At the onset of the Christmas Advent season after Thanksgiving we visited Austria and Croatia making stops in Vienna, Salzburg and Zagreb. As beautiful as Crete is, it’s always nice to get away from home and see other parts of the world. Plus, we were hankering for a true European city experience and all the amenities it provides. Richard was excited to ride the trains and enjoy the Viennese coffee; Mel was more interested in the rich array of music and delectable chocolate! We both wanted to enjoy experiencing the excitement and beauty of the Christmas season in the different cultures of Austria and Croatia. So, rather than running in a frenzy to get in as many museums and art galleries as we could, we took one day at a time and enjoyed the simpler things on a local level. And what better way to start the day than in an old traditional Viennese coffee shop enjoying breakfast and reading the newspaper.
The weather was chilly but mostly sunny so we set off to explore the city on foot. One of the most enjoyable things about Vienna’s city centre is it’s manageable size. All the main sights are locate within the Ringstrasse, a wide avenue that circles the old city and dates back to the early 1800’s. After strolling down the large pedestiran-only avenue in the old city, we set our sights on the Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), a beautiful example of 12th century Gothic architecture sitting proudly at the city centre. We climbed up the stone spiral stairs (343 of them!) inside the tall south tower that soars 450 feet into the sky. The views over the city were well worth the climb.
The Hapsburgs ruled the enormous Austrian empire from 1273 – 1918 and are credited with making Vienna the rising mecca of culture, art, music and architecture in Eastern Europe and indeed today it is still known as the “Paris of the East.” Many of the city’s finest architectural and cultural sites have Hapsburg handprints on them. The Imperial Palace of the Hapsburgs and its grounds (called Hofburg Palace) is home to museums, the royal treasury, the Spanish Riding School (Lipizzaner Stallions) and the Viennese Boys Choir. One of our favorite memories was catching a carriage ride that started at the palace and weaved through the streets of the old city.
After a morning of taking in the sights, we landed at the famous Demel Cafe to sample the epitamy of chocolate decadence – the Sacher Torte. But truthfully, we’re not sure what all the buzz is about. It’s beautiful on the plate but dry on the palate. Hey, but chocolate is chocolate and what the dessert lacked in substance, the coffee made up for!
There are many hidden gems on the back streets of Vienna – fountains, tiny cafes, street artists and interesting shops. But Richard’s eyes really lit up when he saw this establishment – a brank new Trek bicycle shop.
Vienna is beautiful by day but it absolutely sparkles at night. We found our Christmas spirit at the magical Christmas market (Christkindlmarkets) located in front of the Rauthaus (Vienna city hall). Sipping on “gluhwein” (hot mulled wine) to stay warm, we strolled through the market admiring the booths and festivities .
A trip to Vienna wouldn’t be complete without going to an opera in one of the world’s top opera houses – the Staatsoper. The building itself is stunning inside and out. We scored a couple of standing room only tickets (4 euro each) and settled in behind our leaning rail to take in the first act of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. The location of this particular standing room section was fantastic – back and center, house level. The experience was sweetened by the fact that only twenty rows ahead of us were the 200 euro seats.
After a couple of days in Vienna we hopped on the train to our next destination – Salzburg. To be continued….