Chapter 8: The Neil Diamond Code
Trip Start May 10, 2006
21Trip End Dec 17, 2006
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"vake oop." someone says while pushing me as I try to sleep.
I roll over in my dorm bed in Belgrade to see a beautiful woman with big...eyes...staring down at me with a sour expression on her face.
"I'd rather you get in."
She forcefully pulls me out of bed onto the floor.
"are you Tom, zee famous szymbologist!?!"
"do you know Spanky!?!"
"ya, I know..."
"kom veeth me! NOW!"
Just then two large, biker chicks come into the room and drag me out into the hallway. The woman is waiting there. She flashes me a badge that shows her name is Nadia Jovanovich and she's a member of the Balkan Alliance of Bored Evil Scientists (B.A.B.E.S.).
"Theeez are my thugs, Hansa and Fransa."
"Pleased to meet you, Hansa. Pleased to meet you, Fransa."
Handshakes and courtesies all round. The thugs then go block the exit.
"What do you want?"
"Therez been an...eenzeedent at zee gallery. You vil come veeth us."
"You know Spanky! Now shoot oop!" and she whacks me upside the head.
Fransa had gone into the dorm and collected my bags and Hansa was at my side pushing me towards the exit. We go downstairs and a white van is waiting for us. Nadia rides in front and I am pushed into the back and followed in by Hansa and Fransa. The back has a padded interior with soft, relaxing music playing. There's no window to the front so I am unable to speak to Nadia. Hansa and Fransa prove to be mute, or at least don't speak a word. They didn't even clap after I performed the second act from Henry V in the back of the padded van for them. Geesh, thugs have no taste in the arts. The van soon stops and I'm let out. Nadia is waiting with a stern look on her face that suggests she would not like to see any Shakespeare herself. Oh well. By the light, it looks like it's sunrise...maybe 5:30am. We are at the Gallery of Frescoes in central Belgrade. Fransa opens the door and Nadia goes in. Hansa is pushing me from behind so I follow Nadia in. We go past several frescoes until we finally come to stop at a gruesome scene. Below one of the frescoes lays a giraffe doll with all its insides torn out. I have to turn away and spew.
"Wh-who would've done something like this!?!"
"Vee theenk eet vas zee work of your friend, Spanky," Nadia says with accusing eyes.
"He wouldn't do this. And why on earth would he?"
"Look here," She points to a message on the floor next to the stuffing. Written in blood???...no, it's ...strawberry jam... it says 'Diamonds are forever - find Spanky'.
"And you see zee stuffing eez arranged in zee shape of a crescent moon. Spanky eez a Musleem terroreest!"
"Hmmm, considering that the stuffing is yellow, it looks more like a banana."
"SHOOT OOP!" 'whap!', another blow to the head.
Nadia goes to consult with her thugs. While she does, I receive a SMS on my SIM-less mobile phone. It's from Spanky, "I didn't do it, but they think you're my accomplice. Go to the bathroom."
"Ummm, Nadia? I have, uhhh, explosive diarrhea and gotta go use the toilet right now. Where is it?"
She gives me a glare and points me down the right hallway, "Be queeek."
I hurry down the hallway to the bathroom and find Spanky waiting inside. "What's going on!?!"
Spanky answers, "I don't know either. I followed you from the hostel when they took you. I've had lots of contact with B.A.B.E.S. in the past and they can be trouble. Right now we have to figure out a way to get out of here."
We sit and ponder for a little while. There is a window but it's a couple floors up so probably too far to safely jump.
"If we open the window, maybe they'll think we jumped. They'll go out looking for us then we can sneak away."
Spanky agrees that's about the only plan we have. We open the window and I throw my jacket to the ground below. We then go stand on a toilet and close the stall door. A few minutes later there's pounding on the door with Nadia shouting, "Are you done yet?" After no answer the door slams open and we hear people looking around. From the far end by the window we hear Nadia swear and she yells, "Go look for zeem! Now!"
Everyone leaves the bathroom. Spanky and I soon climb down from the toilet and quietly walk to the door. We peer out but don't see anyone so start making our way out of the museum. At the scene of the giraffe massacre, I notice a trail of strawberry jam. We follow it around the corner. On the ground is a diamond drawn in jam.
"The message back by the giraffe said 'diamonds are forever'. Could this be some kind of clue as to what this is all about?" Spanky, of course, did not know the answer. Looking around the area, we discover the fresco just above has a diamond on the lower left. In the center of the diamond appears to be a lion's head. I look at Spanky and he just shrugs his shoulders. The information box on the wall says the painting is of unknown origin and they think it's from the 12 or 13th century. It was donated to the museum by Neil Diamond. Neil Diamond!?! Is it just coincidence that there's a diamond on the painting, a diamond drawn in jam and this was donated by Neil Diamond?
"We've got to get out of here," Spanky insists.
"Ya, we've probably been here too long. The B.A.B.E.S. might come back soon." We hurry out of the museum, carefully searching for any sign of trouble. We stick to the alleyways and go back to the hostel quick to get our stuff. Luckily, Spanky brought his Hollywood disguise kit - I disguised myself as Paris Hilton and Spanky as her little chihuahua (see last pic in photo album).
"Where should we go?" I ask Spanky.
"Hmmm, we need to do some research on that clue. Let's get to an Internet cafe."
