Travelogue: Winston-Salem Pt. 4 – some Rain

We’ll see

We woke up on Easter and promptly went to a Starbucks to caffeine up.

The big reason why we went down to North Carolina was that a relative of the Firecracker’s had passed and the extended family was there to mourn and spread that relative’s ashes.

So, we did that on the last day.

I stayed in the car because I figured this was a private family event and this wasn’t really the time nor place to make formal introductions.

Afterward, we went to her aunt’s house where everyone celebrated the relative’s life as well as had Easter dinner.

Her extended family were also quite nice and I ate myself silly, taking a nap in her aunt’s sunny backyard.

Now, I’d been speaking to Rain this whole trip because he moved to a neighboring state down south.

Rain’s taken a huge 180 in his life and essentially changed from being the ultimate city boy to a farmer.

Legit, he’s a farmer now.

To wit, he wanted to give me some grass-fed beef from a cow he had slaughtered.

Him: This will be the freshest best beef you had in your life.
Me: Well, you already had me at free.

So, the Firecracker and I headed back to Walmart to get a cooler.

Gotta say that being in Walmart is a trip for a city boy like myself, who has yet to transition to becoming a farmer.

Literally, they had everything including guns and shotguns on display and various projectiles scattered about.

Me: I could live here. They have everything!
Her: Welcome to the south, babe.

We then went back and crashed, only to wake up a few hours later at the crack of ass to make the 12 hour trip back.

But we stopped off first at the parking lot of a Chick-fil-A where I met up with Rain, who arrived in this HUGE red pickup truck.

Me: You’re legit a farmer now.
Him: (taking sawdust outta his pockets) Yup.

He filled up the cooler with meat while the Firecracker and her kid went in to get some food. Presently, he and I went in as well and we shot this impromptu video below.

We chatted for just a few minutes before he had to get back on the road – I had to pick up my kid and we were still hours from where we needed to be.

After what seemed like forever, I got the kid…

Me: There you are! I missed you so much!
Him: Me too, papa! How was North Carolina?
Me: Good – but it woulda been better if you were there.

…and then made it home after being stuck in NYC traffic for a while.

She wants to do this trip every year and I’m not sure I can do that. But I see the appeal for her.

We’ll see.

Location: earlier today, stuck on 14th Street, waiting for mass transit
Mood: old
Music: Looking fine as hell in aisle four. Would you come over? (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Winston-Salem Pt. 3 – Stopping for BBQ

Hot damn, yeah!

We woke up relatively late to meet the Firecracker’s BIL and sister at a North Carolina BBQ joint called Lexington Barbecue.

Her: You’ll like it if you prefer dry rub to sauces.
Me: I like all types of BBQ.
Her: This is authentic southern BBQ!

I actually ended getting the fish.

BIL: Lemme get this straight, you come to a Carolina BBQ place and you get…fish?!
Me: I’m just gonna eat some of [the Firecracker’s] food – she never finishes.

Turns out she did.

BUT her niece didn’t want any of her food, so I ate that.

After we left, I took some pics outside when I heard a fella called out to me…

Him: Hey! Hey, man! You want some real pictures, come on into the smoker.
Me: Hot damn, yeah!

He was the pitmaster and also just a prince of a fella.

So were the two gents working back there as well.

The pitmaster pulled a piece of pork right outta the smoker and handed it to me.

Him: Whaddya think?
Me: (eating it) Jesus, that’s good.

We closed out the day having dinner with the Firecracker’s immediate family at the AirBnB that her sister was staying at.

The next day, we celebrated Easter and then headed back home but not before seeing an old friend.

I’ll tell you that part next, if you’re interested.

Location: A sunny playground, trying to not get hit by a baseball
Mood: irritated
Music: mountains, slowly they’ll arise before our eyes (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Winston-Salem Pt. 2 – Thanks, Sugar!

Walking down Memory Lane

The next day, we got up bright and early to meet the Firecracker’s mom at a joint on the same block as our hotel called Heff’s Burger Club.

Me: They have diet Mountain Dew!
Her: It’s the south; we have diet Mountain Dew.

The Firecracker’s sister and BIL were both there and they’re both foodies so they suggested the joint.

