My Austrian Evening (in Red Hook)

There was an Op-Ed* recently that bemoaned the bucket list, the “padding [of] one’s experiential résumé” for the sake of “novelty” that turns experiences into boxes one checks off. While I certainly wouldn’t agree with the author’s naming a visit to the Vatican or a trip to Paris (or even Las Vegas) as experiences that are over-hyped as a consequence, I agree that it can be “cloying” to hear one has “done” a city.

Last week, I flew to New York for a really special dinner hosted by the Austrian tourism board. And as we—a handful of other bloggers and myself—were sitting down to dinner, one of our hosts, Director Michael Gigl, referenced the Op-Ed, noting that Austria is perhaps all the more special a destination because it isn’t one of those places people tend to put on such a list.

Austria, he said, is loved for its Gemütlichkeit—a difficult to translate (not to mention pronounce) term that describes easy-going, friendly Austrian hospitality.

That’s not to say there aren’t bucket-list worthy sites in Austria: historians, music lovers, skiers, epicureans, dancers… you get the point… would surely take issue with any such suggestion! When I think of Austria, I think of pastries and wine (they’ve been cultivating wine since the Roman times), of waltzes, of composers like Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Strauss and Schubert, of dirndls and skiing in the Alps. And of course of a long, rich history. Watching an Opera in Vienna would surely be worthy of any such bucket list.

When my parents took me to Europe as a very lucky (but certainly not adequately grateful) teenager, we drove from Italy into Austria. My priorities were mostly about following in the footsteps of Maria Von Trapp (The Sound of Music was filmed primarily in Salzburg and there’s a photo of me in front of the church that served as the façade for Maria’s wedding), but what I remember now was seeing wild swans floating atop a glassy, misty lake in Hallstatt; donning colorful jumpsuits to slide down into salt mines; and laughing at my mom’s heavy use of the brake after my dad and I sped downhill on a summer luge.

Back to that evening in New York. It was full of Gemütlichkeit. And this time I knew enough to appreciate it: First of all, Kurt Gutenbrunner (of Wallsé and a few other wonderful NY restaurants) made us an amazing dinner in a private home in Red Hook (one of those artist’s lofts beside Fairway market that looks out at over the Harbor with its water taxis and ferries and, of course, Lady Liberty). You may have seen some photos on Instagram or Twitter from me with the hashtag #MyAustrianEvening.

There were canapés of wiener schnitzel, liptauer, and foie gras; smoked trout crepes with salmon caviar; spätzle with corn and chanterelles with braised rabbit; roasted venison; about three different desserts; and a lot of wonderful wine. And the members of the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra came and played classical music by Austrian composers and… well, it was just lovely.

So, of course, the takeaway here is that we would all be lucky to take a trip to Austria. (And, bucket-list or not, you should start planning one, here. Now.) But in the meantime, if you’d like an evening like this, they’re offering a chance to win an Austrian Evening in your home (for you and nine of your friends)—go to the Austrian travel page to learn how to enter to win.

What do you think of “bucket-list” travel? Have you been to Austria? If so, what was most memorable about your visit?

Thank you to everyone at the Austrian Tourism Office for making all the arrangements for me to make the trip out to New York and to attend #MyAustrianEvening!

Photos my own with exception of guests toasting (at top), which is courtesy of Austria Travel.

*The Op-Ed referenced is “What Is the Right Way to Travel?” by Anna Altman (New York Times), in response to Rebecca Mead’s “Kicking the Bucket List” (New Yorker).

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