…these are a few of my favorite things!
Unfortunately I didn’t get to visit Salzburg, but believe me, if the time and money had presented itself, I would’ve been there in a heartbeat. And if you didn’t get the reference, please go enrich your life and watch The Sound of Music.
Since Cornell’s spring break this year was right before my Easter break, my friend Lauren decided to come visit me in Spain for the week! And since she had never been to Europe before and flying to JFK out of anywhere was equally expensive, we decided to hop on over to Vienna as well where we would have two days together before she had to return home.
She stuck it out for my last few days of classes, getting to sleep in while I was in class (so until 2 PM), and in the afternoons we would go out and explore. I took her to some of my favorite places in Santander, one being the faro, or lighthouse, and wee went to the pre-history museum, which I hadn’t visited in all the months I’d already been there.
The only downside was that it’s incredibly difficult to find completely gluten-free food in Spain, which poses an obstacle with Celiac disease. Nearly everything has bread in some form, so even if a dish doesn’t explicitly contain bread, there’s so much of it around that pretty much everything is contaminated anyway. When we didn’t eat at home we had to do some serious googling to find good places to eat, and we actually ended up finding places I’d never been before. For example, Cadelo was a super tiny restaurant near the funicular, so pretty close to where I lived, and they basically take regular dishes and trade out each ingredient for something really distinct. For example they had Korean lasagna whose “noodles” were crunchy things (whose name I don’t recall), it still had some sort of ground meat, and the sauce was white and had something to do with either lychee or kimchi. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted before.
That Thursday, being the beginning of my Easter break, we set off for Vienna from Bilbao. It took a three hour bus ride and two flights to get there, with a short layover in Brussels, and we arrived that evening. The next morning we decided to start out with a not-so-touristy option and scoped out the clock museum.
We got there a bit too early before it opened, so we backtracked and wandered around a little Easter market that we had passed on the way there that was just beginning to come to life. There were hundreds of hand-painted Easter eggs, stained glass, odd-looking edible options, and beautifully adorable earrings carved out of bull horns (humanely retrieved from bulls that were already dead, don’t worry, I asked). I definitely would have bought a pair or two had they not been $25 each.
The clock museum ended up being surprisingly delightful, with any kind of clock you can think of and more: grandfather clocks, picture clocks, astronomical clocks, japanese clocks (from before time was standardized), and my favorite was a hand-written clock that told time, astronomical position, date, and a million other things, made by a monk some centuries ago.
Since, it had begun to rain quite a bit and I was feeling really nostalgic, I convinced Lauren to go to a butterfly garden next to a really famous art museum. It was in a type of greenhouse, and although it was really humid to keep the butterflies happy, I greatly appreciated how warm it was compared to the cold rain outside. I felt like a little kid getting to watch all the colorful insects flit around and observe the ones still in their chrysalides (fun fact, that’s the actual plural form of chrysalis apparently, like the aforementioned platypodes).
Afterwards we decided to start trying to find lunch and eventually we ended up at a café called Allergiker, which is a little tiny family-run café that is 100% allergy free (unless you’re allergic to dogs). All of their dishes were completely void of gluten, lactose, soy, meat, nuts, and anything else you can think of. We both ordered the daily special, the risotto, and it was AMAZING. We also spotted their huge fluffy dog and pet him as he wandered past our table, and there was a piano for anyone to play. At that point I hadn’t played a real piano (the one in Ireland was more of a science experiment) since the previous May, about 10 months prior, so I was ecstatic. I played the only song I remembered off the top of my head (Falling Slowly) and then I just improvised until they brought us the check. We liked it so much that we came back the next day as well.
We visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral that afternoon and as we were leaving we were ambushed by a gentleman who looked like he was dressed to be a royal something-or-other. He gushed about the Royal Orchestra that was performing that weekend and he asked us if we’d been to see it yet because it was a “must-see” in Vienna. I remembered the father of one of the Spanish families I taught English telling me that even thought it’s a little expensive, if I had the chance I should go see a concert while visiting. I asked him how much it was and I was able to haggle the price down because we were students, and, since I can sometimes be a little too trusting, it didn’t even occur to me that there was a possibility it could be a scam until Lauren voiced some concern. In the end we decided to go with it: he gave us the address, our tickets with the seat numbers, and to get there before 7:30.
