Vienna: How do you mend a broken heart?

Dragging my deflated and depressed self out of bed was one of the hardest things I ever had to do on this trip. I only had one full day left before my flight the next evening and boy did I have lots to see and do! First up was the Schonbrunn Palace, which I would 100% recommend. There are different tours you can take complete with an audio guide starting at about 13 euros for the basic Imperial tour. The cafe also has delicious pastries and coffee!

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Probably wasn’t allowed to take photos, but I snuck one anyway

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Time to wander around aimlessly again. Vienna was beautiful but the pain in my heart was still fresh and raw. The architecture was ornate and oh-so-romantic; everything I had imagined in my dreams. However the city now holds an all-new meaning for me: it is where I tried to find meaning and drive again. I was already struggling with being away from Him previously, and now that I had lost Him even in spirit….I had never felt more vulnerable.

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What happens when you’re hurt? You rebound recover. I sat down at a park for a couple of hours, contemplating the inevitable ‘what now?’ that went through my head. Should I go to the Mozarthaus? Or do I sit around hoping that the void would be filled? A young boy went past in his little pram. He jumped right out when he saw me and he held out a little pink worm-like toy. His eyes were innocent and earnest, as if he knew that I was troubled and wanted to offer me comfort. I was overwhelmed with emotion at that tiny little gesture; perhaps I just needed that one little instance where someone reached out to me. There is still a lot of love left in this world.  That is when I decided: I’m going to the Mozarthaus.

That decision changed my life.

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This little boy made my day!

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But first, the Mozarthaus. My verdict: don’t bother. It was an apartment complex with rooms filled with information about everything else which is not Mozart. There were weird light shows about eroticism (no joke!) and a shadow show of ‘The Magic Flute’ which was pretty cool, but besides that it was pretty pointless.

Remember that ‘rebound’ I mentioned before? Well, here it is: a Dutch tourist! We chatted for a while and he asked to meet up tonight. I agreed…after all, I needed the company a lot more than I usually do. So we met up that evening for a night walk and wow, Vienna is stunning at night!

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We had a long, enjoyable walk that night and agreed to meet up again the next morning. I felt….happier.

Was this true love? Or was this one of those unfortunate rebounds you have when you’re heartbroken? More to come.

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Vienna: A new dawn

I wept myself to sleep on the night train to Vienna. I was so drained physically and emotionally that I had no idea how and when I drifted off to sleep. I awoke right on time as the train pulled into Vienna. I felt empty and soulless as I found my way easily to the hostel, which was almost right next to the train station (if you find the right exit, that is). I was unable to check in straightaway, so I decided to have a bit of a wander around like a soulless zombie. I tried a sachertorte at a bakery; not even chocolate could lift my spirits. I did find some mozartkugel though, and they were on special. My brother and Swiss friend had put in an order for some, so I bought as many as my backpack could handle, which was not much. I’m only about 3 weeks into my trip…this certainly bodes well. SAMSUNG

I had a nice stroll around the neighbourhood after I had finished exploring the station. I had always wanted to go to Vienna (like every other place I had already blogged about) but the exhilaration was dampened by my heavy heart. I strolled casually into a discount store and somehow ended up buying a thick winter jacket for about 30 euros. I don’t know why I decided to buy it, and I realised later that storing it in my backpack later was close to impossible, but you know what? That thing turned out to be a lifesaver in the closing weeks of my trip as the seasons changed and I made my way further up north. Who said impulse buys were always regretful?

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When I could finally check in and have my much-needed shower, I sunk into my bunk, grateful that I could finally have a proper rest. In the stillness, I was overwhelmed by my emotions and I lashed out at God. I had never had a major crisis in my faith in my entire life, but this time it cut deep right down to the bone. I remember asking in absolute frustration and hopelessness: God, don’t you want me to be happy? I was in a state of numbness after that; my anger scared me as I had never ever tethered on the edge of rejection before. No, I never fully rejected my faith and it was a long, hard road to recovery, but that’s a story for another day. Resting seemed to have helped even out my feelings and my appetite was not affected. I decided to grab a quick bite in the surrounding area and managed to find some fast food schitzel and chips at the train station food court. There was also free wi-fi there, which was extremely helpful. A fellow customer next to me was swigging vodka like it was water. He turned to me and called me superfrau. I smiled, I was feeling anything but super at the moment. Nonetheless, I appreciate the gesture. SAMSUNG SAMSUNG SAMSUNG

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Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better, I promise. I hope.

