All of the Salzburg College students plus Petra stood on the platform of the Vienna Bahnhof, awaiting the train that would carry us away from Vienna and home to Salzburg. We surrounded our pile of backpacks and suitcases, like a herd of buffalo protecting the young. I needed to go use the W.C. and so did Megan, and we asked Petra if we had time enough. We were almost a bit afraid to ask her, just in case she would wig out on us. But no, on this home stretch she must have chilled out a little, as we were closer to the end of our trip than the beginning, and she said it was fine and that we had plenty of time.
When we were washing our hands after using the W.C. (52 euro cents to flush! Outrageous…), Megan slowed the pace down. “Hold on, we’re not in a rush. We can talk. I got a question. Do you think that Emily likes Eric?”
“I was thinking that! She kind of stole my standing place next to Eric at the opera last night. I had a feeling she would, and I didn’t mind at all, but I predicted in my mind that she would shoulder her way over when I was away at the W.C., and sure enough she did. She has a boyfriend though, I don’t know.” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Yeah, I noticed how she’s always hanging around him. But I was thinking.. isn’t he.. uh, you know… ?”
Even if he was, I didn’t think it was necessary to discover what exactly the specifics of it, but since she brought it up. “Probably. Not that it changes anything. I’m not going to treat him any differently. But Emily…”
“Did you hear about Petra last night?”
She cracked up. “Yeah, Dom said Petra was getting some booty call last night.” Geez, so happy to know that Dom’s semantics have infiltrated general conversation. As soon as she said that, I glimpsed Petra walk ten meters behind Megan, past her, from the W.C. to the entrance to the platform.
“Whoa, shh. Look who’s behind you?”
Megan gasped. “Not Emily? Oh- Petra… She didn’t hear me, did she?”
“I don’t think so,” I said, as she disappeared into the crowd. We cracked up. “That was close!”
“Really! Hey, I’m really glad we go to hang out today, even when we were dragged all over town by that girl Jennifer and crazy Ethan. I think he was digging you.” She smiled mischievously.
“You think so?” I said. Earlier that day, we had rand
omly struck up a conversation with a couple of American students while waiting to see the Vienna Boys’ Choir perform at Palais Augarten in Leopoldstadt. They were study abroad students from Wheaton College studying at the University of Bonn, and told us about this Hundertwasser Haus somewhere in Vienna that they were interested in visiting. Since our train was leaving later that day and we had made no real plans to see anything else in Vienna, we decided to tag along with Jennifer and Ethan. We spent the entire day combing the streets of Vienna, navigating the U-Bahn railway, attempting to find this colossal house of
architectural insanity. The houses was painted an assortment of bold, contrasting colors. The architect Hundertwasser wanted to defy typical architectural styles, topping the roof with grass and trees, creating winding staircases that led nowhere and a cobblestone floors that rippled unevenly throughout. Ethan seemed to take a particular interest in me, periodically stealing me away from the group to talk one-on-one and as he was sort of mildly cute, I allowed it and we later exchanged email addresses. From that moment on, I decided I would forever label this experience as my “European fling.”
“Today was fun. I feel like we’ve been in cliques since we’ve gotten to Vienna.”
Megan breathed a sigh of relief. “I’ve thought that, too. It’s just because back in Salzburg, Linda and Dom live five minutes from us, though. We naturally do everything together. And Kacey and Emily aren’t exactly the friendliest people.”
Megan and I stood talking about our different perceptions about Kacey and Emily.I had gotten to know Kacey much better on this Vienna trip. I ought to know better by now, not to make assumptions about people, especially the shy, quiet ones. Introverts are often the most interesting of all! In Megan’s view, Meredith and Emily were a bit too sarcastic for her. I understood both sides. I still urged Megan to give them another chance. She conceded.
“Well, we better get back to the group, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, Petra’s probably freaking out, wondering where we are.”
