Traveling To Austria : My Experience On A Virgin Passport (Part IV)
WELCOME TO AUSTRIA : MY TWO WEEKS EXPERIENCE LIVING IN LINZ
After about an hour thirty minutes of flight from Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, we landed at Vienna Int’l airport, Austria.
It was a smooth flight, and enjoyable too. The airport in Vienna was not as massive as that in Holland. We disembarked from the plane and moved towards the baggage area. There were no security checks this time, since we were already checked and stamped in at Amsterdam. At the baggage area, we saw bags coming out through some dark holes and waited for ours. We carried off my bags and were ready for the exit.
I needed a trolley from a line up of trolleys chained together. I tried to pull one out but they were firmly chained to each other. On inquiry, I was meant to understand that I needed one euro coin to unlock a trolley. Ok, I quickly changed my 5 euro note to coins. I pushed the one euro coin into the slot and it unlocked.
We carried our luggage down to the train station for our onward journey to Linz by train. The train station is like a tunnel under the airport. Most travelers arriving Vienna often take the train to their final destinations. Thankfully we arrived early at the station and waited for our train scheduled for 11:05am. I was dead tired by now, but not too tired to park the trolley well and take back my 1 euro coin
By 11am, our train pulled up at the entrance gate and we boarded. The journey from Vienna to Linz by this particular train was one hour fifty minutes. The train was very scanty, much to my pleasure.
ARRIVING AT LINZ
Finally, after an hour fifty minutes train ride, we arrived at Linz train station. I remembered what my brother said when he sent me the train ticket; do not be worried about which train station to stop at, because you will pass through many of them. But keep track of your time. Once it is 13:55pm, the train will stop at Linz, just alight there! At exactly the said time, the train pulled up at Linz Bahnhof (the german word for train station). we got off.
This experience got me thinking of how organised this country is. They say a train will leave by a particular time, that particular time it leaves and will get to its destination by the appointed time. Try it From Lagos to Onitsha and see if you won’t end your journey at Ore. Time management is a luxury every Austrian must learn to live with.
I sat at the station sucking in the beauty of the whole environment. People passed by minding their various businesses. Some smiled at me, others didn’t bother to cast a look on me. To any who casted a friendly gaze on me, I would say Guten Tag (Good afternoon). Some mumbled incoherent words and walked on, while others smiled my greetings away. It was clear to them that I just landed from Africa. Even if my composure was cool, my Ghana Must Go Bag gave me away. Between me and my Ghana Must Go bag, I didn’t know who was more tired. A portion of the bag was now torn and the stock fish I brought for my brother was sticking out its head, only held back by the double layer of the transparent cello tape I used in wrapping the bag.
I was still enjoying the feeling of my new environment when brother hugged me from behind. I stood up and we all hugged even more, exchanging our pleasantries in a language only we could understand. We carried off the bags through the subway to the car park. We drove in his car to where would be our home for the next 14 days. We were treated to a delicious African dish and weakly I threw myself on the bed to sleep.
I had barely closed my eyes when I saw myself in my father’s house, surrounded by my whole community. I was telling them a story of a beautiful land where there are no sorrows; A land of immense beauty, with magnificent hills and scenic valleys, A happy nation with happy people, where there is no hunger and deprivation, A land where justice reigns.
As I told them my story, I saw desire in them, desire to be free from all forms of societal ills that have formed part of their daily lives. Well, who wouldn’t be? When you come from a nation where hunger and starvation is the order of the day, where there is no respect for human lives, where unemployment has broken through the roof and aiming for the sky, where justice and rule of law is only read in the books of history, then you will desire above all to be free. I too wanted them to be free.
I opened my father’s old Golf 3 car and ushered them in. By some, perhaps spiritual technology beyond my understanding, my whole community was comfortably seated in a Golf 3 car. I was taking them to the land of freedom, in my father’s car. First we were driving, and later we were flying. I was the pilot, their pilot to freedom.
