The Year of Living Differently #12: For Butter or Wurst – Enns, Austria to Witten, Germany

11: For Butter or Wurst

ENNS, AUSTRIA to WITTEN, GERMANY – 19 August, 2002
Hopped on the train from Enns to Linz and onto another from Linz to Bochum in Germany.

Sheesh… The price for transportation in Western Europe was really shocking. My 4-day-3-night train ride from Irkutsk to Moscow in Russia cost me around US$80. But this 9-hour train ride from Enns to Bochum, Germany was a whooping US$130.

And why Bochum? I have an email friend who lived in nearby Witten whom I had been in contact for five years or so. He recently invited me to his wedding which I could not attend. So, I decided to visit him during part of my RTW. After all, this was the closest I would get to Europe in a long while.

However, my first impression of him was rather unpleasant. I know, I am being such a horrible person now. Here was someone who let me stay at his place for free and I was being critical. But hear me out…

Names had been changed to protect the guilty. He shall henceforth be known as Patrick.

During our dinner, his conversation was peppered with slaggings of all nationalities surrounding his country and even his own countrymen not from his region were not spared. Words in bold were done with an especially nasty sneer.

“Oh… that is so typical… those ENGlish!”

“Well, what do you expect? That’s why they are the DUTch and we are the GERmans…”

“Argh!! They are the EAST GERmans, you see…”

“Oh, that is SO BAVARian!!”

“Austrians? We never think about them…”

Feeling a little awkward about it all, I went to bed wondering what the rest of my stay here with them would be like.

HAGEN, GERMANY – 20 August, 2002
Today, Patrick took me to an outdoor museum in Hagen showcasing the traditional crafts of the Ruhr river region. The crafts mainly made use of water-wheel and river power to cast iron into chains, axles, scythes, nails, etc. The old traditional wooden houses were taken down and rebuilt at this site so as to show how the original crafts were done. Rather interesting.

This morning before we left, I observed him filling up two litres of iced tea in his bottles. Then, he prepared a sandwich, put everything back into the refrigerator and cupboard and stood staring at me. Finally, he asked, “Aren’t you preparing anything for lunch?”

“There is no chance for lunch there?”

“No,” he replied.

OK, I started dragging everything out from the fridge and cupboard to make my own sandwich. I thought it was strange. He could have suggested it earlier before he chucked everything back in. And to think he prepared only for himself.

Then, I wondered about the two litres of iced tea. When Alex and I went visiting around Enns, our drinks were always for sharing, without question.

“Er… you prepared 2 litres of iced tea…” I queried.

“What’s wrong? It’s hot today. I’m a big guy…”

“Oh, ok….” So, that was for him. Guess that was the way it was going to be.

I still had half a litre of syrup from Alex and decided to finish it at the museum today. Later, when I did finish it, I asked Patrick for some iced tea and did not think much about this.

But, when we got back, he told his wife in a smirking way, “Trisha LAUGHED at me this morning when she saw me preparing 2 litres of iced tea. And what happened later at the museum??? She HAD TO ASK me for some drinks… Hahaha…”

What the???

BOCHUM, GERMANY – 21 August, 2002
The region of Ruhr had a coal-mining history. In fact, many places around here were now a little unstable (might collapse anytime) due to past coal-mining activities. Coal-mining had now spread further north of this region.

We went to a coal-mining museum and it was thoroughly fascinating. Most tourists visited art or history museums, but an industry museum important to the local region was equally interesting too, I thought. I learnt a lot on this visit because Patrick was an engineer and he was perfect when explaining to me how the mechanics of shafts, tunnels, drilling, whatever, worked and the evolution of the designs.

Insult for today, you ask? Well, Patrick brought me to a local kiosk in Bochum selling the original curry-wurst – that’s sausage in curry sauce. There was even a song about it by a folk singer. Gosh, it was delicious. I had another one when I was done.

