I can’t tell you about Vienna without first telling you about Florian and Miki.
I met Florian in San Francisco. A German, we bonded over my misplaced pride in my bad German language skills, the fact we both lived in the Haight and shared a love of cats. These things have held true for nearly ten years now as we’ve met up in various cities and always managed to stay as close as ever. Miki and Chris are the other halves of the connection, and now equal partners in the friendship.
Fact is, the European leg of our trip was really all about Eastern Europe, so if it wasn’t for these two friends, we probably wouldn’t have come to Vienna in the first place. But as a wise person once said: „Wherever you are, it’s friends who make your world.“ And this sure held true here.
We began our weekend adventure with rented bikes from Neustart, a socialisation project for former prison inmates. They rebuild bikes and Florian was excited to be their first rental customer! Miki gave us a pedal-by tour of the sites in the Old Town.
Vienna is immediately and obviously striking. The home of the House of Habsburg, it was once the seat of the most important royal family in Europe. From the Messepalast to the Stephansdom, we saw grand, impressive, white, ornate buildings fit for kings.
Respecting our manners, we stopped for lady-like miniature breads and bier at Trezniewsky. Topped with various spreads instead of loose cheese or meat, this limits crumb count and ensures smooth eating without so much as smudging your lipstick.
We then caught the last of the sun, sitting alongside the Donau River – checking out the path we would ride in a week’s time and watching people go by.
We then carried on to the Prater, an amusement park best known for it’s huge Ferris wheel-like gondola. It made me think of the film Before Sunrise – one beautiful conversation between two strangers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train bound for Vienna. They spend an evening strolling around the city, and almost kiss on the big Prater wheel…ah, the romance of Generation X…
But I can’t say those feelings lasted long as we sat down for an evening meal at the nearby Schweizer Haus. The boys feasted on a big hunk of pork, accompanied by traditional Austrian fare like pretzel, potato salad and cabbage.
In the meantime, Florian’s bike got a flat tire, but Miki came to his rescue, acting as chaffeur. They definitely got some funny looks and playful horn honks. Chris and I kept spontneously laughing at the sight of them the whole way back.
In the morning we had a wonderful healthy breakfast of yogurt, museli and fruit at the Kunsthallencafe am Karlsplatz before heading to look for costumes for a party that night. You had to attend as either an Egyptian, Roman or Greek. Chris being ethinically half Greek, we decided to support his people.
Strolling through the Naschmarkt, you can find everything you want and everything you don’t want. Amazing food, antiques, clothes and various brick-a-brac…we had all we needed for our costumes: an old curtain for Jenn’s skirt, gold and green sparkly sashes, clay pot and goblet for Miki’s Dionysus outfit. From that point on, getting ready took up the better part of the day. We watched various YouTube clips of how to make togas from bed sheets. Surprisingly, there are several techniques!
The party was in honour of four people’s birthdays, taking place in the suitably royal abode of the Schloss (Castle) Neuwaldegg. I’ve never seen so many people in sheets in one place! My personal favourite was one dude who was clearly wearing a table cloth as a skirt and blue hand towel on his head. There were also several beautifully adorned Egyptian and Greecian ladies floating about. We danced to some very, um, bizarre German reggae, rap and hip hop. But everyone there was so friendly and wonderful that we had a great time anyway. Several even apologised specifically for the bad DJ – especially Miki, who whenever a particually naff song came on would sardonically proclaime: „Welcome in Austria!“
Next day, we really had our work cut out for us as we’d planned to do a ‚test’ cycle ride for our big cycle trip later on. We took the train towards Germany, with a view to doing 40km (the average in a day on our week long cycle ride) through the wine growing region of the Wachau. We got off track though, and it took us about an hour of bad road and then one scary rock ridden path to finally find our way. But we didn’t worry too much as we’d bought return train tickets already anyway.
It was a good test for sure, seeing how far we could go and what types of cyclists you see – from big tour groups to super-speedo freaks to families with a bicycle caboose for the kiddies. There were also lots of places advertising their rooms where you can stay and little snack bars (imbiss) selling homemade food and drinks for the riders. We also enjoyed an apple each from a little wild apple tree.
Cycling along the river was very peaceful and beautiful. Florian & Miki have done the journey themselves, and said they’d actually found it quite meditative as well. We will see what our ride is like soon enough!
Well now we say goodbye to Vienna, as we hire a car for a little jaunt around the rest of Austria…over mountains and hills – to concert halls and theatres.