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“I’ve never been the kind to ever let my feelings show
And I thought that bein’ strong meant never losin’ your self-control
But I’m just drunk enough to let go of my pain
To hell with my pride, let it fall like rain
From my eyes
Tonight I wanna cry”

-Keith Urban, Tonight I Wanna Cry

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Leaving Krakow: Heartbreak Hostel

Disclaimer: Firstly, I would like to say that this would possibly be the most personal post in my blog. I was debating whether or not to write about it but I decided to do so as it highlighted a major problem when travelling by yourself: loneliness.

So here goes.

I was checking out the next morning and once again, last night’s antics meant that I didn’t pay off my sleep debt. In fact, I had added on to it. The message I received last night was still weighing heavily on my mind. The sick feeling I felt was certainly not from hunger or the alcohol from last night. A part of me knew what would be coming and I was bracing myself for what would happen later in the day. Nonetheless, I dragged myself out of the hostel for a final walk around the city. I have so many memories of this wonderful city, but they were soon to become bittersweet.

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I decided to have something to eat despite not being particularly hungry. In my trance-like state, I found a restaurant where I treated myself to pierogi and dessert. The pierogi were heavenly, but the dessert was a classic case of ‘too much of a good thing’. The ice cream and cream were swimming in a pool of boiling hot fruit coulis. The chef kept stealing peeks at me from the kitchen, causing me to choke and snort a few times into my dessert when he would magically slide out and appear behind the waiter behind the counter. It was silly, but it managed to take my mind off my worries for a little while.

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The hostel was almost deserted when I got back. I hid myself in my empty dorm as I rang back to Australia. It was the result I had braced myself for. I tried to contain myself and remain as calm and I could, but it was impossible. I had been through a couple of break-ups in my life, and even though they hurt, I was able to keep my composure until I was by myself. No such luck this time. Even I was caught off-guard when my resolve broke; it was like the world around me had collapsed suddenly and I was helplessly trying to save it. I had not felt vulnerable in such a long time and that feeling scared me. Faced with the magnitude of what I was potentially going to lose, I pleaded with him to reconsider, to stay in Melbourne. The pain was real and unspeakable; one year on and I’m still struggling to put it into words. The thought of returning home to nothing crippled me with fear and pain. I wasn’t angry; there was just no room for that. There was just hurt, a lot of it. I wanted to empathise and understand his situation, I wanted to be reasonable. But how could I be when hope and love was slipping away as we spoke?

All things had to come to an end. He hung up and I slumped onto the floor, broken in heart and in spirit. I’ve had moments of heartbreak, but there was always trust in a Higher Being, trust that He would make things right. Not this time. Alone in a foreign country, with nothing and nobody to give any comfort, my faith in life and love been shaken to the extreme; I was well and truly lost. What’s the use in loving if all it does is turn you into a sobbing, crumbling mess?

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The whole of Krakow wept with me that evening; even the busker sang ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ when I passed him with my backpack. It was time to move on in the physical sense, but how could I ever move on emotionally? I was bruised and battered, dazed and numb with pain; a part of me just wanted to fall into bed, sleep and wake up to find that it was all a dream. There was nothing I could do except try and cry everything out; there was nobody to turn to, nobody to give a comforting hug.

Fear and loneliness is a potent combination indeed.

Krakow by Night: Pub Crawl Round 2

Remember when Sarah said that this hostel wasn’t lively enough? Well it was certainly full of life the whole time it was there. After the surreal late-night-talk-show-confessions the night before, tonight was going to be slightly more normal. Slightly, not extremely.

When I got back, it seemed like the hostel was much more crowded than the night before. That evening, I joined a few people in telling ghost stories. Mine didn’t involve any personal experiences, but I shared some stories my dad told me when he was in the army in Singapore. They were nothing though, compared to the stories by Will and Steph, two friends from Lincoln, England. Will shared one about staying in his cousin’s holiday house, which was rumoured to be haunted by a child who drowned in the well there. Late that night, both Will and his cousin heard footsteps which didn’t belong to either of them. They later saw wet footprints on the floor…..

