Earlier on in the week I had planned to catch a train across the border into Austria and visit it’s capital Vienna. From Bratislava the border is less than six kilometres away and Vienna itself is just over an hour by train. After formulating the plan I got thinking. Do I want to see another Town Square considering I will see one in a couple of days in Poland? If I want a mountain of small goods I can get them in Slovakia. The only compelling reason to get to Vienna was to add another country to my list – another notch on my travelling belt. I reasoned that rather waste the time and effort with train travel I could summon my internal spirit of adventure and cover the hour long trek to the border on foot.
A simple Google search confirmed fifty-three minutes and I would be in Austria, singing at the top of my lungs like Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music. Through Old Town, over the bridge, under the UFO, follow the main drag for a while, turn right and the border would be there. But Sir Francis Drake didn’t circumnavigate the world on an empty stomach so neither was I.
Breakfast was at Mondieu a cafe that specialises in chocolate. Multiple chocolate fountains sent waterfalls of sweetness into the sink. It seemed so thick and rich I wondered how it would fare against the narrow Slovak plumbing? The menu had a “healthy” section so for once in this trip I chose from there. A millet, date and raspberry combination that had me licking the plate. Was warned beforehand that it is made from scratch and takes twenty minutes but time was on my side.
Also thought I’d give the milky coffee another cave so I ordered the unusual “inverted cappuccino”.
But why stop at one cup of coffee if you plan on walking to another country? I went to a different cafe for my second round, adding a piece of mudcake with pistachio only because the locals were doing the same.
The weather outside wasn’t conducive to anything really. An icy wind, the strength of which hasn’t been seen since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, threatened to derail my plan. The show must go on. I set off, everything was going smoothly – checkpoints at Old Town and the UFO were passed. It wasn’t until fifteen minutes later that my internet maps packs it in and I have to rely on a watered down offline version as well as my haphazard sense of direction. If that wasn’t scary enough I’d inexcusably forgot my sextant.
A supermarket comes into focus in the distance and I go in for a bottle of water and also grab some chocolate for “survival”. This stuff came in pre-manufactured pieces and I thought I could take a page out of the Hansel & Gretel playbook and use them to make a trail if this turned bad. There was no danger of the chocolate melting so I thought this was ingenious. On second thought there was a high probability they would get blown away in this near hurricane.
The plan went south when the chocolate started calling my name, wasn’t more than 500m away from the supermarket, and it had been demolished. The pleasing thing was that civilisation was always nearby. Every ten minutes or so I would check for free Wi-Fi to get an update of my progress, knowing that as long as I headed in a forty-five degree angle I would start to close in on the border. No luck with the Wi-Fi but by my estimation I was two kilometres to Austria.
At some stage my internal compass required calibration. Maybe it was the cold or the wind that blew me off course but when I was able to get a signal I found myself drifting back towards Hungary. This happened four times and each time I overcompensated until I thankfully managed to find the road that leans up against the Austrian border. A lack of signage and no fanfare, just a lone traveller who had somehow turned what should have been a brisk two hour round trip into a five hour battle against the elements. On the way back, I worked out where I went wrong and was able to use the castle on the hill and the UFO as guides.
I know the train to Vienna would have been easier (and warmer) in hindsight but us great explorers don’t think of it like that. We yearn for the sense of adventure and the lure of dark chocolate.
Seeking shelter from the wind I headed to the pub convinced that I had spent enough time walking to deserve a drink or two. The break also doubled as dinner and the menu consisted of Slovak sausage with the necessary condiments.
The baked cheese with cranberry sauce also joined in on our party.
It was barely 9.00PM and as I dragged weary limbs towards the apartment, I thought a detour into Tesco to grab a late night pastry would act as a perfect sweet nightcap. Tesco’s sliding doors greet me and beckon me inside. The nuggety security guard looks me up and down followed by an agreeable nod, the gates swing open and I rush in, aware of not wanting to waste anybody’s time. As a former checkout operator myself I know that last minute impulse shoppers are the most painful breed but I thought if other stragglers were already inside I would surely beat them to the checkouts with a couple of items. In this age of self-service I wouldn’t be a burden, security let me in and I was doing it for the farmers.
One of the few things left in the bakery section were “snowman” buns (I coined that name). I grab two (if they were nice I would have been upset that I only bought one) and make my way through the rabbit warren to the checkouts as fast as I could. Every checkout was closed and powered off, asleep until tomorrow. I scan the checkout area and am surprised to realise I the only one left in the store. Multiple raised voices in what I presume was Slovak tried to inform me that my carb cravings would have to wait. My snowmen friends were ripped from my clutches and I was asked to follow a frumpy lady who escorted me to the exit. Being past closing time the main was off limits so we proceeded to go through a series of hallways and tunnels, me following blindly hoping to soon see the outside world. We were walking for that long I would not have been surprised if we had tunnelled under the Danube and found ourselves back in Austria for the second time in four hours.
Once at the exit the security guards both stared at me before an exchange ensued which ended with the lady slapping her thighs, buttocks and patting her breasts. I have seen enough amateur mimes to work out she wanted the security guard to check to see if I had anything concealed in my large jacket. In an attempt to end this debacle I unzip and unbutton my jacket as fast as I could so that he could examine it himself. In my hurry to do so, the loose change in two of the six pockets showers all over the floor, rolling to every corner of the room. I was using these pockets to warm my hands earlier and must have forgotten to do up the button. Best if I don’t even attempt to herd the scattered coins, I knew even with our inferior exchange rate it was a lost cause. Finders keepers.
By now all parties involved want this misunderstanding to end immediately – the guards just nods, rightfully sensing I am not a petty crim and hands back my jacket. Before I can put my it back on I’m promptly ushered through the final door and back on the street into the cold, which had somehow become even more artic in that ten minutes. Teeth chattering and with my dignity back on the floor with my loose change I decide it best to do my shopping at Lidl or Billa for the next couple of days.