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Good Friends and Good Food in Vienna

Written on: Friday June 19th, 2009

On the way to Austria, I stopped for two days and one evening in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  Not really sure what to expect, I hoofed it from the train station into town and was fortunate to find vacancy in the first hostel I tried.  That left the day for exploring.   The streets were quiet, filled with only the rustle of tourists in the main sector of the city.  In that part of town Bratislava appeared like any other European city, catering to the whims of those passing through who were willing to pay more for food and a souvenir.  But away from the hot-spots the city was quiet.  I strolled distant neighborhoods, content to people-watch and view several of the many churches that graced the city streets.  When evening rolled in I was back at the hostel, sipping a beer and listening to the local house band that just started playing this venue.  They were ok, covering a lot of older, popular US tunes, and it struck me that that music was so well known here.  The night was filled with banter with both locals and tourists, but all I could think of was getting to Vienna tomorrow to see an old friend.
Petra used to live in Minneapolis about ten years ago.  We met at (the late) SpikeWorks, an indoor sand volleyball facility that was home to the infamous SixPack Volleyball League.  Every Tuesday evening we would see each other, play some ball and go out for a few drinks and some stimulating conversation.   Tuesday evenings blossomed into more frequent get togethers, and soon we regarded each other as good friends.  Alas, she moved back to Vienna to complete her schooling.  The last time we saw each other was in 2001.
As you might imagine, my excitement grew as I took the thirty minute tram to her flat.  Hi Petra!!!  She hadn't changed much in the past eight years, still sporting the youthful beauty that I remembered from so long ago.  We spent some time catching up a bit before deciding to brave the dreary rain and head off to Fıscher Brau, a local beer garder, for dinner.  We were met there by one of Petra's friends: Brita.  An accomplished traveller in her own right, Brita had just completed her own six month independent journey around the world.  The three of us talked the night away, drinking beer, eating wonderfully heavy Austrian food and telling stories of people we used to know or places we once were.
The next morning I woke with a restfulness that had not been felt in many weeks.  Petra's place was quiet and comfortable, just what I needed.   She was already busy perparing a brunch for the the same company as the previous evening.  All I was allowed to do was have an espresso and keep her company.
With our bellies ridiculously content, we set off to explore the city.  After meeting up with another of Petra's friends, Karin, we targeted the Burg Kreufeustein as our first stop.  This was a magnifiscent a castle overlooking the city.  Our guided tour brought us through the kitchen, trophy room, weapons room and master bedroom, among others.  The differences in lifestyle between now and a century ago were amazing!  From the castle we went back into Vienna proper and strolled the streets, stopping first at the Hundertwasser, a museum designed by and dedicated to the famous, local artist after whom the museum was named.  An open-air market in the 4th Dıstrıct was next.  Fresh fruit, meats, seafood, bread and sweets beckoned us as we made our way through the aisles.  Instead, we chose a coffee shop for our afternoon pick-me-up.  From the vibrant colors and smells of the market, we ventured into the dreary grey of the city's buildings.  Architecturally, they were beautiful...some of the most brilliant I had seen.  But they consisted of a common exterior theme, and that theme was matched today by overcast and drizzle.   Still, one could not help but be impressed by the massive Hofburg.  Soon it was time to dine once again, and I was given the gift of experiencing a local delight: Hauserl am Stoan, the kitchiest of kitchy restaurants atop another nearby hill.  In addition to offering spectacular views of Vienna, the restaurant offered amazing food.  The combination of ham, sausage, pork and kraut was simply irresistable.  Suddenly Vienna was appearing very dangerous to my waistline!  But the show had to go on!  It did so inside a Apres Ski themed club at which Petra knew the owner.  We got a table near the dance floor and took in the show: music seasawing between American 80's and local Austrian country ballads.  It was an interestıng and funny mix!  And watching the girls dancing to it made the night even more entertaining!  The owner was kind enough to buy a few rounds, and the night lasted late into the morning.
The next day the skies smiled upon us as Petra and I explored the other end of town.  We milled about the Schonbrunn Palace, an enormous entity of the Hapsburg Monarch era. The massive dwellıng was complimented by acres of gardens and even its own zoo!  Walking up the hill to the Gloriette viewpoint gave us the opportunity to look down upon the city as a whole and truly take in its beauty.   Soon we tramed it back to the city center and explored the Stephansdom Cathedral, via the world famous Sacher chocolate cake shop, of course!  We finished our goodies just before the arrival of Karin and Brita.  With the four of us once again assembled, I introduced them to geocaching, and we walked the streets bagging a few caches along the way.
Although I didn,t know it at the time, the ultmate gastronomic highlight of the trip was about to commence.  For we had now arrived at the Schweizerhaus!  An enormous beer garden that required five full time beer pourers to keep up with demand, this place was an experience.  The girls ordered the signature dish: an oversized portion of grilled pork, along with potato salad and pretzels.  Oh my freaking god!  Upon finishing the meal I had to admit that it was (by far) my favorite in central Europe. 
Since Petra had to work the next morning, I was fortunate enough to be invited to stay at Brita,s place for the next couple nights.  She had yet to return to work, prolonging her six month holiday indefinitely, which allowed us the opportunity to stay up late, listening to some tunes and talking travel.
My final day in Vienna was highlighted by dinner at the Heuriger in the 19th District.  These wine houses were set amongst the vineyards and offered superb food to compliment their own homemade wines.  It was a fabulous evening and a wonderful farewell to Petra and all my new friends ın Vıenna.