14 May 2011

Austrian Garden Party

It seems like forever since we've been in a city and had a true night out on the town. Being in the mountains will do that to you. As will camping - and we've had a truly wonderful combination of both. Even still, it felt good to put on some impractical shoes and go out to a true Austrian beer garden: Augustiner Bräustübl in Salzburg.
The garden is attached to a brewery run by monks and the large building tucked away up a steep, cobbled side street ("steep" being relative in aforementioned impractical shoes) definitely had a monastic feel. The high ceilings, wide marble staircases and echo-inducing cloth-free decor reminded me of going into my Catholic high school after hours for rehearsals. Squeaking sneakers and a basketball dribbling in the distance wouldn't have seemed out of place. As we made our way through the long hallways, we noticed food stalls lining the way.
I've never been to a beer garden like this, so Merlin helped me navigate the routine. Pay for the size beer you'd like (1/2 liter, full, 1 and 1/2 or two) and grab the corresponding stein from the wall. Then, while you wait online to hand your cup over to get it filled, take advantage of the ice cold fountain. At first, we thought it was there for cup-rinsing, but after a few goes, we noticed the real professionals keeping their mug filled with the icy water for as long as possible. It definitely made for a colder beer.
Outside, the food stalls got even more serious. A couple next to us unwrapped a whole chicken from a greasy piece of grey paper and then a whole trout. Since we'd already eaten, we opted to go back inside to the long hallway and pick up a brēzel. Right across the from bakery counter was an older woman selling hard-boiled eggs and working a turnip on a rotating shaver, making plate after plate of thin, white spirals. Our plate of it was topped with some salt and made a wonderful snack. How can you not buy something from an egg and turnip stand?
Back to that whole trout. Neither of us have ever seen anything like this before. We couldn't tell if heat was coming from the grate at the end of the skewers or if the fishies had been cooked first and then set out for the taking. Either way, it gave a whole new meaning to the term 'fish kebab.'
The night was still and pleasant. A few children ran around in the playground set up in the corner. We drank and people-watched under the chestnut trees, hearing a few songs and a few shouts ring out now and then from a mostly well-behaved crowd. Sixteen year old girls walked to a table carrying mugs that looked bigger than their heads. A table of men took photos of their ancient mother downing a 1/2 liter in one, long gulp.

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