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On a less scary note, tonight was Beer Pong night. For someone who doesn’t like beer and is really bad at table ball games, that was still continuing the scary theme. Will and Steph were waiting for their turn as my Swedish dorm mates had a go against a bunch of Aussie guys from Perth and Tomasz the guy at reception. Beers were flowing freely and so was the bitch inside us; annoyed at how everyone was charmed by the cute, blonde Swedish girls, Will, Steph and I were making snide remarks under our breaths which were along the lines of ‘cradle-snatcher’, as the guys who were trying to chat them up were noticably older than the 20 year old girls. Childish? Yeah, but whatever. Steph and Will finally got their turn at beer pong, while I went to get ready for the pub crawl. This wasn’t a pre-paid pub tour; Tomasz was going to take us to his choice joints for free. The dude sure knows and loves how to party. Without the alcohol, Nathan from last night had become meek as a mouse. He might have said a little too much last night and was feeling a little awkward, but there was no way he was going out for a second night in a row.

There were definitely a few new guests tonight: I met the group of Aussie boys from Perth, two Icelandic guys and a Canadian guy called Wesley. The first bar stop was a bar where we all got free shots, courtesy of Tomasz. Will might have had too many beers back in the hostel, and Steph was having a hard time keeping him restrained. He didn’t cause too much trouble, but Steph soon took him back to the hostel. The first place was rather uneventful and soon it was time to move on to the next place. Now, this place was a LOT more exciting. It was very crowded for a Monday night; in fact it was more crowded than Sunday night, funnily enough. Judging from the different accents I heard, it was a pretty international crowd. We all had to put our coats and jackets into a cloaking area, when I later heard an older guy said to me as he passed me, “you look much better without the jacket.” The accent was unmistakable; thanks dude, I left Australia just to be on the receiving end of more comments like these from MORE Aussie guys. Needless to say, it was rather unsettling to get a comment like that from a stranger and I tried my best to avoid him all night. I dragged Wesley onto the dance floor with me, where I tried to dance while hiding behind him. Wes was having the time of his life; I wasn’t so much as my bladder kept refilling itself every time I emptied it. And there was only one bathroom in the club…which was right next to the dancefloor. A queue was forming amongst the dancers and I couldn’t get there without having some guy wrap his hands around my waist and asking ‘what’s up, honey?’ I just calmly removed his hands from my waist.https://i2.wp.com/www.thetoddanderinfavoritefive.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Dont-Touch-Me1.jpg

I rejoined the Perth boys at the tables in the club; one of them named J had bought me a drink. Somehow, one of them had gotten to know the older Aussie gent who had complimented me earlier; he was part of a tour group who had turned in for the night, but he had decided to go out for the night with the tour guide. A true, YOLO mid-life crisis moment.

Our entire group had become so spread out that I realised that we had lost even Tomasz. And Wesley had been eaten up by the dance floor. I was slightly worried about him as he wasn’t exactly sober when I last saw him. Nonetheless, I headed back to the hostel with J and his friends. We returned to find the two Icelandic guys chilling on the couches with another group of new guests. They were off their faces and hurhurhur-ing like they were high on weed…maybe they were, I don’t know. One of them, whom we shall refer to as E, asked if I wanted to go to the bathroom. With him. Together. I told him I already had plenty of company for the night.

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My phone vibrated. It was a message from Australia: ‘we need to talk’. Remember those ‘personal issues’ I had discussed with BD and Nathan the night before? I was finally going to get answers.

Somehow, I have a feeling that this is not going to end well. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. At all.

In Memorium: Auschwitz-Berkenau

No trip to Krakow would be complete without a trip down to Auschwitz-Berkenau. The tour started at 7.30am and it was a real struggle to crawl out of bed after last night’s late-night antics. My Swedish roommates were also on this tour. I was so exhausted that I passed out the moment I got onto the bus. It was still a struggle to wake up when we arrived at Auschwitz and I had trouble staying awake throughout the whole tour, so I apologise if this blog post is a little light on the details. I also didn’t take too many photos as there were a few rooms which I decided were too private for photo-taking.

I paused for a second at the entrance. The slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei‘ was infamous and I’m sure everyone has seen photos of this gate, but it was a sobering moment to be right in front of the real thing. That’s when reality hits and you realise that this concentration camp, and everything that happened within it, existed and was very real indeed. I won’t provide a detailed run-down of the entire tour as it was very long, but I’ve included some highlights, photos and reflections of my experience.

