Welcome to New York

A direct flight from Tokyo to New York on average takes twelve hours and forty-five minutes. Thanks to an industrial strength sleeping tablet she was awake for only two of those hours and apart from a stiff neck, it was the best sleep she’d had on a plane.

The elderly man seated next to her wasn’t impressed though. Her snoring, drooling and sudden jolt awake after her seemingly comatose state frustrated him. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if the air hostess placed a sheet over her halfway over the Pacific; she was that out of it. She supposed he was just grateful he had the aisle seat and not the window so he didn’t have to climb over her to empty his bladder.

She had boarded her flight at Narita Airport on a Thursday at 5.30pm and arrived at JFK Airport at the exact same time on the exact same day. She had time travelled and it was to the only city in the world where she found her expectations met reality.

She reached Border Control and saw the Immigration Officer eyeing people off with equal suspicion and contempt. When it was her turn to approach him, she was feeling wide awake and flashed him her biggest smile. She handed over her passport which he peered down at, looked back up at her and then surveyed it once more. She saw his grey moustache twitch like a rodent as he tried to find something wrong with it. She had prepared everything well and knew her visa was correct. He looked up again and finally cracked a smile.

“First time in the States?” he asked and she nodded. He asked about her plans and she was brutally honest; she was there to get drunk and see a Rangers game. He seemed to approve of her answer, stamped her passport and waved her through.

She found a transfers counter and booked the cheapest option to get her to her hostel on the Upper West Side. After waiting inside the airport for over thirty minutes her driver, who wasn’t much of a talker, arrived. With two fingers he gestured to the exit, grabbed her luggage and walked with such speed it gave her anxiety. Though she followed him with haste through the airport, the moment she stepped through the sliding glass doors to walk outside, she stopped dead in her tracks as she heard the city for the first time.

The shouts between drivers, the sound of cars honking and planes taking off all combined with the chatter of millions of people meshed together to make a continuous hum. She loved it.

The driver pulled back the van door to expose the other backpackers he had already picked up from other terminals who for some reason looked panic stricken. She quickly learnt the man in charge of delivering them all to their hostels alive was the most reckless driver in existence. He made speeding, weaving through heavy traffic, slamming on his brakes and near-misses look like an Olympic sport; and he was going for gold. While she absolutely hated rollercoasters, she had never felt so close to her impending death on one like she did during that ride. To be fair though, he did get her to her accommodation in a decent amount of time.

The hostel was wedged between residential buildings on a street two blocks away from Central Park. She stepped out of the van and as she turned to say good bye (and good luck) to the remaining backpackers, her feet flew out from under her like she was running on the spot. After what felt like forever, she fell backwards and landed on her tail bone. The sidewalk was still icy from snow that had fallen the day before causing her to perform her best Road Runner impersonation unwillingly to strangers. She was more annoyed at the fact she had missed the snow.

With red cheeks from the cold and embarrassment she got up from the ground as awkwardly as possible and waddled to the door.  A condemned notice was pinned to the front explaining it would shut and be demolished in two months to make way for apartments. She walked inside and was greeted by a friendly receptionist who was proudly from Queens. While he checked her in, she asked where she could go for a drink nearby and he recommended a jazz bar six blocks up towards Harlem. She went upstairs to her dorm room, dumped her back pack and showered quickly to freshen up from her flight.

When she came back down she could hear a commotion coming from the games room. Peeking around the corner she saw a room full of people playing beer pong beneath a ceiling covered by red love heart shaped balloons. In her travel from one time zone to another she had completely forgotten it was Valentine’s Day. Everyone in the room however appeared single and their sole mission was to get roaring drunk. To hell with love. A Brazilian man converged on her with a ping pong ball in hand and convinced her to play a round against him. It wasn’t her first rodeo and she was competitive and in need of a drink. She destroyed him.

After three games, all of which she won against three different Brasileiros, she decided to break their hearts and make her way alone to the jazz bar.

Upon entry the doorman greeted her and informed her she had to sit at the bar and order a minimum of two drinks because she didn’t have a dinner reservation. She told him the two drinks policy wasn’t going to be a problem.

Once inside, she saw a mahogany bar, dark red velvet curtains and white walls covered with monchrome portraits of various jazz musicians. The space was made up of tables of two or leather booths all full with patrons and all complete with red rose and candle centre pieces.

