The train got to Steyr before dusk, having followed a bend on the Enns that here meets the river that gives the town its name. This place was like a fairy tale town. I had to enter another tunnel, on Stadtplatz, and head upstairs to find the reception area of the Stadthotel Styria. The guy at the desk looked like Tom Petty. The room was quite luxurious. The two nights there were dearer than Linz. I had an hour’s nap and then a bath. There was even an armchair with a round coffee table beside it.
I had to go out and find something to eat. Wandering around, I saw the streets were practically empty. Here and there I could smell something nice but the only outdoor menu I checked, on Enns Kai, had indecipherable handwriting. It was more hurried than Gothic. Finally I read the one outside the Hotel Mader, which was almost next door to mine. The girl at the first counter directed me down the back, through another tunnel, and I saw three more dining rooms, plus a bar. There was life alright but the Upper Austrian love of tunnels kept it off the streets.
A club sandwich plus wedges did the trick, despite a nearby table of yakking Germans, and then I wandered over to Steyrdorf again. Back in the hotel by ten, I didn’t even want to go to a pub that night. Crossing back over the Steyr river, I’d climbed to the Schloss. A bird was hooting in the wood of the Schloss park behind it but sounded a bit high-pitched for an owl. Empty dark alleys around there were less spooky than dreamlike.
After no drink, bar a single dunkel in the Mader the night before, while eating, I still didn’t sleep very well. I went over to the spot at the end of the Enns bridge outside the Hotel Minichmayr to film the meeting of the waters. There were seagulls here, in a landlocked country. The wind off the rivers was icy. On the way there I sneaked a few snaps of a cute little female postie with glasses. She wore a woolly cap and a black and yellow jacket. She was young. She had a matching little black and yellow van.
That time I didn’t stay out long. The morning was cold so I returned to the hotel for my jumper. Shirt and heavy jacket weren’t enough. Then I knew I had to get some more sleep.
Out again in the afternoon, I wandered around to the churches. The sun was half-out. Then, in the Christmas market on the Stadtplatz, I ate another Bosner. I counted three elderly German-speaking tourist groups passing by. The dog was followed by two mugs of Glühwein, from two different huts. Next stop was the Café Werndl for a Fiaker (basically a rum shot that just smells of coffee) and what proved to be a small block of Sachertorte, with Schlagobers.
Further wandering over in Steyrdorf ended at nightfall. In the murky interior of the Michaelerkirche I suddenly heard organ music but it was only the ringtone of a guy who appeared out of nowhere and who hadn’t even taken off his cap off. The wind near water felt like being out at sea. In the evening again someone was setting off fireworks somewhere across the Enns. Travel is a mixture of slogging from A to B and onward but also spending a lot of time thrown in bed relaxing and even writing. That was my experience. In this country, as in Italy, or even France, there always seemed to be a lot of steps to be climbed too.
At an English pub in Steyrdorf, by the name of Sir Patrick, one also had to press a buzzer to be let in. There, an inquisitive but very inebriated Opel agent of about sixty was unimpressed by any mention of Ireland. Sepp later gave up insisting I was an Englishman, also in the motor trade (“Du bist Agent?”) for the suggestion I was from Norway. A taxi finally took him away but not before he also enquired if I was looking for a fight (“Willst du kämpfen?”), though not necessarily with him.
The place wasn’t busy and I left after three drinks. At least it wasn’t full of smoke. I tried the noisy Treff Café on Enns Kai then but (1) I couldn’t find the toilets and (2) if I wanted alcoholic Weizenbier I had to go/do somewhere/something a nice young girl behind the counter said but I didn’t catch. At a normal bar counter I shouldn’t have had to understand so I gave up and didn’t even ask her to repeat it. I was back in the hotel room by eleven. The mini-bar was going to get a little hit.
There was an ancient minibus doing the rounds outside in daylight, more magnolia than pale yellow, with “Christkindl” painted on its side, and every time it turned up in the Stadtplatz it blared the same two pairs of notes, like a ship’s horn. The first pair rose, the second pair fell. It did this again before it departed. The nearer you were to it, the more annoying it got.
In the crisp sunshine of New Year’s Eve I was heading back to Linz because it was cheaper and simpler to get to back to Vienna that way. It was gone noon. When the whole Christmas season was over – it is literally a season now in terms of how long it feels – I’d be thinking back to moments like this. The sun was shining and I was travelling comfortably on a quiet train. A little bit tired (no hangovers), I got a boost from a Semmel I’d filled again at breakfast time. It was a good day to travel.