Firecracker’s mom: I’ll sit next to Logan.
Me: Good life choice there, lady.

She was very nice, but didn’t like to take pictures so I wasn’t able to really capture much.

I ordered a full burger but I was still pretty hungry.

From my window in my hotel room, I’d noticed a hot chicken place across from my hotel.

Her: You want more food?
Firecracker: He’s always hungry, mom.

So, while they all enjoyed the gorgeous weather – it was close to the 80s – I had myself a medium-spice level chicken.

BIL: How is it?
Me: I shoulda ordered the mild; the first one was fine but the heat builds up and now I’m sweating.

Sweating, but enjoying my hot chix.

I woulda had more though…

…but we had other places to be.

Firecracker: We have to get some Krispy Kreme.
Me: Why?
Her: This is where they were created – Winston-Salem.
Me: Sold!

So, off we went.

The sign that indicated that the donuts were hot was turned off…

…but it turned out that they had just finished making a batch, so we ordered some hot ones.

I brought the peanut butter, knowing there would be a ton of sweets down south.

To say that it was good would be a massive understatement.

But I limited myself to “just” two.

Her: You’re on vacation.
Me: This is you being an enabler.

The Firecracker snapped a pic of me wearing one the paper hats.

I wanted to get her mom some flowers for the next day, so we stopped by a Walmart.

Her: What are you doing?
Me: $5 for two cubic feet of dirt? That’s a bargain.
Her: You’re buying dirt?! To bring home to NYC? From Winston-Salem North Carolina?!
Me: Evidently.

And I did.

We then drove by her old home…

Her: It’s been like 20 years since I’ve come here.
Me: How are you doing?
Her: I’m feeling some kinda way.

There’s more to that, but that’s her story to tell, so I’ll end that part here.

Afterward, we went to her high school, where she snapped the below picture.

Me: Imagine if I went here!
Her: You were already outta law school when this place was built.
Me: That wasn’t really necessary to point out.

Afterward, we met up with her BIL and sister again for drinks at the West Salem Public House, where I tried – and failed – to climb a tree.

See the pic on the bottom.

So, we just drank instead.

Of course, I got hungry so I dashed off to get some soul food but they closed as soon as I got there.

Me: Shoot – is there any place you can recommend?
Her: East of Texas across the lot is pretty popular.
Me: OK, but I just want you to know that I wanted you guys first.
Her: (laughs) Ah, thanks, sugar!

That’s where we closed out the night, with me stuffing myself silly.

All-in-all, it was a good second day there.

I’ll probably wrap this whole thing up in another entry or two, so I’ll see you in the next one.

Probably two more.

I eat a lot.

Location: Warby Parker in the UWS and Columbus, picking up two eclipse glasses for the eclipse this coming Monday
Mood: injured
Music: Something bout you really feels like home (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Winston-Salem Pt. 1

Radically Different Outfits

I’m writing this somewhere in the middle of Virginia.

This past weekend, the Firecracker, her kid, my kid, and I all piled into a car so I could meet her mom, who’s from the south.

Well, that’s not quite what happened. We got into our rental car and promptly got out because it reeked of cigarette smoke.

That ate up a lotta time for us and we also found out that the day we left, Obama, Clinton, and Biden were in town.

Getting outta the city’s always a bear but the visiting presidents and alla the rain made everything worse.

My son didn’t come with us down south as he wanted to stay at his grandparents, so we drove him out to NJ first to drop him off.

MIL: You want some coffee before you go?
Firecracker: Oh, I already have some in the car, thank you.
Me: I’d love some, but I go to the bathroom enough when I travel.

This turned out to be pretty true when I asked her a few hours later if she wanted to pull over to get a quick break.

Her: Nope – I’m gonna be a taskmaster here.
Me: Can I at least borrow your sunglasses to try and sleep a bit?
Her: (laughing) You’re gonna look great in my sunglasses.

She was wrong.

Tried to get some sleep in the car but that was pretty much impossible.

Somewhere in West Viginia, her kid got hungry so she finally pulled over and we searched around for a place to eat.

Her: I love seeing the country. Isn’t it beautiful and peaceful?
Me: It’s like when I went to college [in Cornell]. I gotta, say, though, this place is less bucolic and more like the land of strip malls.

