Of Wien and Its Christmas Markets
Bidding Munich farewell, we boarded the Railjet bound for Vienna shortly after noon. This trip, we decided to spend our money on travelling well i.e. favouring first class on trains whenever possible. It truly has nothing to do with travelling in style. Let’s just say we routinely rest on long train rides but we’d met enough rowdy and unruly tourists (who just wouldn’t stop talking!) on trains in Europe to arrive at a consensus that it is best we invest on space in quieter cabins.
We lucked out right at the start of our vacation. Despite being seated in a car with less than 10 seats, we had to be seated right next to 4 talkative lady-tourists whom I could identify from their accent, to be from our neighbouring country. Throughout the entire journey they chitchatted non-stop, with little regard for others sharing the car. I tried blocking out the cacophony with listening to music with earphones but I am not willing to damage my ears by increasing the volume just to block out their incessant chatter. To my immense relief, they got off at Salzburg, giving us some much needed reprieve.
As for our 5-night accommodation in Vienna, we chose a boutique hotel situated close by Karlsplatz Station – Motel One Wien-Staatsoper. We opted for a comfort double room at less than 120,00€ per night. Quite a steal, given its location, if you ask me. Little did we expect, there was another surprise awaiting us when we checked in; we were told that we had been assigned a handicapped accessible room (likely because we checked in late, and the hotel was operating at full occupancy over the Christmas season). We’ve never been in such a room, but the staff at the reception desk assured us that everything would be the same, except that it would be much larger, and slight modifications were made to the bathroom to make it more accessible for wheelchair-bound. It didn’t sound like a bad deal at all.
The room was spacious! And tastefully – albeit sparsely – done up. Have to admit that I freaked out a little; I don’t like unknown spaces to be too roomy. For the whole duration of our stay, I insisted on leaving the television on whenever we were in the room. Not that it gave me spooky vibes; I was just not too used to the huge silent space (so quiet I swear we could hear a pin drop) since back at home, the dogs would either be breathing loudly, snoring or whining/barking in their sleep. Complete silence, I’m not so used to anymore.
The first Christmas Market in Vienna we encountered was the one at Karlsplatz, in front of the impressive Karlskirche. It was one of our first few days in Europe, and we were still adjusting to the winter climate, hence didn’t venture too far away from the hotel. This Christmas Market was rather different from the ones we’d had the privilege of having been to, in that it was organised by an Arts & Crafts Association and the shortlisting requirement seemed rather strict: items on sale at this market must be hand-made by the stall applicant. Correspondingly, the products on sale were rather atypical compared to the more commercial markets. Once in a while, we would come across craftsmen plying their trade while manning the stalls. Very intriguing to watch the artisans working. Yet that was all we did – watch. Unlike the locals, it just wasn’t quite possible for us to purchase fragile Christmas ornaments etc and bring them all the way home. We were also not in want of any of the products on sale at the market.
Walking away from the Christmas Market empty-handed except for a warm tummy from drinking the Christmas punch was quite a record for us since I always try to buy something from every Christmas Market I visit. 😆
Taking the long route to return to our hotel, we passed by the Vienna State Opera, one of the leading opera houses of the world and also unquestionably one of the de rigueur places to visit when one is in Vienna. We couldn’t find the time to watch an opera at the opera house (and also because the mister isn’t exactly a fan). This might go down as one of my biggest regrets in life. 😦
We walked further, having kind of acclimatised. Came across a couple of interesting buildings, and rounded back to the Vienna State Opera again, this time, across the street. Such a captivating building! It is easily one of the most frequently photographed building in Vienna, I reckon. To capture this shot of the opera house without vehicles in the foreground, I patiently stood at the same spot (near to a tram stop) for a ridiculous amount of time waiting for the right moment. The locals must think I’m crazy because it was almost at zero degree Celsius by then.
The next day, we continued on our quest to visit as many Christmas Markets in Vienna as we could. Next on our agenda was the Old Viennese Christmas Market at the Freyung. A small market with some excellent stalls selling handmade crafts and food. We’ve noticed the food and punch selection here seems to be wider than the one at Karlsplatz.
But I think my favourite Vienna Christmas Market must be the one at Rathausplatz. It just felt more festive to me because there were way more people there compared to the previous two markets we went to. Since we didn’t have time to visit the snow globe museum, I was tempted to purchase one at this Christmas Market but was promptly stopped by the mister. We were only into the third of our twenty-day vacation it just wasn’t advisable to carry around something so fragile. I understood the logic perfectly, but was still a little crestfallen about not being able to buy one.
That was till we came across this stall. The products it sold was different – wooden letter train set. We’ve never seen this in any of the Christmas Markets we’d been to. And ended up buying some. 🙂
We had to bid the Rathausplatz Christmas Market farewell because we were on a mission! Next up, the Christmas Village at Maria-Theresien-Platz, located between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum.
Against the backdrop of impressive Viennese buildings and the monument of Empress Maria Theresa, namesake of the square, this Christmas market had rows of stalls sparsely spaced. Don’t be fooled by my pictures; it was actually very dark. And after three markets prior, we were rather tired of seeing mostly stalls of repeated theme. We browsed them quickly and left in no time.
In general, I’ve noticed that the stalls at the Christmas Markets in Vienna are built to allow a lot of space for shoppers to wander around comfortably. This is rather unlike the German Christmas Markets I’d been to, for example the ones in Nuremberg and Munich. For some reason, the markets in Austria are not as crowded, and I’ve wondered if it’s because the German Christmas Markets have long been touted as some of the best in Europe, hence attracting a much greater number of tourists.
We’ve managed to cover several Christmas Markets in the few days we were in Vienna. For fear of over-dosing readers who might not be as enthusiastic about such markets, I’ll be sharing our experience at the last one we visited, in another upcoming post.