That evening, he told his wife, “Trisha will not be able to have dinner tonight. She was SO GREEDY she ate TWO curry-wursts!! Hahahaa…”

Yeah yeah yeah… whatever… I had started to develop a layer of thick skin by today.

KOLN, GERMANY – 22 August, 2002
To be very frank, I was a little relieved I headed out to Koln by myself today, without Patrick.

I mean, I was sure he did not mean those insults personally. He simply had to report to his wife whatever ‘interesting’ event that happened that day and I figured that was his way of livening things up with a joke. But, still, it was done in front of me, and they were rather rude. But, what could I do? I was staying at his place. I had to be nice.

I thought without him around today, there would be no chance for an insult but no…

I had taken a train that ended at a stop earlier than what was stated on the board. I could not understand why the train stopped. I was told to take a bus to Essen. But, as I could not understand German, I thought I needed a bus-ticket for the bus to Essen. I spent about one hour wandering around, trying to find out information and looking for a ticket dispenser or whatever before I realised my train ticket allowed me free access to the bus.

In the end, I figured perhaps the train stopped prematurely because of rail-works and passengers were transported to the next available train station for onward travel.

So, the whole journey home took me three hours and I arrived at 9:30pm or so.

“Trisha was SO STUPID. She could have taken this train to XXX and then, changed to YYY. But, instead she….”

Yadda yadda yadda.

HATTINGEN, GERMANY – 23 August, 2002
By now, I was very wary of the things I did or said. I was just not a happy-camper anymore.

We got into the car after visiting the Steelworks Museum at Hattingen. He spotted the open window at my side. He asked me if I had left the window open before we went into the museum or if I had just wound it down, I said, “Of course, I just wound it down. I did not leave it open earlier. I’m not stupid.”

“Why not? You’re Chinese.”

Argh! Will this never end?

By dinner, due to something which I could not even remember now, he concluded with a flourish, “Well. This is ALL TRIsha’s FAult… like EVERYthing ELse”.

When I heard this last one, I felt really hurt. I took a deep breath but said nothing. This was what I could not understand. He took leave from work and took great pride in showing me around and explaining things to me. Yet, I got slagged everyday. I kept quiet. I still had one more night to go, I told myself.

ISERLOHN, GERMANY – 22 August, 2002
It was my birthday today. Surprisingly, Patrick and his wife remembered it and got me a cake. I was thankful I did not confront him about his remarks yesterday. Frankly, I was really touched by their gesture. Yeah, they are nice people. They just had awkward ways of treating their guests.

He treated me for the entrance fees of Dechenhohle cave in Iserlohn and Brug Altena. While not world famous, the cave and the castle were really very interesting in their own ways. I enjoyed them very much. And I am happy to report, there was no insult today.

Due to a misjudge of distance, I had to travel to Frankfurt to fly to Amsterdam, Netherlands. This would go down as one of the most stupid decisions I made. Witten was probably closer to Amsterdam by train, than it was to Frankfurt.

When I got my RTW tickets, I had assumed being in Germany, I could travel to Frankfurt easily and fly to Amsterdam. The cost of flying FRA-AMS would already be included in the price.

But now, looking at the map, I realised I was wrong. Yet due to some complications, my travel agent suggested against cancelling the ticket.

So, I travelled 3½ hours to Frankfurt, waited 4 hours at the airport and took one hour to fly to Amsterdam. I could have gotten to Amsterdam in 2½ hours this morning.

Anyway, I was greeted with a wide smile by Maria at the airport, a friend I made in my trip to Southern Africa in 1998. It was wonderful to see her again and now she had a 2-year-old son and was pregnant with another.

Amsterdam was a great city to walk around. There was a very cozy feel about the place. And there was loads on the street to see. I need not elaborate about the merits of Amsterdam. I’m sure everyone knows… about the beautiful canal houses. Ha. And yeah, not to forget the sex-shops, the works…

I must say, from the postcards I saw, the locals make great puns. The video-shops here carried interesting titles too, not usually found in other video-shops, I supposed – titles such as ‘Sexy and Cheeky Young Guns’.

