I went to Austria.
I was only in Austria for a few days broken up by a few more days. I spent nearly all of my winter break in 2006 wandering around Eastern Europe like a lost, confused puppy with no money and no direction. I’d never traveled alone before, not really. I’d been to England, where I had visited a boy and basically lived there for a few weeks, rather than visiting as a tourist. Austria was new.
The previous spring, I was going to go on a class trip. Socialism v. Capitalism, a class led by a Pitt professor, always went to the Czech Republic and Poland at the end of the Spring Term. I was going to go with. I hadn’t taken the class, and was going to skip out on the class related parts of the trip. I was just going to go to Eastern Europe with my best friends.
Last minute, it was decided I would need to take the class and pay the class fee (a few thousand for the credits). I canceled the trip and was left with a voucher to go on a plane ride.
So I went to Eastern Europe.
In the winter.
It was a lot warmer than Pittsburgh, it turns out. The trip itself was marked by a unique form of loneliness that, as a teenager, I had become familiar with: feeling alone when surrounded by people. Not only could I not really communicate, but I didn’t know what to do.
I did a lot of free things. I spent all day every day walking around cities. I’d find free tourist maps and go look at buildings. I watched the dancing horses. I went to mass upon mass that occurred during advent. I went to every advent market in the cities I visited. I bought a ball of yarn and some needles, making myself a hat that I would unravel and reknit every few days.
Austria is beautiful. I’m sure people say this all the time, but it really is. The mountains climb, the rivers wind through, and cities spring up with purposeful architecture. Art is in the streets and on the walls.
And Austrians are cool.
Before going, I decided I needed to get a cool, European haircut. I asked the people at the hostel in Wien where the cool kids got their hair done. They sent me to a place where a tattooed woman with uneven long and short, spiked and straightened, hair sat me down in a chair. She had tried to talk to me, but upon realizing I spoke no German, gave up. She pointed to my tattoo, gave me a thumbs up, and smiled. From there, she began to cut.
She snipped and preened, cautiously moving around me and modifying how I looked. After she finished cutting, she put product in my hair. She pulled at it and styled it, blow dried and tweaked until it sat just right.
“This is your hair now,” she said to me in curt, certain English. She didn’t know a lot, but she knew this. This was my hair now.
“I don’t know how to do -this-,” I moved my hands around my head while I said ‘this.’
“You will learn.”
She rinsed my hair out and showed me how to look cool.