One of life’s most exquisite incidental pleasures is knowing people with empty apartments in other countries well enough that they invite you to stay whenever you like.
I had that, once, in a place called Bregenz.
Bregenz is a town of about 30,000 that occupies the tip of a tendril of Austria that reaches west to touch Lake Constance. You can walk to Germany and a half hour cycle will get you to Switzerland.
My friend’s apartment was on the brow of a hill overlooking the town and the lake, and I got in the habit of spending the odd week or so there whenever I was in the neighbourhood. His friends became my friends, and those friends drove me around the Bregenzerwald and Vorarlberg, home to some of the world’s best composed Alpine scenery. One summer, I happened to be there when the Bregenz Festival was on, and saw an enormous production of Die Zauberflöte in the country of Mozart’s birth on a stage jutting out into one of the world’s most beautiful lakes.
It’s lovely getting to know a place that’s not home, getting off the train (in this case, either from Zurich or Munich), and knowing to turn right, then go up the hill, take that set of steps through the trees, cross the street, and see, up past the motorcycle repair shop a darkened third floor window the key in my pocket would soon let me light up.
But it was the buttermilk that really made me feel like this was my place. One of my new Bregenz friends took me to a big red and white-spotted mushroom-shaped kiosk between the train station and the lake. She told me her father used to take her there for buttermilk milkshakes when she was a kid, 40 years ago, and whenever she walked by, she liked to get a small blueberry. There’s a sign out front of it now, though there wasn’t when she first took me there, telling the story of the Milchpilz (milk mushroom). It’s been there, the sign says, since July 20, 1953.
I’ve stopped by the Milchpilz every time I’ve visited Bregenz since for a raspberry, apple-pear, or Ovomaltine buttermilk before visiting the Eurospar just off Kirchstrasse for some Vorarlberg cheese and Blauerzweigelt before heading to my friend’s place.
I love the Saturday market and the good pastry shop (just up the street from the less-good pastry shop), and having a glass of sparkling Austrian wine on the century-old pier in the summers.
But I think it’s the buttermilk that’s kept me coming back, even after my friend so rudely gave up the apartment.