If you’ve ever traveled across states, or across countries, or especially across continents, you’ve probably found yourself smack-dab in the middle of an incredibly foreign place—hearing strange languages, seeing people you’ve never seen before, and thinking excitedly/terrifyingly/fondly to yourself, “Where am I?!”
On almost every single day of our Central European Week-Long Extravaganza, Ella and I would randomly ask this question to each other. Whether we were staring in amazement at the half-naked girls under the flashy red lights of Amsterdam, or putting our lives in the hands of the bus driver who tirelessly drove 10 hours to Berlin, or dancing in an international club in Prague with people from every country imaginable around us—Ella would pull me aside, stare nervously into my eyes, and whisper, “Where are we?! What are we doing here!?!” And we would immediately burst into laughter.
Because, really, traveling to foreign countries is a silly thing to do. We say goodbye to the people we know and love so that we can hang out with people who we’ve never met or seen before, who don’t speak the same language as us, and who might have a few picky things to say about the way we live our lives because we’re different.
Some of the time, it’s terrifying. Some of the time, you don’t where you are. Some of the time, you don’t know anyone around you, and you only have yourself to rely on. (Thankfully, I had Ella. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without that girl.)
But most of the time, the places you go will surprise you. The people will surprise you. And the things you manage to accomplish will surprise you, too. In Vienna, many things definitely surprised me. I’ve somehow managed to wrap up a few of them into one (albeit quite long) blog post, just for you.
So I give you: The Crazy Long List of Revelations Regarding Rachel’s Many Surprises in Vienna*.
* Title pending.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? On the train ride from Prague to Vienna, we met a fellow English-speaker in our cabin. (He was Australian, actually. Ooh, that accent. Swoon.) Turns out, he had booked the same hostel as we did, and he ended up journeying with us from the Vienna train station to the hostel. And then accompanying us to dinner. And then enjoying a bit of the next morning’s adventures before he left for Budapest that afternoon.
The time spent was brief and somewhat superficial, but … it was pretty damn cool to have a fleetingly permanent moment with a stranger. As a matter of fact, he didn’t really feel like a stranger after the few hours we spent with him.
Although he still didn’t Facebook request either of us, and it’s been more than a month. But like, whatever. I’m over it.
Revelation #1: New friends can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
When we arrived at the hostel (Wombat Hostel at Naschmarkt, for those looking to book a good place in Vienna), we tried to check in to the 6-bed room that we had booked. The receptionist gave us a grave look and said (in fairly decent English, I might add): “Oh, I’m so sorry. There was water damage in your room, so we’re unable to let you check in to that room.”
Ella’s and my eyes immediately widened in fear.
She continued. “But we set up a private twin room for the two of you at no extra charge, so hopefully that’s okay with you.” And she handed us our keys, just like that.
Revelation #2: Closed doors always lead to open ones. Sometimes almost immediately. And sometimes to a freshly cleaned private suite.
Vienna happens to be the hometown and celebrated city of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Ella happens to be this guy’s number one fan. It was basically a match made in heaven, and I was basically the “third wheel” to the multiple rounds of dates that Ella took with the various museums that house Klimt’s work in Vienna.
We saw the Beethoven Frieze in the Vienna Secession and a ton of stuff in the Belvedere Museum. And by stuff, I mean some of the most sensual, intimate, beautiful artwork I’ve ever seen in my entire life. As Ella was in art nouveau paradise, I was slowly falling in love with Klimt’s work, too. Especially The Kiss, as seen above.
Revelation #3: Weird metaphorical polygamous relationships can easily exist between you, your friend, and an artist’s artwork.
Just kidding. REAL Revelation #3: Open your eyes to something new, and your heart will oftentimes open with it.
Our first full day in Vienna, Ella and I met up with a 19-year-old Austrian girl named Hanni whose family knows Ella’s host family in Paris. Hanni and her boyfriend Romi graciously showed us around the city, speaking to us in adorably broken English and basically parading us around like two teenage tour guides. We saw amazingly beautiful government buildings (AKA the palace where the Hapsburgs used to live. Like, what!?!), the glorious Vienna State Opera house, and the Stephansdom, Vienna’s famous cathedral.
Afterwards, we got cakes and coffee in one of Vienna’s famous cafés, which obviously was one of my favorite parts of the day. I got a cappuccino and a chestnut cake, which was bangin’. That’s the “thing” to do in Vienna. Sit in a café (like the French) and eat cake (COMPLETELY UNLIKE THE FRENCH). I was fascinated. And so pleased.
After our light afternoon snack (lies; so heavy and rich and delicious), Hanni drove us in her car to her home in the suburbs of Vienna to have dinner with her family.
Okay, yeah, let’s rewind for a second. Ella and I got into this girl’s Austrian car. And she drove us to her Austrian home. Where we were going to have dinner with her Austrian family. This was definitely one of those moments when Ella or I leaned across the backseat and whispered in the other’s ear, “Where are we? What are we doing?” Our fate was in the hands of sweet little Hanni. Here we go.
