When I was twenty-one, on the eve of Mozart's two-hundred-fiftieth birthday, I went to Vienna for twenty euros.
Wait. Let me rephrase that.
If you've ever lived abroad as a twenty-one year old, you would know that to go to Vienna for a price so nice you would actually have to take a train to a bus to a tiny airport an hour from the fashion capital of Italy. And you'd arrive on the other end not in Austria, per se, but in a little Slovakian town called Bratislava, where paper dry pastries cost less than a euro and the sky is always gray.
And so, in weather colder than a witch's tit, after another bus and an U-Bahn trip west, we finally arrived at the tiny hostel on Grangasse.
The experiences we had on this trip were not unlike that of most young travelers in Vienna. There was the room with bunk beds and starched sheets; there was the hostel bar with English backpackers and spiked hair. We cruised to the apartment past the Prater and laid on our backs on the soft wood floor while the shaggy haired boy from norther Connecticut played Beatles songs on guitar. We took glowing shots in the pulsating lights and danced at the disco along the Danube before stumbling out into the streets in search of hot dogs at three AM.
We drank gluhwein at the Naschmarkt and let butterflies land on our noses at the Schmetterlinghaus. We ate schnitzel in Stephanplatz, and Do-Re-Mi skipped under snow-filled trellises in Salzburg. We ogled over Klimt at the Belvedere, and I took home a copy of "Judith I" for my apartment wall back in Italy. We navigated the black and white floors of Hundertwasser's house, and at dusk we watched the light turn silver from the top of a hill over Schonnbrun Palace.
"The Bourbon Hot Chocolate" is a chocolate cupcake with a creamy bourbon buttercream. It's reminiscent of the cafe we huddled in with the painted tiles on the ceiling and endless saucers of this sweet and spike libation that brought us back to life.
We had descended into a tavern one night, filled with wooden walls and empty tables, and sipped homemade strawberry wine until the cuckoo struck eight and we realized we were late. I remember running through the cold cobbled streets to the wooden door in a courtyard waving tickets in our hands. Somehow, we were just in time, and entered the tiny room of twenty-five people and fresco walls. And there, in his practice room, on the very anniversary of his birthday, we took in Mozart's Quartett in C Major KV.157. Half-drunk, with many musical years behind me, I remember crying.
There are two times that I remember this trip the most: when I miss my Austrian grandpa and when winter rolls around. The mild mannered people and the unseasonal markets, the shape of the light around trees and the sound of a string quartet in the crisp air. During that week, I mostly remember feeling that so many of my life's experiences up until that point finally made sense. But when I think about it now, there really is something about Austria in the winter that's just right. And that bourbon hot chocolate? It still gets me every damn time.