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Each group had a guide which took us through to different buildings and explained the significance of the exhibits to us. The tour went in chronological order: the first rooms gave an introduction to the rise of Hitler, concentration camps and the deportation of Jews. One of the buildings had exhibits of all the belongings taken from the prisoners. They included shoes, luggage, brushes and even artificial limbs and hair. I saw a pair of toddler-sized shoes behind the glass window and my heart break when I thought about what had happened to that poor child. That was not the most confronting moment, however, as we soon entered a building which had portraits of the prisoners on every inch of the walls. If it was difficult to imagine the tragedy which happened in this place, being able to put a face to the victims made it even more confronting. Those portraits were incredibly unsettling as they put to rest any doubt that those atrocities actually happened to real people. It was an extremely emotional moment.

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After the tour of Auschwitz, there was a short break where we could get snacks and drinks at the cafe on-site. Soon after, the bus took us to Birkenau, which was the ‘extermination camp’. For the prisoners, it was a one-way trip there. This was a different camp compared to Auschwitz: there were large, empty spaces and there had been extensive damage to some of the facilities, such as the crematorium. The emptiness was telling of the mood of the camp, which accounted for about 1.5million deaths of the Holocaust. Despite this, there were tales of bravery from inmates who tried to escape and banded together to revolt against their captors. Unfortunately, these uprisings were short-lived and the perpetrators were often caught and sentenced to a hero’s death. 

 

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Words cannot fully express what went through my mind during the entire duration of the tour. It had been an emotional, unsettling experience for me. I had been to the Jewish museum in Melbourne but it was nothing compared to being in the actual place where those killings took place. It was an experience guranteed to break even the toughest of men. If you have a bucket list of places to visit, add this to the list; you’ll never take the value of life for granted ever again. 

Kracking Krakow

The train rolled into Krakow Glowny Station at approximately 6.30am. I had a peaceful night’s sleep and was raring to step onto Polish soil. The Town Square was the first thing that greeted me when I stepped out of the station. The sun was just starting to rise and the deserted Square looked stunning. It would be the last time I saw the Square as empty as this.

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I am still not learning how to navigate, as once again I found myself lost and struggling to find my hostel. I had noted down the directions given on the website, but having not consulted a map I was as good as working blind. Oh A….when will you learn? The walk proved to be further than expected and I was starting to get quite frustrated. I was definitely on the right road…but it was a very long road. No matter, I pushed on and finally found where I was supposed to be going. I sighed with relief: I really want to have a nice cold shower.

That shower will have to wait though; check-in’s not till the afternoon. No matter, I’m going to get some free breakfast and book a tour to Auschwitz for tomorrow. I also took the chance to inspect my battle scars from a couple of nights ago. The soreness was still there, and there was some visible bruising. Usually they look worse as they heal.

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Ouch

To kill some time, I decided to go for a walk around town and buy my overnight train tickets to Vienna before I forget. The ‘failing to look for directions properly’ part aside, I was surprisingly well-organised. It was a beautiful sunny day, and after I had bought my tickets to Vienna, I decided to have a look at the shopping centre next to the train station. Claire’s was having a store-wide sale, so I bought a pair or doughnut shaped earrings and another silver pair. Did I mention that the doughnuts had pink icing and rainbow sprinkles? The look like the ones Homer Simpson chomps on in ‘The Simpsons’. There was also an insect exhibit in the mall which I also found very entertaining. I also got to drink bubble tea for the very first time in a very long time! Yeah I’m a bit of an addict.

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Hello, ladies!

I got back to the hostel at around mid-day and was FINALLY able to check-in and yes, have that shower. It was the nicest shower I’ve had in a loooong time. I came across a tour company called ‘Crazy Guides’, which organises weird and wonderful tours and activities which were so not mainstream. There was an AK-48 shooting trip which costs around AUD $100 for one person. I thought about it for a while, before deciding that ‘hey, I’m on holiday!’ I sent the company an email inquiring about the trip.

And now we wait.