I had a chicken sammie animal style at Chick-fil-A.

The next four hours or so were just like this.

We were making good time so for dinner, we ended up stopping by a joint called Holly Jo’s Creekside Grill.

The food was only ok but everyone was super nice and I can’t remember the last time I ate with Darth Vader.

The problem was probably that I ordered a salad. It was not a good salad.

Everything else was good, though.

It was pretty late when we pulled into our hotel in Winston-Salem – some 12 hours after we left that morning.

The hotel itself was pretty nice.

Me: Man, look at the size of this place! Real estate’s gotta be lot cheaper out here if this is just the lobby.
Her: Yup, Winston-Salem only has about 250,000 people.
Me: That’s not even as big as my family’s neighborhood in Queens.

The hotel room was pretty nice too.

When we got up the next morning, we were pretty amused to find that there were two conventions happening in the convention hall just a block from our hotel room:

The first was the Triad Anime Convention while the second was the North Carolina Youth & Hyphen Convention 2024.

Shall we say that the attendees of the respective events wore radically different outfits?

Firecracker: (talking about the Youth Convention ladies) Do you notice that they’re all wearing skirts down to their ankles?
Me: I do now. (pointing over at an anime convention girl in hot pants) They’re dressed pretty differently.
Her: Very. (shaking head) They should probably wear a little more.
Me: Nah, it’s America. People should dress how they want.
Her: It’s cold!
Me: This is true.

I didn’t take any pics of the latter but did of the former.

There’s more but I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Location: my room, getting ready for a trip down south
Mood: injured
Music: Won’t you roll with me, go with me, waste some time? (Spotify)
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Totally random (videos)

I’ll always love NY

There’s gonna be zero rhyme or reason to this entry cause I went through my camera and found a buncha random videos that I meant to post.

Let’s start with a video shot in October of 2023 where I took a bus out to Queens in this entry.

Now, I’d meant to post this video in that entry, but I forgot I even took it.

Essentially, that explains all the rest of these videos.

Nothing special but I just always liked seeing the NYC rivers while on bridges.

Now, this is another video I shot in October of 2023, where this very old and broken dude was screaming out racial epithets at people who were just walking by him.

I believe the cops got involved but I was already gone by the time they started to arrive.

While NYC definitely has moments like that, it also has moments like the next video, which I shot the following month on November 18th, 2023.

It’s just some people playing ping pong on the pedestrian square outside of Koreatown.

I like how totally random it is, just like NYC itself, which is also totally random.

That’s all I got for now.

Well, that is until I find another batch of random videos from my phone.

Lemme close out this entry with someone else’s video; this is Ryan Adams singing his song New York, New York.

It was shot in 2001, right before the World Trade Center was hit and is how I remember the buildings before all the horror.

There’s a line in it that goes, I’ll always love you though, New York.

Despite a whole lotta things, that sounds about right.

Location: a trampoline park all day, surrounded by kids and noise
Mood: headachey
Music: In a church on the upper west side (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Vienna 2023 Pt 6 – Marie Antoinette, Schönbrunn Palace, Fake Ruins, Home

Can’t tell you how disappointed I am

Her: You know what’s wild? The same time we were in the room where Marie Antoinette was born, my sister was in Paris in the room she was in right before she died.
Me: That *is* wild – and so sad to me for some reason.

The last day we were there, the Firecracker had us heading out to the Schönbrunn Palace, which was where the Hapsburgs summered.

Coincidentally, her sister was in Paris at the same time, leading to the conversation above.

Now the Firecracker just likes going to castles in general, but I was super jazzed to see the Roman ruins – more on that in a moment.

Beforehand, though, we enjoyed some of the Christmas market outside the castle before heading in.

Just like the Hofburg, it was opulent and impressive.

While there was a glass cutaway in the palace showing the Roman ruins, I wanted to see the more impressive ruins on the grounds…

…and they were super impressive…

Me: I’ve never seen such nicely kept ruins, ever!
Her: This is amazing!

…and super fake:

Me: Holy cow, I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.
Her: Man, that stinks!

To assuage somea that disappointment, we headed to the next town over in search of a traditional German joint that was less than 550 years old.

