Monday, November 20, 2006

Vienna Christmas Market

I'm happy to report that Vienna and the Christmas markets lived up to my expectations. Brace yourself, this is likely to be a long one because there is so much to tell.

I arrived in Vienna on Thursday night after a really comfy four hour train ride. To say the least, I was buzzing with excitement and had to concentrate to keep from smiling to myself. While I waited for Alex to arrive, on the "not so on time" bus schedules, I decided I would start experiencing Vienna in true fashion with a Viennese coffee known as melange (probably not the smartest thing to be drinking at 9 pm). Once Alex arrived, it was off to our hotel. Lately I'm always weary of how accurate the room pictures online are comparable to the actual, trick photography and fancy lighting can do wonders. Luckily this one stayed true to website photos and for the price it was great. It was also in a really great location with a tram stop directly across the street from the hotel that went into the city center. The transportation system in Vienna is so well designed; we never waited more than 2 minutes for any metro or tram to come by and it was so easy to get around.

We spent Friday exploring the "Ring Road" or the inner city sights. Actually, unbeknownst to us, our first sight turned out to be the University of Vienna. This building was absolutely beautiful and I think if I could, I would never stop going to school there. Suddenly I am contemplating a master degree ;) Other significant sights within walking distance included the parliament building, Alex was absolutely amused by the modern technology on the inside; Hofburg Imperial building which was huge and house to many other sights such as the butterfly house (yes we blew the 5 euros to go in but I would recommend skipping it); Natural History Museum; National Theatre and St. Stephens Cathedral. Because there is so much to see in Vienna, we didn't get to do many of the tours, rather we sampled a bit of everything. At night we also made it to the Prater, a giant ferris wheel that overlooks the city. Being that it is the middle of November, the sun sets pretty early and cuts down on a lot of your sightseeing time.
Saturday was the day that I was really looking forward to, the start of the Christmas market. We started the day early by going to the Belvedere Palace and taking in the art collections as the palace now acts as a museum for the most part. I realized that I am not a big fan of portraiture especially after seeing what felt like hundreds of them. What I did enjoy however was some of the more recognizable painting by artists like Edward Munch, Monet, Van Goe, Renoir, Manet. They were all lined up one next to the other and I was really impressed to be able to see some of these paintings in person.

The first Christmas market was at the Shonbrunn Palace, yet another monstrous, beautiful building that was the summer residence for the imperial family. Things took a bit of a downward turn when we found out that the apple strudel cooking demonstration in the palace cafe was not available because they were hosting children's Christmas cookie baking classes. Freaking Kids get to have all the fun! Yes I realize that we are pathetic but the idea of watching the pastry chef prepare the apple strudel and then being able to eat it fresh out of the oven was something that really appealed to both of us. It wasn't a total disappointment because we still got to eat the apple strudel after some traditional Viennese schnitzel. The meal was HUGE and I don't know how one person can eat the whole thing so we were glad to be sharing it.

As we made our way outside to the market I was overcome with by all of the sights, smells and sounds that will forever remind me of Vienna. It is essential to start your Christmas market experience with some Glubwein, aka boiled wine. While sipping on hot wine, we walked around the different stands that were selling everything from crafts, toys, chocolates, cookies, liquor, etc. the list goes on and on. Sampling the food was probably our favorite part, trying everything from roasted chestnuts, to melted cheese sandwiches, to salty potato pancakes, to chocolate covered strawberries. In the background, the big Christmas tree was lit up and carolers were singing on the stage. I saw so many cute kids laughing it up and I hope to one day be able to bring my own children to experience this.

The other market was in front of Rathaus or city hall. This one was even more elaborate and certainly more crowded. While the glubwein was still flowing, we continued to sample more street food and walked around the Christmas stands. The trees around the park in front of Rathaus were decorated with different ornaments such as snowmen, or wreaths. I was very amused by all of the decorations and the lights. After we had our take of everything that the Christmas markets had to offer, we headed into the city center to see what was happening there. I was further charmed by a cello player performing Ave Maria in the city square and the reality of it all gave me goosebumps. This was the perfect way to end the day and I slept like a rock that night; I suppose 10 hours of walking will do that to you.

On Sunday we had one mission and that was to find the Hundertwasser Haus, a colorful, unconventionally designed set of apartment buildings just outside of the city center. Among all of Vienna's ornate buildings and statues it was really interesting to see this building that looked like something out of a cartoon. While we wanted to walk through the Natural History Museum, there was not enough time for it. Capping the weekend off with a big lunch and another visit to the Christmas market was perfect.


At 9:47 AM, Blogger Miss Canthus said...

Now on my list of travel plans is a trip to Vienna for the Christmas Market.

Thanks for giving us the scoop!! I really enjoying reading about it.


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