Revelation #4: Sometimes it’s possible to get into a near-stranger’s car and not regret it. Sometimes it’s even kinda cool!
Her house was the perfect mix between “hundreds-of-years-old classic European home” and “straight-up IKEA chicness.” We were immediately welcomed by her father and her adorable 16-year-old brother (whose name was Peter and who immediately stole whatever is left of my middle-school heart). After ten or so minutes of chatting in the living room, we headed into the dining room and started on the soup, moved onto the stir-fry and rice (which Peter abashedly confessed to having made all by himself and about which we all made fun of him), and finished each with a krapfen (German donut).
After dinner, we lounged around and chatted in the living room. Hanni’s dad brought out lokum (or Turkish delight to us in English-speaking countries) that they’d recently brought home from a trip to Istanbul. Ella’s world flipped upside and inside out after her first bite of the rose-flavored chewy confection covered in powdered sugar. My world, however, has been this way since I first tried Turkish Delight in 10th grade and fell sickly in love with the sticky, sweet stuff.
(True story: I have an unhealthy obsession with The Chronicles of Narnia, a children’s book series in which one of the main characters asks if he can have a room full of Turkish delight to eat in exchange for betraying his siblings to an evil witch. I have morals, I swear. But I understand where he’s coming from because Turkish delight is that good.)
What was really cool, though, was that even though we were in a different country speaking a language that they were only somewhat comfortable with … we had so much to talk about it. Nothing about the dinner was uncomfortable or strange or astoundingly different. It was just dinner with nice people.
Revelation #5: No matter where you find yourself or who you find yourself with, there’s always something you’ll find that you have in common. For me, I think it was mostly the Turkish delight. (I’m only slightly kidding.)
This picture has no grand story. I just really wanted to put it on the blog, because, well … look at it!
Revelation #6: It’s possible to find a good piña colada in Austria.
The next day, we had our train ride home scheduled sometime in the afternoon, so in the morning Ella and I spent some time roaming around the flea market in Naschmarkt, just outside our hostel. Scarves, clothes, trinkets, Austrian food delicacies, and a bunch of other random crap that people were trying to sell lined the stalls up and down the street. Nothing really seemed to catch my eye in the food department. Fruit and vegetables: No thanks. Dried fruit and nuts: Eh, I see what you’re doing, but don’t even try with me. Fish and smelly meat: What? Come, on. Seriously? No.
But then we found it. The treasure trove of weird European candy. Rows and rows of tiny colorful cylinders lined one particular stall (see picture above) in some sort of fruity paradise. I asked the burly man behind the counter if he spoke English, and he said something along the lines of, “No, little” which I assumed meant one big fat YES so I probed him further. “What’s your favorite flavor?” He answered me, “Favorite? I don’t have just one!” So I asked him, “Your … four favorites.” And he answered with, “Tangerine, watermelon, coconut, and apricot.” Naturally, I bought each one of his favorites because that’s the kind of person I am. Ella bought two, and we sat down to devour the mini-feast.
I think the first reaction that came out of my mouth was something along the lines of, “It tastes like 20 marshmallows pressed together into one candy!” And I’ll stick with that. Seriously, this candy was some of the most dense stuff I’ve ever eaten. It sat in my stomach for the rest of the day like little bricks. But honestly, I didn’t mind at all. Because it was really, really good.
After that, we passed by another candy stall. I was about to walk right past it, but Ella put on her eagle eyes and scouted something behind the glass. “TURKISH DELIGHT,” she exclaimed with wide eyes as she pointed out a bag full of the stuff. I took one look at her face and knew I had to buy it for us. So for the second time in ten minutes, we sat and ate bizarrely delicious foreign candy.
Revelation #7: Turns out both of these candies are considered to be Turkish delight. I’ve never seen the first kind before. So look at that. Ya learn something new every day.
After finishing our jaunt around the flea market, we met up with Ella’s two friends from home who were visiting Vienna (Hi, Annabelle and Michael!) and had a lovely Austrian lunch with them. Then we shipped off to the train station, where we awaited our train ride to Munich (from where we would take a night train back home to Paris).
As we sat and reminisced about the week, Ella pulled out a wrinkly bag of candy corn, a birthday present I had bought here in Paris from an American foodstuffs store called Thanksgiving and had given to her the first morning of our trip. After a week stuffed in the bottom of her backpack, the candy corn got all smushed and nasty looking.
But trust me, after the long and exhausting eight days of traveling to four foreign countries, meeting new people of all different cultures, and spending day after day constantly seeing and eating and living new and different things, I was happy to eat a little piece of something I’ve known my entire life. No matter how ugly or smushed.
Revelation #8: No matter where you are in the world … there’s no place like home.
Photography by Ella Pennington, except the painting of Klimt’s The Kiss. Girl is a talented artist, it’s true; but she ain’t that talented (yet).
*P.S. If you read this entire post, I owe you fresh batch of cookies. Thanks, friend.