So we sneak out of the back of the hostel and find a 24 hour Internet cafe. It's filled with nerdy guys playing computer games so we feel safe there are no B.A.B.E.S. present. We bring up Google and do a search on 'diamond lion'. One of the results is a link to Neil Diamond's song 'I Am The Lion'. I'm drawn to a part in the lyrics that are:
"there was a flood and many poor men were killed
and that is why our house is built on the top of the hill
the plains are like a friend
why can't we live on them"
"Spanky, there was a big flood in Szeged in 1879 and again in 2000 (I had recently read this in my Lonely Planet book). And Szeged is located in the Great Plain of Hungary."
"That sounds promising. Perhaps we should go there next."
Still in disguise, we make our way to the bus station and catch the next bus to Subotica. We just missed the next bus to Szeged so had some time to get some lunch. Caught the bus to Szeged and arrive just before 4pm.
"We need to find somewhere to stay where the B.A.B.E.S. won't look for us," Spanky says.
"Well, since we normally stay in 4 or 5 star accomodation, I suggest we find the cheapest thing possible."
Looking through the LP I find there are college dorms open to travelers during the summer. We wander into the center of town to the dorm, but they don't allow dogs so we go out around the corner and remove our disguises. I was quite happy to be rid of the disguise as too many Hungarian men were trying to flirt with me. Back again and we're allowed to get a room.
"Any idea where to go?" I ask.
"No clue," Spanky admits.
"Well, let's just go for a wander then."
We go walk around town seeing the sights - St Demetrius Tower, along the Tisza River by the Ferenc Mora Museum, the National Theatre, Town Hall, Szechenyi ter, the pedestrian mall and the Votive Church. There's lots of elegant architecture to admire along the way. It feels more European than where I've been recently. In a niche of the Votive Church we find carved into the stone a diamond with a cherry in the middle.
"Neil Diamond has a song called 'cherry, cherry', but I don't know what that has to do with Hungary."
"A cherry is a fruit...," Spanky ponders aloud.
"...a peach is a fruit. The city called Pecs sounds close to peach."
"Hmmm, sounds like a stretch but it's all we've got. We'll head that way in the morning."
The day's events had taken their toll on us so we went back to the dorm for a late nap. I dragged myself out of bed and went for dinner and i-net. While in Szeged, Spanky and I saw lots of potential B.A.B.E.S. but none seemed to be acting in a suspicious manner. We felt relatively safe that we might have lost them.
In the morning we caught the bus to Pecs. It took four hours 'cuz the bus stopped a lot along the way. There was a woman a couple seats behind us that seemed to be watching us. Spanky said I was just being paranoid. When we got off the bus, she immediately pulled out her mobile phone and called someone. We went all around the center of town trying to find somewhere to stay, but places were either full or expensive. The tourist info center hooked me up with a cheap place by the train station. The women working there definately weren't B.A.B.E.S. Again we went for a wander around town as we weren't sure exactly what we should be looking for. We went by Zsolnay Fountain to Szechenyi ter with its Trinity Column, the Mosque of Pasha Gazi Kaszim, the Dom (cathedral), St Peter's Basilica and along the pedestrian street of Kiraly utca. We kept our eyes open for any diamonds and were coming up with nothing until I noticed a poster for a music festival. On it was a diamond with a heart in the middle.
"That could just be coincidence," Spanky noted.
"Ya, or it could be our next clue. A heart... Could be 'heartlight'. A heart can also be used to represent love... 'Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show'! That would go along with the music festival! We've got to go!"
Looking more closely at the poster, I see it's for the Sziget Festival in Budapest which is going on for the next week. Scissor Sisters and Radiohead are due to perform so I'm keen on going. Still no confirmed run-ins with B.A.B.E.S. Spanky is fairly certain we're safe, but I'm still not convinced.
Pecs is a cute town, but not terribly exciting. Kiraly utca had some pretty buildings along it (incl. the National Theatre and Church of St Stephen). There is a mall close to the town center so I wandered in there and got to visit a real supermarket. Don't get many of those in Europe. Had dinner at a Tex-Mex place in the evening. It was alright. Stopped by an i-net cafe again and noted the lack of females. This must be a sanctuary from B.A.B.E.S., somewhere we can feel safe.
We took the train north to Budapest in the morning. Because of work on the metro lines, it was a little bit of a pain to get to the hostel. It was located right on a touristy pedestrian street. We hurried out to Deak ter to see if an old acquaintance would be doing a tour today, but she wasn't there. So we did our own tour seeing Heroes Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, Szechenyi Baths, the Museum of Fine Arts, Elizabeth Bridge (the chain bridge) and through the pedestrian area. Didn't see any clues along the way, nor any sign of Nadia and her thugs. Took a bus out to Statue Park where they have statues from the communist era. It was ok...there weren't very many. In the evening, I went for a walk along the Danube for pictures. Afterwards, I stopped into an Internet cafe knowing it would be a safe refuge from any possible B.A.B.E.S., if they were actually still following us. Next to me was a dorky looking guy playing a video game.
"Hi, mein name ist Gustav," he says and hands me a card. It has his name and shows he is a German Electrical Engineering Kool Student - G.E.E.K.S.
"Ich bin auf dan 17 level paladin in diesan spiel. Was ist dein level?"
"Uhhh, level 10 ???" I reply, trying to sound German.
