Waltzing through Wien
Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
333Trip End Ongoing
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After stocking up on Christmas Eve dinner supplies and gads of vegetarian odds and ends to take back to Istanbul, we splurged on a tasty Indian lunch, then hit the streets of Vienna. Unlike earlier in the day, things were pretty quiet, and we often were the only people wandering about. At least, that was the case until we got to the square at the Rathaus.
The Christmas Market there was in full swing and filled with both tourists and Viennese alike. The square was bordered not only by the impressive Rathaus, but also by other architecturally beautiful buildings that we now had the time to check out. A fog had descended on the city, but rather than dampening our spirits, it really made everything a bit more atmospheric.
We spent at least an hour and a half roaming around the square, checking out the different stands, sipping on glühwein, and reveling in the holiday mood. Eventually, darkness descended, and we knew that we had to begin making our way back home to get the Christmas Eve dinner started before our friends arrived.
As I mentioned in the last post, two friends from our Vietnam days, John and Petra, were in Vienna at the same time as us. They had arrived the night before, and we'd made plans to have Christmas Eve dinner together at our apartment. Given the basic cooking tools at my disposal, I decided to make a simple roasted vegetable pasta salad, accompanied by a salad and lots of lovely red wine.
Even though it had been more than three years since we'd last seen them, it didn't feel like any real time had passed. We caught up quickly and whiled away the evening with wine-fueled laughter and tales of days both old and new. It was wonderful to spend Christmas Eve with friends and made the holiday seem a bit more festive. With tentative plans to meet up the next day, we wished one another a joyeaux noel and called it a night.
Christmas Day was unfortunately our last in Vienna -- it's always too short, isn't it? By the time we had packed everything up and left the apartment, it was already 11am. We figured that gave us a little under five hours to squeeze in any remaining spots we hadn't had a chance to see yet and go in search of the Hotel New Hampshire. We knew we had to check out the Opera House, so made our way there, passing through the Maria-Theresien-Platz Christmas Market, where I picked up my Christmas present to myself: a lovely handcrafted silver ring.
We walked around the opera house for about 45 minutes, hoping to meet up with John and Petra, but unfortunately, neither of us had an operational phone, so we all we could do was hope to find them. In the end we didn't, so we crossed the street and went into the Albertina museum for the Monet to Picasso exhibit. It was a very manageable size, and was chockfull of works by world-renowned artists like Chagall, Cezanne, Renoir, Munch, and Magritte (check out the synopsis here).
We left the museum and walked towards Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral), checking out the little side streets lined with beautiful buildings and interesting statues. Despite the fact that it was Christmas Day, there were tons of people everywhere: the museum, the opera house, the streets, and the cathedral. The cathedral being packed seemed apt, since it was a religious holiday -- though no one appeared to be praying. So clearly, tour season never takes a holiday in Vienna (it's just the grocery stores that shut down, I guess).
It was a chilly and overcast day, so after visiting the church, we popped into a pizza joint for a few slices before continuing on our way. We opted to follow Ringstrasse, a circular route that encompasses a number of important tourist sites. Time was short, so we didn't make too many more stops, but did take the opportunity to take a look at Karlskirche (St. Charles's Church). We'd visited the Christmas Market outside it our first day in town, but now stopped back to go inside -- and I'm glad we did. I thought it was actually more impressive than the cathedral, and there were hardly any other people there. It was a great way to end our tour before heading back across town to pick up our things and return to the airport for the flight home.
Despite the terrible weather we encountered, we fell in love with Vienna. I'm sure that some portion of it had to do with the incredible apartment we rented, which provided us with a wonderfully warm and cozy spot to retire to when the weather got to be too much for us. But there were plenty of other reasons we thought Vienna was the bee's knees: the plethora of not only vegetarian dining options, but also diversity of cuisines; the beauty of the city itself, where so much attention to detail has been paid for centuries that the buildings all stand out as unique and noteworthy; the splendid and simple public transport; and the variety of things to keep one occupied, from museums to palaces to markets to parks -- there really is plenty for everyone. I am quite keen to head back and check the city out in better weather -- and this time we'll be sure to get tickets for a show at the opera house.