GAY TRAVEL SHOULD BE ABOUT FAMILY… But a NEW Kind of Family

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I have traveled the planet.  More than almost anyone I have encountered.  Because of that experience I have learned a few valuable things to make the trip, vacation, journey even better than your hopes and dreams.  Here are a few suggestions.

 

First, TRAVEL WITH FAMILY.

It’s obvious, but frequently forgotten as to why.  Family can be relatives, yes.  But much more often for gay men and woman it is CHOSEN FAMILY that become so special in our travel.  Why?  Because the shared experience is everything.  The laugh’s, the wonderment, the tastes, the cultures and so forth should be experienced with FAMILY.  Key West has a beautiful marketing message of “One Human Family.”  That could never be more true when you explore the planet.  Make friends.  Then travel in groups of “family.”  Think of it as ‘HERDS’ in the animal kingdom.  There is safety in numbers… yes.  But, the experience is even more rewarding.

 

Second, SHARE BEFORE THE TRIP.

At ALandCHUCK.travel we have group Facebook pages for our RuPaul Cruise in Europe and North America, for Cuba and more.  WHY?  Because the shared experience before you travel can be as rewarding as the travel itself.  I constantly recommend to my guests to “Live In This Moment.”  To often we dream of the future or we relive the past.  But if we are not experience the RIGHT NOW we miss the vital nature of why we all travel in the first place.  So live RIGHT NOW.  Not the past and not the future.  Living in this moment as it relates to your vacation and travel is discussing with your friends and family what you are looking forward to, why, and what you want to experience.  THAT is living in this moment.  To start to explore what you want from your travel experience.  And by the way, I have learned that is so much more valuable or any T-shirt or something you buy along the way.

 

Third, DON’T OBSESS OR OVERPLAN.

I see this problem frequently in gay travel.  We are frequently in need to plan in minutia detail.  To dot every I and cross every T.  That’s fine.  But only to a point.  When you do this I have found it allows you to live in a travel space that is no longer the experience I discuss in SHARE BEFORE THE TRIP.  Instead, you are like a secretary, just planning and planning and planning instead of dreaming and exploring what you really want.  Don’t get caught up in silly details.  They spoil the greatest benefit of travel.  The experience itself.

 

I wish I could have taken my own advice 25 years ago.  I didn’t.  It took a long, long time to learn these simple principles.  But now I travel the world with wide-eyed appreciation of combining a Gay Man combined with the wonderment of a child.  I absolutely wish you the same.  We have so much to learn from travel.  We have so much JOY it can bring us.  But we have to approach it in the right way.  And then travel brings us happiness.

Eight must-see buildings in Budapest!

Parliament

Taking 17 years to build and completed in 1902, this neo-Gothic structure was partly inspired by the UK’s Palace of Westminster.

British politician-turned-broadcaster Michael Portillo memorably described it as “one of the most beautiful legislatures in the world, a cathedral of democracy.”

The best views are from Kossuth Lajos Square (in front of the building), from the river (Parliament is right on the Pest embankment) or from the opposite Buda banks.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Taking even longer — 50 years — than Parliament to complete, the biggest church in Budapest finally opened in 1906.

During construction the building’s dome collapsed and two of the three lead architects died.

St. Stephen’s Basilica contains the mummified hand — called the “Holy Right” — of Hungary’s founding king-saint, Stephen (István).

The dome is the same height as Parliament — current legislation forbids anything higher, so Budapest isn’t going to get its own version of London’s Shard any time soon.

The church is free to enter, though it costs 500 forints ($2.30) to climb up to the observation deck surrounding the 96-meter high dome (closed from November to the end of March).

Hungarian State Opera House

A lot of building rivalry has gone on in Budapest.

The Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph approved (and partially paid for) the construction of an opera house in the city on the condition it was no bigger than the one in Vienna.

Smaller it may have been but it was far more opulent — the emperor’s reported reaction on seeing it at the grand opening in 1884 was to mutter, “These Hungarians!”

You can visit the ornate building on a tour but, even better, see it while watching an opera or ballet performance.

The opera house is located on Andrássy út (itself a World Heritage Site), Budapest’s grand boulevard full of high-end shops and other magnificent buildings.

Dohány utca Synagogue

Also known as the Great Synagogue, this is one of the largest Jewish temples in the world.

