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  • Writer's pictureDamian Robb

Stray Thoughts 09 | Holiday Homes





 

In the last week I’ve had three homes. The first home I shared with my wife, the second my brother, and the third is just me.


Let’s start where we left off last time, in Kufstein.


Holly left on a Monday. She did so at roughly five am, leaving with a hug and a kiss and a bag on either side of her. I would be doing the same twenty-four hours later. Holly was heading to Rome. From Kufstein, located in the Austrian countryside, this is an all day affair. She trained it back to Vienna, where she got a flight to Rome, with the public transport there finally seeing her into her new temporary home thirteen hours after she’d left the last one. My own move would be far simpler. I was heading to Innsbruck, only a thirty-five minute trip by train from Kufstein. I packed and tidied up the apartment, put my big bag on my back and my small one on my front, and walked out, closing the door behind me, likely never to see that small temporary home again. I walked to the station and waited. The train pulled in, I hopped on, and was soon rushing through the countryside toward my next home.



Back in 2018, before marriage and covid and being a full time broke-ass freelance writer, I visited Innsbruck. The weather then was overcast, the clouds seemingly having moved in with no intention to leave. Despite this, I was enamoured. Having now visited it again with a bit more time to explore its various nooks and crannies, I can comfortably say of all the cities I’ve visited, it is one of my favourites. It is a near perfect mix of city and country. The old town centre and central boulevard are both gorgeous to look at and stroll through, and the size of the city itself is easily manageable on foot, with your best bet to walk along the river to soak in some quality views. It also has colour and life, good food and drink – including the sometimes hard to find in Austria, craft beer – and is, perhaps thanks to being both a tourist town and a university town, a good mix of young and old, local and tourist.


It is also ringed by mountains.


Walk down any street or weave through any laneway, full of beautiful architecture and colourful facades which immediately make me feel like I’ve managed to step into a cosy fantasy book in the best example of escapism becoming reality, and look up. There you’ll see a mountain, green and blue and brown, that will make your jaw drop and the edges of your mouth rise. I never get sick of it. Truly. Part of me keeps expecting to, but no. The good thing about being a mountain pervert is that it continually continues to titillate. Even better, these mountains are easy to access from the town’s centre, with one funicular literally being located in the heart of the city, ready to take you up and into the clouds. Three other chairlifts are only a short bus ride away, all attached to a different mountain, all containing views that stun me and which I could never find back in Aus.


First though, I had to get to my second home. This was a two kilometre walk from the station, located a pleasing distance from the real hustle and bustle, but still with plenty of places to eat and shop nearby. Two kilometres is an easy distance to walk. I do it every day without thinking. But with a big bag on my front and a small one on my back, it is suddenly a challenge, mostly for my shoulders, a part of my body I usually never consider when walking. It didn’t matter, I was strolling through Innsbruck; a phrase I used a lot during this week, usually sung to the tune of walking in Memphis. The city was as colourful as I remembered, its skies just as grey as last time. I stopped for a coffee, happy to take both bags from my shoulders, and got some writing done while I waited until midday when I could check in to my new home.


Midday came, and I put my bags back on and went and met Georg, my Airbnb host, outside of the accommodation. The building I was staying in was older than most that exist in all of Australia. One thing I never get used to, and am not sure Europeans could ever understand having lived with it their whole lives, is just how present their history is. It lives in their buildings and statues and cobblestones. It exists in the town layouts, the scattered castles, and fortifications that are now novel and decorative rather than functional. Of course, my country does have history, one equally as long if not longer, but it's not one we, sadly, live with on a day to day basis.


Anyway, I was meeting Georg, a trim and bespectacled middle aged man who had a bubble of energy about him, and who was shocked at seeing just one of me until I explained that my brother would be joining me from Vienna the next day. He opened the tall front doors and led me into a wide space, clearly once stables, then through toward another entrance, up a stairway that wore its lime-green chipped and dated colour scheme with elegance, and to the door of home number two.