I could not recall how long we were on air when I opened my eyes, still weakly stretched on my bed. It was 4am in the morning and as usual, the sun was up. I felt so cold. If summer is this cold, I wondered how the winter would be. I knelt down and prayed, thanking GOD for the safe journey he granted us both on land and on air. I thanked Him for this travel opportunity that has opened a new dimension of understanding in me. I took a hot shower, dressed up nicely and headed for the dining room. It was 7am in the morning.
THE STREETS OF LINZ
It was my second evening in Linz, Austria. I had just finished my delicious Austrian lunch and stepped into the streets.
The sun was hammering from above. Passers-by all walked so fast as if some invisible forces were pursuing them. I guess one must learn to walk fast, in order to live successfully here. Time management, I thought. I increased my pace and walked even faster glancing at the city map from time to time. I slowed down when, guided by the city map, I got to Linz City Centre. It was a magnificent sight to behold. I stood beside a statue of some sort and watched. Cars drove past. The tram (electronic train) railed past at intervals. Cyclists littered the city centre, often performing some acrobatic stunts. Roller skaters rolled by happily. Many others stood at different corners puffing cigarettes smoke into the air. Young couples held hands and laughed as they walked along. Their minister of happiness must be doing a great job. What a happy people!
I was now getting tired of the curious stares that people greeted me with. Perhaps, I was the only black man at the city centre. I bought a scoop of ice cream, took some pictures and moved on further into the city, walking more slowly. Accepted, I haven’t been to many other European countries, but I believe Austria ranks high on cleanliness in the whole of Europe. The streets were super clean, houses too. And people maintained great personal hygiene everywhere. Wastes were well disposed into the trash cans that dotted different corners on each street.
I walked on and on and on, only stopping to take pictures at intervals. And then I wanted to take a picture that would nearly mess my day.
It was a tinted volkwagen salon car, carefully parked by the street corner. The inscription on the car boldly read POLIZEI. I knew it was a police car. An opportunity to take the picture of a lifetime with an Austrian police car. I was going to tell my friends back home of how I was hanging out with Austrian police, how they took me round the city in their car and even posed for my camera. A selfie taken with the police car would make my story believable, I thought. So I stood near the car and lifted my phone up in a selfie mode to capture the car well. I smiled widely to my camera and was about to press the snap button when a siren sounded behind.
I didn’t look back. I simply brought down my hand, straight into my pocket and walked on towards the direction I had come from. I was going home, straight home. No turning back.
All the days I spent in Austria were all interesting. Each day had its own activities. I visited many other cities and villages. I went to Grieskirchen, Freidstadt, Perg, Mondsee and Salzburg.
At Mondsee, I visited the Basilica of St. Michael where Sr. Maria and Mr. von Trapp had their church wedding in the famous Sounds Of Music movie. The church was flooded with camera wielding tourists trying to get amazing pictures of the edifice. I was not left out as I took as many pictures as possible. A section of the church was set aside for candle light prayers. There, you could donate 1euro into the box provided and then light up a candle with which you offer your prayers to GOD.
As I held the lit candle, I prayed fervently for myself, that GOD will perfect all that concerns me. I prayed sincerely for my family for GOD’s continual protection on us. GOD knows I love my family. I could feel tears swelling up in my eyes when I prayed for my dear country. I wanted to tell GOD about so many evils going on back home, but I lacked words to express my feelings. I stood for a long while gazing at the crucifix hanging up on the altar, still speechless. Gently, I placed the candle on its stand and dried my eyes. GOD understands. Yes He does.
I was about leaving the church when I remembered my flight back home. I will be entering an airplane again. Roughly 8 hours in the sky! GOD has to know about it. Well, He knows already, but I need to tell HIM again. I ran back hastily into the church nearly falling over a little kid playing on the isle. I reached back for my candle, the one I lit a while ago. I held it firmly and prayed with the deepest fervour – O GOD PLEASE TAKE ME ON EAGLE’S WINGS AND LEAD ME HOME. My faith was strong. I felt my prayers answered. I left the magnificent basilica.