Meanwhile, there was a free walking tour of the Jewish Quarter happening at 2pm in the Town Square. The tour took us through to the most well-known Jewish areas in Krakow, including the filming locations for ‘Schindler’s List’. Needless to say, those areas were extremely small, and extremely crowded. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, not only about Jewish history but also about the best ice-cream in Krakow. Unfortunately, the line was too long and my inner-Singaporean refused to join. Sarah, a girl I met on the tour and staying at the same hostel, decided to go to lunch with me. I wanted to try Polish food but that was quite scarce in the area we were in. We settled on some quick ‘Chinese’ food instead. It was nothing I had ever eaten in Australia or in Asia before, but it was interesting to see what Polist-style Chinese food was like. It was quite nice actually, even though it was different and barely close to ‘authentic’. It was also ridiculously cheap.

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Sarah told me that she was going to move to a different hostel as she wanted a ‘livelier’ atmosphere. I don’t know what she meant by that, as it seemed pretty lively when I got back in the evening. There was a free Polish vodka tasting event on and needless to say, everyone was really getting into the action. There were vodkas of every flavour your could imagine: banana, berry….you name it, they’ve got it. With the fallout of what happened in Prague still fresh on my mind, I was rather cautious in my approach. They certainly don’t dilute the stuff here! A large and lively group of travellers had gathered in the kitchen area and were busy socialising and sampling the stuff. There was a bald Polish guy who was acting as a ‘vodka ambassador’, handling out shots to everyone he saw and demanding that they down it. He would then proceed to give out another one. I thought he was the guy who worked at reception, but it turns out that the only thing they had in common was that they were bald and Polish. Later, another hostel guest confided in me that she had also made the same mistake. And we weren’t even halfway to intoxicated.

I started chatting to a Japanese girl, Yuki, who was there with her boyfriend Nathan. We were later joined by a Swiss guy name BD, and I decided that it would be nice to have a night out on the town. Yuki was tired, but told Nathan to go if he was up for it; he was. So off we went, BD, Nathan and I. The boys were already visibly intoxicated while I still had quite a bit of energy left in me. We wandered around the streets, trying to find a place BD had been to a couple of nights ago. We didn’t find it, but we did find a place called ‘Disco Pub’. It was very quiet on a Sunday night; there were about 6 people in there including us three. We made our way to the dance floor…and found a dance pole and podium there. My trial pole dance lesson fresh in my mind, I decided that this was a good opportunity to show off my good gyrations. The only issue: the music was as tacky as the name of the bar. As its name suggests, the joint plays disco music, or music from that era. It was the first time I had free range to dance with a pole, and it was very liberating when I didn’t have to worry about technique like when I was in dance class (update: I decided to teach myself pole-dancing after I returned to Australia.). I let loose on ‘Funkytown’, but was a little caught out when some reggae-style song came on. All three of us had to make do with some awkward, slow side-stepping dance moves.

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Same pole, same club

At around 1am, the pub closed and we once again found ourselves out on the street. By then, I was convinced that they boys were not exactly 100% sober. Nathan was glassy-eyed and rambling on about strange things, and BD….well, his suggested that he was not all quite there too. But nonetheless, the night was about to get more surreal. The boys checked in to the pub directly across from the hostel entrance and continued to down mugs of beers. I wasn’t a beer person, so I decided to just enjoy the social aspect of our gathering. It’s interesting how the intoxication brought out the most intellectual side of both BD and Nathan. With a tone of absolute seriousness, both of them decided to grill me on the reasons why I refused to date a guy like BD. The discussion brought up a lot of personal issues I had with my past, and also with someone I had back in Australia. The boys were not deterred, and continued to offer me advice and support about my issues. I am still very grateful to them for their presence that night, and their friendship which continues to this day. Nonetheless, it was still quite amusing watching the mood get more and more intense as our own personal issues started to become an intense campfire discussion. It was the most intimate drinking session I’ve had in my life.

We eventually moved the party back to the hostel common area. There were rules stating that the common area was to be kept quiet after midnight, but since we weren’t yelling and smashing vodka glasses, I figured out that we wouldn’t be kicked out. The discussion on my personal life continued, and the garish pink couch in the common area became the ‘interrogation chair’: whoever sits in it, gets interrogated. The first question didn’t go down so well; my answer was apparently so good that the boys were taken aback and had to rethink their ‘strategy’. Nathan had a round of interrogation too, but nothing too personal came out from that. All I knew was, there was NO WAY Nathan was going to get up early tomorrow morning. He wandered off at some point, leaving BD and I to discuss the fallout of our epic discussion. As I had an early morning tour tomorrow, we both called it a night at around 3am.

Boy…that 7am wake-up is going to hurrrrrt.