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Tim Foolery

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A Night In Vienna

The return home from my 68 Hours in Singapore afforded me the luxury of a night in Vienna.  While I could have found an alternate route home, it would have cost more miles and eaten into my time in Singapore (or added a day to this trip). I love Vienna.  This Vienna layover was short.  I had 15 hours from the time the door on my inbound flight opened until my outbound door closed.

What would I do with this time?  I had a a beautiful suite at the Hotel Bristol, so just relaxing in luxury was an option.  There were no shows at the stunning Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), so that was out.  I wasn’t in the mood for fine dining experience (shocker, I know!), so what is a guy to do?

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

The Wiener Staatsoper / Vienna State Opera House.

The hotel recommended that I hop on a street car and head out to a huge park on the edge of the City. That’s where the Viennese go when it is hot (and it was 33C when I landed at 19h00).  Splendid idea.  The street car took about 25 minutes to reach the end of the line.  The park was beautiful, very natural, with trails in various levels of manicure which led to a large lake. When I arrived it was getting dark, so not many people were left hanging out.  I spent about 45 minutes walking around, enjoying nature in a fabulous city.  It was starting to get dark and I was afraid I’d get trapped out here in the pitch black – there were NO LIGHTS in this park.

Vienna Erholungsgebiet Wienerberg

Sunset from the Erholungsgebiet Wienerberg

Vienna Nature Preserve

The verdant nature preserve offered a cooling refresh from the heat of Vienna

Heading back on the street car, I rode past my stop up to the Rathausplatz – City Hall Plaza. I figured I’d just walk around and make my way back to my hotel.  What do I hear, once I’m off the Street Car? Music. Laughter. A crowd.  Was this, what Chicagoans call, a Street Fest?

Rathausplatz Vienna

The entrance to the festival – Big Crowd for a Sunday night.

It was! But it wasn’t like a normal Street Fest.  This Platz was not only lined with food and booze vendors, but there was a large screen strung up in front of the Rathaus.  Surrounding the screen was bleachers.  On the screen: A 2002 production of Swan Lake. Yes, a 16 year old recording of the ballet had drawn several thousand Viennese out at 22h00 on a Sunday night. The Platz was electric.

Rathausplatz Vienna

Such a crowd for a Sunday night!

I’m not a huge ballet fan, but I do love warm weather, beer and dining al fresco.  I grabbed a lager, walked around the crowd, yes, even watched part I’d the production.

The most fascinating food booth called to me.  Wienerschnitzel. Made fresh while you watched.  This culinary assembly line kept the crowd as enthralled as the ballet.  It had been about 4 hours since I had the prelanding meal on Austrian, plus the beer, I was famished.

The Wienerschnitzel and Potatoes were amazingly perfect.  Usually I think if this as a cold weather dish, it paired perfectly with the heat, the beer and the fresh air.

Wienerschnitzel or Wiener schnitzel

Wienerschnitzel and Beer!

I had no plans for my time in Vienna, but stumbled upon this absolutely perfect evening.  Music, dancing, food and drink.  Who could ask for anything more?  Have you ever come across a surprisingly great event like this before?  What would you have done with your handful of hours in Vienna?  Would you have relaxed in the beautiful suite or would you have gone out to explore?

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Band of Bohemia – Summer Tasting Menu

We are so fortunate to have the world’s first and only Michelin Starred Brew Pub just meters from our home. Band of Bohemia opened in 2016 in the Ravesnwood neighborhood on the northside of Chicago. While it did receive (and has kept) their single Star, don’t think that makes this place stuffy or reserved for only special occasions. I find myself popping over for a drink on the way home quite regularly.

They are a proper brew pub that produces their own beers which are paired perfectly with the food offerings, but they’ve also got a great cocktail crew who rotates some great seasonal offerings while retaining the basic skills needed to make any drink your heart desires. Their wine team is also on point pairing an eclectic selection with their fare. I’ve had a couple great dry Austrian selections recently here too.

