Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Getting Lost in Vienna

In a recent issue of Outside magazine, musician Ben Harper encourages readers to get lost when they travel, and then he provides a short explanation of how to accomplish this:
There's a way to do this right. Eat a farmer's breakfast. Pack cash, an ID, and your hotel's phone number. Then walk. Do not continually stick your hand into your pocket—your cash is there. Rely on locals. Don't ask directions from a guy walking quickly. Couples will help you; when approaching them, speak slowly and softly. Don't bring a map—you don't want to walk with the thing hanging off your nose. And for God's sake, no fanny packs. Be brave enough to be truly lost for a day, a half-day, or however long your schedule permits.
I'm too much of a planner to always do this. I also don't always possess the courage and patience. It takes a leap of faith - especially in a foreign country, but when I've abandoned routine, it's yielded magical results.

Last fall I had the great opportunity to travel to Austria and the Czech Republic. Now for a small town Kansas boy who didn't travel much as a kid, I was awestruck much of the trip and I felt blessed to have the opportunity to travel abroad.

During the trip there were many magical moments, but one special moment was a result of getting lost. One night in Vienna, I thought it would be fun to travel to Grinzing, an area on the outskirts of the city known for its wine taverns (Heurigen). We hopped a tram and

headed to Grinzing. Initially, our moods were buoyant as we basked in the nervous energy and adrenaline of our adventure in a foreign country, but our jauntiness soon dissipated. As the tram rambled and jerked down the tracks, the night grew darker. With each stop, the tram emptied until we were the only souls on board. Even though we were only on the tram for 30 minutes, it felt like hours. My fellow travelers had quit speaking, but their eyes told me everything. If they would have spoken to me, they might have said, "Nice job, Adventure Boy. Riding a tram to the end of nowhere is just how wanted to spend my evening. You're doing a great job ruining a once-in-a-lifetime trip, Adventure Boy. Next time we're leaving you in Kansas."

Fortunately, we reached our destination and soon found ourselves sitting in a beer garden of a Heurigen that according to a plaque was often frequented by Beethoven. Soon a waiter came by and took our drink orders. We ordered a round of Sturm, a wine produced only in the fall from the first grapes of the season. It was a sweet wine that reminded me of a Cyclist, a beer-lemonade drink served at Free State Brewery in Lawrence. On the trip I developed quite a fondness for Sturm.

Later our waiter returned with our drinks. When we asked about ordering some food, he said that they didn't have menus and that he would just bring us out some food. Fifteen minutes later he returned with hearty bowls of potato salad, sauerkraut, and a cucumber salad. Then five minutes later he returned with a platter of meats - ham, sausages, pork ribs, and wienerschnitzel.

At this moment, I was no longer incompetent Adventure Boy; I was the triumphant leader who was responsible for one of the most memorable moments of our trip.

When I headed inside the tavern to pay our check, the mood was raucous. Patrons gathered around a fireplace and sang traditional folk songs as a small group of musicians played. It was like a scene out of a movie. Back home it's difficult to imagine the history of a place. When I'm strolling downtown Lawrence, it takes a lot of imagination to conjure images of Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson raiding and burning my town to the ground.

In Austria though it was easy. At that moment as I waited to pay my check, I could see Beethoven enjoying the same food, wine, and fellowship that I had just experienced.

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