Final stretch

Now firmly in Europe and no longer on the Silk Road, I was completely caught off guard by how sudden the changes would be. After being close to alone for so long, I was now surrounded by tourists. Everyone can speak English. Fancy mosques are replaced by fancy churches, and all the buildings — spires, statues, windows, paint — exude Europe. Crowded streets of hodge-podge clothing stores give way to wide streets of high fashion. Instead of small businesses’ neon signs fighting for attention, it’s billboard-sized screens. Pop culture, advertisements, posters depicting people of a far more diverse spectrum of skin colours and subcultures both mainstream and niche, promoting individuality, but also frequently flaunting flashier things, wearing less clothes, trying too hard. And no more marshrutkas, dolmuş, or minivans: it’s all trams. For better or for worse, I was very much back in the Western world again.

I’m satisfied that this is the end of my trip, and though I passed through some stunning locales most people would go out of their way just to see, I have to admit that my focus wasn’t all there anymore. My planning only took me up to Istanbul, and the places thereafter — all of which warrant another future visit — were really a bit of an afterthought: all I wanted to do was to see my friends.

Even more so, I just wanted to feel like a normal person again.
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Vienna, Austria

In Vienna, I met up with Bernhard.  Surreal enough that I’m seeing another NUS friend outside of Singapore.  But it turns out that wasn’t the only familiar face around!

A couple days prior, I caught up online with Anthony, a high school friend in Vancouver.  Pretty much a day later, he showed up in Vienna, ready to embark on a Europe trip of his own.  And who did he meet in his hostel?  Percy, another high school friend of ours who happened to be travelling Europe.  Hadn’t seen him in years! Continue reading

Salzburg and Hallstatt, Austria

After three consecutive countries that I’ve been to before, it’s time for a new one – Austria!  With two days before meeting Bernhard in Vienna, I made a snap decision to spend a night in Salzburg first.

Aaaand pretty much the moment I stepped into the old town, things started looking a wee bit familiar – an obvious fact that I had completely forgotten about.  A certain movie from the 60s, maybe?

Well, the city certainly doesn’t seem shy about its movie past.  Special “movie-set” tours are available and advertised everywhere.  (Surprisingly though, Bernhard tells me that the movie isn’t famous in Austria.)  And even if they don’t advertise… Continue reading