The chronicle of a couch surfer’s awkward European vacation
It was well hidden, the little blue house down the street in the countryside of Salzburg, Austria. I parked the car and, faced with no clear alternative way of getting to the main entrance, made my way into the backyard, climbing carefully over the rusted fence. I advanced hesitantly, was I at the right place? The uncut dry grass rubbed against my legs as I ambled towards the house. It was quaint and resembled a barn; only thin layers of paint were left, the square windows, too close to each other to give it a symmetrical look, were open and the side door seemed to have been misplaced. It was odd-looking.
A handful of young people were eating at a picnic table, an acoustic guitar was going around. “Hi,” I said, “I am the couch surfer, I’m looking for Stephan?” Some looked at me with confusion. The sturdy man of the group could not have been more than 25, he gave me a warm smile, “I’m Matt, Stephan tends to forget about his couch surfers, he gets distracted like that… He’s out sailing tonight and he’ll probably not be back before morning. You can still sleep here, we have a mattress somewhere.” The sun was setting; the cool air was leaving my exposed skin chilled. Matt grabbed a wooden rocking chair and made space for me at the picnic table. “Where are you from?” a girl asked. “Canada,” I said. They proceeded with their conversation in German. I could not gather two words of what they were saying but I managed to feel comfortable. I glanced around; the artistic ‘70s lifestyle was riveting. There was a colourful Volkswagen Westfalia parked further in the field and handmade string bracelets were abundant, as were the marijuana-induced smiles.
They offered me some of their vegetarian leftovers. I began to chat with the girl next to me. “We’re all musicians,” she said. It made perfect sense, but it remained uncanny how cliché it all seemed. They started to sing harmoniously, the strum of the guitar was hypnotic and comforting. “We’ll be filming a music video tomorrow, you should join us,” one of them said. I was not sure what to think of it, but I nodded anyways.
As the night progressed, I continued to rock myself on the antique chair while looking up. The stars covered every inch of the sky and reminded me of the grandness of the universe. I felt like a part of the gang that night.
I woke up early the next morning; the sun lit the modest-sized room completely. There were no blinds. In fact, there was nothing at all apart from the flat mattress on the floor I was laying on, the four yellow walls and my luggage. Stepping outside I felt the summer’s hot air. Matt was sitting on the picnic table, picking his guitar. “Hey, good morning,” I said, “mind giving me Stephan’s phone number?” Matt was effortlessly exuding this bohemian vibe. Perhaps it was his light ripped jeans with his loose printed t-shirt, or his raspy voice that slowly said “sure… I’ll get you that no problem.”
A short exchange with Stephan later and I was invited to meet him at the marina to go sailing. I waited for his arrival on the dock. The marina was small and crowded; with sailing boats from left to right I was surprised we found each other so easily. Stephan was a weird fellow. Though passionate about sailing, he did not seem to know what he was talking about. He explained to me that the reason he had slept on his boat the previous night was that there was “not enough wind” for him to sail back to shore. The boat had a motor, but he did not feel at ease using it. The more he spoke, the less comfortable I felt sailing with him. “Do you have life jackets on board?” I asked. “No, in Austria we don’t need life jackets, we just swim!” He held my hand as I got onboard. It was a small white sailing boat with bold writing on the side reading “Half Moon.”
I sat down feeling uneasy, but at least the water was magnificent. Squinting my eyes I could see a small island, it was apparently a popular spot for sunbathing. I was truly tempted to stay but it would have been unwise—Stephan was a gawky boat captain, if not completely unqualified. I took a deep breath and blurted out a thousand excuses as I tiptoed under the sail and stepped back onto the dock. Stephan’s gaze expressed shock and confusion; I had clearly insulted him. “I’m sorry Stephan,” I began, “I just don’t feel comfortable without a life jacket, please go ahead without me. I have to go. Thanks for the invite though!” I scuttled back to land and hurried to my rented car. I exhaled as I sat down, hands on the wheel. “I hope he forgives me,” I thought as I left the marina.
I could not have stayed another night at Stephan’s house, not after leaving him by himself on his boat. I doubted I would be welcomed again. Ever so subtly, I packed the rest of my things from the little blue house into my car. Matt and a few others were in the kitchen, unconcerned that I had come back so early. Dirty dishes covered the counters. Lena, a petite blonde with freckles, was making spaghetti sauce. I casually told them that I was off to my next adventure and thanked them for their hospitality.
I ended up sleeping in the car that night, parked in a McDonald’s parking lot. I took my pajamas, my toothbrush and my soap to the their restroom located in the basement, a large insipid space containing three lonely stalls and two sinks. I cleaned my face while others looked at me suspiciously. I continued getting ready for bed regardless. The industrial light bulbs gave off a lethargic hospital glow. The cracks on the beige bathroom floor and the yellow tinted porcelain sink made me feel as if I was in a Scorsese movie. I finished brushing my teeth and glanced at myself in the mirror. “This is going make a good story,” I thought.