We flew into Vienna, caught the train, and did what I do best: Got lost. It was only for a couple of minutes, but lasted long enough to remind me that forgetting is what old people do. I soon forgot that, too.
“Pack light,” I’d told Woodrow. “Vienna is gonna be a zoo.”
“It is?” he had asked.
“Yep. Summer time is peak tourist time. Everywhere will be jammed.”
“Okay,” he said, uncharacteristically taking me at my word.
As we plopped down at a traditional Viennese coffeehouse, rich with the trappings of this city’s great literary history, Woodrow scanned the city’s main train station.
“How come it’s so uncrowded?” he asked.
“We’re off the main drag,” I assured him. “Ten steps out onto Stephansplatz or any other tourist area–and they’re all tourist areas–and you won’t hear anything but Chinese and English.”
Muscling our way through the crowds
Hans and Julia met us and we set off for dinner at a traditional Viennese restaurant where they serve real Wiener schnitzel. “Gosh,” Woodrow noted as we strolled along. “The streets are empty.”
“Yes,” Julia said. “It’s July.”
“Kind of weird for the peak travel season to be so empty,” Woodrow said.
Julia looked at him funny. “July? Vienna is dead in summer.”
Woodrow looked sideways at me. “It is?”
“Yes. The weather here is too hot and muggy in July and August. Everyone leaves.”
“Even the tourists?”
“Oh, they really only come in spring and fall.”
Woodrow looked at me again as I pretended not to hear.
We ate at a typical Viennese restaurant, which means meat and potatoes, but especially schnitzel, which is fried meat. Every country has its litmus test food; this is what they feed you because the locals love it and you won’t. You can’t get your #fakelocal tourist card in Vienna if you don’t love Wiener schnitzel.
It’s not enough to politely eat it or smile as you swallow the fat marinated in oil sopped in grease soaked in batter covering the meat. It’s not enough to clean your plate with relish and say you love it.
The only way to credibly eat Wiener schnitzel is to open the menu, GLANCE BRIEFLY AT IT (1.5 seconds or less) and order it. It is the predetermined decisiveness that marks you as a schnitzel man. And of course you ruin it the moment you order anything other than a liter of beer to go with it … sigh.
After dinner we walked towards the river. The bars were all packed, but oddly silent. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“World Cup,” Hans said.
“Oh. That’s happening now?” Silence. “So, who’s playing?”
“England and Croatia,” Hans said. As he spoke a few raucous shrieks of glee followed by a bubbling wave of low groans filled the street.
“What happened?” I asked.
Hans shrugged. “England must have scored.”
“How do you know it wasn’t Croatia?”
“All the groans. Pretty much everyone in Vienna wants Croatia to win.”
“Oh,” I said. “Why?”
“England is kind of the Trump of the EU these days. With Boris Johnson and Davis quitting, it looks like Britain will leave the EU with no deal.”
“Ah,” I said.
A little postprandial graffiti
We got down to the Donau Canal and walked along the banks, marveling at the graffiti and the graffiti that had been drawn atop the graffiti. A dude urinated into the river.
Across the far bank there was a big soccer watching party with a couple of thousand people glued to a huge screen while simultaneously drowning in beer. Suddenly a huge scream went up, a massive roar, a single, unified, rolling mass of ecstatic sound.
“Croatia?” I asked.
Hans and Julia nodded. “Yep.”
We got ice cream and walked over to Schwedenplatz. The game had sucked dry the already empty streets, and it was getting late. “Let’s head back to the hostel,” I said to Woodrow. We parted company with Hans and Julia and I got us lost again until Woodrow got us found.
It was past ten o’clock and the lounge of the hostel was packed. Most of the young people were for Croatia, but there was also a contingent of Brits. Completely trashed I headed for the room. “I’m gonna stay out here and watch the game,” Woodrow said.
Nothing feels as righteous as falling onto clean sheets and a soft pillow in a cozy room after 24+ hours of solid travel and a 1-kilo Wiener schnitzel gutbomb in active detonation mode. As I drifted off to sleep, my sleep ship hit a massive coral reef, the reef of another screaming soccer roar. Everyone in the hostel was hollering, which could only mean that Croatia had scored something and won something else. I buried my head in the pillow, well aware that the already liberal drinking in progress from the afternoon would now swell into a tsunami of even more profound drunkenness, which it did.
Doors slammed, feet pounded, hoots hooted, the hallway sounded like a cavalry had been let loose, and our room, which was on the ground floor looking out onto the courtyard, reverberated with the ecstatic groans of the soccer fans. I knew that Britain wanted to exit the EU, buy why did they have to do it tonight?
I buried my head in the pillow and slept.
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