We stepped into the first nice place we saw and ordered a Diet Coke and another Radler…

…along with a traditional Weiner Schnitzel and Beef Goulash.

It was all pretty good but definitely not American-sized portions, so I was still pretty hungry afterward.

Her: You’re always hungry.
Me: This is true.

There was one last castle that the Firecracker wanted to check out before we left but, because I was still hungry, we hopped off the tram early to check out a bar right before it called Cafe Prinz.

Me: (to owner) Zwei bitte. Und gibt es Apfelstrudel und Wurst?
Owner: I’m sorry, do you speak English? My German isn’t so good.
Firecracker: (surprised) Are you American?
Owner: (shaking head) No, I’m from Czech Republic, moved to Canada decades ago, and was on my way back home to the Czech Republic when my friend convinced me to stop here in Vienna and we ended up buying this bar.

She was super nice, and we ended up taking a picture with her.

The Firecracker wrote some postcards for her parents, and I offered to drop them off at the post office for her.

It was “only” two blocks away but each one of these blocks were like three NYC avenues.

Firecracker: I thought you got lost!
Me: I didn’t but…man, they don’t fool around with the blocks here.

After we had some food and drink, we headed off to the last castle.

There was another Christmas Market there, so I ended up buying more Glühwein with this cool mug.

We ended up just enjoying the market for a bit before heading back.

The next morning, we took off for home.

It was pretty uneventful except for the fact that we had to board the plane from the tarmac…

…and the food was pretty atrocious.

Her: It’s not good.
Me: It tastes like they saw a picture of a pizza and decided to make it based on the picture.

We got back to the states and missed the train back into the city by just two minutes.

Her: Wait, the train’s delayed, we didn’t miss it after all.
Me: Awesome! Well, that’s a good way to end this trip.

And that’s our trip to Vienna.

Back to our usual nuthin in the next entry.

Location: home all day, after a night of drinking with Mr. Read
Mood: sober
Music: Even though I love the road, I’m missing home (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Vienna 2023 Pt 5 – Opera House, Wiener Riesenrad, Griechenbeisl, and a Radler

I go where you go

The next morning, I had some brie and smoked salmon while she had the yoghurt she bought, along with several cups of coffee.

But it wasn’t enough and we ended up going to a tiny, non-descript cafe…

…where she finally got to have a pretty good rendition of a Sacher Torte.

Me: They’re generally a bit dry. Whaddya think?
Her: I liked it! The apricot jam really helped.

Stepping out, we noticed a building which had the same kidnapped photos/posters as we have in NYC, which was a somber reminder of the current state of the world.

Afterward, we headed off to the Opera House because she got us a 45-minute tour there.

Only found it somewhat interesting, but both the Firecracker and I really marveled in the history and beauty of the whole thing.

We essentially paid for the tour just to see the inside; the tour was very basic and 45 minutes was more than we needed for just seeing it.

Still, I was glad to have done it.

One of the only things that I really wanted to do was to visit the Prater amusement park and check out their iconic ferris wheel.

It was featured in onea my fave films, The Third Man, which actually starred my buddy’s grandfather.

Both the Firecracker and I wished that our kids were there to enjoy it.

Her: They would have loved this.
Me: When they’re older, we can bring them.

Afterward, we went to have dinner at a traditional Austria Bisel at the 550 year old (!) Griechenbeisl, which is a beisl, or a traditional German tavern with food and drink.

People that have eaten there includes Mark Twain, Beethoven, Mozart, Luciano Pavarotti, and Johnny Cash – so I figured we were in good company.

Getting there was fun – we felt like spies coming outta the cold war.

The name translates to “Greek Tavern,” but it had zero Greek food, just traditional German food, which is exactly what we wanted.

We ordered the traditional pork leg for two.

It was exactly what my belly wanted.

Oh, and there was another cool ceramic heater in the corner.

We both really enjoyed the drinks and the meal.

This was the aftermath.

We walked around for a bit afterward and ended up walking into this rando apartment building…

Her: Should we go in?
Me: No. But let’s do it anyway.

…checking out an underground furniture store…

…window shopping at above-ground luxury stores…

Me: I heard the Devil wears that.
Her: She does! I could never bring myself to spend that much on stuff like that, though.

…and, finally, hitting up another bar where we each had a radler/shandy.