"Oh, he, hast du hier irgendwo einen Amerikaner gesehen? Einege Frauen bezahlen mich ihn zu suchen."
*#%! Women are paying him to look for an American!?! Good lord, the B.A.B.E.S. have G.E.E.K.S. as spies! Is there nowhere I'm safe!?!
"Uhhh, ummm, nein. Nein Amerikaner," I reply.
I tried not to look nervous and hurried out of the Internet cafe. On the way back to the hostel I kept looking over my shoulder to see if I was being followed. Back at the hostel I told Spanky what happened.
"Spies!?!" Spanky cried.
"Ya, I'm afraid they may know we're in town. We'll have to keep a low profile. The music festival should be crowded so hopefully they won't be able to find us amongst all the people."
We didn't sleep so well that night. I was haunted by dreams of biker chicks tearing Spanky apart.
The following morning I took my broken digital camera (the one I dropped on the sand in Turkey) to a couple repair places in town. Both were giving me estimates of about $100 to fix it (which is the price I paid for the camera on e-bay) and said it would take two weeks. I passed on that offer. Stopped by a mobile phone store and got a SIM for me mobile so I could txt again. Yippee! More sightseeing - this time went along the Danube River during daylight for pictures.
I kept a close lookout for any possible B.A.B.E.S. In the early afternoon Spanky and I went out to Obudai Island where the Sziget Festival was being held. It was a warm, sunny day so people were out in their shorts and lots of girls in bikini tops. Eeek, so many possible girls working as B.A.B.E.S.! The festival area was massive with about 20 music stages, tons of places to eat, a movie tent, performance theatre, Tesco food stores, a pool and lots of other stuff. We spent the first couple hours just exploring. A variety of music was on offer with a world music stage, latin stage, heavy metal, jazz, blues, etc... I caught a couple jazz bands, a Romanian gypsy band, a Hungarian band covering USA '50s rock (and dressed up too), a band from Mali and several other acts. While watching Sonny & His Wild Cows (the '50s band), we spotted Hansa and Fransa walking to the main stage. Oh crap, they're looking for us! Spanky and I ducked down and tried to use the crowd to cover our escape, but the biker chicks spotted us. They yelled out and we took off running. Zig-zagged through the crowds until we got to the performance art area. We found some costumes, got dressed and raced up on stage. Spanky was doing contortionist poses while I did triple backflips and spun in the air. Hansa and Fransa came through looking all around but didn't notice us on stage. Soon they were gone. Phew! That was a close call. We made a point to try and stick in large crowds from that point on. In the evening we went and saw the Scissor Sisters on the main stage. They put on a good show with lots of energy and interaction with the crowd.
"skyscrapers rise between us, keeping me from finding you"
Checked out a couple of the dance tents but they were just ok. No diamond clues revealed themselves so took the train back to the city. A bus wasn't due for quite a while so we just walked back to the hostel.
The next morning I went up to Castle Hill to look around and see the sights. Out to Sziget Festival again in the afternoon. It was really crowded today (apparently it was sold out). Cloudy today so no pretty girls in bikini tops. Saw a jazz band and some sort of marching band thing that was just ok. At the Afro-Latin Stage I was watching a Latin band when my dream girl walked up right next to me - long red hair, green eyes, fit, about my height and with an accent. Damn, the B.A.B.E.S. have outdone themselves with this member! Ha, but they underestimated my shyness and lack of being able to come up with anything to say...even if she is beautiful (though I did tell her she had a sticker on her bum, which she did. good opening line, eh?). So I narrowly escaped the clutches of a lovely redhead and went to the Blues Stage to check out Jugging Stones, a hillybilly jugband that covers Rolling Stones songs. That was cool. ;) Saw a flamenco band then went to the main stage to see Radiohead. I really like Radiohead's stuff from the first few albums, but the songs from the last couple are just too artsy/abstract for me to really enjoy listening to. Most are kinda slow so no beat, you can't really sing along...it just doesn't keep my attention. But when they'd play a song I liked I was happy.
"but I can't help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
if I just turn and run
and it wears me out, it wears me out
it wears me out"
When they covered "red, red wine" I perked up knowing that it's a Neil Diamond song. And the screens on either side of stage each had a big diamond. This must be the next clue! Wine...hmmm, there are a couple wine growing areas in Hungary. I should go to either Eger or Lake Balaton. I'll think on it more... I saw a jazz band that was just ok after Radiohead's show then headed back on the train.
Spanky and I decided we'd go visit Eger as it's famous for its Bull's Blood red wine. We were up early to take the train there and looked around town seeing the Cathedral, Lyceum, Minorite Church, ped street and up to the castle. The town was ok...nothing too special. No sign of any diamonds. Maybe we picked the wrong location? Train back to Budapest then had to go to another station to catch the train to Revfulop on Lake Balaton as the towns on the northern shore have wineries (in reality I was going to go up to Bratislava but the line in the international ticket area was HUGE and going nowhere). I didn't arrive in until after 9pm and went to the hostel nearby the train station. It was full but the guy said they could put me up in the annex. He brought a flashlight and took me out to the annex as it has no electricity...it was kind of spooky but looked ok inside. There wasn't much to see in town but I found somewhere for dinner. A tour group that was supposed to show up still hadn't made it by midnight so the hostel guy put me in a dorm. I hung out with a British couple that were in my room for a couple more beers. We got to talking and I told them about B.A.B.E.S. chasing me across Europe.
