Departing from Czechia was bittersweet. We had such a great time but we were moving on to our fifth country and more importantly we would be visiting my old classmate and good friend, Susi. She was part of an exchange program from Germany for one year with my senior class and it only took that one year to become great friends. I was also very fortunate to meet her and her family in Germany on my first trip to Europe as an exchange student seven years ago. However, we had not seen each other since.
We took a bus from Budejovice and made our way to Austria where she has been living for several years. I have visited Vienna before, but we were very excited to meet up with Susi and have a local who could help guide us around the city. We arrived later in the evening and she was already recommending a place to go: Billabong Australian Bar. While waiting for her there, we had supper and drinks to help recuperate from the long bus ride. She arrived, we shared hugs and tried not to disgust her with how gross we were from the long, hot trip. Our bus had broken down 15 minutes from the station and we had to walk quickly in the scorching heat to catch our connecting bus. The bar was a place she would go on Monday nights to meet her friends and to take part in the Pub Quiz. We met some of her friends and began to play. The first couple questions were way over our head and we began to get nervous that “Susi’s Foreigners” would be announced as last place. However, after the quiz was over and team places were announced, we found that we were right in the middle of the pack! Sixth out of twelve…woohoo!
Susi had to work the following day and we were tired from our travels, so we spent our first day doing laundry, buying some groceries and walking around our new neighborhood until she was finished. After she arrived back home, we began to get ready for our first night out in Vienna. She took us to one of her favorite places on the Danube Canal: Tel Aviv Beach Bar. Vienna is famous for it’s “beach bars”; bars located on the canal that cover their beer gardens in soft sand, beach chairs and umbrellas. We spent the evening drinking beer and spritzers, catching up, reminiscing on old times and sharing lots of laughs. We found ourselves craving some late-night snacks after several drinks, so we followed Susi to one of her favorite sausage joints near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The “wursts” were absolutely delicious! We ordered one spicy wurst, one smoked wurst, french fries and we devoured it all!
Lucky for all of us, Susi did not have to work on Wednesday and we looked forward to hiking through the vineyards on our way up to Kahlenberg. There is no other capital city in the world that holds more vineyards than Vienna. We got to the top of Kahlenberg, had a glass of wine, and watched a thunderstorm roll in. As it began to rain, we hopped on a bus to head down the mountain to stop in at a local winery for some fresh Vienna wine. We found a cute, old style winery and sat down in the garden for some drinks. Sure enough, one glass led to another glass and another glass. Feeling good and getting hungry, we stopped at a supermarket to get some fresh veggies and pasta to make ourselves some dinner at our apartment. We wanted to make dinner, but Susi being the great host that she was, did not allow us to help much. After eating, we FaceTimed one of our best friends, Ethan, and he was just so happy to chat and see some of his best friends hanging out in Vienna together.
Thursday came quickly and Susi was scheduled to work early and all day. Abby, Emily and I used the day to explore the sights: the Hofburg Theater, Rathaus (Town Hall), Museum Quarter and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Austria’s International Film Festival was taking place in front of the Rathaus and we took the opportunity to indulge in some of the many food stands for lunch. After a long, hot day of exploring we took Susi’s advice to head to the Danube Canal to try out another beach bar and relax by the water. On our way to a new beach bar, we walked by a man fishing who had, what looked like, a large one on the line. After watching for a few minutes, he reeled in a 4 to 5 foot wels catfish. He celebrated with his kid and wife, posed for a few pictures, and released the monster back into the Danube. It was a very neat, interesting fish and a cool experience to witness. We soon found our beach bar, Stranded Herrmann, and sat down for some food and drinks to wrap up our long day.
We woke up Friday and made plans to go to the Natural History Museum in the museum quarter. The museum was very fascinating, beginning with geology and the formation of planets. It then moved into the earliest fossils and beginnings of life, followed by the creatures who left the sea for land and then, Abby’s favorite, DINOSAURS! We spent the longest amount of time in the dinosaur hall. Abby’s excitement was shown on her face, and a museum worker made her sit down by the T-Rex skull and take several pictures; a very cute gesture. We continued through the museum, looking at the first humans and how they progressed into who we are today and ending with early Medieval Austrians. The second floor of the museum is a collection of thousands of preserved and mounted animals from all over the world that was collected by Franz Joseph, the Habsburg King who ruled most of Europe in the 19th century.
We left the museum, got some lunch, and jumped on the metro to head towards our second tourist activity of the day, the Habsburg’s Schonbrunn “Summer” Palace. We arrived and were in awe at the gigantic size and even larger gardens that surrounded the area. It was a very hot day, and we spent much more time their than we had known or planned for. After sweating through our shirts and clothes, we headed back to Susi’s for showers and a nap. Waking up refreshed, we made our way to a restaurant for some supper. The restaurant we went to was closed at 9 and we missed it by minutes. Luckily, we found an even better place than planned just down the road: Fischer Braueri with fantastic food, drinks, and service. Abby had, you guessed it, goulash. Emily tried the Jager Pfandl; a traditional beef dish with mushrooms, spaetzl and gravy. I had a fried cheese dumpling dish with fried onions, chives and bacon. Full of great food and delicious brews, we made our way back to Susi’s and retired for the night.
Saturday was our last full day in Vienna and it was definitely one to remember. Abby, Emily, and I explored a different area to find some food for lunch. We found a farmer’s market only a block away and picked up some peppers and other veggies for some stir fry to make that evening. We then set out to find somewhere for lunch. We found a nice cafe and sat down for a bite. I had a delicious burger, loaded with fresh veggies, bacon and cheese. Emily had a veggie burger, the beef substituted with huge portabellos and many vegetables. Abby had a smoked salmon salad, very fresh with an assortment of sauces. After lunch we went to the shopping area to find some necessities for our next trips: bathing suits. We made our way back to the apartment and Abby began making stir-fry to fill our bellies before going out that night. While we were pregaming, Susi pulled out a bottle of vodka from her fridge. I couldn’t believe my eyes, Zubrowka “Bison Grass.” Seven years ago while making a field trip in Krakow, I came across this vodka that I fell in love with. It has a very unique flavor gained from a blade of bison grass that is left in the bottle and is something you could sip on the rocks without any mixer. She laughed seeing how excited I was and we shared a couple drinks of it together.
We packed our bags with wine and beer and went back to the Danube and sat with our feet hanging over the water. The hours passed, as did the beers and wine, and we found ourselves very tipsy. We were determined to have falafels, a very common fast-food in many parts of Europe, so Susi took us to one of her favorite places. After indulging in the delicious chickpea snack, Susi wanted to show us her university. We arrived, and found that we all needed to use the restroom after strolling through the campus. She swiped her entrance card at the library and we made our way to the WC’s. When finished, an alarm began to sound so we hustled out of the building and were immediately cutoff and confronted by a security guard. Apparently, Susi was the only one who should have been allowed in to the library since us three were not students. Susi used her charm, asked some questions, and they let us go. She translated the conversation, stating that camera showed one card swiped but four people entered. For security purposes, they do not want anyone in the building that is not a student. Overall, it was no big deal and a good story to tell!
Our departure date from Vienna came way too quickly and we were sad to leave Susi. After those awkward goodbyes, lots of hugs and a see you later, we walked towards our metro would take us to our bus headed to Hungary. I’m so lucky to have had a classmate like Susi who was placed in my small town and even smaller school in the Midwest. But nothing compares to how lucky I am to be able to call her a lifelong friend.