And for those of you who need a great cup of coffee, they’ve even got a coffee sommelier. I’m not a coffee guy at all, but the coffee somm is a really great guy who can talk about the wines, spirits and coffee all day. I love bellying up to the coffee bar and getting cocktails after work.

We hosted some friends a bit ago and wanted to show off this neighborhood gem. Snagging a Friday night reservation was a bit tough considering I didn’t plan too far ahead. A quick email directly to the resto, not through their booking app netted me my coveted spot. Never think that 1) The availability outlined in the booking apps are always accurate and 2) Don’t underestimate the value of being a regular patron.

We opted to indulge in the current tasting menu plus the house made beer pairings. The five course menu was full of seasonal perfection.

Scallop Crudo Grilled Strawberries, Black Garlic, Pinenut Granola

Caramelle Pasta Asparagus,Ppink Peppercorn, Helper Knolle Cheese

Eggplant Naan Old Bay Aioli, Naan Bread, Mint, Radish

Lamb Saddle Fava Beans, Lamb Bacon, Panisse, Petite Greens

Final Bites

I completely forgot to snap a picture of the main dessert, but I’m not a big dessert guy and I really enjoyed the Thai Lime Pie. Swing by just for That!

My favorite course actually was the Carmelle Pasta. The asparagus was so light and spring refreshing inside an amazingly delicate pasta. I really wanted a large (family sized???) portion. Maybe next time.

A closeup on my favorite course this season – Caramelle Pasta

Band of Bohemia occupies an old warehouse space on Ravenswood Avenue. The expertly renovated space is curated with classic furniture and design elements. It is such a welcoming space, I just love popping over for a quick one after work and relaxing with the amazing staff and a splendid cocktail. It feels strange(ly wonderful) for your local pub to be Mechelin rated.

Have you dined at Band of Bohemia before? What is your favorite local brew pub?

Ghent

I will be the first to admit that traveling to Ghent was never on my short list of travel destination. You know, it wasn’t even on my long list of destinations. It never even crossed my mind as a place I’d visit. But we did. Going in, I had really no expectations about the city of Ghent. I figured it would be a city that had a rough industrial feel, like a Manchester or a Pittsburgh I was so pleasantly surprised upon arrival too.

These working class town homes are now high rent areas.

I didn’t do any specific research on Ghent, other than finding its exact location on the map and the distance and direction between it and Bruges and Brussels. I didn’t even research the hotel until we were leaving the American Cemetery the day we were checking in. My husband did that research and booking. Yes, I was going in almost completely blind.

H.E. Dirk Wouters the Belgian Ambassador to the US was asked to provide guidance to American travelers visiting Belgium for the first time – what is the ONE BOOK they should read before arrival. He suggested War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. I did buy this book and read it almost fully before we landed in Belgium. It is the story of a man, and his father and grandfather who were from Belgium. The story is a fictionalized account of their lives based on stories and journals. It begins before the First World War and ends in the late 20th Century. I highly recommend this book for anyone traveling through Belgium or other areas impacted by WWI. It was an entertaining and moving story that consistently held my interest. Plus, parts of it take place in Ghent. This was the research I did on this city.

A park near the University in Ghent, which is often packed with people enjoying nature away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

This unsanctioned public art was so loved by the public the city decided not to remove it.

Ghent is a small city that is easily traversed by bicycle or a relatively extensive public transit system. The day and a half plus one night we stayed had us encountering only a handful of people in which we interacted with directly. Those people were warm and friendly and proud of their city – and rightfully so.

Bicycle parking at the main train station.

The new modern design of the library juxtaposed to the classic industrial buildings.

Ghent is home to classic architecture as well as modern.

Does Ghent measure up to other cities in Europe like London, Barcelona or Paris? I’d say no, but it shouldn’t be measured that way. It’s of a different caliber. It is, in my mind as worth a visit as much as Prague is though. If you are traveling through Belgium, you must spend a day or two in Ghent, it is a beautiful and welcoming place to be. The summer days we were there were absolutely stunning. Go. Go now.