Tuesday, July 25, 2006

papa's got a brand new handy

I’m still looking for a place to rent here in Vienna. My CS host, Petra is on the case, but she’s has gone to the alps for a spot of hiking over the next few days, so I’m unsure how I’m going to contact her circle of friends. If you live in Vienna and have a room you want to fill for the next month, leave a comment or give me a call on my brand-spanking-new handy number 0699 8139 6713 - Oh, and a big thanks goes to Walter in Berndorf for donating one of his old phones to this world traveller.

Last night I went to Flex, a club that I’ve been hearing about since Germany. Reviews like “best sound system in Europe” and “huge party atmosphere” gave me the impression it was a place to find Carl Cox and Darren Emerson having a fight about whether or not a 1210 is the same as a 1200, just with a different paintjob. What I found was a venue situated under an overpass, with a sprawling outdoor area for people to sit and enjoy their drinks next to the Donau Kanal. Inside was a smallish club, with a scant crowd daning to a Austrian Latino DJ. Petra explained that thanks to it being summer time, all the students have left the city and that this crowd only represented about a fifth of what it was like during autumn or spring. It is a pretty cool venue, and there were plenty of people outside enjoying the warm evening. I met a guy from Nigeria who had studied aeronautical engineering in Moscow for the last 8 years, spoke perfect Russian, German, English and Nigerian. Sorry about stealing your table.

Bright and early this morning I made my way to the FM4 studios to have an interview about my travel experiences via Couchsurfing. I initially went to FM4 on Friday to find out about getting some work there, but ended up being the focus of a story for one of the disc spinners there. Oh well. Got to take fame anyway I can. But it got me thinking about my travels and all the people I’ve stayed with over the past few months through Couchsurfing, Hospitality Club and random offers. While I chill out in Vienna, I’m going to reflect a little on my travels and leave some stories about the people I’ve met and stayed with.

First off, I travelled through China, Mongolia and Russia with my girlfriend Pippa until we broke up in Finland. So when the following stories read “us” or “we”, I’m not getting delusions of grandeur and speaking like the Queen.


Who: Andre, Max & the creepy looking mafia guy
Omsk, Russia
How: Random offer

max & the man

In China and Mongolia, accommodation through CS and HC is a bit iffy to find, especially when China's government thinks any social network is a meditation cult wanting to tear down the state and Mongolia having a mostly nomadic population with no couch to surf. In Mongolia, I emailed ahead to Russia to a few CS and HC people along the Tran Siberian Railway, but when it came to leave for Irkurst, I had received no replies. So it was with much excitment that on the 2nd day in Russia we were contacted by our first CS hosts in Ekaterinburg: almost 4,000km away from Irkurst. Now all we had to do is get there in one piece.

Next stop: Omsk.

On the way to Omsk, Pip and I realised the leg of the journey we were on went for two days and not one. The wonderful Natasha, who shared a cabin and her advice on how to remain youthful looking well into your twilight years, suggested we jump out a day early at Novosibirsk. And with the majority of the people asking us 'why Omsk?', getting off 10 hours earlier and seeing a cooler city than the one we had intended to go to sounded like fun. And it turned out that Novosibirsk was pretty cool. We checked out a Russian opera for $3 AUD, played thumbs or bums with a few unsuspecting locals and saw some cool old churches. We stayed the first night in the train station, which had the fluffiest and most comfortable bed we found in Russia. Later that night, when I gave my stinky travel towel a much needed wash in the shower, funny coloured water came out of it. The next night we spent in the stupidly expensive, but dependably squalid 'Hotel Novosibirsk' so we could get our Visas registered. This involved paying 1 Ruble on top of the price of the accommodation, which bought us a small bit of paper stapled to our passports. On the third night we returned to the train station for some more fluffy bed goodness, only to be find we had just missed out on getting the last room. Feeling a little bit lost, I remembered something I read in the Lonely Planet about how grandmas rent out the apartments of their dead relatives to weary travellers, and that these grandmas could be found loitering around train stations with signs hanging from their necks. We went grandma hunting and were approached by a girl of about 18 with one of the grandma signs around her neck. Through a process of pointing and charades, we edged our way around the language barrier an into her shabby soviet era apartment for $50 AU. I still think we got the raw end of tourist price stick, but by that stage, we had run out of options with where to sleep.

The next day we got the train to Omsk, and met Andre who was sharing our section with us, he overheard us speaking English and began chatting to us. His English was a little limited, but we came to an agreement to stay at his place for one night. Andre had to go to Uni during the day, so Max, who had less English language skills, was assigned to give us a guided tour of the city, showing us the “sights” of Omsk. A misunderstanding with how the ticket system operated led to some fairly piss-poor behaviour from the Australians, but we managed to get a ticket out this imagined shit hole. When we returned to the house, a mysterious third flatmate (an older guy who had cold eyes, talked really softly and rarely smiled), showed up in the kitchen while we were eating. When he left the room, it was quietly explained to us that he had been in jail for shooting a bunch of people (cue hand gestures representing bars of a prison and a gun), and was involved in the harder side of enforcing the local mafia’s rule. Before we caught the train, we visited a fun park and Andre bought me a ride on the go carts, and later described my driving style as Schumacher like. We went to an outdoor pub and sampled one of the $3, 2.5 litre beers between the group. We then had to hurry to get our train, so we didn’t have enough time to burn off a cd with the photos from our trip. It was a little hard to comprehend that the uni students we were staying with didn't have email addresses or regular contact with the internet. After some stressing and tantrums about why we shouldn’t pull out a laptop at a Russian train station, we got on the train to Yekaterinburg.

In next week's thrilling installment: meeting the Evgenys

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