He gave me a tour, explaining as he did so the apartment's history and particularities. The apartment was huge and Gerog’s shock and seeing a solo traveller suddenly made a bit more sense. That’s thing number one that you need to know, how big this place was. The rooms all had high ceilings and so much space that even with their big lush furnishings you still couldn’t help but be aware of all the floor you could see. Thing number two is that the floor was wood. The original wood, in fact, which is why it let out a chorus of squeaks with every step. The bedrooms, of which there were two, were also ginormous. Each one bigger than my living room back home. Georg explained that presently he and his boss, who was actually the one who owned the apartment, were limited in what they could do with it as it was heritage listed which meant anything they did would ultimately cost a fortune to keep the facade intact. He told me they had replaced the windows for an eye-watering amount of money, and had clearly done some, to my mind, incredible work on the interior design. Their future goal was to split it up and make it student accommodation, but for now their loss was our huge and spacious gain. Georg led me through the long dining room that I felt sure, correctly, Jono and I wouldn’t use and into the kitchen, where he gave me the keys and told me the wifi password. Throughout this final bit of the tour my eyes kept getting drawn to a room he hadn’t pointed out, one made of wood and glass located off the side of the kitchen. However, since Georg didn’t mention it, neither did I. He did show me one other room however, as large as all the rest, but completely unrenovated, meaning it looked like a great room to get murdered in. They used it for storage.


George left and the balloon of excitement that had been growing inside of me swelled even further. The first thing I did was have a look at the wood and glass room. It had not one but two doors, abutted each other, which made me sure I wouldn’t be able to go in. But door number one opened, and then door two, and I entered a warm and calming sunroom that looked out onto mountains and my balloon of excitement burst. This home was decadent and luxurious and, thing number three you should know, absolutely littered with primo writing spots.



I buzzed, wanting to do all the things at once but too amped up to do any of them. I danced across the squeaky floor, filled with delight and the need to share this with others. I sent Jono a message telling him we had done well, filmed a quick tour of the place and sent it off to Holly, and then went about sitting in every chair and opening every cupboard, all while taking a bevy of photos in an attempt to capture just how beautiful I found the place.


I had already fallen in love with home number two.


I keep saying home, because for this brief moment in time, that is the function these buildings serve and it’s always kind of shocking just how easily this happens. We enter a space, unfamiliar to us other than a scattering of photos seen on the internet, explore it, study it, then make it our own. One of the great pleasures for me whenever I travel is figuring out what all my new little routines will be. Deciding where I’ll set up my phone and laptop, how I’ll unpack my toiletry bag, and where my luggage will live. It really takes almost no time at all and yet is strangely novel and fun. Within an hour of Georg leaving, once my balloon had burst and my giddiness had run its course, I had laid out all my bits and pieces, set myself up, adapted to the house and had the house adapt to me. Having turned the place into a home, I had a bath.


The next day, Jono arrived. I met him at the station in the afternoon and within moments we were giggling, both high on the situation and each other's company. Despite Jono having lived overseas for a decade now we have never travelled just the two of us, both having long term partners whose company, it should be noted, we very much enjoy. Saying that, it felt like a rare treat to have so much condensed bro time together and was made better by being in such a beautiful location. I felt like a teenager again and could feel the awe and wonder of seeing through that teenager's perspectives at the two men he and his brother would become. Amazed to be here in this place doing these things. It is a very long way from where we grew up, not just geographically but metaphysically. I like to think we are both more than we ever dreamed we could be. I showed him the grand open spaces, the squeaky floor, the sun room. We went out for burgers and beer. If it had already been a home before, it was even more of one now.


The next day we fell down a mountain. We didn’t mean to exactly, but then, I suppose most people don’t mean to fall down a mountain. It started by first riding a funicular up it. The day was still grey, the mountains wretched in clouds. We pierced those clouds rapidly, riding not just one funicular, but three, to get to the very top. From there, we could see nothing. We had come too high too fast, and beaten the heat of the day before it could catch up. We wandered and walked, soon out of breath from the thin air, as we went on foot up the short distance to the very peak. As though rewarding us for doing so, the clouds parted. Innsbruck and its surrounds, the long valley it lived it, the other tips of the alps, all revealed themselves. We snapped off a bunch of photos, and, having slated that thirst, went looking for a walk. The first that we considered had been partially snowed over. We decided to try it anyway but after one step on that sheer shifting trail, the snow immediately sliding and falling away beneath my foot down the side of the mountain, a fate we could all too easily join, decided against it. We were simply too high and all the trails were covered with snow and steep to the point of genuinely dangerous.