The stage was set at the back of the room where an African American jazz band was in the middle of a set. All the band members were in black tuxedos and bow ties and had the most incredible stage presence she had ever seen. She sat down on a high wooden stool at the bar, took her coat off and hung it over the back. A female bartender acknowledged her with a hello and slid a drinks menu in front her. They shared the same name and immediately bonded. She ordered a glass of red wine and scanned the room, noting it was mainly full of couples. She wondered if any of them had noticed her and wondered if they felt sorry for her for being alone.

When the band finished its set two songs later a man in his 50s sitting next to her at the bar introduced himself. He was polite and asked her about her plans in New York and her previous travels. He was in the middle of telling her about his adult children, divorce and job as an investment banker when two frat boys interrupted. Never in her life had she encountered such arrogance. She knew American guys were forward, but this was too much for her to deal with. Their attention was only directed at her and they were aggressive in their approach. When they repeatedly cut the man off from trying to speak to her and physically tried to edge him out of the conversation by getting between them, she put her foot down.  She told them there was no way in hell she was interested in speaking to such a pair of backwards-hat-wearing-small-dicked-douchebags. They had asked her to join them at another bar around the corner and she suggested they head there immediately without her. When they realised she was dead serious they backed off. She looked innocent, but when she was really angry she could scare a 120 kilogram bikie into submission.

The man in his 50s was in shock and awe and thanked her for choosing his company over the younger men. Apparently seeing this as an opening for a new avenue of discussion, he then asked her if she would like to be his mistress for the week while she was in town. ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ she thought. What was with these men? She politely declined his offer and began a conversation with the bartender. After a few minutes the man sheepishly stood up and left. She told herself he was just lonely because it was Valentine’s Day.

By this stage the band had begun another set. She became too enthralled by them to notice a new guy was sitting next to her until he leant over and asked what she thought of the music.

“They’re amazing aren’t they?” she gushed and he agreed. He was in his 30s told her how he was trying to make it on Broadway.

Yet another set ended and the lead singer, with the charisma of Sammy Davis Junior, walked straight up to them. It turned out he and the guy sitting next to her knew each other and she was introduced. The singer was ecstatic she had chosen to visit that particular bar and catch their performance on her first night in the Big Apple. As he was talking, a woman with a familiar looking face crept up behind him and slid an arm around his waist. It took her awhile, but she later realised the wife of the singer was an actress in a prominent TV show set in New York which she had grown up watching. She came across as polite but aloof. Could this night get anymore surreal?

The singer grabbed a drink from the bar and went back to the stage. When the audience went quiet he announced there was a special guest in the house. It was her. He told the crowd it was her first time in New York and wanted to dedicate the following song to her. It was Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind. Yes, it could get more surreal.

The rest of the night became a drunken blur as she was invited to stay for a lock in with the staff and band. She discovered two distinct correlations. One was between the consumption of free alcohol and increased memory loss. The second was between Americans and drinking games. The last thing she remembered was checking the time to see it was past 4am.

She abruptly woke up later in the morning in the girl’s dorm at her hostel and raced to the toilet to throw up the previous night’s regrets. There was nothing quite like having to puke in a dirty communal toilet shared by over a dozen men and women. She had a flash back of doing cheap tequila shots with the bass player. How the hell did she get back to the hostel in one piece? She couldn’t remember. When her head stopped spinning she managed to dress herself and stumble out of the hostel and into the corner store at the end of her street.

When she walked into the shop the Hispanic father and son who ran the store began laughing at her. Offended and not in the mood she skulked to the back corner of the store to gather supplies like Gatorade and Panadol. When she reached the counter the son waved her passport in her face and smirked.

“You left this here this morning”. Ho-ly-shit. She’d lost her passport on her first night in New York and managed to somehow get it back. What were the odds? The travel gods were clearly smiling down on her. She thanked the men profusely and headed to Central Park still processing what had just happened.

While walking through the park she couldn’t think of a more perfect introduction to the city. She stopped a dog walker to point her in the direction of the nearest McDonalds.

The sound of an ambulance screeching past was like a knife to her brain.

She was definitely going to need a supersize.

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Berlin and the Viking

It was her first night ever in Germany and she was sitting in a dark, smokey bar in Berlin’s hipster suburb, Kreuzberg. She was accompanied by the strangers she had just met that day at the hostel where she was staying. She hadn’t been fussed about going out, but a fellow Australian had convinced her to accompany him and a couple of American girls for dinner and drinks.