But food here was atrociously expensive. Thank goodness I was heading to Maria’s home for home-cooked food tonight.

While Amsterdam was cozy and charming, Rotterdam was one huge modern city. I went there to apply for my Brazilian visa and took the chance to wander around the city, admiring its modernist architecture.

Rotterdam had a cluster of houses shaped like cubes standing on their points. I visited the inside of one of them and gosh, I felt claustrophobic and a little giddy. I wondered how it was like to live there. I understood from Maria that some people who bought the houses had to move out after a while.

Well, staying with a typical Dutch family, I got the chance to sample various types of cheese, dairy products and desserts found in Maria’s refrigerator that she offered me everyday. It was great.

I remembered the other time in Mongolia, when Goretti (another Dutch) and I were talking about how the Mongolians smelled of boiled mutton. She grabbed my forearm and inhaled, trying to see if I smelled of rice. I grabbed her forearm and inhaled and I just about detected the smell of butter, I thought.

Maria left her son, Andre, with me while she went with her husband to visit a mortgage agent. They were buying a new house.

We were left at a park near their home. I was a little nervous baby-sitting Andre but he turned out to be really well-behaved, as long as I kept pushing the stroller along. He would not be bored when he had new things to look at.

I pointed out different items and went, “Flower”. “Bower”, he repeated. “Duck” – “Duck” “Grass” – “Glass” “Rock” – “Bock” “Spider” – “Spider” “River” – “Riber”

Not bad. I reckoned at the end of this baby-sitting session, his English was better than my Dutch.

Maria and her family were leaving for Bulgaria on a holiday today. Yeah, I had come at a wrong time. They were very busy the past few days with selling their current house, planning the mortgage thingie for their new house, preparing for this trip. But still, despite their lack of time, they made me feel more than welcome staying with them. It was really nice to meet up with them again after all these years.

I had another Dutch friend, Peter. I had contacted him to ask if I could stay with him from today onwards. No problem. It was great that the Netherlands was relatively small so travelling to any city was not too much of a hassle.

I returned to Rotterdam to pick up my passport and Peter picked me up from there.

While my Europe trip was not turning out terribly exciting, I really wanted to visit my friends here. I mean, we could forever stay in touch via emails or I could put in the effort to travel to the places they lived in and catch up a little in person.

As it turned out, Peter had a beautiful, tastefully decorated apartment. He was a great photographer and we spent hours that evening going through his slides from his past trips. I learnt alot from his narratives. Gosh, there are so many places to visit, aren’t there? When can one stop??

BRUGGE, BELGIUM – 30 August, 2002
For want of something to do, Peter and I drove to Brugge in Belgium for a look-see. Europe is great. Tiny and compact. Just think of a place reasonably nearby, and why not, we could drive there in a couple of hours… and off we went.

The drive there was not very interesting. After all, the Netherlands and Belgium are flat with no background scenery to admire.

Brugge was indeed a very picturesque town. It was thoroughly touristy as well. Like Amsterdam, the town had pretty canals and canal-houses. We spent a wonderful afternoon just getting lost among the streets and alleys.

However, the return trip took us four hours because of traffic jam due to road-works. We were not pleased when we finally crossed into the Netherlands.

Flew to London and on to Belfast today. I was to stay with Jane, an Irish lady whom I met earlier in my trip in China and travelled together for three weeks. As she was away in London this weekend, I would spend two nights in Belfast at a youth hostel first.

Fantastic. Everything was written in English now. I could be understood wherever I went. But the Belfast accent was a little thick.

When I thought of Belfast, what came to mind were those terrible reports about the Troubles. I was walking around the streets, wondering if this was a building previously blown up before. Loads of ‘TO LET’ signs were spotted everywhere.

The weather was freezing cold too. I had to remember I was now at a higher latitude again and would need my jumper if I went out. Belfast was a dead town after 6pm. I did not do much and stayed in the hostel. Internet access was a whopping �4 an hour! Imagine that.

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