We went back down the first part of the funicular and after looking at some trails decided to walk down the middle section of the mountain path. Here is where we fell down the mountain. The trail we were on, while not snow covered, was still sheer to the point that after thirty minutes my legs were already turning to jelly from having to hold myself from falling down. That was at least until we got to a section of track that was newly gravelled. There was zero chance of staying upright on the shifting stone and so instead we embraced the inevitable, went down into a half sitting/half crouched position, and commenced a controlled fall down the mountain. Mostly controlled. There were a few times when I was sliding with such speed that it was genuinely difficult to stop. Otherwise, it was pretty damn fun.


By the time we made it down the mountain, we needed a drink. Luckily for us, we had a short list of places to do just that. This was because we were about to do a two man writers pub crawl. I have been lucky enough to host a number of writers' pub crawls through some of Melbourne’s finest, with some of Melbourne’s finest, but this was the first international one. It was also the first with only two participants (by choice, it should be noted). We headed for the first of our three establishments, a dimly lit bar with soft seating and that had that most important of ingredients, wifi. We ordered some drinks, got out our laptops, and got to work. An hour later, the drinks were done, words had been written, and we were heading out the door for location number two. This would, due to poor sleuthing on my behalf, prove to be closed. So instead we chose to wander until a place presented itself to us. We may have only been one drink in but we had already fallen down a mountain that morning and so were drunk enough on life that this logic felt sound. Sure enough, we found such a place, The Moustache Bar. We chose a seat under a regal looking Tom Selleck, got some very tasty local beers, and went back to work. “Work” here proved to be a mix of writing and talking. I’ve found this is usually the case for a writer's pub crawl. Stop one, the fingers are flying. The company and situation and drink is making words come out and you do your best to catch them on the page. At stop two things have shifted a bit. You’re excited by what you’ve written and the potential of what’s to come and, let’s be honest, a bit of alcohol, and so the chat begins, usually about each other's stories. Such was the case with Jono and I, with each of us sharing what we had worked on for the other to give a bit of advice. Then stop number three comes round and the laptops are all but abandoned. The drinks have kicked in, the chat has taken over, and we’re all getting a bit silly. It’s a good and natural progression. For us, this happened at a long and twisting, grimy Irish pub that was full of dirty charm and soft lighting. We got some Guinness and settled into the silly.



The next day saw us up another mountain. Once again, the clouds held domain up there, blocking our view of the surrounding mountains and valleys but providing a moody, haunted and beautiful aesthetic in their place. We were the first up the mountain that day, which we knew because the chairlift operator had told us so. There is something strangely wonderful about knowing you're the only two fools pottering about on top of a misty mountain. We took a bunch of pics and followed a path until it took us up to a small mountain hut. It was wooden and warm and adorable and we were soon warming our bellies with some very good coffee. Then the rain came which only made the experience better. Here we were, two brothers enjoying a coffee and the rain in a hut on top of a misty mountain in Austria. Once again, we felt like we had somehow stumbled into the fantasy books we have always enjoyed. We left before the rain did, and so with jackets on went for a walk around the mountain.


That was Saturday. On Sunday, it was time to pack up the home we had shared and move me to home number three. Jonathan was heading back to his actual home, the one with his wife and son, whereas I was simply moving to accommodation more appropriate for a solo traveller on the other side of Innsbruck. It was sad to leave that place. Not only had it become a home, it had temporarily become our reality; Jono and I home-sharing it together on the outskirts of Innsbruck. And here’s the funny thing with travel, because that was our reality. While we both had our usual lives to return to, it can’t be denied that for that time we really were housemates, and we were living together in Innsbruck. That’s one of the great appeals of travelling, the ability to taste test other realities and other homes, to exist in them for just a while, know their feel and fit, all while having the comfort of your normal home and reality to return to.


I walked Jono back to the station and waved him off, that home and reality leaving with him. Feeling alone, I went to my third home for the week, a small but comfortable hotel apartment. The sky was blue for the first time since I had got into Innsbruck. I went to a nearby park and wrote. The loneliness settled slowly, becoming comfortable, along with this new and admittedly still very cool reality.


For the next little while I would be a writer, travelling solo across Europe.


But I’ll tell you more about that next time.


 

Thank you so much for reading these Stray Thoughts and until next time, I hope you find happiness in your home, wherever it may be.

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