ACHTUNG! If you are planning a Chrissy trip to Vienna, be aware that most of the shops will close half way though Christmas Eve, and will stay closed all day Christmas Day, and St. Stephan’s Day (Aussie Boxing Day). With Vienna bursting with tourists at the moment, I guess we assumed that there must be SOME small store, a 7-11, SOMETHING open to replenish our dwindling food supplies in the apartment.
No. Apart from Wurstle stalls, wafflehuts, and food carts at the Christmas markets, no supermarkets anywhere were open. So day 3 breakfast was a mish mash of runny yoghurt, boiled eggs, pretzel sticks and marinated anchovies, all left over from day #1 of shopping. You have been warned!!!
Here are some of Vienna’s highlights…
On our first full day in Vienna, Dec 24, we started out on a clear shivery morning to Schloss Schonbrunn to check out some more Christmas Markets, and wander through the gardens.
Schönbrunn Palace was the main summer residence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Habsburg rulers, built in 1780.
After having a full tour of fancy King Ludwig’s Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich a few years back, we decided not to pay a wad of euros to see gilded carriages, velvet furniture and golden cutlery. We came for the markets, and they were an absolute delight. Local, hand made products, delicious food and the obligatory gluhwein (mulled wine) with a stunning backdrop.
Schonbrunn was originally built as a hunting lodge for the royal family, so the gardens are enormous! Obviously it’s not that vibrant over winter, but still nice to have a wander around.
Before I get into the actual church of St.Stephans, may I mention 2 moments of dodginess we witnessed outside its glorious walls.
Dodgy moment #1. We thought we’d relive our “soup in a loaf of bread” meal and grab some garlic soup and goulash from a different food cart. We lined up in the icy cold for around 30 minutes to get some of the nourishing home made goodness into our bellies. Then, as we approached the counter, right in front of our eyes, the guy pulls out an enormous 8 litre tin of soup, electric can-opens it, and slops it in the bubbling pot of “nan’s special recipe”. Our 6 euro lunch suddenly didn’t feel like such a good deal.
Dodgy moment 2. Could the dozens of mozart-jacketed guys spruiking Mozart concerts to tourists lining up out side the church just NOT? How many ways can I possibly say “I have no interest in your concert. Or classical music. Or Mozart. Sozz!” Is Austria’s Eurovision sweetheart, Concita Wurst playing tonight? That’s a show I’d pay to see!
Stephansdom, Vienna’s main cathedral completed in 1160 is enormous. Imposing. And wedged tightly in the centre of Vienna. Christmas crowds made seeing inside the church claustrophobic and unpleasant. Most of the church was closed off for what it was actually meant for (church services) across the Christmas period, but the punters were NOT happy about it, with good catholic types jostling, shoving, and taking selfies between quick genuflections and holy water dabbing.
Honestly, how many palaces did Austria’s royals need?! The Belvedere was built for Prince Eugene of Savoy in 1683. He kicked it unmarried, and without kids, so his charming cousin sold off all of his belongings, including his castle, to Empress Maria Teresia. Thankfully for the public, the two baroque palaces of the Belvedere were in excess to her needs, so she turned them into a private, and later in 1779 public, gallery for the royal family’s artworks.
I love me a medieval religious piece, and there were gold framed Jesus pics-a-plenty. Gustav Klimt is the hero of the gallery however, and his painting “The Kiss”, reminiscent of the inside of byzantine church domes and mosaic tiles was stunning in real life.
Every country has little tourist traps that you try to avoid at all costs. Tuk-tuk driving charmers in Bangkok somehow get you to their brother’s tailor and you’re ordering 3 suits you didn’t need. In La Boca, Argentina, you’re getting a photo taken with a couple of bozos dressed in tango outfits, who are then telling you it costs $20.
We were stung twice at the Nachtmarkt. Two different food stall guys chatted, charmed, fed us “free” tastings, and we left with a bunch of antipasti type foods that we never saw being weighed or calculated at all, and some “40 year old cheese with salt crystals” that cost us $25! At the second stall, an Aussie guy standing next to us was just as dumbfounded at the prices. “Are you SURE!? I live in London, and cheese would never cost that much!”
My main memory of Vienna will be the endless blocks of grand 6-story buildings. The Golden Age of the city is on show at every corner. Who is living in these buildings? Are they apartments? Offices? Apart from tourists, the city seemed empty of locals across Christmas, so it was hard to tell.
Palaces! Grandiose architecture everywhere! Horse drawn carts clopping through cobblestone streets. Vienna is epic and beautiful.
When we travel we generally only eat one meal a day out. Breakfast is at home, dinner is often at home, especially as the nights roll in at about 5pm in a European winter. While I prefer my coffee short and black I tried a Mozart coffee…double shot, with choc liqueur and cream on top. Not really my taste, but boy was I buzzing!
We ate Christmas lunch at Purstner, a glorious traditional Austrian restaurant. The menu was meat-heavy comfort food (salad for vego Milana) Shnitty for Cam, and pork and potatoes or sptzle (gnocchi type dumplings) for Avalon and myself.
Vienna claims to be the “coffee house capital of the world”, with cute cafes dotted around the city. Australians LOVE a coffee, but for some reason are always toting them arund town, on transport, to and from work, in hideous takeaway cups or Keep Cups. On all of the trains and trams we caught in Vienna, we only saw two people drinking coffee. The rest actually sit, or stand at the door with a cigarette, enjoying their brew, most likely a Viennese Melange (think fancy cappuccino). The cake selections are impressive, but the A1 cake in Vienna is the Sacher Torte…rich heavy chocolate with a jammy filling and glossy chocolate icing. See that massive queue in the last pic here outside Cafe Sacher? They have clearly all read their guide books/travel pages and know that the Sacher Torte was allegedly first sold here in the 1870’s after being invented by Franz Sacher in 1832. The recipe and name of the cake had two establishments (Cafe Sacher and Cafe Demel) duke it out in court rooms for years. We instead found Cafe Aida, found in 1925, and where a perfect slice cost us just 4 euros.
Ice Skating at Rathaus
Avalon had the chance to revisit her ice skating skills on the outdoors ice maze and rink set up in the gardens outside Vienna’s town square. While Cam and I sipped another warmed gluhwein.
Thanks Vienna! You were a delight.