When they had first walked in, a large English buck’s party was leaving. They’d taken one look at her before shouting “Agnetha! Agnetha!” implying she looked like the singer from ABBA. Her blonde hair and blue eyes had always thrown people wherever she went. On the flight over the Air Hostess assumed she was German and started indecipherably rambling to her. Sometimes people mistook her for Polish, even Irish, usually some sort of Scandinavian; definitely not Australian.

There were just enough people in the bar to make an atmosphere which was exactly how she liked it; crowds and drink queues annoyed her. It was a run down, minimally furnished establishment which resembled a large living room more than a bar. She’d forgotten smoking inside was still allowed in some parts of the world as a thick layer of smoke blanketed the top half of the room. There were clearly no smoke alarms in the building. She made a note of the exits.

They had made their way to a group of couches surrounding a coffee table and close to the door. It was good to be near the entrance. Every time it opened it allowed fresh, cold air in and countered the smoke. It was September, but summer was already well and truly over in Europe.

She was too enamoured with getting to know her new friends to notice she was being observed. It was after the fourth round of drinks when the Australian man nudged her.

“That guy keeps looking over at you” he said as he gestured to her right. She sharply turned her head to see another set of couches next to them occupied by six men. When she looked over, her eyes locked with a man’s and she quickly looked away. She shyly looked once more and the same man immediately asked her something in a foreign language.

“Är du Svenska?” which turned out to be Swedish for “Are you Swedish?” She started laughing and told him where she was from. He was shocked and she was intrigued, so they began a conversation from his couch to hers.

He hailed from Denmark. The only two things she knew about the country was that it was Scandinavian and was where Mary Donaldson went to become a Princess. He was an environmental planner for the city council in Copenhagen, into kite surfing, skiing and tennis and could speak Danish, English, German and Swedish perfectly. The only languages she knew were English, Australian, sarcasm and bullshit.

While it was her first night in the city, it was his last. She explained to him how she had moved to London eight months earlier. He wasn’t fond of England, but liked Australia and went on to explain how he had travelled the east coast of the country once to visit a girlfriend who was studying there at the time. She was from the west. Not as many people ventured that side.

How had she not noticed him in the bar sooner? He was a 6’3” blonde with a warm smile and the most incredible eyes she had ever seen. They went from blue to green to yellow. He looked tan in his long sleeve white t-shirt and when she got closer to him, could see his skin was lightly dusted with freckles. To her, he was a modern day Viking.

Why on earth was this man interested in her? She felt he was way out of her league. She was in her mid-20’s, only had a bag of clothes to her name and spent her time wandering the earth. She was attractive but didn’t consider herself a knockout, nor did she think of herself as very mature. Being eight years older he definitely was and seemed to have his life together. She was half convinced he might be a serial killer. The other half thought he might be a figment of her imagination. She needed and wanted someone exactly like him and so he had somehow manifested like a sexy genie. She was grateful though, it had been awhile since she felt a spark with someone.

They were immersed in deep conversation for two hours before the Australian guy and American girls interrupted and announced they were calling it a night. She was so enthralled with the Viking she had forgotten they were still there. They asked if she was going back to the hostel with them. She looked at the Danish man. There was something about him that was niggling at her intuition. It was also his last night. He quietly asked her to stay. She agreed without hesitation.

While she said goodbye to her new found friends from the hostel he went and bought her a drink from the bar. It was some sort of watermelon flavoured cocktail with enough alcohol to subdue a ship full of sailors. It was disgusting. His friends decided enough cocktails had been consumed and enough time had passed for them to gate crash the conversation. Who was this Australian girl talking to their bachelor Viking buddy? She quickly learned the Danish were a cheeky bunch and they were on a boy’s trip before one of them was to become a father.

Everything was going well until the Viking leaned in and said “I have to tell you, you look just like my mother”. Geez thanks, she thought. Talk about a buzz kill. She wished it was a ‘lost-in-translation’ moment, but his English was unfortunately too good. He quickly realised the effect of his comment when she started to withdraw from the conversation. He apologised and explained how it was just a compliment, and that she looked Scandinavian.

He was back in the game.

After a few more rounds the rest of the Vikings set off to find a kebab. No matter where in the world one travels to, the kebab is the international symbol for curing late night hunger.