"Cool, why are you running?" Naomi asked.
"They're after my monkey!"
"Sweet, even better," Ian says.
"Aww, you don't understand. They think he...we...tore apart a giraffe in Belgrade."
The tour group actually did end up making it that evening but not 'til 2am. We still got to keep our beds in the dorm though.
Laundry day. The morning and early afternoon was spent doing laundry, hanging it to dry in the sun and chilling out by the lake. Clouds were threatening so I didn't want to leave my laundry hanging up. Once it was dry, I took it down, put it back in the room and took the train out to nearby Szigliget. I walked past some vineyards to get to an old, ruined castle on a hill.
While exploring the castle I found a diamond with what looked like fire inside. My Neil Diamond knowledge is lacking so I returned to town and picked up a copy of "The Idiot's Guide to Neil Diamond". In it I found he has a song called "Fire on the Tracks" but there's also one called "Flame". I'll have to investigate as to where that might lead. When I got back to the hostel I read through Lonely Planet on towns in Hungary and found that the town of Sopron has something called the Fire Tower. That sounds good to me. In the evening I hung out with a couple Aussie guys, a pair of German sisters and Julia (who was also in my dorm). Julia was good fun to hang out with.
I figured I'd stop by the town of Koszeg on my way to Sopron since it's supposed to be cute. I had to train to Tapolca, and from there to Celldomolk, bus to Szombathely then train to Koszeg. It took over four hours. Ugh. I don't think the B.A.B.E.S. would've been able to follow me through all that. The train station didn't have baggage storage so I was stuck walking around with both my bags on. The town is cute with a couple nice plazas and a few churches.
Bus back to Szombathely and took the train from there to Sopron. I walked quite a long ways out to the youth hostel, but it was full. Back into town checking at pensions trying to find somewhere not full and eventually find one that's a little overpriced. I went into town to check out this Fire Tower and sure enough there was a diamond carved into a stone with what looked like a road or highway. Actually, it looked kind of like a street sign.
"Spanky, what do you make of this?"
"Let's check the book... It might be a reference to Neil Diamond's song 'Brooklyn Roads'."
"It does look like a road. Anything in the song that might be of relevance?"
"There is a part that goes":
"I'd build me a castle, with dragons and kings,
and I'd ride off with them, as I stood
by my window and looked out
on those Brooklyn Roads."
"Bratislava is nearby and has a famous castle."
"Sounds like our next diamond destination!"
I continued looking around seeing the Goat Church, St Michael's Church and various other pretty buildings. Had a strange taco thing for dinner. Paid another visit to the i-net cafe and had a second encounter with G.E.E.K.S. This time he was more direct questioning me on who I was and where I was from. I faked being Thomas O'Leary from Ireland for the evening, but I'm not sure they bought it. I'll have to be ready for trouble...
I thought I'd make a stop in Gyor on my way to Bratislava. I was at least able to put my bag into storage there. The city has a nice town hall and a big plaza, Szechenyi ter. Also visited St Ignatius Church, the Cathedral, Carmelite Church and the pedestrian streets. Another cute town, but not really enough to hold my interest for long.
The train ride to Bratislava took me through Austria. The train station I got off at was a ways out of town so I had to bus from there to the center. The good hostels were already full (since I didn't really know where I was going ahead of time, I couldn't book), so I had to settle for Orange Hostel. It seemed like a communist era college dorm. I was in Bratislava two years ago when I was in Europe so have seen it before. The old town here is quite cute and there's a castle up on the hill above the river. I went and explored seeing the National Theatre, St Martin's Cathedral, the castle (and had a little rain), the Presidential Palace, Old Town Hall, Primate's Palace and just wandering around the cobblestoned streets.
Spanky had gone directly to the Primate's Palace to check it out and I met up with him there.
"I saw something at the town hall," Spanky told me.
We go over there and he shows me a stone with a diamond with...something...chiselled in the middle of it on one of the foundation stones.
"It kind of looks like a telephone. But a telephone?"
"This building seems too old to have a telephone chiselled on it. But I have to admit, that's what it looks like."
"Hmmm, telephone. Telephone. Is there a song with 'call'?"
"What about hello?" Spanky asks.
"What do you mean?"
"When you answer a phone, you say 'hello'."
I suggest, "There is the song 'Hello Again'. Let's see how does it go..."
"hello again, hello
just called to say hello
I couldn't sleep at all tonight
and I know it's late
but I couldn't wait
hello, my friend, hello"
I remind Spanky that I was planning on visiting a friend in Vienna and I need to call her to say I'm coming, "maybe it's that".
"Someone would've had to know you were going there then specifically carved that in the stone for you."
"Hmmm, does seem a bit farfetched. Perhaps someone is leading us along helping us to find the clues. But what's it all about?"
"That's the real question."
We ponder this over dinner, but without another clue or a better idea we decide to go to Vienna. On the way back we strolled through old town and luckily came out of a dark, narrow street just as Hansa and Fransa passed by scanning the people at the various cafes.
"They know we're here!"
We hurry back to the hostel in the opposite direction as the thugs. Maybe I should've stayed in Bratislava longer, it is a cute town. But with the B.A.B.E.S. in hot pursuit, I thought it best to move on. My roommate from Hong Kong was a loud snorer. Gotta love hostels.