Consecrated in 1859, the Moorish revival-style building is a center of Neolog Judaism, a moderate reformed branch of the religion.

The complex also includes a museum and, in the rear courtyard, a memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims in the form of a weeping willow with the names of the dead and disappeared inscribed on the leaves.

An estimated 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in World War II from a prewar population of more than 800,000.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Budapest is a city of bridges, but the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd) is the granddaddy of them all — in 1849 it became the first permanent span linking Buda and Pest.

Commissioned by a Hungarian count, after whom it is named, the 375-meter-long suspension bridge was designed by an English engineer and built under the supervision of a Scot.

As with all Budapest bridges, the original was blown up during the siege of the city in World War II — a broadly similar replacement opened to traffic in 1947.

The bridge is at its most spectacular at night, when fully illuminated.

Royal Palace

The Castle District, yet another World Heritage Site (why not just designate the whole town a World Heritage Site?), dominates the Buda skyline.

Although it actually lacks a castle, the Royal Palace, dominating the southern end, is magnificent.

A royal residence from the 1300s to the end of the Hungarian monarchy in the early 20th century, it was rebuilt time and again through numerous sieges and wars.

It now houses the Budapest History Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery and the National Széchenyi Library.

Like the Széchenyi Bridge, the palace looks particularly magical each evening, when floodlights are switched on.

Fisherman’s Bastion

So named because the fisherman’s guild was responsible for protecting this section of the medieval defenses, this isn’t a building so much as a glorified wall.

What you see today was built between 1895 and 1902 to replace the former castle wall and designed to harmonize with neighboring Matthias (Mátyás) Church.

The bastion’s seven turrets represent the seven Hungarian tribes.

They weren’t designed to keep people out, but to provide a vantage point — the panorama they offer over the river (both embankments are — you guessed it — also a World Heritage Site) is breathtaking.

National Theater

Proof that not every Budapest building worth seeing need be more than 100 years old, the National Theater opened on the Pest Embankment, next to the Palace of Arts, in 2002.

The eclectic modern design includes references to much of the city’s historic architecture but also incorporates a lot of glasswork.

The public park in which the theater sits has a sculptured entrance gate in the form of theater curtains, statues of popular Hungarian actors in their most famous roles scattered about and a maze — just in case you’re not tired of walking around.

Budapest is a great city, and we have an amazing trip to take you there, along with many other great cities with our Gay River Cruise – 2015 Gay Oktoberfest & Danube River Cruise! For all of the information on the exciting trip, go here.

This article originally appeared on CNN.

Let Love Define Family Series Explores LGBT Family Vacations

Let Love Define Family Series Explores LGBT Family Vacations

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post  |  By

There are a few things you hear over and over again from LGBT families that take LGBT-themed vacations: “It’s completely open and comfortable and a place where you are surrounded by people who are experiencing life in a similar way. It’s not about the destination, it is all about the experience.”

Jeffrey and Chris Hietikko-Parsons and their 8 1/2 year old son, Henry, from New Jersey, have been on 10 trips so far with R Family Vacations. “We always have an amazing time,” they explained. “Everything is so well planned and there is a high caliber of activities and entertainment. It’s not like other vacations — these feel like we’re on a trip with our extended family.”

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Planning a vacation can be stressful for everyone involved: Where do we go? How do we get there? What do we do when we get there? What if we get bored? For the LGBT family, there is also the added challenge of finding a place to truly relax and feel comfortable. So, an entire industry was born to create the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure for everyone!

There is no doubt that family trips create memories and bonds that last a lifetime, but a big part of these vacations seem to be the sense of community and spending time in a place where kids, and adults, feel like their family isn’t so different.

One gay couple conveyed the story about how in just the past week, while going about their day-to-day business with their two children, they were asked by two waiters and a cashier, “Where is the woman of the house?” The quick response is that their 13 year-old daughter is our woman of the household. It can be a subtle reminder that some in society still see LGBT families as a sort of anomaly. That could be a reason why LGBT group travel is growing. It’s not just the activities, it is more about escaping to a world of acceptance and true relaxation.

