My last afternoon in Austria found me rather forlorn on Moni’s sofa gazing out the window at the beautiful spring. She and Luka, her boyfriend, had left and I was feeling a little lonely and somewhat shattered from the party she’d thrown the night before. It had been quite the party, spiraling from a little get-together to about twelve of us sitting around the table drinking and telling stories. (I guess twelve counts as a get-together, but it’s sure not little.) Moni’s friends had been a multicultural bunch, and we spent the night talking about travel and life and music. David and I chatted for a long time about a ukelele orchestra he was going to see, while a ponytailed guy named Schule explained the nutritious benefits of eating insects.
“His job is going out and about and telling people to eat insects,” Moni’s friend Lina translated from German. I found this hilarious, and found her company very welcome and equally hilarious. She, like most of Moni’s friends, was friendly and gregarious and really easy to talk to. It’s amazing how quickly strangers cease to be strangers when you’re traveling. In the States, if you meet someone at a party, there’s polite conversation and that’s about it. And that’s in the event that you ditch your best friends of 20 years to go and meet someone new. Here, our conversation went from the basic “what do you do” and “where have you lived” to relationships and whether they can withstand distance and politics and travel faux-pas.
And, of course, eating insects. This included how exactly to prepare insects and which ones taste better than others. I woke up the next morning after dreaming about getting bitten by spiders, fire ants, and a cockroach. I blame Schule.
The recovery process on my last day in Vienna was difficult. Moni and I were both exhausted and I felt old. It took some energy, but I forced myself to look up a restaurant that night and go out on foot to find it, a pub called Lux. And this is the beauty of Austria. I emerged from the Ubahn at Volkstheater, a stop I’d imagined as mechanical and bleak, and found myself in a sprawling park with manicured shrubbery and cherubic statues spouting water. It was lovely, in both architecture and unexpectedness. I had a wander around before absently ambling off to find Lux, which was tucked down some Schaltnxar pedestrian street I couldn’t locate. But I didn’t care. The air was clean and cool, and I enjoyed the walk around, which eventually landed me on Schaltnxar.
Lux was at the end of the road and was closed, but a livelier and more cheery-looking bar, Plutzerbreau, looked just as capable, so I went there instead and ordered a French onion soup, cheeseburger, and a pint of locally brewed beer. I sat there, alone but much happier to be in the company of beer-drinking strangers and a blond wooden interior and my Bill Bryson book.
I decided then, on my last night, that I liked Vienna very much. I liked its parks, its cobbled squares, its towering churches. I liked its weird statues. One statue showed a man apparently trying to force a fish down the throat of a semi-robed nymph.
Later, as I walked home, I wondered if I might return in the future to find a new statue in the park of a man out and about, holding out insects to passersby.
Until then, prost! (The way Austrians say cheers. I learn the important words.)