Vienna is a gorgeous city. It’s so gorgeous, in fact, that it made me feel a little bit queasy.
The pure unblemished beauty of the place is unrelenting. Unlike a lot of Europe, the city must have avoided getting blasted to shit during the Second World War, because street after street is lined with huge, ornate, goldenbuildings, all without a speck of dirt. There are, for some reason, very few people in the streets, and even fewer cars. Half the time you can’t even hear cars. It’s peaceful and resplendent, and I think it’s this proximity to perfection that made things feel a little uncanny.
Or – and this is just a possibility – the queasy sensation might have been the shroom chocolate Annie and I shared by the canal. It’s hard to put your finger on it.
Reunited at last after nine months apart, Annie and I only had a day and a half together. It was lovely to see her again – although actually, given how regularly we’re in contact these days, it didn’t feel like more than five minutes had passed since we were zipping around the UK together last summer being all debaucherous. I told Annie I was taking it easy on the booze, so on our first night together we sat by Vienna’s bohemian, artsy canal and drank a few 2% Radlers and caught up on everything that had transpired since we last saw one another.
We played a game of pool back at my hostel (Annie won, bastard), and it was funny to see Annie among backpackers; to see her bleach-blonde curtains, thick chain necklace and combat trousers set against a backdrop of strappy tops and harem pants. It was satisfying to have backup; to have somebody present to remind myself that I’m not old or boring because I don’t like drinking anymore – but because together in Berlin and beyond we already did all that – we did it and then some. Being with a proper been-through-the-mill-together mate in the midst of all that felt very empowering, somehow. I felt smug to have a proper friend by my side.
Vienna was the first stop on a new DJ tour Annie is undertaking. Over the next month or so it’ll see her travel all over Europe to play shows. I’m not accompanying her this time, but we’ve still planned to meet up wherever possible. We’re not quite sure how that’s going to pan out, but we’ve plenty of time to get a plan together.
Our second day in Vienna started out beautifully. Annie was crashing at a DJ friend’s apartment and she sleeps for England (sleeps for America? Do other countries use that expression?), so I got ready and left my hostel early and spent the morning by myself. I found a very lovely café called Vollpension, where the whole place is granny-themed, and you can order coffee and cake with unlimited refills on the drinks for one hour. I read my book in the shade for an hour or two, and enjoyed ordering from the smiling granny waitresses.
When Annie finally arose, we went out for lunch together, and wandered through a botanical garden toking on Annie’s vaporiser weed pen thing. Then we headed back to the canal and met up with a couple of friends Annie had made at her gig on her first night in the city. We drank Radlers again (hooray for moderation!) and talked a lot about Austria and swapped stories. Then Annie handed me a little packet of what looked like brown mush.
“You ready for the shroom chocs, boys?” she asked. And yes, she still appends everything with ‘boys’.
I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was ready for shroom chocolate, but hey – travelling. I had a nibble of the melted chocolate square, and Annie assured me it wasn’t strong at all. This, of course, turned out to be wildly incorrect, and I was giggling like a bell end for the next,.. oh I don’t know… four hours.
Along with two of Annie’s music friends, Sophia and Antonia, we wandered dreamily through the city, staring up at the big beautiful buildings and pondering all sorts of strange notions. It wore off shortly before midnight, and the four of us sat outside a gigantic illuminated church with a huge dome and towering golden minarets – St Charles’ Church, I believe it’s called. We talked and talked and laughed a lot.
The church was lit up by giant floodlights which gave it a powerful, heavenly aura. At midnight these switched off, and its features were lost in shadow. As we chilled and talked, however, I noticed that whenever somebody walked past the church, these floodlights switched back on.
“Those lights are activated by movement!” I gasped, emerging from a lengthy daydream and interrupting whoever was talking. “What a fantastic idea for a church. Imagine, you walk up to the church at night to pray, and as you stand at the bottom of the steps, a gigantic light shines down on you.”
The girls told me I was a boob and that the lights were definitely not movement-activated. I insisted, and to prove them wrong, I took it upon myself to cross the square – around which dozens of little groups of people were sat, smoking and drinking – and stand before the church to activate the floodlights myself. And did the lights activate?
Of course they bloody didn’t.
I hopped, I danced, I flailed my arms around like a simpleton – to no avail. I heard a chorus of triumphant laughter from across the square, and trudged back over, defeated.
We spent hours sitting by the square, and I felt deeply comfortable with the three girls. Antonia and Sophia were super relaxed, calm, non-judgmental people, and despite having only met them that day, I found myself wishing there was more time to hang out as a group.
In the early hours we stood up, yawning and cracking backs, and hugged one another goodbye. I shared a tight hug with Annie, and we told each other to get home safe and promised to make a plan to meet up with one another soon.
It was at this point that two cyclists sailed past the church. Instantly the whole façade of the building burst into light, spotlights activated.
“GAH!” I howled, pointing desperately at the church.
The girls of course witnessed none of this, as they had already begun to walk away. I squinted angrily at the church. Mocked by God, yet again.