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“Where we live, being a gay family is not a big deal,” said Jeremy Gransky from Massachusetts, “but there are not many other LGBT families around us, so being in that environment with other families like us makes all the difference.” Jeremy and husband John Gransky, with two kids Will and Natalie, are looking forward to their 11th trip with R Family this summer.

“The kids are a big focus for us,” explains R Family Vacations co-founder Kelli Carpenter. “The trips will look like every other family vacation, but on a bigger scale. We’re always finding ways to bring wonder and excitement to the experience for everyone, but especially the kids.”

Stephen Botte from San Jose, and his son Francesco, continue on these excursions just for the experiences they have. “In society you’re the gay family, but with these trips you just a family enjoying a vacation. It’s a total VIP experience that you get to share with thousands of people just like you.”

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Since LGBT families are growing, so is the industry. Two of these companies, R Family Vacations and Olivia Travel, are actually teaming up to provide a new inclusive package for everyone in the family!

“We’ve been in the business of lesbian travel for over 40 years and people started asking us about family trips,” explained Judy Dlugacz, founder of Olivia Travel. “Instead of trying to do it ourselves, we decided to partner with the best in the business, R Family Vacations, to create something wonderful for everybody.”

Both travel companies discussed how the LGBT travel market has changed and evolved to offer an array of destinations and options for singles, parents, kids and even extended family and friends.

Gregg Kaminsky, co-founder of R Family Vacations, said, “we started by providing trips for gay and lesbian families, but quickly discovered that people were bringing their parents, aunts and uncles, friends, and it developed into this great experience that was welcoming to all.”

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The first collaboration between Olivia Travel and R Family Vacations will be a Mexican adventure at the Hard Rock Resort in Nuevo Vallarta, July 9-16, 2016.

Stephen was recently at the resort for an Atlantis vacation with some friends. “I was at this gorgeous resort and was sitting by the pool and my only thought was I wish that Francesco could experience this. Now he can, and we’ve already got the dates marked off on our calendar!”

Judy Dlugacz sums it up best: “we’re working hard to provide the best in activities and entertainment that will have something for everyone, no matter your definition of ‘family,’ this is the family vacation for you!”

Let us plan your next LGBT Family trip!

Please contact us at 866-949-1429

Or Fill Out the Contact Form Below:

Please allow at least 24 to 48 hours to receive a response to your inquiry.

Best Gay Bars In Paris !

 

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    Paris is a European capital for all things gay and fabulous, from extravagant local personalities to a neighborhood teeming with addresses for a night of cavorting. The Marais, centrally-located just north of the Hôtel de Ville and south of the Place de la République, is the epicenter for nightlife catering to boys and men of all walks, but it’s just the beginning. Starting an evening in or around the Marais is the best way to find out from the locals what’s going on in other gay bars around town. Whether you’re looking to share casual drinks, dance until dawn, or have a brush with a local Parisian, there’s fun to be had any night of the week.

    Les Souffleurs

    Les Souffleurs is all about relaxation, refinement and modernity, a hip little gay bar in the centre of the Marais that would be difficult to spot if you didn’t already know it was there. Once inside, you almost feel that you’re in Berlin: hyper-styled barmen, classy décor and carefully selected music. In the daytime, it’s a quiet escape from the frenetic Marais, welcoming to groups and people going solo, settled comfortably in leather sofas. But the temperature goes up quickly at night, with some out-there DJ mixes, and it gets seriously busy, so come early. Some evenings feature concerts, aftershows and performances.

    Aim for the happy hour between 6pm and 9pm for prices much lower than you’ll usually find in the area (punch at €3 a glass). Mostly for masculine gays (but not exclusively), the clientele is young but open to variety.

     (© Romain Pomian)

    Le Spyce Bar

    More than an essential gay bar and club in the Marais, Le Spyce is a rallying cry. You can’t miss it, the frontage ornamented with a huge screen that flashes up the name of the current night in rainbow colours. It gets boiling hot inside especially on weekends, with no a/c – it’s a young, happy, sweaty, undressed, excitable crowd, ready to dance and take people home on a whim. There’s an informal (read barely-there) dress code on the dance floor, with bold guys welcome to take a place on a podium and dance til 4am. It’s busy and happening every night of the week, but Thursdays through Fridays are the best.

