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The GW Hatchet

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A spring break trip to Vienna, Virginia, before sunset

Jackson Lanzer | Staff Photographer
A sign directs travelers to the Vienna Metro station.

This article’s intrepid authors both love the movie “Before Sunrise,” a sanguine if heartfelt romance about a couple who meet on a train to Vienna, Austria, and only share one night together. While we would’ve loved to jet away to Vienna for spring break to explore our favorite spots from the movie together, our minimum-wage internships left us trapped in D.C. 

So if we couldn’t take an old-timey train across Europe to Vienna, Austria, we decided to do the next best thing: hop on the Orange Line to Vienna, Virginia.

The Vienna station isn’t marvelous. The final stop on the Orange Line is situated between two mega highways — not exactly what you want to see as a pedestrian. But after a brief flirtation with taking the bus system, we opted to wander into Vienna on foot.

Just a couple blocks away from the station was a forest with a small path running through it. The trees had yet to bloom, still dead from winter, but they stretched tall enough that it was easy to imagine the area’s beauty come springtime.

Through a clearing in the forest, we glimpsed what could only be described as quintessential suburban Americana. It was the type of neighborhood that brought back memories of visiting grandparents as kids: lawns perfectly manicured, “new driver” stickers on half the cars and little parks with colorful monkey bars and twisting slides of all sizes.

Wanting to emulate the soul-searching of “Before Sunrise,” we decided not to use Google Maps and instead decided to search for the town by walking aimlessly along the main street. Cars were buzzing past us every which way — some of the drivers even cruising in Cadillacs with cigars between their lips. We didn’t see a single other pedestrian.

After a while in the outskirts of town, about 45 minutes on foot from the Metro, we began to get the particularly strong hunger you only get after wandering one of the great European cities — er, great D.C. suburbs — for hours on end. To our relief, we saw a man in a red jacket across us at an intersection and decided to cross the street to ask him for directions to the town center.

The Vienna traffic control system had other plans for us, as it took a full three minutes before the walk sign turned on and we were allowed to cross. When we finally met our hopeful directional savior, we asked him what way to go to the town center.

“No,” he said and promptly crossed the street away from us.

With those helpful instructions in mind, we decided to walk in the direction of the town’s water tower, hoping to stumble across civilization in the seemingly sleepy suburb. After another 20 minutes of strolling, we found a Wawa. At long last, the sophisticated culture we sought.

Across from the Wawa was a small plaza called the Village Green, which was full of restaurants, grocery stores and a veterinarian. Not wanting to fall for any of the tourist traps that likely plague Vienna’s many visitors, we decided to ask a vet passing by where to eat.

She recommended an Italian deli — but since it was Sunday, we were disappointed to find the delicatessen’s doors locked shut. Another option, called the Yellow Diner, was also closed as well as a Turkish restaurant.

Our last remaining hope was a Greek grocery store. It certainly didn’t look like a store you’d stumble across in Santorini, but every aisle was brimming with Greek products, from freshly baked pita bread, various chocolates named in Greek letters and a variety of baklava including pistachio and walnut flavors. The cashier of the store only spoke Greek, as did many of her other customers.

To save some room for a formal lunch, we only bought shortbread cookies shaped like cows. They were crunchy on the first bite but immediately melted in your mouth, satiating our hunger.

A mere block away, we came upon a British pub called Hawk & Griffin. British voices emanated from its oak doors, soccer players (take that Brits) danced across the screen and Union Jacks were strung across the ceiling. 

Several tables away from a cardboard cutout of King Charles — arguably more lifelike than he’s been in years — we sat and ordered Guinness, two meat pies and sausage rolls. While sitting, we eavesdropped on a conversation between two British expats about why the “bloody” players weren’t living up to their standards.

Perhaps we should have anticipated that British food was indeed going to taste like, well, British food, but the meal’s particular flavor induced nausea. Everything was bland, and the meat had a rubbery texture to it. We couldn’t take another bite, and decided to ask for our check and find a more agreeable cuisine.

A few blocks away was the Polka Deli-Polish Market. The interior was small, but the smell of chocolate permeated the store alongside Polish treats like plum cake and cheese pierogies. Still recovering from the pub, we opted for a couple small chocolates filled with cream.

But outside of craving chocolate, what the deli made us realize was the sheer blend of pan-European cultures we’d come across in Vienna — Greek, Polish, British, and that’s not even counting the multitude of closed locales. When we first decided to trek to Vienna, it was solely as a bit: a search for the romance of Europe in a small Virginia town. 

That seemingly impossible desire turned out to be exactly what we found. Vienna wasn’t just a suburban enclave of Americana, it was also a trove of treats and vernaculars from across the Atlantic.

On the walk back home, as we discussed our faux-European adventures and shared love of Ryan Gosling, the sun ahead of us began to set. Just as we boarded the Metro home, the sky exploded into reds and oranges. Our “Before Sunrise” trip was capped off by a sunset.

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