Once they were alone the Dane took the opportunity to move closer and in one swift, suave move, he kissed her. She melted. At that point she was ready to move to Denmark and have his blonde multi-coloured eyed babies. He was very good at kissing.

After an intense make out session they both stood. No words were spoken, but it was apparent they were going back to his accommodation.  They walked out of the bar together and stopped for another kiss. As their lips were locked together they heard cat calls. His friends were gaping out of a taxi stopped in the middle of the road, kebabs in hand yelling at them. Awkward. Four guys crammed into the back seat while another jumped into the boot. German taxi drivers were mellow fellows. The Dane hopped into the front and she slipped in to sit on his lap. With his long legs and her head bent by the roof, it was an uncomfortable ride. His German to the taxi driver was impressive though.

It turned out the Vikings were staying at a Hostel as well. It wasn’t as nice as hers but was larger and had a bar on the ground floor. They’d saved money on accommodation to spend more on beers. It suddenly dawned on her they would all be sharing a room together and there wouldn’t be any privacy. Luckily, the Dane realised the same thing. As the men went one direction down the hallway, they peeled off and went another. It was past 3am by this stage, so fortunately the majority of inhabitants were already asleep.

After trying a number of locked doors to linen cupboards and empty dorm rooms, she was led to the communal bathroom. It was here or nowhere. Now or never. When in Rome she supposed, or in this case, Berlin. It was a small bathroom, just a single shower, toilet and sink. He grabbed her and started kissing her furiously. She started removing both of their clothes. It was cold so they moved into the shower and let the hot water pour over them. Things were getting heated. They were too drunk to realise the shower drain was clogged with hair. It started overflowing, flooding the bathroom and soaking all of their belongings. They were too busy laughing and exploring one another to care. At one point they heard giggles from a couple who had briefly stopped outside to listen to them. She was pressed up against the sink while she looked at him behind her in the mirror. As he slowly entered her repeatedly he touched the front of her softly. It was the first time in her life someone had made her orgasm. Not the ideal setting, but definitely the ideal man for the challenge. She had only ever encountered selfish lovers who never bothered to help her get over the line. She was definitely having at least ten of his children.

It was 5am when they decided to call it a night. He wrapped himself in wet clothes and ran to his room to find her a dry shirt. When he came back he asked her to stay with him. He didn’t want it to end just yet. They snuck into the room and climbed into a top bunk. She found it hard to sleep due to the lack of room, the fact she was in bed, being spooned by a stranger and was surrounded by random snoring men.

She was restless and kept moving around. To soothe her, he started touching her again. By this stage it was daylight. She opened her eyes and looked around to see her surroundings while trying to stifle her moans. The father to be who rested on the bunk opposite them was looking at them half asleep. She saw the flicker of understanding register on his face and he turned to face the opposite wall clearly embarrassed.

A few hours later and after a total of 15 minutes sleep, a chorus of phones began ringing. It was time for the Vikings to get up, check out and fly home. They silently and quickly left the room, bags in hand, giving her and the Dane one last moment of privacy. They were in the middle of very intense sex when a maid walked in. She thought everyone in the room had already checked out and, when realising her mistake, hastily backed out so they could continue to finish each other.

They jumped down from the bunk. There was regrettably no sexy way to do it. She dressed herself slowly, while he packed. The awkward farewell chat kicked in and she hated it. When he was finished packing he walked her down stairs and into the street. It turned out she was only a 5 minute walk away from her hostel. He handed her his business card and kissed her. If she was living in London he wanted to see her again.  It was only around an hour’s flight away from Copenhagen. He held her face and kissed her again, told her to enjoy Berlin and turned to make his way to the nearest U-Bahn.

In that moment she had no idea if she would see him again.

Little did she know that she would.

She also had no clue about the chain reaction of events that had just started.

She pulled out a yellow IPod from her bag, fixed the earphones in her ears and put Bloc Party’s Kreuzberg on repeat as she walked toward her hostel. From then on, every time she listened to that song she thought of him, and that one night she had in Berlin with a Viking.

About

The short stories published on this blog are inspired by true events.

They’re inspired by the people I’ve met, the places where I’ve lived and the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit.

The stories are about travel, friendship, love, heartbreak and self-discovery.

I would like to dedicate this blog to my parents for being supportive and always encouraging my curiosity.

And to the friends who have accepted me for who I am.

I hope to make you laugh, cry and gain a little yearning to explore the world.

I hope you enjoy my stories.

S