Note: This blog is part of a series on a recent bicycle tour across Austria, along the Danube. To read from the beginning, click here.
I didn’t like Benji at first.
He was our server at our stunning, modernistic, and eclectic hotel in St. Agatha, high on a hill above Schlögen, Austria, where we’d crossed the Danube and caught a van up the steep hill. (We are no fools.)
I thought Benji was not attentive enough, keeping us waiting for 10 or 15 minutes to take our drink and lunch orders, waiting so long the kitchen closed, and our selections were minimized.
Once he began to engage with us, though, Benji could not have been more personable. He was knowledgeable about the food—and the beer and wine—and he had a delightful, wry sense of humor.
As we dined and drank that afternoon, we were again in our smaller group of eight—my brothers, their wives, and our friends Jennifer and Shawn Bailey. Benji dubbed us Group A and the rest of our party of 16: Group B.
Over lunch, then later at dinner, and after dinner, back at the bar, Benji taught us many things about the food in Austria. He taught us new words and how to address people in a familiar fashion as well as more formally. He began to feel like someone we’d always known. He joked with us and poked fun at us, too.
Shawn was drinking Baileys’ Irish Cream, and at one point, I pointed at Shawn and told Benji, “His last name is Bailey. At home, he drinks this stuff free.”
Our guide who knew so much stopped and gave me a good long look. Then, he caught on that I was kidding.
“I had you there for a second,” I said.
Benji laughed. “More than a second,” he said, turning to Jacques, who was drinking Tullamore Dew and saying, “I suppose he is Mr. Dew?”
Benji told us his good friend Fabian owned a restaurant on our route for the following day, between St. Agatha and Linz. He asked all of us in Groups A and B if we wanted to stop there for lunch. “Fabian will take good care of you.”
We took Benji up on this offer, and he made reservations for us. “Fabian loves when I send him big parties like yours!”
He told us a little bit about his friend. Then, feeling mischievous, Benji showed us a photo of Fabian sleeping under a pile of cardboard boxes after a rough night of drinking. My brother Jeff took a photo of it on his phone.
The next day, not long after noon, we came upon Benji, waiting on the bike path. He led us to the restaurant, introduced us to Fabian, and gave us a tour of the wine cellar. Benji then gave each couple in the group a bottle of wine—white wine for the folks in Group B, and red for those of us in Group A.
“White wine is like water to you people,” he said to my family-friend group.
The menu was in Deutsch, and Benji read every item to us—every appetizer, every entrée. We had pumpkin soup, salad with local fish on top, wiener schnitzel, pork, meatballs, and dumplings. The food was elegantly prepared.
When Fabian was done serving, Jeff approached him, showed him the photo on his phone. “I heard this was you?” After the laughter subsided, Fabian told us his own version of those events. Then he talked about the restaurant, which his grandparents founded decades ago and his parents now run.
We said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed on to Linz, packing the bottles of wine into the paniers on the ebikes; those riders with an assist had agreed to bear the extra weight.