... umm... do you have... er... meat?"
I shook my head, "No meat."
He thought for a moment, "Er... cheese?"
"Er... whiskey? Beer? Wine?"
"Beer? How many?"
"Two bottles." Homebrew, of course. However, I kept the original labels on the beer bottles so it didn't look like I was bringing chemicals cooked in my basement (which technically, I guess they were).
He made a face and waved his hand, "Nahhhh... not enough. Anything else?"
"One bottle of maple syrup." (Give me a break, I just came out of Vermont.)
Same face and wave of the hand, "Nahhhh. Not enough. Go that way." He pointed to the green sign.
Sounds good to me!
I went through expecting some sort of interrogation center and I suddenly found myself next to taxi, bus, and train terminals. I just walked the hell out! No questions, no searches, no nothing. Apparently the Department of Homeland Security hasn't convinced everyone here that there are terrorist boogeymen under their beds.
I saw a sign that said Bahnhof--train station. Following it I quickly found myself outside with no more signs to follow. About 30 seconds of spinning in circles and scratching my head directed my vision to the huge letters on the side of an adjacent building: BAHNHOF WIEN (Vienna Trainstation). Bingo! I made my way over and down the stairs.
I was now confronted with buying my train ticket from something resembling an ATM. I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to battle it out with a German-only interface when I noticed the "ENGLISH" key (right next to the "ESPANOL" and "ITALIA" keys). Huh, that's handy. I typed in my destination, stuck in my debit card for 20.50 euros, and the machine spat out my ticket. Now, as a public transportation-retarded American (especially with trains), I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do now. There was a train standing right in front of me but my schedule said I wasn't supposed to leave for another 30 minutes. I looked over and saw a man operating the ticket machine where I just was and approached him. I asked him if he spoke English.
"A little bit." (What does that mean!?)
I asked him about my ticket and which train I should be on and he was more than helpful. He went through the entire train schedule I had printed out and explained how to read it and what I needed to do. Unfortunately he left me at my first stop so I was on my own.
I successfully got on the next train without any hassle and off at the right place, then I looked at my schedule and realized I had to wait 30 minutes for my next train. With a groan I stood out in the "cold" (in quotes because it was above freezing--more than I could say for Vermont at the moment). A train pulled up on platform 1 (I was on platform 6) and I glanced at it nonchalantly. Maybe five minutes went by and I decided to double-check my schedule when I realized I had misread the schedule and my train was leaving from platform 1... in 3 minutes!! This was going to involve me going underground, coming back up again, then finding the correct platform.
I did just that and moved quickly toward my train only to have the door close right in my face. I leaned backward and made an exasperated noise and mentally began to prepare myself to wait in the terminal for an hour when I suddenly heard a sharp German word. I looked to my right to see a conductor waving me toward him. I ran toward him, guitar and laptop bag bouncing around, and suitcase rolling behind me. "Up! Up!" he shouted while I wrestled with my 26.0 kilo (55+ pound) suitcase. I got on the train and paused for a moment; on my frantic sprint to the last remaining open train door, I noticed a sign that said platform 11. It occurred to me I could be on the completely wrong train. I contemplated bringing this up to the man who let me on, but I didn't want to seem like an idiot and I felt he was somewhat irritated with me for stalling the train in the first place. Oh well. I went down the train hall to find an empty seat.
I found one next to a man eating a sandwich and drinking a can of beer slightly smaller than a 40. I looked right at him and asked if he could speak English. He nodded and gave an emphatic "Yes!". This language thing was turning out to be a lot easier than I thought. I asked him what train we were on and he said platform 1. Success!
A 30 minute train-ride goes by and I'm dropped off once again in the middle-of-nowhere, Austria. I looked at my schedule and it said platform 7cd. I looked up to see myself standing at platform 7, in between c and d. Talk about lucky. However, there was a train sitting right in front of me and according to my schedule my train wasn't supposed to leave for another 15 minutes or so. There was one woman standing on the platform smoking a cigarette, so I walked up and asked if she spoke English.
"A little bit." She replied with a puff of smoke. Is that the phrase they teach in the schools around here?
I ask her if this was the train to Melk, my final train-ular destination. She confirmed and elation ensued. I got on the train, plopped down my stuff, and waited for the last half-hour of public transportation.
Along the way I had been trying to get my cell phone to work. Before I left I called up AT&T and asked them what the deal in Austria would be. They said I would be charged $1.39 a minute, but my phone would work. However, the instantaneous "No Service" message I kept getting on my phone whenever I tried to make a call told me that the guys at AT&T didn't have a clue as to what the fuck they were talking about. I couldn't get the damn thing to work for anything. I was supposed to call my host-family upon getting off the plane, but clearly that wasn't going to be the case. As I approached Melk I crossed my fingers crossed hoping that they would be there to pick me up.
The only thing the train station was missing was tumbleweeds; I got off and there was NO ONE there. It was just after 9pm and I was standing at the station in a town of possibly 2000 people expecting the theme track from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly to start playing at any second. I'm not sure who this will surprise: I was actually more annoyed by the fact I was going to have to drag around a 26.0 kilo suitcase while I figured out what I was doing than the fact that no one was there to pick me up.
After carefully inspecting the area I found a payphone. Ecstatic that these things still existed in Europe, I went into the booth and starting parsing out the German directions.
It took me about 13 seconds to realize that the thing only took coins. I had exchanged 500 dollars for 320 Euros before I flew out of JFK, so I literally had 320 euros in my pocket but was unable to cough up the 0.30 euros required for the phone call. I walked outside the phone booth and took a look at my surroundings. No people, no moving cars, nothing. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a flatscreen TV through a window playing soccer in a building that looked suspiciously like a bar. I trekked my way over, went in, and asked the bar tender if he spoke English.
"A little bit." He said. Rolling your eyes, yet?
I asked for some change and one of the two guys sitting at the bar struck up a conversation with me while the bartender was getting it. He made a few jokes about necessary phrases in different languages: "A beer please." "Ein bier, bitte." "Dos cervesas por favor." (Note to my dad: I shit you not, he said that) I got my change and went back to the payphone and called up my host letting them know I was at the train station. They said it would be about 15 minutes to drive there. 15 minutes was just the right amount of time for...
"One beer, please." I didn't feel quite comfortable asking in German, yet.
As the bartender was pouring my beer the same guy at the bar continued his conversation with me. I told him where I was from, how the plane ride was, how light I was traveling, whether or not someone one going to pick me up, etc. etc. I got my beer and began drinking happily. Finally he asked me what I was going to be doing in Austria, seeing as I was out in the middle of bumfuck-nowhere.
"I'm going to be working on a farm." I said.
"Oh yes? Do you know where?" he inquired.
"Weiten? Weiten. Weiten?" I went through a few different pronunciations while he gave me a confused look. I pulled out my pen and wrote on my beer-coaster: "Weiten."
"Ahhh yes," he said, "I know to where it is you are going. Yes, yes," he took a drink of his wine, "I know to where you are going."
I gave him a raised eyebrow. I didn't realize the place I was going was so famous.
"You are going to be working on the camel farm, yes?"
I had just flown about 5,000 miles and I was still getting hit with the same camel jokes that I got back in Vermont. Oi.Back to Vyst's stories.