You know what people don’t tell you about going on vacation in Europe? How hard eating is going to be.
I’m a rice and ulam kind of girl, plus soup if I was feeling extra hungry. But here, in this beautiful, old continent, rice wasn’t exactly standard fare.
We arrived in Vienna exhausted and hungry. After a quick Google search and directions from the front desk, we found ourselves at Rathausplatz, a park that was just adjacent to the city hall. It looked like no city hall I had ever visited.
From where I was standing, Rathaus was a gothic dream come true, with tall spires that reached up to the sky, each detail carved delicately into the building. It looked like a castle, and in the darkness of the night, the purple lights from the music festival against the sepia stones made it look like a princess’ castle with a clock face. A huge screen was set up facing the plaza, with rafters and proper seats for the film viewing.
Where we were standing, we were standing in a food park. Now this was familiar territory. Seats and tables filled the central area, surrounded by big, colorful booths advertising their food—Aperol spritzes, ice cream, sliders, Chinese food, steak, kebabs, hotdogs, and other food I didn’t quite recognize. I was focused, letting my nose dictate my steps, feeling a little disoriented with the new smells and sights.
“Why is everybody advertising Weiners?” Max suddenly asked, unable to hide his childish laugh at the term.
“It’s German for Viennese, you perv,” I elbowed him, thankful nobody could understand us as we continued talking in Filipino. It was like a superpower, one that we both took advantage of.
“Alright,” Max announced, clapping his hands together. “Let’s imagine we’re on our first date.”
“What?” I asked, momentarily distracted by a Chinese food stall…oh my god, they had fried rice. I missed fried rice!
“Martha, focus,” He said, pulling my shoulders and kissing my forehead, which was pretty effective. “Let’s pretend that you and I are hanging out in any old food park, getting to know each other romantically for the first time. What would we do?”
“Well, first of all, we would be holding hands,” I said, holding my hand out for his, which he slid easily into mine. This still didn’t come naturally to us, but I wasn’t worried. “And maybe we would go around the booths twice, debating our choices.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said, swinging my hand as we walked towards a bight green stall that advertised ‘authentic german spatzle’. The cheese sauce against the potato pasta was practically calling my name.
“God, I’m going to get so fat on this trip,” I grumbled, almost salivating at where the chef was preparing the food. Cheese and potatoes, was there a more classic combination than that?
But the amount of cheese and potatoes on the plate suddenly made me think of all the croissants and cheese I ate in Paris. I thought of the sinful little strawberry frasiers I’d eaten. The way my pants were actually getting tighter.
Then I thought about Cafe Demel, which the Internet bragged had the best hot chocolate in the world. I could skip that, couldn’t I?
“So am I,” Max said, tugging my hand a little. His brows were furrowed with concern.
“Martha,” he laughed. “You once told me that if you’re going to get fat, you might as well get fat on really good food. So are we having spatzle for dinner?”
Ack, I shouldn’t. I should look for something healthy, like a salad. I was going to be in Europe for a while still, I wasn’t going to run out of encounters with german and wiener food!
“Yes please. But let’s add a tomato or a lettuce leaf or something on the side so we don’t die too early.”
“You’re an easy date to please,” he grinned, kissing my forehead again as we stepped in line to order our food. I scanned the plaza again, and saw that there was a gorgeous circular structure across the street, creating a perfect backdrop against the food park. It looked like a theater. It looked like a dream.
“This is the best first date I’ve ever been on,” I said, wrapping my arms around Max’s waist, because everyone else around us seemed to be doing the same thing.
Back home I would have pouted at couples doing this in public, but here, thousands of miles away and without any prying eyes, it felt just right. I think we needed this, him and I just needing some time to be Max and Martha. Learning how to hold hands when we walked, to hug each other and kiss each other’s forehead when we felt like it.
“So tell me about yourself,” Max said, reciprocating my hug. “Brothers? Sisters?”
“One sister,” I said, looking at him slyly as I played along. “Too many titas.”
“Isn’t that always the way?” He asked, and we both laughed, a sound that was familiar and new at the same time.
We started to talk about all the things we enjoyed—he talked about the book he was currently reading about the provenance of art pieces (‘I picked it up in Paris’, he said proudly, even if I was there when he bought it from Shakespeare and Co), and I told him about the movie I watched on the plane on the way to France, even if he’d seen it too.
We looked like any other couple on a date in just any other city, and that was a comforting thought.
Armed with our cheese and caramelized onion spatzle and two glasses of Aperol spritz, we settled into the seats in front of the Rathaus, spending our first night in Vienna watching a compelling ballet about war, leaning against each other and falling into comfortable companionship.
It stuck me that I’d never had this with anyone before, and here I was now, having it with Max. I was happy, full and just a little tipsy from the Aperol. Suddenly the carbohydrate content of our dinner didn’t matter so much.
“Let’s get fat together,” I told him. The f-word sounded weird on my tongue, I’d associated it with negative things for so long, and saying it now in this context was…nice. New.
Even in the dark of the evening, the light that glowed from Max’s face could have powered the entire MuseumsQuartier. I gave in to the urge to kiss him.