    Entry is free, and the drinks reasonably priced: allow €10 for a vodka red bull or €4 for a demi, served by smiling topless staff. The music is house and current hits, with plenty of themed nights – we like Tuesday’s ‘SMS Video Mix’, when you can text your song requests to the DJ.

    Banana Café

    Banana Cafe

    Banana Café, an institution the Les Halles neighbourhood, attracts a younger set of locals, suburban Parisians, and travellers who have strayed from the core gay scene of the Marais. With themed soirées, drag shows and go-go boys that could have taught Joséphine Baker a few moves, it’s a solid choice for any night on the town. The ground floor bar and adjacent terrace serve up happy hour drinks including €3 pints from 6-11pm, though service is far from attentive. After happy hour, patrons are ushered inside from the terrace and, eventually, downstairs for some dancing and go-go boy antics, should you be so interested. Depending on the soirée, there’s a cover fee for those who arrive later, but the relaxed ambiance and club-like atmosphere will make up for it.

    FreeDJ

    FreeDJ

    If you want to dance, and claustrophobia is no issue, FreeDJ, right around the corner from Open Café, is a top choice for an all-nighter with no cover to pay. Upstairs, the bar and a foosball table occupy those looking to chat or share a cigarette in the glassed-in smoking room. Head downstairs and the intimate cellar welcomes those looking to hit the dance floor with like-minded gentlemen. Soirées like Wednesday’s RnB night keep the weeknights new and fresh while house and pop take over the downstairs, pumping Madonna and Lady Gaga through the speakers while the bartender pours Red Bull and vodka all night long.  It’s a relaxed and not overtly-cruisey scene that’s better fun with a few pals than solo, but don’t try to smuggle in any lady friends. The bouncer at the door notoriously turns away anyone with a menstrual cycle.

    Le CUD Bar

    Le CUD Bar

    When the bars and restaurants start close, the party is far from over in the Marais. Things at the Cud, an unfortunately-named but sinfully fun venue, start to heat up around 2am as party-seekers leave other venues for this classic and basic cave bar. Located off Rue du Temple on a tiny street, this is one of the best late-night spots in the Marais. The seating area upstairs is for amateurs, since the real party is in the vaulted cave below. Two bars serve pricey drinks all night long as the DJ spins a fun and current mix of pop tracks and house music – and he sometimes takes requests if you’re polite. The clientele, as per usual, is mixed, but notably younger and very friendly, sometimes too friendly, with a lot more cruising than many of the other bars. Those looking to get up close and personal with a Parisian shouldn’t have too hard of a time here, since space is at a premium, but a healthy dose of international men also frequent Cud since late night options in the Marais are few. Make sure you check your coat, it gets hot down there.

    Sly

    Sly

    A newcomer to the gay scene, Sly is a kitschy bar down the street from the Bear’s Den that attracts a much younger set of guys and their gal friends. It seems trendy with its flashy lights and risqué videos on the flat screen inside, but there’s nothing pretentious about the bar or its patrons. The best spot is on the tiny heated terrace, offering some of Paris’s most eclectic people-watching on Rue des Lombards, but the seating inside is cozy and inviting if it’s too late to snag a seat outside. With cost-effective happy hours (€3.50 for a pint) and attentive service, it’s a great change of pace from some of the other overly-cruisey bars. That said, each Thursday is a special after-work party, ‘Single or Not’, where you can wear a colour-coded bracelet identifying your relationship status. Green means ‘go for it’, so give it a shot.

    Cafe Cox

    Cafe Cox

    The Pearl achieves a rare balance between all-day and late-night venue, and has a good gay? straight? whatever vibe. In the morning, it draws early risers; lunchtime is for a business crowd; the afternoon reels in retired locals, and in the evening, screenwriters rub elbows with young dandies, keeping one eye on the mirror and an ear on the electrorock. The menu runs from omelettes to seafood salad. Expect a DJ later on in the night.
    La Perle

    La Perle

    The aptly named Cox bar is a mainstay, centrally located in the Marais on Rue des Archives where, on warmer evenings, the crowd spills onto the pavements with only a feeble chain rope to keep patrons from taking over the street. This watering hole attracts a manlier set of slightly older bikers and leather fans that seems intimidating at first, but if it’s your scene, prepare for a hearty welcome, even if you’re a bit younger with a full head of hair. And no, it hasn’t changed hands since it opened in 1995, but the décor does alternate every three months to keep things fresh. Ambiance is everything, after all. DJs spin on Thursday nights and a lengthy happy hour on Sunday keeps the beer flowing until 2am before the crowds head elsewhere.

