We’ve lived in Europe for a little more than two years now. In that time, as regular readers have seen, we’ve taken advantage of our new environs numerous times to visit some truly wonderful places. Impromptu birthdays in Pompeii, beach trips to the south of France, we’ve been to all sorts of lovely destinations. The thing is, though… the thing is, everywhere we’ve been to have been places that were more or less comfortable, even familiar to us. Before we ever moved here we’d been to France several times; ditto Italy. Sure, we went to a few different locales, but we knew how to poke around the language, we knew what to expect from the food, we more or less knew what we were getting ourselves into. More and more we’ve been poking each other about the fact that we weren’t really putting the “adventure” into our new life of adventure. So, what the hell, we basically threw darts at a map and came up with this week: a few days in Vienna, an overnight train, and a few days in Amsterdam before heading home. Whee!
If you’re thinking “3 days isn’t really long enough to see a place” we couldn’t agree with you more! This isn’t about truly plumbing the depths of these locales, it’s about going to places we know basically nothing about, understanding even less of the language than usual, and flinging ourselves into the deep end and splashing around for awhile. And believe us, we know this is still cheating a little bit. We’re still in developed nations within the European Union – there’s plenty of places further afield than these two spots. But hey! It’s a start.
Speaking of starts (come on, admit it – you missed our segues) we began this trip a lot more reasonably than some of our other go ’rounds. This time we boarded our bus to Porto at a very reasonable 9:30 AM, and then checked in for our flight with a couple of hours to spare. A cheap deal on last-minute seat upgrades meant that we could hang out in the fancy-pants lounge before making our way to our gate. By the way – should you ever need/want to avail yourself of such a lounge in Porto, be aware that there’s one lounge supporting most (all?) of the airlines. It’s actually pretty good as these things go, but it’s definitely the white-label version of such things. (And extra FYI – if you’ve got the Priority Pass thingie that is a perk of numerous rewards programs, this lounge is on the list.) We flew via Austrian Airlines, which felt a little scruffy but in a loveable way. A couple-ish short hours later, we arrived in Vienna. The rest of our first day was basically just checking into our hotel and settling in before going off to enjoy a lovely dinner at Veranda.
Couple of things about dinner. First and least, if you click the link you can see the table we sat at; it’s the first photo in the rotation. That’s the best we can do for now, as we continue to never feel like breaking out our phones during dinner to take snippy snaps. While dinner and accommodations didn’t tempt us, the other diners damn near did. As we later pieced together, we were actually dining in the arts district of Vienna during the end of their version of Mardi Gras. Now, if you think of “festivities in Vienna” the image that probably pops up in your mind (if anything does, I get it’s not an all-time callout) is those super fancy balls that they host around New Years; men in tuxedos (black or white tie, take your pick) and ladies in full gowns. Welp, turns out that’s how they celebrate a lot of things! When we arrived, the restaurant clientele was plus-or-minus looking like us – slacks/sweater or dress & shawl, take your pick. There was even a dude in a hoodie. By the time we left, however, multiple tables sported folks that were clearly having dinner before going to the ball. The table next to us was hall-of-fame worthy for people watching. Two(?) families that largely didn’t know each other, being brought together by college student(?) friends. Eight people, tuxedos and gowns all around, happily and animatedly chatting in at least three different languages. We’d think we had sussed out the nationality of one of the people, but when their language switched they’d sound just as fluent and natural in that tongue as well. It was almost as much fun for us as it seemed to be for them.
The food was great. We were offered two kinds of bread, a sourdough and a rye, accompanied by fresh butter and a cream cheese with cumin, coriander, paprika, and curry. An amuse bouche followed soon after we ordered, local char with (tiny!) pickled cherries, and sunflower seeds. We shared our dishes. Starting with pickled beets with smoked yogurt, pickled physalis, and buckwheat that was superb. Almost as good was a ceviche of local char accompanied by a (divine) sweet potato curry cream, macadamia nuts, and pickled rowan berries. Excellent (although the rowan berries were just frippery.) Our main was beef cheeks, potato puree, carrots and lingonberries. Lisa enjoyed an Austrian red from Salzl, Illmitz Osterreich (Late Harvest Red, 2022).
Our next day (which is today, bee tee dubs) we leaned into that old stand-by: the hop on hop off bus. We’ve talked about it before, but we do love a good, tourist-trap-ified double decker bus. Corny they may be, but if you’re in a new place and want to get the lay of the land, these things take you to where you want to go. For reasons of later practicality we’re staying at a hotel near the main train station so grabbing the bus was like a 10 minute affair. From there, we took one of their two routes, saving the other one for tomorrow. We were shown where a dozen of the most attractive sites in the city are located; most helpfully, we saw these in context, so we’ve already mapped out better itineraries for our next couple of days than we’d originally drawn up. We had originally planned to use the tour as a jumping-off point for taking it at least one or two of the sites around town, but a) the weather absolutely #&(*@&# sucks today, and John is nursing an ouchy in one leg that would probably benefit from a night off. So, instead we regrouped in the room before heading out to dinner at the SKY Cafe & Restaurant. We didn’t end up thinking much of the vaunted city view (perhaps because you only sit inside this time of year) but the food was top notch. We accidentally had an all vegetarian meal and didn’t even notice until we were almost done. After this it was back to the room to recover for the next day and, of course, write all this. On top of all this adventure it’s also Super Bowl Sunday, so at least one of us is staying up for a bit. [Ed. note: John did. Lisa was a sane human and went to bed.]