Vienna is just a short train ride from Bratislava. Got myself checked-in at the hostel then out for a wander (I was also here a couple of years ago). The main square, Stephansplatz, has the imposing St Stephans Cathedral and several pedestrian streets branching off of it. I went all over seeing St Peters, the Imperial Palace, Josefsplatz, the museum quarter, Parlament, the Rathaus, Votiv kirche and to Karlskirche. Vienna has lots of grand architecture, as I'm sure you can imagine. Statues all over, gothic spires, stately theatres, etc... In the Stadtpark there's a statue of Johann Strauss since he was from Vienna.
A small group of musicians was setup next to it playing one of his songs - Die Fledermaus: Overture. It tickled a memory of another song, but I couldn't think of what. On the back of the statue I found a diamond carved with what looked like a mountain inside. Our book showed Neil has a song "Mountains of Love" but there are so many mountains around Austria that it could be anywhere. I'll just see how things go and maybe something will help lead me to the right mountain(s). In the evening I went back to the Rathaus 'cuz they have lots of little food booths setup. It was all rather expensive and too crowded so I didn't stay there long. Later I met up with Johanna at the Opera House (Johanna and I met in Selcuk, Turkey). We go out to Schwedenplatz for some beers and just hang out talking on a bench. She suggests we go down by the river so we get another beer and head that way.
"You whispered in my ear, you wanna get out of here...
Oh yeah, girl you've got, something I like..."
It was there that I find out that people from Vienna (Wien) are called wieners (men at least). Wieners! ha ha ha ha! Oooh, I was dying laughing for a good while. Got to see some nice rats hanging out by the river with us. Move on along the river to a late night bar she knows of. It's mostly kids hanging out at benches at this dive bar. We stay there chatting 'til far too late. Johanna has her bike so rides home and I walk. Got to see a drunk girl get out of a taxi and start spewing on the way back to the hostel. How nice.
In the morning I checked out of the hostel and went over to Johanna's flat. She showed me a couple choices on places we could go for the weekend. One was to the lakes but she was more in favor of going to a village in the mountains called Mitterbach. Hmmm, the clue suggested I go to the mountains so I agreed on Mitterbach. We had lunch then caught the bus to Mitterbach, about 3 hours southwest of Vienna. We both napped for most of the ride. We arrived there just before 7pm. Since we didn't have anything booked, we had to check around for a pension, which were in ample supply. Found a nice place then took a walk out towards Erlaufsee (the lake). This be gnome country. Many of the houses had garden gnomes in the yards. Some had quite a few specially setup. I was a bit worried we were going to be in the woods when the sun set but we made it to the lake and a little restaurant for dinner before dusk. On the walk back the stars were really bright so we had our necks craned skywards a lot of the way.
"and it's something quite peculiar
something shimmering and white
leads you here despite your destination
under the Milky Way tonight"
The village was too small for any kind of nightlife, plus we knew we had a big hike tomorrow so didn't stay up too late. I was haunted by dreams of the B.A.B.E.S. pursuing me so I didn't sleep well.
We had a late start to our hike...the weather was great though. We should've caught the train to the starting trail, but the schedule showed it was only a 5 min train ride so Johanna said we should just walk it. A bit lost and over an hour later we make it to the start. The information in her book showed it would be about a 6 hour hike up to a hostel on the mountain. The next couple of hours weren't so bad as we weren't going up much and the trail followed a nice river. There were quite a few other hikers along this section. Once we started up the real hill, it was pretty much just us. Up, up, up some steep hills for a while. We stopped for lunch under a tree in a nice meadow. We continue up some steep trails and this is when Johanna points out to me that we're going up to the tallest mountain in the area. *! I look at it and think we're doomed. The hiking on rocky trails and loose gravel has my feet hurting. We get up to the base of the rock cliffs where there are some cold caves. Around to the backside of the peaks and continue along to the last peak where we literally have to rock climb to get up. Again I think we're doomed. It doesn't end up being as bad as it looks from below, but there are lots of possible big drops. We rest for a little while at the top of Mt Otscher and admire the spectacular view.
It's supposed to only be a half hour down to the hostel. Now it's Johanna's turn to be tired and I feel like I've got a second wind. We continue down over a half hour and begin to question if we're going the right way (even though there's only one trail) or if we'll make it in time as it's close to sunset. After an hour we make it to the hostel, pretty much right at dusk. It is crowded with people, but fortunately there's still a small room left we can share. We just passed out and laid there for a while before going up to the restaurant area for dinner. But because of our laying there we missed cooking hours and had to settle on apple struedel and beer for dinner. Eh, could be worse. Johanna told me they were playing traditional music on the radio and asked if I liked it.
"What's it about?" I asked.
"It's a very old Austrian song about a failing relationship. It's sad. The couple doesn't do things for each other anymore like at the beginning. He used to bring her flowers, and she used to sing him songs."
That sounds just like Neil Diamond's song "You Don't Bring Me Flowers"! Could he have stolen the premise from an old, Austrian folk song? Seems unlikely. I wonder...
After dinner it was refreshing to have a shower then we passed out for real.