    Raidd Bar
    La Perle

    Although this bar is kinda expensive, this is one of the best bars in Paris.

    The infamous ‘shower bar’, Raidd welcomes a trendy mix of younger locals, innocent study abroad students, and other voyeuristic internationals to the Marais who don’t just come for the pricey drinks. Instead, they crowd around to ogle the scantily-clad go-go boys who make you feel dirty while they get clean, stripping down and lathering up in the glass shower by the bar. Each Thursday, Raidd has an extended shower show, featuring four different male specimens who take their time cleaning everywhere to make sure they get squeaky clean. Themed nights, including Disco Tuesdays and Brazilian Wednesdays keep the party going all week. It’s not the place for intimate conversation or a relaxed evening, but the crowds are thick enough that you could pick up a number or two. Men queue up on the weekends, but there’s no cover to enter, so prepare to wait patiently, and quietly, on the sidewalk and play nice with the bouncer.

    Le Feeling
    Le Feeling

    An unusual combination, Le Feeling is a low-key gay and lesbian hangout with the atmosphere of a small local bar. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the rainbow décor, Dalida soundtrack and easy-going staff are the perfect antidote to the tumult at Spyce just over the road. It’s at its best in summer, when the long bar is open onto the street. The mixed clientele includes a lot of regulars, and the general atmosphere is chatty and welcoming. On the other hand, there’s no wasting time – it’s an enthusiastic pick-up joint for people of all tastes (the bar staff ensure that everyone is respected). Prices are very reasonable (a demi at €3.50), and during happy hour (daily from 7pm-9pm and 11pm-12mid), it’s buy one get one free.

    Vienna’s Got Balls !

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    Vienna’s Got Balls

    BY MATTHEW BREEN via OutTravler

    Between the Life Ball and Eurovision, Vienna may be having it’s gayest week ever! Here are the other offerings in the historic Austrian capital.

    My first visit to Vienna was under less than ideal circumstances. It was 1995, and after studying at a summer program at Cambridge University in England, my friend with whom I was going to backpack aroun Europe cut his stay short and flew home, leaving me with my train pass and some half-baked plans for a month on the continent.

    I had been primed to travel in the classic student style, armed with a shoestring budget, a list of hostels in various capitals, and my first real attempt at growing a beard, which was coming in meagerly. I wasn’t opposed to traveling alone, and having just turned 21, I was feeling liberated, even if that milestone was looked upon as rather quaint by Europeans who at age 16 had grown accustomed to ordering a beer without even a sideways glance from a bartender.

    Nevertheless, I was a little frightened by the prospect of finding my own lodging in Prague when I didn’t even know the Czech word for “hello” or negotiating train travel in France when I could barely read a timetable in English. I had spent summers abroad before, but never entirely on my own. My plans were all pretty flexible, so I agreed to meet an ex-girlfriend in Austria. I suspect she may have been hoping to rekindle something (I was at least a year from coming out), as Vienna, an Old World romantic city, was high on her list of destinations. But that trip was kind of a bust.

    The rain was incessant, and the temperature was unseasonably cold for late summer. The Viennese people I encountered were either made grumpy by the inclement weather or determined to live up to a tired stereotype about their haughtiness. In either case, I was overwhelmed by the deluge and underwhelmed by the attitude. So after only one day running from cathedrals to cafés, we called it quits. The highlights were some amazing gulaschsuppe (beef and paprika stew) and mélange (half coffee, half milk), and a ride on the Riesenrad (the giant Ferris wheel that makes appearances in The Third Man and Scorpio). After that we departed for a warmer location.

    Sixteen years later, my second visit changed my mind so thoroughly about the city and its people that I returned a third time just seven months later. I encountered a city determined to maintain its rich cultural heritage all the while forging the foundation for a modern European center, fostering young artists, and rolling out the red carpet for tourists, especially LGBT visitors.

