Writer, traveler, maker


Travel updates and occasional commentary

GSP Stopover: Vienna surprise

Vienna vies with London as one of my favorite European cities, but I had not planned to stop there. Under the idiosyncrasies of the Eurail pass, however, I'd been too spontaneous with my travel plans, and could not make the needed train reservation for my final train to Bucharest. By the time I reached Vienna for an in-person reservation, the train had no spots left.

By then, it was already coming on 7 p.m. Friday night. After a frantic round of messages and emails to friends with Vienna ties, I finally found an Airbnb that could accommodate me.

View from my train ride to the Airbnb.

View from my train ride to the Airbnb.

The city was still quite warm and humid at that hour, so I reached the apartment drenched. Even with a good backpack, it's amazing how much 100+ pounds of gear (about 50 kilos) slows me down. Thankfully, the third-floor apartment had an elevator.

Once I settled in, I learned my host for the night was a relatively new Christian, who had converted from Islam. After I surprised him with some herbal dattel tea I'd bought at a Christmas market in Munich (usually drunk during Ramadan fasts, I believe), he made me another traditional tea with some loose black leaves, dried rose buds and cardamom pods. To sweeten it, he shared a yellowish sugar that came in large crystalline chunks.

Tea with my host.

Tea with my host.

The next morning, I slept in a bit, went to the grocery store with my host to get some breakfast food, then set off for the Naschmarkt. As expected, dozens of vendors had set up stalls for the weekly Saturday flea market that adjoins the regular produce market.


Mindful of my heavy bags and almost-finished raincoat, I walked the rows hunting for buttons. (An older Leica tempted me enough to go back for a second look, but ultimately I resisted it.) Despite Google translate help and even pointing at and counting the buttons on vendors' shirts, I had a hard time confirming the proper word. Toward the end, two older men decided they had a friend with a place nearby who had buttons, so called him from their smartphones and put me in touch with him ... yielding a picture of a large antique piece of furniture.

I gave up the hunt then and made a lunch of the sandwich I still had from my sister-in-law's generous train-meals food package. Afterward, I allowed myself a beer at the Naschmarkt's wonderful Israeli restaurant Neni (I think I've now gone there three times).

Before returning to collect my bags, I stopped by a large fabric shop, where I finally got some buttons.

Recycling bins along the street — one of many reasons to love Vienna. I think I also heard recently that it's been voted a top city for livability.

Recycling bins along the street — one of many reasons to love Vienna. I think I also heard recently that it's been voted a top city for livability.

I confess I had hoped the surprise stop would leave me feeling more sure I knew why God appointed it, but it didn't. Then again, not long before I left for this trip, a friend said maybe it could be a chance for God to show me how much He loves me. Maybe that's enough of a reason.