One of life’s most exquisite incidental pleasures is knowing people with empty apartments in other countries well enough that they invite you to stay whenever you like.
I had that, once, in a place called Bregenz.
Bregenz is a town of about 30,000 that occupies the tip of a tendril of Austria that reaches west to touch Lake Constance. You can walk to Germany and a half hour cycle will get you to Switzerland.
My friend’s apartment was on the brow of a hill overlooking the town and the lake, and I got in the habit of spending the odd week or so there whenever I was in the neighbourhood. His friends became my friends, and those friends drove me around the Bregenzerwald and Vorarlberg, home to some of the world’s best composed Alpine scenery. One summer, I happened to be there when the Bregenz Festival was on, and saw an enormous production of Die Zauberflöte in the country of Mozart’s birth on a stage jutting out into one of the world’s most beautiful lakes.
It’s lovely getting to know a place that’s not home, getting off the train (in this case, either from Zurich or Munich), and knowing to turn right, then go up the hill, take that set of steps through the trees, cross the street, and see, up past the motorcycle repair shop a darkened third floor window the key in my pocket would soon let me light up.