Feeling Festive In Vienna
As part of my 30 Before 30 List, one of my goals was to experience a Christmas market city in Europe. Waaaaaay back at the beginning of the year I made plans to finally do this, and booked a ticket to Vienna, Austria. I could not have chosen a more magical, beautiful and festive place to go if I'd wound up in Lapland.
Nowhere does Christmas quite like Vienna. With a market practically around every corner, enough fairy lights to be seen from space and gluhwein that would knock your socks off, I couldn't have chosen a better place to get myself in the festive spirit.
I arrived tired thanks to my 4am wakeup, but super excited to get out and explore the city. My hotel (Hotel Das Tigra) was located in the 1st district which was very central, and my first steps out took me to two of the cutest little markets I've ever seen. The markets sell everything from Christmas decorations to jewellery, food and local crafts. Let's be honest; any place I can get a hotdog, a mulled wine and some Christmas presents is going to be a hit with me. And yet I had only found the tip of the festive iceberg.
The next day I had booked onto a free walking tour of the city. As a big history lover, I try and take a tour whenever I go somewhere new. I love royal family histories especially, and was keen to learn more about the Hapsburg's. The tour company I used was Good Vienna Tours, and I couldn't have been happier. My tour guide Iva spent 3 hours taking about 20 of us around the city, telling us some amazing stories about Vienna's past. It's probably one of the best (if not the best) tours I've ever been on. And also the coldest (-5 played havoc with my poor little ill prepared feet). Payment is tip based, and worth as much money as you can spare.
The tour was so good I decided to book on to the afternoon guided tour to see the Schonbrunn Palace. This was a paid tour, which included entrance to the palace in the 33 Euro price. Not bad! After a quick warm up over lunch, I headed back to the tour meeting place and the group jumped on the subway. When we got to the palace, we skipped the lines and were taken straight away through the amazing rooms, learning the history from another amazing guide as we went. Since it was dark when we eventually made our way out, we decided to have a little browse of the palace market. I have never been anywhere so festive in my entire life. Whilst sipping on a Santa mug full of delicious hot chocolate, I watched a group sing carols in front of a giant Christmas tree with the palace in the background. It was so sweet it was almost sickening - and I loved it.
Not to say that it was all fun and games. It was so cold that every time my poor feet hit the ground it killed. I basically walked around on two bloody stumps because I love Christmas that flippin' much!
The next day was all about food. Well, chocolate. I felt as though Cafe Central was a must see destination. Located in the centre of the city, it was a meeting place for many a famous face (and now me). I went for a delicious brunch, and was bowled over by the amount of beautiful patisserie on offer. I can't say I'm a big chocolate lover, but sometimes you just have to go for it, and I tucked in to a raspberry, chocolate and marshmallow cake. The kind of brunch everyone wants to have on holiday, right?
The rest of the afternoon was spent walking off my sugar coma, visiting market after market after market - including the massive WienernChristkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz - probably the biggest and best known in the city. Then it was time for - you guessed it - even more chocolate and sugar.
Whilst on the walking tour, Iva had told us about the famous Sachertorte, a chocolate cake so amazing it has its own day (5th December). To be fair, if a cake makes a man enough money to build his own luxury hotel/restaurant I'm definitely going to try it. Look it up, it really happened! The traditional recipe cake is sold in two places, the first of which is that famous hotel we were talking about. Instead of heading over there to queue, Iva said the same recipe cake could be found at De Mel, a lovely cafe located not far from Cafe Central. Again, I'm not a chocolate person but I had to try it. Safe to say, one slice of cake and one extra chocolatey hot chocolate knocked me for six. I ate about a third of the (amazing) cake, and had a few sips of hot chocolate and swiftly admitted defeat. I know, total amateur.
That night it was time to hole up in a cute little bar (Cuban Mojito Bar I'm looking at you!) for a few drinks. The bar was super cool, down a little side street with just a neon sign outside. Nothing that would tell you the coolest little time warp place is inside. The only downside? Everyone smokes! Waking up smelling like an ash tray is not my jam, but I had a fab night regardless.
In the space of one weekend, Vienna became one of my favourite cities to visit in Europe. There's so much history, art and lovely places to eat and drink I definitely haven't had my fill. A few more days would have been ideal. Hopefully I'll make it back - summer or winter, I don't mind! Just take me back!