When in Wien, watch out for pocket gangstas

Pocket gangstas, you say? Pardon? I was privileged to learn this novel English term from one of two 40-something-year-old gentlemen cozying up to Mary and me in Vienna’s swanky Onyx Bar that overlooks Stephan’s Cathedral. It was his kind way of warning us about pickpockets as we sipped a ginger martini and some sort of posh blackberry concoction. Luckily for us, we did not in fact encounter any such gangstas, as my weekend trip to Vienna was much less focused on touristy areas and considerably more centered around friend time with Miss Mary Nora.

She and I are “decaders”, our nerdy and uncreative term for the small group of our friends which has stuck together for more than ten years. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see Mary again, especially since our previous meeting lasted only a couple of hours (the time before that was a coincidental cross of flight plans in the Milwaukee airport for ten minutes). The fact that she was extremely generous and paid for half of the train ticket to Vienna certainly helped, not to mention how she arranged for me to stay with her professor on Friday night before she herself arrived from New York on Saturday morning. I honestly had no idea of what I was getting myself into…

Expert on (perhaps even father of?) microfluidics. Ivy League professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at Columbia University. In Mary’s words, an “incorrigible” fellow. Reminiscent of Professor Digory Kirke of The Magician’s Nephew/The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Da Vinci Code‘s Sir Leigh Teabing, Professor Edward Leonard is easily one of the most interesting people I’ve met thus far in life. I’m hesitant to even attempt to describe him, as I know he’ll be reading this…the (70-something-year-old) man googled me as soon as he found out my name. When I spoke with him on the phone on the way to Vienna he informed me of his slight bit of stalking and remarked, “I didn’t know they made them like that in Wisconsin”. Later, when he hopped off his bike and greeted me at a streetcar stop near his house, I immediately felt the pressure to choose my words very carefully. Leonard sized me up within minutes, noticed a note I had hastily scribbled in pen on my hand and said slyly, “Ah, so I see there’s a bit of Midwestern ordinariness left in you after all…” (I chose to take that as a compliment, as he also grew up in America’s heartland). He’s a person who uses words like ‘glib’ and ‘reticence’ in everyday conversation, and I can only imagine how much more intellectual I would have been had I grown up with Leonard around. This is a man whose brain quite obviously functions more efficiently and thoroughly than 95% of the population. The next five hours were made up of a series of delightful conversations over dinner; judging by his occasional hearty chuckles I’d like to think I amused him with my input, but the majority of the evening was filled by a flurry of his stories and tangents to stories that kept us talking until two in the morning.

This unusual, unofficial Couchsurfing experience was followed by the best Apfelstrudel I’ve ever tasted during breakfast the following morning. Mary and I spent the rest of the day catching up on the last two years of our lives and discussing future plans while enjoying various culinary delights from four different restaurants/cafes/bars in and around the city center. It was unfortunate that I had to leave already on Sunday; I got the impression that I could have easily spent a week waltzing through Vienna’s museums alone, not to mention time spent actually “going sightseeing”. Instead, Mary and I had an impromptu photoshoot near the Austria Center Vienna on our way to the Donauturm that we never ended up getting to.

We spent the last hour of my visit in and around the Stephansdom, listening to some sort of traditional band company giving an outside concert. Just as we left to catch my train, a gun salute rang schallend in the air — we took that as Vienna’s official farewell to me ^_^

I expect I’ll be back in Vienna someday when I have more time to really focus on the incredible culture that exists, take in a symphony, an opera, study the architecture and such. Until then, you’ll have to content yourself with the few photos I did take and imagine the rest for yourself…I’m sure you’re creative enough!

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