OK... Time to break the ice.
“Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!”. It was 31st August 1995, the independence day. I wish I could shout out loud those magic words the way Tunku Abdul Rahman did it… “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” but I can’t. It’s not Merdeka time for me yet, at least not until my European trip is over.
Instead I was on a road full of cars and trailers making their way through the Slovakian-Austrian border. A gorgeous Bratislavan girl was standing outside a restaurant nearby. She was dressed to kill like a lass out on her first date. But the heavy backpack on her ruled that out. For all you know, she could be a wife running away from home…
I stood waiting for a lift while also eyeing the girl which began to look like an escaped mental hospital inmate as she walked to and fro looking at her watch waiting for God knows what.
A brunette with light blue eyes, she was slightly taller than my shoulder, petite with the right proportions.
She approached me with a smile, her beautiful full red lips curving up nicely to show off the neatly arranged teeth.
My… My… She turned out to be quite gorgeous…
“Are you going somewhere?” she asked maybe looking for company.
“Yeah, I’m going to Vienna,” I answered.
“That’s great. I’m waiting for a friend to take me there!” she said. That got us on an even note…We chatted as she waited for her lift. Looking at the girl, I didn’t mind spending all my time there.
Later, a blue car arrived. Out came a guy who immediately hugged her. They were deep in embrace as they spurted into some unrecognisable language, probably German. That’s when she told me the guy was her boyfriend. Shoot!
The girl offered me a lift. I can hear the two discussing rapidly their options… The guy grunting while she was all smiles presumably trying to persuade her boyfriend to take me in the car.
His face grimaced before finally giving his approval. And off we were on our way to Vienna.
In the car, she introduced herself. Elizabeth was sweet really. She was articulate as she shifted conversation between me and the boyfriend. A university student in Bratislava, she was conversant in English while being most charming in the way she flicked her hair and move those thick eye lashes… Damn!
I was let off nearby a river that runs through the city of Vienna. Little Donau as the locals call it was a tributary of one of the most famous river in Europe, the Danube.
I walked along heading for the centre of Vienna. There was a familiar flag waving outside a big hotel. It was the Malaysian flag!
“Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” With only 20 Pounds in my pocket, some Malaysian hospitality was sorely much in need.
Indeed, at the Vienna Hilton were plenty of Malaysians hanging around. It was an AIA (American Insurance Agency) Summit meeting, a bonus for the top sellers. A trip to Vienna lah, who don’t want lah…
However they were less than hospitable. I remembered what one of them said thinking I was one of the participants.
“Macam you pun boleh dapat top seller ka?” as his eyes looked up and down sizing me up. Big deal… Only insurance agents can travel overseas ke?
Observing the congregation of salesmen, I felt disgusted. I recalled the posters that largely adorned some sales headquarters in Malaysia with phrases like “Be among the 10 per cent intelligent people in the world. Join us and all your dreams will come through,” the war-cry of the higher-than-the-masses salesmen. Pass me the toilet bowl. Hurgghh!
Anyway Vienna was definitely a sight to behold. With history recording it as the capital of the much celebrated Austrian empire, it was no wonder to see majestic regal buildings and monuments strewn everywhere.
That night it rained quite bad, I tucked myself inside the damp sleeping bag, shivering from the cold. My shelter was a hollow cylinder like the one used to make oil pipes, protecting me partially from the water that occasionally creeped inside.
Come sun rise, its time for some help. With me and my clothes badly in need of washing, I decided to check the “Merdeka” spirit at the Malaysian embassy in Prince Eugene Strasse.
I met Ahmad, a diplomat there to ask him to let me stay the night at his place. He was sceptical at first as his eyes squinted looking at me like I was a conman. I can’t blame him. A lot of people would have either sprinted away or fainted on the spot seeing me then. Nevertheless, he accepted my presence soon enough…
Sleep that night was cosy. I had warm dry clothes and a very comfortable bed. Thanks, Ahmad and family.
On the way out of Vienna was a bridge over river Danube with an island five kilometres long dividing the river into a murky greyish side and a blue one. Was it the Blue Danube I wonder? The tune of the famous classical immediately sprang to mind inspiring me to go to Salzburg, the city of Mozart.
But the trip took longer than I thought. After hitchiking through Huttledorf, St Potters and Ybbs on different set of wheels, I spent the night under a flyover at Eugendorf, a small village town just twenty kilometres on the way to Salzburg.
I remembered coming across two old ladies on their morning walk (or was it they who came across me?). Tucked inside my sleeping bag, I heard them say: “Blah… Blah… Stupid tourist… Blah… Blah…” I looked around. Apart from the ladies, there was only me. Hmm…
Later at a junction in front of the local supermarket, I got my next lift heading to the historical city known for a famous citizen… A very famous composer and musician. Guess who…
Salzburg had a smell of romance in the air, the romance of lovers entwined together in tight embrace dancing to a classical tune.
Mozart was born here, pushed by his father to achieve artistic perfection but died a tragic death at a young age.
I can feel an orchestra in my mind, of concertos and overtures as I walked through the cobbled streets surrounded by hills with castles perched on top and old ancient tunnels underneath. But soon it was back to stark reality… Off Salzburg, I hitchiked a vacant express bus up to a junction to Munich and Innsbruck off Rosenheim, Germany.
Left alone, that’s when I realised I was out of food. With only 20 Pounds left, I promised not to spend a penny until I reached Italy.
Luckily there was a maize field. So it was maize (jagung mentah) for launch including some for tapau…
At the southbound highway, I got on a small Fiat driven by a sweet old lady to Innsbruck, Austria’s winter sports resort town, once the venue for the winter Olympics, also a famous destination among travellers. As it turned out, I decided to bypass Inssbruck, following her instead through a series of tunnels before arriving at Widnau in Switzerland, my resting place for the next three days.