Not to make the understatement of the century or anything, but Prague is stunning with its pastel contrasts, village-under-a-snow globe cityscape and cobblestone sidewalks, not to mention beer so delicious I’m still craving it with breakfast today, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. We walked from one end to the other twice, ate leaden dumplings and paperweights of smoked pork while accordion players stumbled around us. We failed to hunt down the Golem, or even a chunk of mud from the river for my father, as he requested, but had fun trying. I’m really glad I finally made it there.
So were the other ten million people in the city last week, where the tourism, I’m sorry to say, is near-paralyzing. (We, of course, were not tourists but world citizens. Right.) Sure, we were warned, but we live in New York and understand that any place worth wandering around will be filled with others who had the same bright idea. But this was like Times Square, minus the cozy neighborhoods twenty blocks in any direction, and the small city seems to be struggling under the weight of all of the world’s citizens wanting to take a peek. You know, people like us.
But Vienna, Vienna my love. Vienna waited for me, just like Billy Joel promised me it would when I had my monstrous crush on him throughout middle (coughhigh) school. I fell instantly in love with its cafe society, late nights, lush park space, walkability and impeccably dressed masses. We’d been warned that there wasn’t a whole lot to “do” in Vienna, that we wouldn’t need more than 48 hours there, but I don’t think these people used their time as I did: imagining our expatriate lives there, and taking late night swings into to sidewalk restaurants for a glass of wine and a slice of cake, with our Westie in tow.
I don’t even know where to get started on the food, but rest assured you’ll be hearing a lot about it in the coming weeks. For today, however, I’m going to start in the simplest place, this delight known as the gemischter Salat, or mixed salad, available everywhere from basement beer pubs to sleek, minimal restaurants.
If there is one running joke we had about Central Europe, it’s that aside from cabbage and potatoes, these children do not eat their vegetables. We tried to offset the leaden-belly effect with a salad the first night, ordering a mixed salad that I secretly hoped would be like the scattered Bibb lettuce salad I like at Wallse, finished with drops of nearly pitch-black pumpkin seed oil. Instead we received a bowl of rather ordinary-looking lettuce, but after lifting a couple pieces unearthed a trilogy of awesome underneath: a spoonful of potato salad, cucumber salad and cabbage salad.
After a week of eating out and more pastries, beer and wine than I’d ever own up to, I was craving only this when we returned. Luckily, we’ve already got the Viennese cucumber salad down pat, but I struggled to get the potato and especially cabbage salad the way we’d eaten it Austria, which is a shame as they were so simple.
Thus, I’ve got no recipe to swear by today, just approximations in my head I hope to get ironed out in the coming weeks, weeks that by the end of, I’m sure we’ll all be crying out for more mac-and-cheese, less streudel. But for me, at least, that’s a long way off.