The hostel had a buffet breakfast so we snuck lots of bread and stuff for sandwiches later. We got started at a more decent hour this morning but ran into a group of hikers at the bottom of the first hill. Johanna was quite content to rest there in the sun since her legs hurt and I was quite happy to lay there with her.
"if I lay here
if I just lay here
would you lie with me and just forget the world?"
We continued on through some nice woods and meadows and eventually came across another group of hikers. We rest in the sun again to allow them time to get a fair distance.
"we'll lay on the grass and let the hours pass"
We only walk for about five minutes then Johanna says we should break again for lunch. Sure, ok. I've been helping Johanna correcting her English the last couple days (not that I'm an English grammar expert). One of the things she brings up is why is grapefruit called grapefruit. It doesn't look like a grape. It doesn't taste like a grape. I didn't have an answer for her on that one. She brought up a few things like that. We continue on down the mountain having spent most of the morning resting in the sun rather than walking. We're walking along in peace, enjoying the scenery and fresh air when garden gnomes race out of the bushes and try to catch us with ropes and nets. We were lucky that they were only using garden-gnome-sized nets so they couldn't catch us so easily. We ran from the gnomes only to fall prey to treeprechauns. Yes, the same treeprechauns that trip you when you're skiing/snowboarding! They launched a volley of rocks and pinecones from the trees. Again we ran as fast as we could to escape. Their little legs are too small to keep up with us. After losing the little folk, we continued on until seeing a sign showing the way to Erlaufsee but Johanna says we want to go towards Gemeindealpe so we head that way. The weather is starting to turn cloudy and cool. There doesn't appear to be any trail heading down the mountain so we end up hiking up to what is the second highest mountain in the area. There's a chairlift down from there, which was nice 'cuz just then little raindrops started coming down. We took two chairlifts down which got us back to Mitterbach. As we get to town it starts to rain hard, so we duck into a restaurant and have a couple beers there while waiting for the rain to stop. This restaurant, and a few other places we'd been, had a thing made out of flowerpots made up to look like a person (kind of like a doll made out of flowerpots). I decided this was my new calling and I would move to the Austrian countryside and make flowerpot people. We were there at least two hours then went out looking for a pension. This time we found one with a bath to soak our weary legs and sore feet.
Had breakfast at the pension and a little while later took the train out to the village of Mariazell (not far). It's a pilgrimage sight so there are all kinds of tacky souvenir stalls setup selling religious paraphanelia. We saw a pilgrimage procession too with people singing hymns. We looked around town but rain came so we hid in a restaurant and had lunch. The sun came back out so we each got a beer and sat on a bench out on the path back to Mitterbach. A crazy guy came up to us for a conversation. Must've thought we could be best buds since we had beer. Hurried back on the path to Mitterbach and caught the bus to Vienna. Again, we napped a lot. During the bus ride back, on came "Cracklin' Rosie" on the radio:
"cracklin rosie, get on board
we're gonna ride till there ain't no more to go
taking it slow...
hitchin on a twilight train
ain't nothing here that I care to take along
maybe a song
to sing when I want"
Hmmm, what does that suggest? Not sure that that gives me much of a clue as to where to go.
We arrived back in Vienna after 7pm. I was checking train times on the Internet when I was reminded of the lyrics of the previous song. Maybe I should hitch a ride on a twilight train. There was an overnight to Innsbruck so I decided I'd take that. Then I had to say goodbye to Johanna... She and I get along very well and I really enjoy her company. That's one of the sucky things about traveling and meeting these great people - you have to say goodbye.
"nobody said it was easy
oh it's such a shame for us to part
nobody said it was easy
no one ever said it would be this hard
i'm going back to the start"
But I'd still rather that I get to meet the person and get to know them than never meet at all. I got myself to the train station and on the overnight to Innsbruck. It was a lonely ride.
I arrived in at Innsbruck at 5am. Unfortunately, none of the hostels are 24 hours. I walked back and forth between a couple but neither was open. Actually, nothing was open.
"i wandered empty streets
down past the shop displays.
i heard cathedral bells
tripping down the alley ways,
as I walked on"
It was kind of nice to see the old town before it became overrun with tourists, but I did notice a woman following me. Possibly one of the B.A.B.E.S. I tried to zigzag my way through the streets and across the river to the hostel with a better place for me to sit and rest until it opened. At 7:30am I was let in and got to have some breakfast. Then I went to my room and crashed. About noon I got up and went exploring town. It was now very crowded with tourists but still cute. The mountains all around town are pretty. I took a bus out to Hall in Tirol. Another cute old town with some nice churches. Spanky mumbled persistently about plots and conspiracies the whole day. Back to Innsbruck and I took a nap at the hostel. I had some Indian takeaway for dinner then just wandered around by night. It was mostly a cafe scene. My legs and feet are still dang tired from that big hike.
"i walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone
i heard the voices of friends vanished and gone"
Breakfast at the hostel then I took the tram out to Mutters. It's a cute, Bavarian-looking village. I wandered along a trail with some lovely views to the village of Natters.
Caught the tram back to town, had a late lunch then a nap at the hostel. Walked around old town again. On the bottom of the City Tower I found a diamond etched in with a single stickman in it.
Does it represent people in general? A man? A single man? Wait, what about a "Solitary Man"... Where would "Solitary Man" lead me? Solitude...mountains. I'm kind of in the mountains now. Maybe more famous mountains. Bad Gastein is famous. I think I'll go there next.