Satisfied that we had this conversation, I walked back to our herd of buffalo, feeling like we had cleared some air between us. This little clandestine conversation had somehow formed a common bond, for we had articulated thoughts about the people in our group that otherwise would have been left unsaid. The group dynamics always intrigue me, and it was nice to discuss them with someone.
Sure enough, as we neared our group, I commented, “Look, there she is, freaking out.” Petra was straining to see us through the crowd, and a look of relief crossed her face when she finally saw us. We casually sauntered up to the herd, and glancing at my watch, I said “And with time to spare.”
“The train will be here soon.” Petra shot us this disapproving look that said “you could’ve missed the train!”
“What cabin number are we?”
As the train slowly pulled up next to the platform, our herd began to move quickly past the cars, straining to keep up with our fearless leader, as she forged on ahead, keeping a sharp lookout for number 455. We passed car after car. No 455. We passed other herds of backpackers, tourists, and families, all pushing through a cascade of backpacks and luggage. Forging became a brisk, manic run. Running became a stampede. I could almost see the end of the line of cars, where open track began and receded far off to the horizon. 455 was nowhere to be found.
“This is soooo weird! We’ve skipped from 400 to 900!” The edge in her voice signaled a change in Petra’s expression from one of calm and controlled, to rage and frustration. She stopped to ask for help from a train official, but he was preoccupied with another customer, and she growled at him and moved on ahead. We reached the end of the line. No 455. “Wait here. Don’t move,” she ordered us. “I am going to see what’s going on.” With that, she dropped her wheeled luggage and sprinted off in the opposite direction, until she became a tiny blonde and green speck amidst a throng.
“What do you think the deal is?”
“We have reservations. The car exists.”
“Yeah, we probably just missed it.”
“Ten bucks says it’s all the way down at the front.”
“Don’t you mean ten euros?”
“With this exchange rate? Negatory.”
Someone shaded their eyes, and saw Petra desperately running toward us, yelling instructions at us and waving us to come back. “What’s that she’s saying?”
“It’s at the front? Crap, it’s all the way in the front!”
“You mean we have to run all the way back?”
I picked up Petra’s black Samsonite luggage, intending to bring it to her. The winds changed, so the herd started to move back toward the front of the train. Petra blew right past me, searching frantically for her luggage. “Um, Petra?” I motioned to the luggage at my feet.
“Thank you, Melissa! We have to run! Go!” And so began the mad rush. Again. The stronger, less apathetic ones sprinted all the way to the very front, where a very faint, ghetto sign said “455” in a nondescript color that has no place in a civilized spectrum. The stragglers slowed to a brisk walk, confident that this Austrian train would wait for them. And it did, with plenty of time to spare. There’s nothing like running foolishly in front of a crowd of people when you really don’t need to. That tortoise fellow did have that race thing figured out.
Then our seats disappeared. Although we had reserved seats 55, 56 and 57, they simply did not exist on this train. That means three of us didn’t have guaranteed seats. I think Linda and Dominique were still strolling down the platform and hadn’t joined us in our stampede, so they would probably have to be the ones to fend for themselves. Petra told us to find what seats we did have and then disappeared to go yell at a train official.
I sat in a six-seater compartment with Ben, Aery, Kacey, Chrystal, and Kira. I immediately noticed that Chrystal and Megan chose to sit in separate compartments. I shot an appreciative look to Megan: she was attempting to split up her clique, and talk with people other than Chrystal. Good for her. I was trying to do that and sit separately from Kira, but she didn’t get the hint, so we still sat across from each other. The rest of the train ride was a contemplative blur as the memories from the week melted together with the Austrian landscape.
After the train pulled into Salzburg, I had this strange feeling like I was returning to familiarity and comfort. I felt relieved to see the familiar streets, the Salzach River, the unmistakably Baroque skyline, the quaint homes, the hills and mountains. I looked forward to sleeping in my own bed, tucked away in my cedar-walled room on the upper floor of Frau Repp’s house.
Vienna had been unpredictable, exciting and even a bit glamorous.
But Salzburg was home.