My trip to Salzburg was equally memorable. I visited the famous LOVE LOCKS BRIDGE! Standing over a gently flowing river, the pedestrian bridge is a home to tens of thousands of padlocks, each telling a permanent story of love. I stood on the bridge and thought about love. I thought of my love, the only woman I ever loved, now married to another man. Perhaps if I had come here earlier and locked our love, our union would have been permanent, sealed forever, just like every other key here. I watched men and women holding hands romantically on the bridge. From a far distance, I saw a couple kissing away the day. A young man, probably an Indian walked up to a lady whose gaze was fixed on the gently flowing waters below. He whispered some silent words into her ears and the echo of her laughter shook the bridge for a moment. He ran off in the rhythm of her laughter and she went after him. They ran for a short distance and he fell, quickly spreading his arms to welcome her. Willingly, she fell into his arms, in love. I too wanted to fall. I desperately wanted to fall in love, and then lock the love on the love locks bridge. ‘I will find love again’, I said to myself as I made my way out of the bridge.
Every other part of Austria I visited was simply amazing. From Grieskirchen to Perg to Freisdstadt and other unnamed villages, life was simply good and living conditions were amazing. The transportation system there is top-notch. Depending on your destination, you can make a choice between a taxi, a bus, a tram or railjet. You can also opt for a bicycle. Now I don’t want to tell you how expensive some of their bicycles can be. I didn’t see much SUVs there. Almost everyone drove simple cars, which of course were well maintained. As a rule, every car must be examined every year and certified road worthy before it hits the road. Long haulage vehicles were very scarce on the roads, except roads connecting different countries. Containers and petroleum products were transported by rail for maximum safety. Of course, they have different rails from passenger rails. Traffic laws were well obeyed there, which highly reduces the occurrence of accidents.
Whenever there is a traffic gridlock, you would see vehicles drifting to either sides of the road, leaving the central lane free and empty. You know why? Just in case there is an accident or emergency up ahead, the ambulance or fire service would pass through the central lane to rescue the situation. A nation of sane minds!
I very much enjoyed Austrian cuisine. Hardly would you be served any dish without fruits and vegetables. Most meals are three coursed. On one dining occasion, almost everyone queued behind the fruits and vegetables table. I could not understand why they left the yummy cakes slaying from the other end of the table. I went straight there and moved two slay cakes into my plate. Eyes turned on me as my brother smiled uneasily. I should have gone for fruits first, take the main meal and cakes last. But I couldn’t care less, after all, is it there stomach? I didn’t bother to learn the names of their foods, but I leant that looks can be deceptive. Some of the foods with the most appealing looks are the ones you might not want to eat beyond the first bite. The ones with the worst looks are the ones you would eat 2 plates and come back for the third. And Austrians have a popular dining rule which says you must finish every food you dish out. They don’t care how many times you approach the sharing table, but ensure you finish whatever food is served into your plate. Wastage is strongly frowned at.
I didn’t have any reason to patronize their hospital, but the ones I passed by were all majestic structurally. You could easily mistake a hospital for a hotel. I also heard everyone is mandated by law to go for a health check up at least one a year. They take health very seriously. Their emergency ambulance services are awesome. You would hear the ambulance blaring siren from time to time attending to an emergency situation. I suspect only the ambulance, the fire guys and perhaps the police are allowed to use siren there. No other person uses siren no matter how highly placed. Everyone is under the same law, rich or poor.
The family system in Austria is perhaps not the most admirable, as some would argue. Most couples are contented with a child or two, which in my opinion is amazing. However, majority of them choose not to bear children. Someone told me in a relaxation park one day, as I watched a couple playing with their beautiful dog; “isn’t it funny?” he said. “Husband, wife and dog – that’s a normal Austrian family”. I looked more inquisitively at him as he continued “Some might even add a cat to make the family bigger”, he laughed scornfully stealing a look at the couple. “But they only realize their mistake when they get old”, he concluded.
I remembered few days earlier in Perg, I visited the old peoples’ home there. It didn’t seem to me the smiling faces I saw there were regretting. All their needs were taken care of by the institution. That is how their system is designed. When you get old, you sign up at the old peoples’ home, your pension goes to them and they in turn take care of all your needs. So at old age, childless couples don’t bother about who will take care of them. They are fine!