    The occasion for my visit in early spring 2011 was the culmination of the ball season, Vienna’s grand tradition of glorious formal waltzes, where tails and tiaras are de rigueur. There are dozens of such balls thrown by all manner of groups: The Vienna Philharmonic hosts one, the professional organization of pharmacists hosts one — and naturally, the gays throw a few. And each year, the most formal and the queerest of the season’s events share a calendar date.

    The Opera Ball, held at the magnificent Vienna State Opera, is the undisputed pinnacle of the ball season, and European cultural icons, high society, and international heads of state are likely to be found there. The formal dress code is strictly enforced, and rigorous tryouts are required for anyone wishing to take part in the traditional polonaise dance that opens nearly every ball in Vienna. It’s stately but, I’m told, stuffy.

    The annual Rosenball (“Rose Ball,” pcitured above), on the other hand, is a massive queer party. The 2011 event was its 20th anniversary, and the dress code was more of an anything-goes affair — specifically, anything fabulous goes. Dressed in everything from tuxes to drag to wild, glittery, and outrageously skimpy costumes, guests are everything but casual.

    The event simultaneously mocks and takes part in the notable elements of the ball tradition. The setting, the Palais Auersperg, a baroque palace completed in 1710, is suitably grand. But the evening opens with a comic drag polonaise, revelers dance under laser lights to thumping disco instead of Strauss, and DJs and house divas take the place of orchestral accompaniment. And you can bet this is the only ball where the dancers on the stage are hunky go-go guys. After 1 a.m., I noticed a trickle of more formally attired guests arriving; having sampled the more staid traditions of the Opera Ball, these folks were ready to get a little sweaty dancing with the flamboyant crowd at the Rosenball.

    After enough gin-and-tonics to reinforce my courage and bolster my rusty German, I spoke to a handsome Austrian who was stationed at the main dance floor bar while his female friend tried to get the attention of the straight, shirtless bartender. His first sly glances across the bar belied the beaming smile I’d soon discover, and I was quickly disabused of the notion of any Viennese arrogance. (Truth be told, whatever was true of that reputation has since faded. I found the Viennese to be as friendly as people in many European cities, and far friendlier than those in many other places I’ve visited.)

    The event went into the wee hours and included a very late after-party. Night owls never fear: You’ll have options until dawn.

    The other LGBT events of the season include the more ceremonial Regenbogenball (“Rainbow Ball”), where formal attire is required, even if one is cross-dressing. The traditional waltz is the order of the day, and event proceeds go to the Homosexual Initiative Vienna. The Mauerblümechenball (“Wallflower Ball”) is free and informal, and has a more ironic dress code of nerdy cardigans and horn-rimmed glasses, as exemplified by the organizers’ professed love of beige.

    Though outside the ball season, the Life Ball (in May) is another gay-popular event, and one of the best-known AIDS events in the world, drawing celebrity entertainers and guests. Revelers get a discounted ticket if they dress in the costume described in the party’s “Style Bible,” and shirtless men often get a discount on their entry ticket sometime after 2 a.m.

    After a long night out, some hearty food was in order. Vienna’s cuisine is a blend of traditional and modern, a mix emblematic of the entire city. Meeting over a meal is key to gay life in Vienna, and while a true bon vivant might have known this, it had to be pointed out to me that Viennese cuisine is the only cuisine in the world to be named after a city. It’s often to be found in a classic beisl, like a bistro, with dark wood paneling, a bar, and simple tables and chairs. Schnitzel (veal or pork pounded flat, breaded, and fried), pastries, soup with pancake strips, and goulash constitute the basis of menus.

    Motto is a chic, gay-owned restaurant, with decor drenched in purple and black, with pops of orange and teal. As a fashion student, Helmut Lang once served patrons there. The floor-to-ceiling-mirrored bathroom is a somewhat pleasantly overwhelming sight to behold. The menu offers elegant presentations of classic Austrian dishes like tafelspitz (simmered tri-tip with root vegetables) and schinkenfleckerl (noodle casserole). Meals here often start with an Aperol spritz, a champagne cocktail spiked with an Italian aperitif that turns the drink a vivid orange. The restaurant’s sister location, Motto am Fluss has a restaurant and café right over the Danube Canal and draws an urbane young crowd for beer, cocktails, and dinner.

