Monday, October 7, 2013

Weekly Interlude 18: Seeing Friends

Some people use yoga to find balance; others meditate. Turns out all I need are my friends.

This weekend, two of my friends from my study abroad semester came to Vienna (one came up from Graz, Austria, and the other down from Liberec, Czech Republic; they both teach English). It was at once both strange and completely normal to cruise around the city with them, as if it were still 2012 and we were still students. Although my roommates from that semester all live in different countries and states now, we immediately pick up where we leave off whenever we see each other.
Looking across the Danube

The week began unsuspectingly, with a sudden drop in temperature and a consistent, whipping wind. I decided to take another walk to the Danube, this time with my camera. In the picture shown here, you can see the EU buildings and the "squiggly skyscraper" (as I like to call it) on the other side of the Danube. Sitting by the water was worth it, but it was just a bit too frigid to be completely enjoyable. I did, however, help an older Canadian couple find their way back to their Viking Tor river cruise.

Colorful vegetables at the Naschmarkt
Frozen but happy
Since it's been so cold, I spent much of my time indoors this week. That all changed on Friday, when my friends arrived. There's nothing like friends to shake me out of my doldrums! We spent the afternoon before I had to work touring the Naschmarkt, Vienna's most popular market that extends from the 1st district all the way to the 6th, right by where we lived when we studied abroad. The Naschmarkt is always crowded, filled with tourists and locals alike. You can find anything from produce to dried fruit, fish to baked goods. There are even some restaurants. The vendors aggressively but cheerfully offer samples of stuffed olives and falafel, calling out "Bitte schön!" and "Schöne Damen!" -- often switching to "Beautiful ladies!" to get our attention (I quickly learned phrases like "I'm just looking" and "May I try this?"). I was so inspired by my Naschmarkt tours this weekend (we went twice) that I'm going today to buy some produce. It all looked so colorful and fresh; there's absolutely no reason to settle for half-wilted, sub-par produce at the grocery store. In the picture to the right, you'll see me holding a pastry called a Mohnzelten. It's basically a bready pastry dough densely filled with poppy seeds. Completely delicious and not too sweet, but make sure you have a mirror handy to check for poppy seeds in your teeth afterwards!
The empty Rathausplatz

Our walk through the Naschmarkt led us to the 1st district and over to the Rathaus. If you remember, the Rathausplatz housed the equestrian show and the film festival; in the winter, it will feature an massive ice skating rink. This weekend, though, the area was completely cleared out, and for the first time ever (I think), I saw an empty Rathausplatz. It doesn't seem big enough to hold all those festivals -- or the dressage arena!

A beautiful street in the 17th district
While one of my friends took the LSAT next door to the Rathaus, my other friend and I hopped a random Straßenbahn and rode it all the way to the end of the line. That brought us to the 17th district, where we walked around for a bit. The 17th district lies near the Vienna Woods. These outskirts feel much more residential and quaint, like a glimpse of the "real Vienna" set away from everything touristy or commercial in the center or in the larger districts. The 17th and 19th districts give the illusion that you're in an older Vienna; streets are narrow and cobblestoned, buildings are more Baroque. The architecture is much more ornate than the 19th-century, dark beige cinder block buildings you sometimes see. Even wandering a random district is more fun with friends: the exchange of ideas, the laughter. Everything seems more welcoming and exciting when I have someone to share it with.
My delicious Café Brulôt

Inside Café Pierre
After freezing outside for hours, we decided to warm up in a cafe. We finally found a table at the third place we tried: Café Pierre, a French-Austrian cafe. I ordered a Café Brulôt -- espresso with cinnamon, vanilla aromas, foam, and a fancy chocolate drizzle. Our drinks came in cups without handles but with spoons, so it was like eating soup! Needless to say, going to a cafe is the best way to warm up.

Roommates at Oktoberfest!
A stall at Oktoberfest
On Saturday night, we went to Vienna's own Oktoberfest. Munich is, of course, home to the real Oktoberfest, but I figured we should check out the Viennese version. It took place in the Prater, which is a massive amusement park/park area in the 2nd district only one U-Bahn stop from my apartment. The Riesenrad, or giant ferris wheel, loomed over the whole event. Most of the fun took place inside giant beer halls, where drunk people clad in Lederhosen (pronounced LAY-der-hoh-zen, not LEE-der-hoh-zen) and Dirndls lived up to the Austrian stereotype, swaying back and forth while singing and swinging beer steins. We didn't go inside any of the halls, as none of us were dressed appropriately or in the mood for pounding music and drunk singing, but we did each order a giant pretzel and beer. We stood outside and ate/drank at a wooden counter with the tamer crowd, soaking in the atmosphere.
Iced gingerbread hearts

Clocks w/o minute hands
Sadly, my friends had to leave early Sunday afternoon. In order to stay positive and keep the weekend momentum going, Eliza and I went to a clock museum. Yes, that's right. There's a whole museum dedicated to clocks. On the first Sunday of every month, every branch of the Wien Museum offers free admission, so we met up with a friend and classmate of Eliza's and explored the three-story museum. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Vienna was, apparently, a hub of clock making. We saw the earliest clocks (with only the hour hand and no minute hand), cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest in southwest Germany, painting clocks (where real clocks were included in cityscapes, etc.), grandfather clocks, clocks made entirely of wood, giant music boxes, pocketwatches, etc. 
Grandfather clocks

Fun Fact: In the mid-18th century, Austrians used roasting jacks, or "mechanically turned spits used to cook meat over an open fire." These didn't actually measure time, but their mechanics were "important in the development of clockworks," according to the museum. To this day, a clock that keeps time poorly is sometimes called a Brater, or meat roaster, in Vienna.
You can see the cogs!

Between the Naschmarkt, the city wandering, and Oktoberfest, this weekend was packed and exciting. But really, it was seeing my friends that made this weekend the best I've had in a long time. Whenever I see friends, I just feel more balanced, rejuvenated; I have more energy, and mundane, day-to-day activities seem more exciting. I don't feel so far away from home. And the best news? They're coming back in a couple of weeks! Hooray for living in central Europe, where nothing (except the US) is too far away :)

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