Whips and Chains: The Austrian Invasion

With his plans to travel around the World relying heavily on CouchSurfing, Ben decided to try his hand at playing host and welcomes for the weekend two students from Vienna, Austria

I woke up on Friday morning with what were the classic signs of a good night - glazed vision, a mild headache, my clothes scattered across the bedroom floor and a wallet bursting with change...

...Thankfully, the dreaded hangover I had gone to bed fearing had not materialised but based on the way the sunlight was glearng through the blinds, I knew it was still far too early to contemplate getting up. So whilst lying there with my eyes firmly shut, I began to play back the events of the night before...
Suitcases, cider, kissing, laughing, Whetherspoons, an Austrian, vodka, redbull, an actress, lager, a bishop, another Austrian, sambuca, the list goes on...
Ironically, it wasn't until my thoughts reached the haze brought on by the sambuca that everything became clear. However, I knew that without looking I couldn't be sure as there was every chance I was blurring the boundary between reality and a drink fuelled dream world.

So peaking through sleep clad eyes, I turned over to find not one but two Austrians sharing my bed. Yep, that's right... I had woken up in my very own Austrian sandwich!

But roll back the clock a week and I'd never have guessed in a million years I'd be waking up like this... so how on Earth did all this come about!?
I awoke to find myself in my very own Austrian sandwich
Well, the answer is CouchSurfing; something that until just a few months ago I had not heard of but has since been sold to me in various books and online forums as a great alternative to the traditional backpacking hostels. In a nutshell, the website is a social network of travellers who have a spare sofa or bed which they are happy for travellers to spend the night.

Now as fun and interesting as hostels seem, the prospect of endless consecutive nights spent sleeping in large, untidy (probably dirty) and noisy dorms doesn't exactly fill me with glee. But don't get me wrong, this isn't to say I want to avoid them - I am sure that with the right crowd they will be great - I just don't want them night in, night out. Instead, I'd much rather spend the majority of my nights with people who are local to the area I am visiting. I mean if you want to learn about the place you are in or the people that live there, what better way than actually staying with them.

The other big plus is that CouchSurfing is free. Whilst hostels aren't exactly expensive, any recurring cost, no matter how small, can quickly add up to hundreds or thousands of pounds given enough time.

So you might be asking "what's the catch?" Well apart from the risk you could be staying with a homicidal maniac it seems to me to be pretty safe and with people leaving references for one another after hosting or surfing, it seems pretty easy to validate someone as being safe and genuine.

So with just a few months before my planned departure I thought it'd be a good opportunity to try and host a few people myself as this would allow me to not only get some positive references but also meet a few people who have couchsurfed themselves and hopefully get some tips and tricks into all things travel.
Whilst a handful thought it was a great idea, the majority expected my flat to be emptied of anything with any value or my body to end up at the bottom of the canal
With that said, I signed up on Sunday and by Tuesday had received my first request from a 20 something Austrian girl who was planning on visiting Birmingham with her friend for a long weekend. I readily accepted and come Thursday, the day of their arrival, people I had spoken to about my upcoming visitors seemed more nervous than I was. Whilst a handful thought it was a great idea, the majority expected my flat to be emptied of anything with any value or my body to end up face down at the bottom of the canal.

Arriving bang on time, Gerlie and Valentin (Valie) rocked up outside and were greeted by a suddenly very nervous host. They themselves only met a few months ago after both starting a degree in Psychology which they study in Vienna but it was immediately clear they were great friends.

Worried their English may have been limited I was hugely relieved to realise it would rival a lot of people raised in the UK, though I have to admit I did become a little on edge when after just five minutes of walking through the door they told me with gleeming smiles that they were both psychos - all I could do was hope they meant to say Psychotherapy.
Valentin and Scott
Valentin 'tenderising' beef with a potato masher
After our initial 'meet and greet' we went into town to meet Scott, a friend of Gerlie's following a trip to Birmingham a couple of years ago. Scott too turned out to be a jolly nice chap but left early because of work the following day. Later that night we ended up in my local, which, conveniently open until 2am gave us a good opportunity to get to know one another and any fears I had earlier in the day were quickly eroded by their very open, genuine and kind-hearted manners.

We got on so well in fact that despite leaving on Saturday to stay elsewhere in Birmingham they ended back with me for their last two nights before flying back to Austria early on Tuesday morning.

We had a big night out on Friday, which fuelled with a bottle and a half of wine before leaving the house, got us in the mood for a good time on Broad Street before heading to Snobs, an Indie/Alternative nightclub in the centre of town, which to my shock and amazement, I actually happened to quite enjoy - though I suspect this was mainly down to the pints costing just £2 a pop.

Whilst they were here we both cooked for one another with me opting for the traditional roast dinner and the Austrians going the way of Wiener Schnitzel. Now I don't know what that directly translates into but it was effectively chicken/pork/beef goujons with potato salad. Either way, it was pretty damn good. Most entertaining though was watching Vallie, in the absence of a meat tenderiser bashing the meat with a potato masher - an image I will not forget in a rush.
I couldn't have asked for a better first experience of CouchSurfing
Despite the potential disaster that comes with having a couple of psychos (their words, not mine) to stay for the weekend, my valuables didn't mysteriously "go missing" and at no point did I end up lying face down in the canal. In all honesty, I couldn't have asked for a better first experience of CouchSurfing as not only have I walked away from this experience with two new friends but I can confidently say Austria, particularly Vienna, definitely now features on the European leg of my journey.

And if I can get all of this from a single weekend at home, just think of the possibilities that exist for me in the months and years to come...

Scott, Gerlie and a whole lot of Schnitzel