Me: This was a super full second day.
Her: It was your idea to pack in everything today!
Me: True. We may have taken on too much. Should we head back?
Her: If you’re going back, I’m going back. I go where you go.


Location: a steamy swimming pool with the boy, who just got a certificate
Mood: argumentative
Music:  you feel like we’re on a Ferris Wheel (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Vienna 2023 Pt 4 – Imperial Apartments, Tirolerhof Cafe, St. Stephens, and an Imbiss

Real Viennese Coffee

Now, we both really enjoyed the Albertina Museums and the Imperial Apartments – the latter being what the Firecracker was most looking forward to.

Do you see that big with ceramic thingy to the right of the secretary desk in the pic below?

Well, that’s a wood-fired ceramic stove for heat in the winter months.

Note that there’s no door for the wood. And that’s because it was fed from the wall side – essentially, servants were in the walls of the palace, tending to things like heat, hidden from the royal family.

You can see the outline of a hidden door above.

Pretty wild how the other half lived back then.

As for me, beside the Michelangelo exhibit, I enjoyed when we stumbled on this really cool modern art display in the lower levels of one of the museums.

After finishing up at the Albertina, we searched for more legal stimulants.

Her: We have got to have some real Viennese coffee, Lo.
Me: What about over there?

So, we finally got a chance to a proper sit-down meal at the Tirolerhof Cafe, which started in 1885, with a nice but brusque waiter.

We ordered a pot of coffee, a sammie, and a salad.

Fully charged up with caffeine and food, we set out back to explore the city.

Took this picture at night.

She had to use the bathroom so we ducked into a hotel.

Me: I think this is the actual Sacher Hotel, where they invented the Sacher Torte. (here’s the official recipe)
Her: This is too nice a place for me to try and use their facilities.

She ended up walking into another cafe and just pretended like she belonged.

It worked out well.

Afterward, we walked to St. Stephen’s Cathedral and stepped inside.

It was packed but worth the hustle and bustle.

We spent a good amount of time inside, marveling at everything, before heading back out to continue exploring everything.

Being New Yorkers, we decided to hop the subway there and explore other areas.

But I got hungry.

Me: I wanna go to an imbiss.
Her: What is that?
Me: (thinking) It’s kinda like a food truck, except without wheels.

She enjoyed her meal there.

We wrapped up the night by drinking alcohol on the streets…

…and going to underground public art noveau bathrooms.

I’m serious.

Afterward, we headed back to our home base when we came across a restaurant called Das Campus and decided to slip in and get some more food and drink.

We walked by an Aldi and decided to step in to buy stuff for brekkie the next day.

While there, I helped some Chinese tourists buy some yoghurt since the Firecracker wanted some as well.

Tourist: (in Chinese to friend) Does this look like yoghurt to you?
Me: (in Chinese) It’s yoghurt.
Her: Oh – thank you.
Me: Anytime!

All-in-all, it was a good second day in Vienna.

Location: wrote this sitting at Viennese cafe with the Firecracker
Mood: sleepy
Music: Lemme wake you up; you wanna come along? (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Vienna 2023 Pt 3 – Starbucks, Anker, Ringstrasse, The Albertina

So many carbs

I finally managed to get some sleep that night, albeit in fits and starts.

But we woke up pretty early and immediately searched for some coffee. Just like our first night, we were just looking for a place to sit and have something familiar.

Me: So, our first cup of Viennese joe was at a McDonald’s and our second is gonna be at a Starbucks?
Her: Looks that way. Cm’on…

After we had a cup of coffee there, we had only walked a few feet when we came across what we figure is like their Pret, a chain called Anker.

Look, we were just severely undercaffeinated and needed quick and dirty coffee.

I was, however, very happy to have all the croissants we were having.

Her: I’ve never seen you eat so many carbs, ever.
Me: It’s a scientifically proven fact that carbs on vacation don’t count. If left to my own devices, I would shovel carbs in my mouth all day and night.
Her: Who are you!?

She noticed that, on one building, the supports for the balconies were actually carved statues.

In fact, she marveled at how beautiful all the buildings were there.

Even though we were pretty jet-lagged, because we had alla that coffee, we decided to have a pretty full day, starting off with hopping onto a trolley that circled the city.