After going back to the hostel for a bit and drying our soaking wet shoes and socks (as it had decided to pour the entire day), we set out to find a restaurant for dinner, as there weren’t many options. We settled on a slightly more expensive place because it had gluten-free options and it was rather close, but we still got slightly lost, more than slightly wet, and arrived later than intended. We had to wait quite a bit for our food, and when it came Lauren’s was a normal amount but mine ended up being just a few small spinach dumplings (delicious nonetheless), but we were afraid to order more food because it would take too long. We asked for the dessert pancakes to-go, the check, and ate quickly. As soon as the pancakes came in their little box we booked it to the metro station where we started eating the pancakes while waiting for the train. It was probably an odd sight but definitely worth it because I at least was still hungry and the pancakes had homemade apricot jam and oh my goodness it was amazing.
We arrived at the address with two minutes to spare, Lauren still joking that we were going to get kidnapped and/or murdered, and we were directed by a well-dressed gentleman into a fancy elevator with a family. Upon exiting the elevator I was delighted to confirm that it was in fact the real deal, because in the vestibule they were selling CD’s, parephernalia, alcoholic drinks, and they even had a coat check.
The audience was smaller than I had imagined but the performance surpassed all expectations. It was a seven person orchestra that sounded like fifty, they played beautiful classics and other pieces I hadn’t heard before, there were dancers, an opera singer, and the conductor even made a few jokes in between everything. All in all, it was fantastic and completely worth it.
The following morning, since the weather forecast was much better, we decided to attend a free walking tour. We took the tram this time because the metro didn’t run very near to the meeting point, but as a result it took much longer due to traffic, so we got there about ten minutes late. Apparently our tour had already left, but the Spanish one was still there. We joined in anyway and, thanks to my handy dandy new Spanish skills, I asked the guide about the English tour. She said that we could join the Spanish tour for the first half and that we would cross paths with the English one halfway through and that we could switch then. Since Spanish tour was better than no tour we decided to stick with it and Lauren ended up hardly even needing translations! We got to see everything from the stables, the garden monument of Mozart, the first ever coffee shop, the government buildings, churches, and parts of the Jewish quarter.
That afternoon we decided to visit the Schonbrunn Palace, as we’d had many recommendations to visit it, but we ended up getting there just before closing time so we couldn’t go inside. However, there was a lovely Easter market outside so we explored all the beautiful crafts, and I especially enjoyed the stall with the wooden toys 😉
Then we went to the famous and preposterously fancy Mozart Café and got chocolate cake to celebrate Lauren’s last few hours in Vienna before she had to head to the airport. After stopping back at the hostel to pick up her stuff and seeing her off at the metro station I headed back to the hostel and in the kitchen a couple of girls asked me if I wanted some pasta. Not about to turn down a free dinner, we started talking and it turns out that they were from the U.S., also studying in Spain, and traveling around a bit. They had just gotten there, coming from Budapest, which is where I was going the next day. They gave me some recommendations and it was really cool to share the similarities and differences in our experiences as Americans in Spain.
The bus ticket to Budapest I had bought for the next morning, but on the tour I learned of the Church of the Augustinian Friars and that there would be Palm Sunday mass held that morning. Thankfully I was able to change the bus ticket without any extra charge (another reason traveling Europe is a million times easier than the U.S.) so I was able to start off Holy Week in the most beautiful church at my first mass in German. Palm Sunday has the longest Gospel reading of the year and I understand pretty much no German at all so I wasn’t sure how that was going to work. I have an app with all the daily readings in Spanish so I pulled that up and luckily this is also the one time a year when different people read the different parts, so based on who was speaking and key words (like names, “Jesus,” and the few words that sound the same in both languages), I was able to follow along reading at just the right speed. I love that about the Catholic Church: no matter where you are or what language you speak, you can still participate and it’s still home.
Still in awe of the incredible choir and music of the mass, I meandered back to the hostel, picked up my stuff, and started walking to the bus station. At that point the only land border I’d ever crossed was to Canada, but not on a bus nor on my own, so I wasn’t sure how it would work. The lady at the desk simply asked me for my passport, barely glanced at it, and waved me on; she didn’t even ask to see my bus ticket. Since I had about three hours until arriving in Budapest, I figured I should sew the rip that had suddenly appeared in my jeans on the first day after leaving Spain (of course). Having to travel very light, I had only brought two pairs to begin with, so I was essentially down to 1.5 pairs of pants just one day into my two-week trip. If you’d asked me to imagine my study abroad experience, I would not have included in my list of likely memorable moments receiving some inquisitive looks while sewing my pants on a crowded bus between countries. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.