We finished up our trip with a few days in Vienna and a 15-hour layover in Amsterdam (why not? also, it was the cheapest connection). My mother's side of the family is Austrian, and while the family is large and there are branches all over the country, we tend to spend most of our time in Vienna when we visit. Nick had never been, so this was a month of firsts and family time for him!
My cousins and aunt greeted us with the usual abundance of food, prosecco (Aperol Spritzer anyone?!), and entertaining stories about generations past. We were also lucky enough to get a special visit from our friend Chip, who is off on his own RTW trip now, and whose itinerary overlapped with ours in Vienna. The language barrier didn't get in the way of us Stirlings showing him how we eat!
We spent time wandering around downtown Vienna, which I find to be sophisticated and modern while retaining a bit of old-world elegance-- the perfect combination. Its streets are lined with cafes serving some of the best coffee and pastries you'll ever try, lots of green space, great shops, and plenty of museums for all tastes. For those in the mood, there are castles too!
Another thing I love about Vienna is that it sits right on the Danube River, and the city takes full advantage of its position in the summer. Summers are short there but the temperatures are warm, the days are quite long, and the water is the place to be. The riverfront is dotted with beaches of all kinds where you can swim, rent boats, and picnic on the grass. Open-air beer gardens become the place to meet your friends, and since we happened to be there during the Euro Cup, we got to watch the Italy v. England game on a huge outdoor screen right on the water. Our visit also coincided with the largest annual free music festival in Europe, the Danube Island Festival. The large island is taken over by 3 million visitors and dozens of stages covering over 6 km of the island's length. We got to see a DJ I've never seen but have always wanted to--Peter Kruder of Kruder & Dorfmeister fame--with my cousin Sara.
After what felt like way too short a time, it was time for Nick and I to say our goodbyes and start our journey home. I made a last minute decision to have Sara chop my hair off (she's a professional)-- something I had wanted to do all year -- about 30 minutes before we had to leave for the airport! With less hair on my head but more chocolate in my bag, we headed off to Amsterdam, where we spent our final 15 hours before heading back home to Washington, DC.
Knowing that it was the last night of an exactly-year-long adventure of a lifetime was a surreal feeling. We talked about how it felt, and whether we should even be thinking of this night as any different or more meaningful than any other day of our trip. We both agreed that these few hours needn't be some monumental, defining moment of our trip-- how could they be, just because they were the last? Months before this night, I had envisioned it with a bit of dread, but also with the expectation that we'd be spending it revisiting all of our favorite memories of the year, on some kind of marathon walk down memory lane. In fact, we weren't even ready to attempt to wrap our heads around all the beautiful, emotional, challenging, and inspiring experiences that we are lucky enough to call the last 12 months of our lives. So we did what we always do-- we wandered the small backstreets, stopped to take photos of anything that caught our eye, tried the local specialties (salty licorice!), and paused every once in a while to remind ourselves: this is an adventure, just like any other day of our lives. It is neither the first nor the last. It is beautiful, it is ordinary, and we are lucky to be here, at this moment, with each other, and part of this world.