See, Vienna used to have this massive wall keeping people outta the city – in fact, that wall changed the face of the world.

Without it, the dominant European religion woulda been Muslim and not Christian, but I suppose that’s an entry for another day.

We actually took Rick Steves’ Ringstrasse tour, which is a self-guided audio tour that was timed along the D and 1 trollies. That took about an hour and gave us a good overview of the city.

Anywho, after we got the lay of the land, we decided to head to the Hofburg, or Imperial, Palace.

Previously, it was home of the royal family, but it’s now the seat of government for Austria as well as different museums, including the Imperial Apartments and the Sisi Museum.

We arrived just as a huge batch of Japanese tourists showed up.

Her: And you thought you’d be the only Asian here.
Me: I could totally blend in and take that tour.

Of course, I had to rep Scenic Fights…

This wasn’t taken at the Hofburg but at the Albertina (I had a pic from the Hofburg but I used it here).

…while she took some obligatory selfies.

There was a good amount of pomp and circumstance around the palace…

…but we decided to head to another palace altogether.

To that end, we headed to the Albertina museums, which I mentioned earlier.

We managed to stay on track, despite my best efforts…

Me: Look, we can go to a Burger King here too.
Her: Absolutely not! We need some authentic Viennese coffee at a real cafe. Let’s go to the Albertina first.

The Albertina museums (Vienna & the Modern) are the largest museums for modern art in Central Europe but their original role was that of royal residences.

Now, she had bought tickets to a tour of the palace at large, but we were mainly interested in the Royal apartments.

But this entry’s getting super long, so I suppose I’ll finish it in the next one.

Location: back in the states and eating my weight in Chinese food
Mood: busy, busy, busy
Music: I wanna see Paris, I wanna see Tokyo (Spotify)
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Travelogue: Vienna 2023 Pt 2 – MickyD’s, Christmas Market, and Glühwein

Here’s that pic I promised you

Now, mind you that I’d slept less than two hours for the past 36 hours, so I was desperate for some legal stimulants.

So, we immediately hopped one of their super reliable – and legit adorbs – trolleys heading to the city center and searched for some coffee.

Look at that line – it wasn’t even noon yet.

To wit, we tried to hit up a classic Viennese cafe, but they were all closed where we were, or the lines were super long.

Her: Look, there’s a McDonalds.
Me: I don’t want our first cup of coffee in Vienna to come from a MickyD’s.
Her: We just need caffeine. You definitely do.
Me: (sighing) Fair. OK.

So, we did just that. Gotta say, it was the nicest McD coffee experience I’ve ever had.

Real glasses, plates, and tableware.

She was right, that coffee really woke up me up, so we headed off to the Christmas Market at the City Hall.

I’d gone to several in Nuremburg and Cologne in my past life, but this was her first.

If you’ve never been to a German/Austrian/Swiss Christmas Market in your life, it’s worth the trip to do it. They’re really awesome.

There are all these cute little stands selling whatnot…

…but for my money, the Glühwein – which is mulled wine – and the accompanying mugs are the best things about the market.

For one, they smell amazeballs. Plus, when you get one, it warms you up and tastes as good as it smells.

When you buy one, they also take money for the mug, which you can keep or return to get back the money you spent.

So, the very first thing we did upon arriving at the market was to buy some glühwein and some food – bratwursts, of course.

Her: We’re in Vienna! Can you believe it?
Me: Crazy, right?

She wanted ketchup on it, but I held my nose and ate it nevertheless.

It was still a treat enjoying it, albeit not exactly like the locals would.

The lines were pretty long for all the good stuff.

There’s a pretty famous restaurant by the city hall called the Wiener Rathauskeller but it was closed when we were there.

Unfortunately, we didn’t last too much longer as our jet lag got the better of us, and we headed back to her friend’s pad to crash.

I’ll tell you more in the next entry.

Years ago, I told you that my buddy Tiffany sent me a mug alla way from Germany.

Told you that I’d take a pic of that mug and never did.

It’s 15 years late, but here it is:

Location: a BJJ gym in the UWS, watching the boy tackle another boy and feeling oh-so-proud
Mood: brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Music: It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two (Spotify)
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