Author Archives: Cheryl Byrne

Viennese Coffeehouses and the Prelude to the Ball

“How bad is it really?”

Justin and I love to wander aimlessly, sometimes with only a vague destination in mind. In Vienna, I very much wanted to get out of the inner ring, which was just like every other major city in the world–luxury shops and hordes of tourists with bags from all of them. (I was PISSED and left when a salesperson at Hermés followed me throughout the store.) We started in the direction of the Danube River. At a major intersection we realized we had no idea where we were and decided to stop for a coffee at the Cafe Prúckel

We did not know at the time that Cafe Prúckel is more than 100 years old, and is one of the traditional coffee houses that Vienna is famous for. We were going to the Kaffeeseider (Coffee House Owners) Ball that night!

The loveliest thing happened. Two older women entered, and sat at the two chairs open at our table. We were looking at a map trying to figure out where we were and hopefully where we were going. They offered to help us, and we ended up chatting. They were sisters, and so incredibly beautiful. One lived in Vienna, the other in Innsbruck. One’s son in law was from Boston! We continued with this kind of chit chat for a bit when the Viennese sister leaned over to me and asked, “How bad is it really there in the US?”

Justin gave me a look. He knows how deeply upset I have been for the last two years, and of course had seen my tension ebbing over the last seven days. I answered that it was really bad. She persisted, “How bad? Like, every day?” I responded,” Every second of every minute of every day.” “Why?” they asked. “Because he cannot be trusted. He lies and lies and lies,” I answered. The sisters were quiet for a minute, and then told me about how the Austrian Chancellor’s meeting in the US had gone earlier that week. I had no idea he was there while we were here. And I was so very grateful for the not knowing.

Our conversation continued in a non-political vein for the rest of our time together. They steered us away from the famous Cafe Central (it was next door to our hotel and there was a line out the door all day) and to Demel’s instead. They acknowledged that it, too, was touristy, but worth it. They were so right! We had lunch there, waiting for a table in a little room that looked into the kitchen. Justin and I half-jokingly, fully-wishfully, wondered if any of the gigantic opera cakes they were working on would be served at the Kaffeeseider Ball that night.

We all know the answer to that now.

And so to my psyche. Every day we were in Innsbruck, the weather was better than the day before. The sun was warm and shone brightly against the snowy alpine peaks. We all put on sunscreen diligently every morning we skied. Only mine failed me. By the time we got to Vienna I had three cold sores on my lips, and blisters and sores both on my nose and under my nose–just in time to put on my sparkly dress and go to the ball. I mean, how do you even put on make up to cover that? I debated a spray tan (thanks, Meg!) or a professional make-up person.

In this state, I went into an apotheke across from St. Stephen’s Church on the Stephensplatz in search of help. At apothekes, you ask the person behind the counter for what you want, which in my case was some fast healing and relief! As I explained to the pharmacist, ich habe sonnenbrand, or I have a sun burn. A very Viennese-looking gentleman ( tirolian-esque fedora hat, long cashmere coat) standing to my right asked where had I been exposed to sunlight, certainly not here in Vienna. I answered that we had been skiing in Innsbruck; he asked where. When I told him the names of the resorts, he looked surprised–and impressed. All credit to our hosts, who have written eloquently in praise of the local hill, but I was proud to bask in the nodding approval of this dapper man! (I tried to talk Justin into buying a hat, but no.)

Oddly, for me at least, when it came time to get ready for the ball (neither spray tanned nor professionally made up) I was unconcerned with my blistered face, or even my lumpy body. I was happy and grateful to be with my incredibly handsome husband, our glamorous and gorgeous friends, enjoying a once in a lifetime experience.

More on the Kaffeeseider Ball next, and then Zurich, the final stop on our trip and the most expensive place I have ever been in my life (and I have a daughter living in New York).

Thanks for hanging in there with me.