I’m not in Ireland; I’m still in Austria, at a stop on Vienna’s annual citywide, city-sponsored walking tour called Routes.
But for a moment before a cheery guide snaps me out of my trance — “Time to go to the next station, everyone!” — I’m convinced I’m at an open mic night in a Dublin pub, not the Schottenstift monastery in Vienna’s first district. After all, musician Shane Ò Fearghail’s brogue-soaked Gaelic crooning is slinking around the vaulted ceiling of a space once maintained by his ancestral Irishmen, forcing ripples through the Irish Buck (Jameson, ginger ale, and lime) I’ve been given to sip on.
This sensation of being briefly teleported to another country is exactly what Routes has aimed to achieve since its inception in 2016. On May 26th, hundreds of participants “traveled” to three of fifteen European countries based on their chosen group, being whisked away by guides to experiences around Vienna that were thoughtfully crafted with the hallmarks of each nation’s culture in mind.
Without ever leaving the city, language enthusiasts could write a Cyrillic postcard in Bulgaria and master hand gestures in Italy, leisure seekers picked up pétanque in France, and the curious baked pulla in Finland. Even the youngest joined in to learn about drawing Smurfs in Belgium and ski-jumping in Poland.
Only German speakers had so far been able to enjoy these hand-picked adventures—that is, until this year, when Routes introduced its first English-language tour “for English lovers.” Now, English-speaking nationals and expats alike can, aside from writing an Irish folk-inspired song with Shane, help Great Britain decide the Brexit vote with a game of tug-of-war and answer questions about Denmark using LEGO bricks.
While its destinations won’t produce stamps in the passport, Routes will leave something far more indelible—the fond memory of experiences shared with fellow residents and a new appreciation for Vienna’s reputation as a global city.