Bratislava had struck us as a depressive looking place, but we made sure we had a damned good time nonetheless. And we succeeded with ease. Bratislava is fun! And as the night fell it came properly to life: the lights gave the entire city a charm and a beauty that the day time hadn’t afforded it.
But the night also drew to an end our one-day-one-country expedition, and we had to make our way back to Austria. The journey to Bratislava had been easy: Change at Pandora (real name: Parndorf Ort) and then take the train to the end of the line. So at 6.30pm we caught the train towards Vienna, to change at Parndorf Ort. And we expected no problems.
We got to the train station we were confused when the board said our train was leaving from platform “1>”. So we asked for help and were told, much to our embarrassment that there is only 1 platform. So we walked down the stairs towards the one and only platform. Our horror-film imagery hadn’t left us, and complete darkness obscured the corridor to the platform; we could not see to the end. We persevered. And up the stairs at the other end we found ourselves in the city. Not at a platform at all. So we doubled back on ourselves and made it to the ticket counter, and immediately realised that the platform, the only platform, was right in front of where we had been sitting. Cue laughter. We then went to our platform and boarded our train.
There is a train station called “Parndorf”. And subtle though this may seem, it is vital: Parndorf is not the same as Parndorf Ort. We got off a stop early. It was dark. For all intents and purposes we were lost. But fear not, the train only takes 3 minutes from Parndorf to Parndorf Ort, so we’ll follow the train tracks and we’ll walk there. That took us 20 minutes and can only be described as a success. Now we just have to wait 40 minutes for our direct train to Eisenstadt. A successful day was only one train journey away. While we waited I was the radiator for Ruth and Abi (but mainly Ruth, Abi is too hardcore to need a radiator is a bit of cold!), so we all hugged up and waited and seemed to scare off the Austrians waiting near by.
Platform 3, and on time, the train pulled up. It was a very long train. Trains don’t wait around for long at the station, so we jumped on. We quickly realised that in a few stops time this long train would become two less-long train and would head in different directions: one to Eisenstadt and one to Hungary. We also realised that we were on the wrong part of the train. Not to worry, we had a few stops to sort this out. So we walked to the very front of the bit of the train we were on, and we waited there so that at the next stop we could get off the train and go to the next set of doors and be on the right train. Easy.
Easy, and we had about 3 stops left to do this in. But we didn’t. For reasons that escape all three of us we just didn’t notice the urgency of our dilemma, and we sat still. And the trains separated. And we sped towards Hungary. The urgency of the situation struck us all at once, and we got off the train many stops too late and ended up in Gols. Gols is place someone made up for people to get lost in.
The first person we asked for help said that if we could get a train back to Neusiedl am see (the station the train split at) then train from there to Eisenstadt would continue to run every hour until late. There was no bus station and there were not buses. We walked into a pub and we asked for directions to the nearest bus stop toward Neusiedl am see. The locals enjoyed the challenge of speaking English, and like a well-organised TEFL lesson the entire pub played Chinese Whispers with our problem, and each person added their own wisdom and eventually, as one great class (or pub full of drunk Germans) they agreed their answer and returned to the teacher: “there are no buses this late, we think”.
Full marks! They had practiced reported speech and were grammatically correct. I wanted to give them a sticker in their work books. But onto more important things! We then made our way to a pizza house where we met a man who called himself “Black”.
Black we a very nice, older gentleman, who didn’t think much of the world. He didn’t think much of London, he didn’t think much of Paris, and he categorically despised America and having never been to Asia he simply didn’t see the point in it. But, somehow, he remained charming. He called me ‘the fossil’ (at 23, I was the oldest of the travelling teachers) and he was completely confounded at the idea that we chose to be in Austria for the winter.
He couldn’t say Ruth’s name, and he stopped calling me ‘the fossil’ after he heard my name, Rhys, which he decided was simply the most “incredible” name he had ever heard. He phoned us a taxi and negotiated a price for us to get back to Eisenstadt, a good 50km away. €78, which, when split three ways, isn’t too bad if it saves us having to find a guesthouse is Neusiedl. He then bought us a glass of wine each and regaled us with stories of his unemployment and his divorce. Still, somehow, upbeat and charming. Abi, the photo nerd, decided we needed a photo of this kind stranger, and Black insisted on the photo being of me and him; no women (he clearly had had his heart broken). And that is when I got my first kiss of my Austrian adventure (on the cheek, mind you), from a kindly charming, quirky looking man who immediately arranged for us to leave him.
Our one-day-one-country adventure had, quite literally, gone full circle (as we realised on the map). But we made it back in time to not want to swim.