    Ein Wiener Salon (pictured above) is an intimate and upscale restaurant, dominated by a portrait of Empress Maria Theresa — though her face has cheekily been replaced by the gay owner’s, taking any remnants of fuss out of the decorous atmosphere. The tasting menu is seasonal, and a meal often ends with regional schnapps.

    Schon-Schön is a hybrid of a most unusual kind: a restaurant, fashion boutique, and hair salon. The menu is limited to two or three daily specials, and the fresh fare is served at a large stark-white communal table. While the food is good, the draw for the hipper-than-thou crowd is undoubtedly the atmosphere.

    The Palmenhaus (Palmenhaus.at) was the ideal setting for a pre-Rosenball dinner, and the night I was there the dining hall was filled with men in tuxedos and women in glittering cocktail dresses and wraps. While architecture lovers are drawn to the 1901 art nouveau greenhouse, it’s the osso buco that brings in the foodies.

    My new Austrian friend with the killer smile took me to a Saturday brunch at Deli in the Naschmarkt, the large outdoor market along the Vienna River. Dotted with fishmongers, cheese and produce stands, bakeries, and restaurants of every stripe, Naschmarkt is a must-see, a prime people-watching spot on the very busy Saturdays. It’s frustratingly closed on Sundays. Deli is crowded but friendly, and my brunch of lamb chops and mélange was accompanied by a DJ’s breakbeats.

    Much of Viennese social life takes place in cafés. Coffee isn’t unique to Vienna, of course, but nowhere have I seen such attention paid to a cup, in classic 19th-century and art nouveau settings. Cafés come in a few varieties, and it pays to know the difference. A Café-Konditorei also serves pastries and sweets; a Café-Restaurant serves food, sometimes remarkably good food — not just something to soak up the caffeine; a Nacht-Café is a bar. I find the experience of coming in from the cold, peeling off layers of jackets and sweaters, sitting down on a red velvet banquette to a cup of einspänner (espresso with whipped cream) and a slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam filling) served on a silver tray to be a lush experience. And it’s the perfect remedy for a sightseer’s aching feet.

    Also near the Naschtmarkt is the official center of LGBT life, the Rosa Lila Villa, the gay and lesbian center. It’s a good place to pick up the local gay publications and take a look at fliers for club nights, parties, and other, more earnest gatherings. It’s also a good spot for women to find events, because offerings for gay men outnumber those for lesbians.

    Nightlife often begins with a coffee, beer, or cocktail at Café Savoy, a café in the grand, traditional Viennese style. From Café Savoy, many head to Village Bar, a small but reliable video bar, or Felixx an ambient cocktail lounge with theme nights. Pitbull is a monthly party for bears and admirers. Younger gays often head to the boisterous Mango Bar, which shares its website with dance club Why Not. Another large dance club with weekly parties is Heaven Vienna.

    The Frauencafé is a trans-friendly women’s bar founded by a feminist collective in 1977 and open on weekends, and Marea Alta is a lesbian bar furnished in a flea market style, offering performances, parties, and DJs.

    Vienna may be a refined and sophisticated city, but that doesn’t mean there’s no place for some less genteel action. Fetish and cruising bars with darkrooms include Eagle Bar, Sling, and others. The city isn’t squeamish about sex-positive venues, so lists of bars with darkrooms, sex shops, gay cinemas, and bathhouses are easy to find on gay city maps and at GayNet.at.

    Art abounds, but for one-stop shopping the Museumsquartier has no rival. One of the largest complexes for modern art and culture in the world, it contains the Leopold Museum (which displays the works of Austrian modernists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt), the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna), and the contemporary dance space Tanzquartier, and it hosts numerous festivals. But art is everywhere, from imperial public works to modern pieces. Even my hotel, the new Levante Parliament, incorporates a gallery exhibiting glasswork by Romanian artist Ioan Nemtoi.

    Vienna is also a centrally located starting point for day-tripping. On a weeklong trip in the autumn of 2011, my Austrian beau and I visited Bratislava, Slovakia, just a 45-minute drive away; the picturesque Austrian cities of Salzburg and Graz, and Hungarian metropolis Budapest, which shares Vienna’s imperial heritage, are all just two hours’ drive. While I wouldn’t suggest one needs a local paramour to properly see the sights, if you’re looking for one, this romantic capital is a capital place to look.

    Originally published on Advocate.com January 11, 2012

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