After that discovery I sought sanctuary in an i-net cafe. I wasn't there long before I heard one of the guys speaking German into his mobile phone, shooting me unfriendly looks. From the front door I could see Hansa and Fransa hurrying down the street so I darted out the back door and raced into old town. I found a little hole in the wall place for dinner where I could sit at a table and be hidden from the window. After dinner, I snuck back to the hostel avoiding people as much as possible.
I rode the morning train to Schwarzach and changed there for Bad Gastein. The hostel/hotel gave me a free upgrade to a private room from a dorm since it was so quiet. Sweeet! It was quite nice and my bathroom was huge. As soon as I stepped outside to go look around town, it starts to pour rain. Watch a bit of a movie at the hostel then use some tools I just bought to take apart my broken digital camera. Fixing it proved to be way beyond my skills as I couldn't even get into the lens (which was the problem). The sun came out so I went off for hiking. I started towards Prossau for some pictures but then headed on the trail to Bad Hofgastein with some great views of the valley. I kept a close lookout for gnomes or treeprechauns. Little buggers. The hike took quite a while and it started to rain just as I arrived in town. I waited in the bus shelter for an hour with a nice Italian couple until the bus for Bad Gastein arrived. Took that back to town but got off too early so ended up getting soaked on my way back to the hostel. I ate dinner at the hostel restaurant then watched a movie in their lounge with some other travelers.
Started some laundry in the morning then took the bus up to Sportgastein. Hiked around there for a while seeing beautiful snow-capped peaks and waterfalls.
A wooden marker had a diamond carved into it with what looked like a pretzel in the middle.
Pretzel? Spanky consulted our book and found Neil has a song called "Soggy Pretzels". That man must have a song about everything. Well, when I think of pretzels and this area, I think of Germany and beer. Munich is close by and that's the beer capital of the world. And if I recall correctly, an old colleague of mine [and Neil Diamond expert] will be there this weekend (the reality is after a week of not meeting anyone I felt like seeing an old friend).
The thought of pretzels was making me dang hungry so I didn't stay too long and started on my way down the path back to town getting to see several waterfalls on the way. My feet were feeling dead tired by the time I got back to the hostel so I took it easy the rest of the day. In the tv lounge I found a group of travelers staring transfixed at the television. The Monchichis were on and Nadia's voice was speaking, "Find zee Amereekan, Tom, and hees monkey, Spanky. Bring zem to me." Holy cow, the B.A.B.E.S. are brainwashing people to look for me! I hid out in my room after that.
I was up early for the train to Munich arriving in at 10:30am. The hostel was just across the street and easy to find. Got checked-in there then out to the Glockenspiel to meet up with my old colleague, Mr Peterson, a modest Neil Diamond expert (when asked if he knows anything about Neil Diamond, he replied, "ya, I know something."). He was in Munich to see his friends Heike and Susanne, who were with him when we met up. We looked around at a couple tourist sights then tried to find somewhere to have lunch. Since it was a nice, sunny day all the outdoor tables were taken. We settled on sitting indoors where we had some schnitzel and I had a big 'ol beer.
Continued on around town and my memory was coming back as to where we were in town (I'd know which way to go and what would be up ahead). We went to the English Gardens and relaxed in the sun. I explained to Josh what had happened over the last couple weeks.
"Any ideas on what this is about? Or at least where I should go next?" I asked.
"Have you listened to much Mozart?"
"Mozart!?! What does that have to do with Neil Diamond?"
"Just a theory. I suggest you go to the home of Mozart and take in a concert. Listen closely and keep Neil Diamond in mind."
After some relax time, we went to the Chinese biergarten in the park for more big beer. Took the U-bahn out to Susanne's apartment where we found a traditional food & music festival going on in the nearby square. In the evening, we went to a Spanish tapas bar for drinks and met up with more of Susanne's friends. They spent most the time talking to each other in German, and we spent most the time talking to each other in English so it wasn't such a good mix. I went back to my hostel and to bed.
The dorm was noisy so I was up early and got myself ready. U-bahn out to Susanne's and woke everyone up (it was like 9:30am). We had breakfast then Susanne drove us out to Schliersee (a 'see' is a lake). We hiked around there for a while, which wasn't so good for Josh and his broken foot. The weather was wacky and would go from partly sunny, to cloudy, to rain, to partly sunny and rain again. Luckily, we were in the woods when it rained the first time and sat down to lunch when it rained again. Went back to Munich after that and hung out in Susanne's flat for a while. I saw Josh off at the train station (he was overnighting back to Holland) and I went to the hostel for bedtime.
Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart, setting for some Sound of Music scenes and a damn cute city. There's a big castle on the hill, a pretty palace with lovely gardens, a river running through the center, big churches and a cute old town area.
I got checked in at my hostel then went for a look around. The castle had a steep entry fee so I didn't go in (I've been in before). Who's cheap? I'm cheap! There was an evening Mozart concert so Spanky and I attended in full regalia, including powdered wigs. I listened closely...during "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Allegro" it struck me that it sounds very similar to Neil Diamond's "Gitchy Goomy". And "Symphony no.40: Molto Allegro" sounds like Neil's "Crunchy Granola Suite". Knowing this, I realized why Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" sounded familiar...it's the same tune as Neil's "Beautiful Noise". Did Neil Diamond ripoff songs from the classical masters!?! The songs are far too similar for it to be a mere coincidence. I may have to do more research on other Neil Diamond songs. After the concert I went by the Mozart statue and found a diamond with a boat in the middle etched on to his boot.
