“…Vienna waits for you” goes the 1977 Billy Joel song Vienna, a favorite of mine and my Dad’s to sing along to (which was not written for the film 13 Going on 30, believe it or not.) This was essentially the sole reason I was visiting, so that Vienna could stop waiting for me already (considerate, I know). I had been told by fellow travelers along the way that renting a bike was a must-do in Vienna, and I quickly became thankful for their advice. The city has one of the best infrastructures for bicycles that I’ve ever seen, with everything thing from independent and clearly marked lanes to bicycle stoplights.
This was one of the first cities where I opted out of the free walking tour, something I’ve done most everywhere else to become acquainted with the history and important landmarks. Instead, I chose to wander aimlessly and without direction via bicycle, and see what I could stumble upon. What I found was a beautiful urban area well-suited for summer weather. My first discovery was Naschmarkt, an open-air market dating from the 16th century, full of locals enjoying meals and each others’ company in between stalls of butchers, art, and souvenirs. Riding further east, I discovered something I had not expected to find in a landlocked country – surfing (albeit, artificial). In one of the city’s squares was a City Wave, a large platform with a bar and lounge chairs surrounding a machine-generated permanent surfing wave. It was mostly amateurs participating, whose big spills provided better entertainment than watching more seasoned surfers.
Continuing east towards the river, I discovered that Vienna was actually a hidden beach city. Along the canal are multiple beaches and parks, full of kids, teenagers, and adults – sunbathing, reading, and drinking (of course). The canal also held dozens of small sailboats, zipping around each other just off of the shore. Back along the river is a long, grassy island paved by a bike path, where people sit beside the water, grill out, and picnic. This being Europe, 1 in 8 women are required by law to be topless in any waterside setting, of course. In the river was the final straw for cool-water-things I didn’t know Vienna had: a towing machine course for waterskiing / boarding, which pulled people along the river over a course of ramps and turns. How has Vienna kept all of these summer secrets for so long?
I’ve known since I was young that my surname was of descent from the German / Austrian area, and that somewhere in the rural countryside, there was a mighty Raab River. Upon further investigation, I found that Raab was actually a small town in rural Austria and knew I had to stop by to hopefully be crowned mayor for the day and be awarded a key to the city. It was not, however, the easiest destination to arrive at – but I was determined to find my peoples and take pictures with as many Raab signs as possible. After taking three trains, I arrived at the nearest train station – 3 miles from the small town.
After about an hour hike through hilly farmland, I finally arrived in Raab and found… a ghost town. My plan was to eat lunch and have a beer in my town (in addition to the above ambitions), but as I walked around, the few shops and restaurants I found were closed – for the month of August – for summer break. All the Raabs were on vacation (given my position, I couldn’t blame them). Luckily, after taking all the Raab photos I could, I stumbled upon a small porch with 4 people – a young couple and 2 middle-aged men, and joined them on the porch. They got a laugh from my passport and broke out their best English to have a conversation. Since I couldn’t read the menu, I asked for their recommendation, and upon them repeating it to the owner, he laughed and said “Fat American!” My surprise lunch turned out to be a special, off the menu fried chicken, apparently prepared by a local Japanese man. My fellow Raabs asked me to stay for their big festival that night – Kellerfest, which only happens every 2 years. Unfortunately, I had a train to catch if I wanted somewhere to sleep that night, so I promised them I’d be back for the next festival. So, if anyone’s interested in Kellerfest 2018 in Raab, Austria, please let me know.