My roommate for the past year was my friend Jess, who is studying abroad in Vienna, Austria. I had planned this Vienna trip to visit her, but sadly her grandfather had passed away the previous weekend, so her family planned a trip for her to go to Taiwan. Her family is from Taiwan, so they were all headed there to be together and to attend the funeral.I was disappointed that she wouldn’t be in Vienna with me, but totally understood that family comes first. I still could stay with her roommate, she assured, so I wouldn’t have to find somewhere else to stay. I assumed that my weekend would just become a solo trip, which I was totally fine with. I had yet to do a solo trip, so I was excited for what this one would be.
A few days before I left for Vienna, Jess messaged me that her roommate, Ashley was going to pick me up at the airport so that it would be easier for me to find my way to the apartment. How nice of her! I assured her that she didn’t have to do that, but she insisted. So come Friday evening, I hopped off the plane and made my way to the arrivals area where Ashley was waiting for me. I found her, and we immediately hit it off! She was so nice and interesting, spoke German fluently and didn’t judge me when I admitted that I had to look up what language they spoke in Austria a few minutes after I landed. We got Mexican food for dinner and then headed back to their apartment.
Jess and Ashley live with an Austrian woman, Tina, and are subletting the living room of her apartment. Tina was also very nice and seemed really interesting as well. After we dropped off my stuff, Ashley and I had some wine and then made our way to the Christmas market near Rat Haus, which literally translates to “Government Building.” We got hot-spiced wine (delicious), and I got to meet more of Jess’s friends. It was really cool, actually, how easily they welcomed me. I was in a new country where I knew no one, but friends of my friend were willing to accept me into their group as one of their own. It was comforting.
The attacks in Paris had happened that Friday. Since I had been traveling and also with Ashley the whole time, I hadn’t really stayed in touch with what was going on. Late that night I got a bunch of texts, Facebook messages and emails asking if Kaitlin and I were okay. Even Kaitlin’s mom texted me making sure she was okay. It was terrifying to think about how recently I had been in Paris and how lucky I was to have gone the previous weekend rather than the current one. I was so grateful for everyone checking in on me, and it made me feel a lot safer.
We woke up Saturday morning and had breakfast and coffee before heading out to see Vienna. Ashley acted as my tour guide of Vienna, which was so nice to have — it wasn’t a solo trip after all! We started at Schönbrunn Palace, which was the summer home of the Hapsburg family years ago. It’s about the same size as my summer home. Totally relatable.
We walked all around the grounds of this castle, which were surrounded by a huge beautiful garden and a big fountain that the Hapsburgs used to swim in back when they lived there. There was also a big hedge maze (yes, Sound of Music style) in the garden, but it was closed down because all the leaves had fallen off the hedges and trees. The palace was beautiful.
Afterwards, we headed to a flea market, which was full of cool items as well as what seemed to be the contents of people’s bags dumped out on the ground. There were so many old school cell phones, which was funny to see. We then headed a few streets over to a coffee shop because Ashley had to work on a group project for school. I sat in the shop, read my book and people-watched. The coffee shop was so cool. I was a big fan.
Most places in Austria only take cash, so I had to use ATMs a lot while there. When I got to this coffee shop, I ordered a cappuccino and didn’t pay for it until probably an hour later. I was convinced I could have just walked out without paying. I even asked the guy how to pay and he said I could pay whenever I wanted. It seemed to be a very trusting place. As I’m figuring out, Europe is a very honor-system-oriented place. You often don’t need to check in on the metros or buses, and nine times out of 10 no one even comes around to ask for your ticket. It’s bizarre.
After Ashley was done working on her project, she showed me more of the downtown area of Vienna, including the very touristy shopping area, a Holocaust monument and a speakeasy American bar where we got a drink. We also got McDonalds, which led to my realizing that I have gotten McDonald’s more times abroad than I have probably gotten it since I was a little kid. In Austria, they had gluten-free buns for their burgers!! So I had to take advantage of that! They were excellent. I am sad I’ve been missing out on Big Macs all these years.
Next we headed to a concert hall, where we saw a brass quintet! We felt so cultured and classy listening to classical music on a Saturday night — so we had to bring ourselves back down to college student class level and drink wine in the bathroom of the concert hall at intermission. The quintet was awesome, especially for being only five euro. We got standing room tickets, but then there were seats available so we took advantage of that! A great experience that I will remember for a long time! Next we planned on heading to another Christmas market to meet up with Ashley’s friends, but the concert got out later than expected, so we just headed home, Googled a mulled wine recipe and made our own! It was excellent!
On Sunday morning, we wanted to get brunch, so we headed toward a place that Ashley had heard of that had excellent brunches. We got there and went inside, but they did not have any tables available as they only took reservations. We took one last sniff of the delicious food and left sadly. But then I had the great idea of going back to the coffee shop I had sat at the day before because I had seen people around me getting brunch when I was there. So we practically ran back to that place (we were starving) and sat down to order. The waiter came over (the same one I had the day before) and we placed our orders. Shortly after, the food arrived. It was AWESOME. I was so in love with that place and its food.
We went to another flea market after brunch, where I got two shirts for four euro (score) and Ashley got a sweater for eight. Ashley wanted to show me the school where she and Jess go, that they have fondly dubbed “space school,” and I was happy to see it. When we got there, I was blown away by how modern and just strange all the buildings were. It’s called Universitat Wien, and apparently it was renovated completely about five years ago. It was a really neat campus but just so bizarre as well.
After we saw the campus, we headed home to read and watch Netflix. It was raining and cold, so we were ready to just relax. We bonded over our love of How I Met Your Mother and ate pasta while we watched that. Eventually, I packed up all my stuff, and we got ready for bed, as I had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. for my Monday flight. In the morning, I woke up as quietly as possible to brush my teeth and gather up my stuff and then snuck out into the still-dark Monday morning. I found my way to the bus stop to wait for bus one of two on my journey to the airport. Once I finally arrived at the airport, I was relieved that I was able to follow the directions Ashley wrote for me as well as stay awake long enough to get off at the right stops. I got coffee at McDonald’s (#4 McDonald’s trip of the weekend) and then headed through security. When I finally got to my gate, I sat between two Americans who were both speaking English to the people they were with, so that was comforting.
I was honestly a little scared to be flying right after what happened in Paris, so I was just relieved to finally make it back to Copenhagen after I completed two flights by 11:00 a.m. The weekend was not what I expected it to be at all: I was expecting to visit Jess and laugh the whole weekend while drinking wine, but instead got a weekend in a foreign country with not one single person I knew, assuring family and friends I was okay and talking about terrorist attacks with someone I barely knew. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how great of a weekend it turned out to be. I got along great with Ashley and her friends, and it was cool to know that even complete strangers can help you have a fun weekend. I think it relates to the whole ‘it’s not where you are, but who you’re with that matters,’ but also points to the fact that the people you’re with might not even be the people you thought you’d be with. You might end up with complete strangers, but if they are kind people, it will turn out to be an excellent time. So thanks, Austria, and the strangers who took me in.