It is entirely Anthony Bourdain's fault that I saw Vienna in black and white. The strong presence of "The Third Man" - a gorgeous film noir set in post-World War II Vienna - throughout his episode in the city intrigued me enough to watch the film in preparation for the trip Elger and I had booked for the week of his birthday. While this week in the city was the hottest ever in its history and was full of scorching sunlight, Elger and I sought shadowy refuge in the Belvedere awed by Klimt, on the Riesenrad with sweaty palms (and the people really did look like ants), in the tunnel-like underside of the Hundertwasserhaus, and in our poshly Viennese room at the Grand Hotel Mercure Biedermeier (our second stay in an Accor hotel - our first time was last October in Berlin). It was so hot that it looked as if the ice cream cake buildings would melt under the relentlessly blue sky, and we were immensely grateful for the U-Bahn when the shade disappeared from the streets in the afternoon. We had magical German (Schneider-Weisse) beers and wiener schnitzel of epic proportions at Rochus and the most refreshing iced tea outside of the South at the Museum Quartier cantine. Even with a week of days of very deliberately full schedules (which admittedly should have included the heat as an event unto itself), we saw so little of this densely historic city that I am already finding myself dreaming up a wishlist of places we have to see when we go back. Ideally, a return trip will be much, much colder - the Christmas market sounds dreamy right about now. For now, here is how I saw Vienna:
Croatia felt like Italy in a parallel universe with more blond people. Like Italy, the largest religion in the country is Catholic, which was easy to see in the nuns crossing the street in Zagreb and the arches inside the sweltering cathedral in Pula. The Adriatic Sea was astoundingly clear and so salty that you have no choice but to float on the surface, hearing the Pop Rocks-crackle of the smooth white stones clicking against each other below. The beer and wine are good and cheap, the heat was dry and the sky was almost always cloudless.
A sense of Nepal
It was beautiful - the Himalayas are incomprehensible, even in sight of other smaller ranges, and flying into Kathmandu at golden misty sunset felt nothing short of magical. It was chaotic - smoke and exhaust and paint colors screaming to be heard over one another, unpaved roads and never a sense of peace. It was peaceful - the rusty rhythm of the water pump outside our window every morning, the necessary patience of accepting that everything happens in its own time. It was strange - to be stared at for being the minority, for being tall for once, for feeling that my very presence was remarkable. It was familiar - the build up of the heat and humidity, leading to my sunburn and a thunderstorm that I swear would have felt just the same in North Carolina. It was loving - the kids gently playing with my hair and calling me "sister," helping them with their homework and teaching them to play Uno, and having flowers from the front yard brought to my bed while I was nauseous. It was frustrating - trying to play the role of the photojournalist during the Buddhist prayer ceremony in the house and the children and women just wanting me to sit by the fire with them, and wanting to do both. It was freezing - sleeping on a thin wooden box and putting on every pair of socks I brought. It smelled like burning plastic and cloves and hand-washed clothes, it was curry-stained fingernails and embarrassment at realizing I don't know how to wash my clothes by hand. It was intense and exhausting and incredible.
Bruges: Fairytale City
Bruges has been a tourist destination since the late 1800s and the horse-drawn carriages on the cobblestones do a good job of convincing visitors of having time traveled. Along with this status comes gross postcards and tourist traps, but it's so beautiful that you can't help but just marvel.
English Summer Rain
Eight lovely people on an seven-foot-wide, sixty-nine-foot-long English narrowboat, plus eight umbrellas and seven pairs of rainboots (the only actual Englishman opted for Chucks instead), plus a lot of beers and cards games and Steven Spielberg movies, equals one cozy week. And math that doesn't add up.