"Neil Diamond has a song called 'The Boat That I Row'."
"A boat would suggest water," Spanky said.
"Yes. The lake district is nearby, but which town?"
"Are there any that require a boat?"
"Actually, yes. You have to take a ferry from the train station to get to Hallstatt. That's our next diamond destination!"
I had dinner back at my hostel then went out to the Augustiner Brauhaus. I walk in and it's a quiet, empty hallway. Am I at the right place? Go down some stairs then hear a bit of noise. Once inside the bierhall it's a big party with every table full, a band playing and everyone singing along. It was great fun, even if I was there by myself. You would never guess from looking at the outside. I moved on to the Irish pub in old town to see if the odd dancing guy would happen to be back (see previous Salzburg entry from rtw trip). Much to my disappointment, he wasn't there. The guy playing live music spent more time on breaks than actually singing.
On the way to Hallstatt I figured I'd make a stop in the town of Gmunden since it's supposed to be nice. It's also right on the lake. It was a bit of a walk from the train station to the lake and cute part of town. It has a nice rathaus and a schloss (sort of like a chateau) on the edge of the lake that's good for pics. Cute place and it's nice hanging out by the lake.
Continue on to Hallstatt and catch the ferry across from the train station. The youth hostel was closed and it took me a while to find somewhere with room or a decent price for a place to stay. As soon as I step out to take a look around town, the rain starts. I ate lunch and let the rain pass. Hallstatt is perched on the edge of a steep mountain right next to the lake so it's kind of grown up the side of the mountain.
I walked around for pics along the lake and of the town. There are a lot of Japanese tourist groups here. Guess they like the scenery too. The rain started again on my way back to the pension so I hid out and had a nap. Went out for dinner...the town is deathly quiet in the evening (the tour groups are gone). I spotted a strange glow coming from the church on top of the hill.
"What's that!?!" I exclaimed.
"I don't know. Should we check it out?" Spanky replied.
"OK, but be careful."
We walk up the hill to the church and push the creaky door open slowly. We peer inside and see a glow coming from the altar. The church appears empty. As we approach the altar the glow fades to just a couple candles on either side. On the altar we find what appears to be a really old manuscript (the corner crumbled to dust when Spanky touched it). It's handwritten in Latin script with an elegant brush. Spanky, being the linguist expert, translates a story of a strange man appearing from nowhere and teaching an ancient culture the gift of music. The man disappeared in what is described as a diamond of light. Below the script is drawn a picture with a silhouette of a man with a guitar standing inside a glowing diamond. Just then other images from my travels flood into me - the hieroglyphics in the Egyptian pyramid of a man with a guitar, the aboriginal cave drawings in Australia of a man with a guitar, the carvings at Angkor Wat, the vases in China with depictions of a man with a guitar teaching music, carvings of the same guitar man at Machu Picchu, ... It's then that the startling revelation comes to me.
"Neil Diamond didn't steal music from the classical masters or anyone else. Neil Diamond is the father of music! He travelled through time and taught music to the various cultures of the world!"
"Why didn't we realize this sooner?"
Just then we hear the door creak open. We turn around to see Nadia and the biker chicks.
"Voot hav you found?" Nadia asks.
I whisper, "Spanky, the manuscript. We can't let them know the truth. That kind of power in the wrong hands could destroy the world!"
Spanky touches the manuscript so it disintegrates to dust.
The B.A.B.E.S. stalk toward us.
"What should we do?" Spanky asks.
"I have a plan," and whisper it to Spanky.
As the ladies get closer, we both blow out the candles so it's near pitch dark in the church and throw the altar cloth over us making "woooooo" sounds.
"A ghost! A ghost!" Hansa screams.
"Run, run!" Fransa shouts.
They both take off running leaving only Nadia.
"Coom back you fools!" Nadia yells.
We race around Nadia in the dark and out through the doors, slamming them behind us. There just happens to be a key in the lock so we're able to lock Nadia inside. She's pounding on the door yelling at us.
Spanky and I take a minute to sit and think over what we've just learned. I'm filled with an overwhelming urge to race up the mountain so take off. Once at the top I just burst out in song:
"'I am,' I said
to no one there
and no one heard at all
not even the chair
'I am,' I cried
'I am,' I said
and I am lost, and I can't even say why
leavin' me lonely still"
"Nice song," someone says.
"Who's there?" I ask.
Out from the shadows steps Neil Diamond.
"I see you found the clues I left for you."
"You did that!"
"Of course. Only a true daydream believer could follow all the clues to the shocking truth."
"How do you...? Time travel! How!?!"
"Here, follow me."
He leads me to the edge of the mountain and we gaze out over the lake.
"Can you see the rabbits, George?" Neil asks.
Just then he pushes me over the edge.
"Aaaaaaaagggghhhh!!!!" I'm falling hundreds of feet with the air rushing past.
"BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!...."
An alarm clock is going off.
"uuuuggghhhh" I drag myself awake. Looking at the clock I see it's 5:33am on a Monday. Memories come back to me.
"It was all just a dream."
Damn, and I have to be at work at 7am. (sigh)