28 JUNE 2012 :: BAD GASTEIN - AUSTRIA
I think I'm in love.
I know it is totally irrational, I know it is probably only an infatuation on my part. I can't help it. I can see the faults, I can see why most people would not stay. But, I can also see the beauty, the style, the culture and the charm.
I've only been here two days and I already feel a relaxation so blissful it is hard to put into words. With countryside this stunning it is hard not to feel serene. I think it may be more breathtaking than Yosemite. There, I said it. It's out there. I'm in love, I'm supposed to make impulsive statements.
What I'm struggling to understand is, why do other people not see what is so blindingly obvious to me? Just look at the scenery again, what's not to love?
Maybe I see what others miss because we've shared a moment? It is difficult to be uptight when your sitting naked in a sauna. There is a brutal honesty, openness and vulnerability that causes all of your stress to melt away.
I am writing this in a traditional alpine restaurant, I am drinking beer, eating bratwurst with dumplings, and odd as it sounds, Dean Martin is crooning across the sound system. Bad Gastein knows the way to a guys heart.
Sure, I see the faults. It's a gorgeous town clinging to a dramatic mountain valley. It's not just difficult to get around, it's heart attack material to walk from the bottom of town to the top! But when the walk crosses the waterfall three times, I'll risk the heart attack any day of the week for something this beautiful.
The town is also strangely abandoned. Absolutely stunning, classical European buildings sit boarded up. Reminders of a once glamorous past, now left waiting for the town to recapture her magic.
It is now three days later, and what started with so much promise has ended with so much pain. I am sitting on a train in Vienna, I am supposed to be at work in London. My fleeting relationship with Bad Gastein ended in ruins, my hotel room was broken into on my final afternoon. The only item of value in the room, my passport, was stolen.
Like all breakups this was a bitter experience. The hotel did not land on my side, why would they, they'd known the town a lot longer than they knew me. However, I did not expect them to be quite so obstructive. Their refusal to call the police was a particularly nasty slap in the face. It stung, especially as I climbed the length of the town, in pouring rain, to report the theft myself.
Thankfully the police were more sympathetic to my plight. They understood that even in beautiful settings, awful acts are still possible.
My consulate in Vienna, a four hour train journey away, were not on my side of the relationship fallout. "there is no crime in Bad Gastien, surely you lost your passport?"
You've sided with the beautiful Bad Gastien over your own Countryman. Another reason to loathe that horrible island.
Thankfully I finally found a sympathetic ear. The Intercontinental, a big hotel in a big city, they understood my need for a metaphorical hug after all this nastyness. A big, comfortable room, with a view over the botanical gardens. A brief walk to some of Vienna's best bars and cafes, a superb breakfast and a parting smile as they wished me luck on my journey home.
I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.