How to navigate a complicated world, one near-miss at a time.
Traveling is difficult. Let us help. Ask me anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I travel frequently, and am constantly getting tips for places to hit up on future trips. But some of the advice I read or get from friends gets lost in random emails. Any tips on how to keep track of the places I want to visit?
A: It can be overwhelming to keep track of every museum in Chicago and cool new cocktail bar in Lagos you may or may not be in the vicinity of one day. In major metropolitan centers, especially in the U.S., I quite like Foursquare, which both makes recommendations and allows you to save to-do lists. Also, it makes it very easy to see places you’ve already been, so when you can’t remember the name of the great restaurant in Amsterdam you loved, you can dig it up. In general, however, I tend to star places I’m interested in on Google maps. It’s easy to pull up while traveling (assuming you have access to wifi) and it gives me a sense of where I’ll want to be while exploring a new city.
Q: For my next vacation, I’m traveling from Canada, where paying for sex is illegal, to Amsterdam, where it’s legal. I’m a law-abiding citizen, but since I wouldn’t be breaking the law, is it wrong for me to visit the red-light district abroad?
A: As you’ve noted, it wouldn’t be illegal to do so; therefore, we find ourselves in moral territory. While that’s not exactly my strong suit, I do preach one value: consistency. People who go abroad to do horrible things they would never do at home (I’m looking at you, England) are bound for a special realm in hell filled with vomit and blaring europop. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it elsewhere. That’s not really an answer in this case, however, since there are two reasons you may not be visiting prostitutes at home: one, because you believe strongly in obeying the law, and/or two, because you think that paying for sex isn’t ethical. If it’s the former, you’re in the clear. If it’s the latter, however, I’m going to need you to steer clear of the red light district. Fortunately, there are tons of fun things to do in Amsterdam besides rolling the dice on chlamydia. You can go to one of my favorite restaurants, Café van Kerkwijk, and have a lovely meal. Or you can get baked and go look at tulips. Or drink genever and visit the Sex Museum if you’re just dying for some kink without the moral hazards.
Q: I’m a caffeine addict headed to Vienna. Where should I get my fix in this coffee capital?
For this one, we turn to Vienna resident and R&K superstar Alexa van Sickle:
This is not an easy question to answer. Vienna likes to think it’s the world’s great coffee city, perfecting the art since 1693, when the Ottomans left behind bags of coffee beans at the city gates after their long but ultimately unsuccessful siege of Vienna. Though it’s difficult to say if one coffee place, or even a handful of them, stands far above the rest. There are just so many coffee houses, and a safe proportion of these will serve very good coffee indeed—though innovation and creativity is a little harder to find.
But coffee in Vienna is more than just beans: it’s also the UNESCO-blessed experience of lingering for hours in cosy yet opulent spaces with newspapers on wooden frames and formally-dressed waiters. From the long list of the grand, old coffee houses, I’d recommend Cafe Sperl, Cafe Drexler, Cafe Central, and Cafe Griensteidl. (Former Sigmund Freud hangout, Cafe Landtmann, also has an extensive booze-spiked coffee selection.) If it’s just about the coffee and not about the coffee house, then the consensus in my small straw poll seems to be Kaffee Fabrik and Cafe Alt Wien. A friend’s mother swears by Kaffeeküche, a poky stand in the underground tram terminal at the Schottentor transport hub, next to the University of Vienna.
If you’re wandering around town, look out for the (slightly politically incorrect) logo of Julius Meinl—a widely respected and historic local coffee brand. Cafes that serve it will display this label prominently. In 1877, the Meinl family came up with a signature coffee roasting process, in which coffee beans no longer came into contact with coal gases—eliminating aftertaste. The company once had nationwide chain of supermarkets, but its empire is now mostly coffee and their posh flagship store, restaurant, and cafe in the Graben—a good place to have their coffee at the source. You can also buy packets of the stuff to bring home. (Meinl coffee is one of the most commonly requested items for me to bring when I visit people overseas.)
Some useful coffee-menu terminology: Melange = espresso shot, milk, and foam. Grosser Brauner/Kleiner Brauner (“big/small brown one”) = steamed black, milk optional; Einspänner: Strong, black coffee in a high glass; Verlängerter (“extended one”) = like a Brauner, but diluted, sometimes served with milk.