Christmas Market Hopping in Vienna

Hello. It’s been a while, due in part to laziness. I promised a post on Christmas market hopping in Vienna, so we’re going to go back to Vienna.

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Vienna is one of the big Christmas cities and it’s hard not to see why. Christmas is everywhere. There are markets throughout the city, each with their own personality and style. Somehow in my short stay, I managed to get to seven of them. To be fair, quite a few of them are very close to each other and I accidentally stumbled upon a number of the other ones.

The hotel I was staying at for the weekend gave out one pager guides to the Vienna Christmas markets with a list of the major markets with hashtags (I know) to give a feel of what each of the markets were like. They were marked on the other side of the paper to give us a sense of where to find the markets. It was a surprisingly good guide to the Viennese Christmas celebrations and ended up being a valuable resoruce for the weekend.

The first of the markets was the Christmas market at Stephanplatz, right outside of the cathedral. It actually wasn’t on the list of the ones I wanted to see based on the aforementioned guide, but I ended up there because my walking tour ended near the cathedral. It was lunch time, so there were crowds around the few food stands at the market. I did a walk around it, but didn’t spend too much time there.

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The next stop was the market at Michaelerplatz. This was another one that I didn’t intentionally set out to visit, but just happened upon. This market is a relatively small one right outside of the palace. There are some small shops and a few food stands, but still pretty small. It wasn’t too crowded, though, and I ended up grabbing mulled wine to wait for my tour at the Spanish Riding School to start.

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The main market is the one outside of town hall. I actually was going to intentionally skip this one all together as multiple people had said that it was over-crowded and touristy. I wanted to see town hall, though, and it was near some of the markets that I did want to see, so I went anyway. This market is quite the experience and while it was probably the most crowded of the markets I visited this year, it was quite a sight to see. I don’t have a picture of it, but the skating course was especially cool.

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The stalls sold your typical Christmas market goods, but there were so many of them. The crowds were overwhelming in the main parts of the market, but there were less crowded off-shoots, where you could actually take a break from the craziness of the rest of the market and catch your breath. Or, in my case, you can take photos of cool things and get some absolutely delicious mulled mead.

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By this time, I had also made the decision that going to Budapest again without Chris would somehow be depressing and nixed the Budapest market plans. This meant that I could finally get the langos that I had been holding out for. In my case, I had a langos hot dog. It was delicious.

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The next stop on the itinerary was nearby at Maria-Theresien Platz. While it was still bustling, this one was not quite as crowded as the one I had just come from. I didn’t get and food or drink there having just had both at the previous one, but I did end up making some purchases at some of the stalls. This one was actually one of my favorites of the ones I visited, having a good variety of food, drinks, and shopping but not overwhelming like the one in front of town hall.

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Christmas @MQ (Museum Quarter) was another market that I happened upon on my way from Maria-Theresien Platz to Spittelberg. I only walked through this one to get from point A to B, but it was a very interesting change of scene from the traditional market at Maria-Theresien Platz to the very hip and modern scene at MQ.

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The market at Spittelberg was on my list as it was described as a #hiddengem and my tour guide had recommended it earlier in the day. It was a pain to find. I guess, let me rephrase that. The map was pretty clear about where it was, but I could not find it for the life of me after circling around that neighborhood for far too long. I eventually found it and was happy I didn’t give up. I was sad that I was pretty full by then, because the food selection was great. There were arepas, frites, burgers and some fried thing that I couldn’t identify but still looked kind of good. Instead, I grabbed a schaumbecher and walked through the market, where there were also a number of craft booths and boutiques. Had I not gone to the brewery for lunch that Sunday, I probably would have gone back to this market for lunch.

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Finally, I ended the Christmas tour of Vienna at the Advent market of Karlsplatz, which was both very children friendly (there were animals!) and what I would imagine an Etsy-sponsored market would look like. I was worried about time before my flight, so I didn’t stick around too long, but did browse the many many crafts, some of which were way too big for me to even consider bringing back to Switzerland with me.

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So, there we have it. Two days and seven of Vienna’s markets. The crazy thing is that there are a quite a few additional ones that I was unable to get to. I’ll survive, though. I think I got my fill of Christmas that weekend.

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Weekend in Vienna

Vienna was one of the stops on the Alea’s 2018 Christmas Market Tour. The Christmas markets, which I will speak of in greater detail in a separate post, are pretty big in Vienna and I’ve been meaning to see the city for a while, so it worked out well. Vienna is a city that I could have easily spent more time in, despite my very full itinerary in the city. I ended up missing a handful of things that I wanted to do (including the big Nachtsmarkt).

I started with a walking tour of Vienna. We spent most of the time in the old town and learned a lot of the history of the city. It was a nice tour, but it was also ridiculously cold. It didn’t help at all that I apparently did not pack socks on this trip (-10 points from Ravenclaw).

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The tour ended around St. Stephan’s Cathedral, which is also conveniently near an H&M, where I was able to get myself socks. Having resolved the big sock issue, I made a failed attempt at going up the spire in the cathedral. There was actually a long line coming out of the cathedral, so I dropped it all together in favor of food.

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Now, this is where my plans went awry a little. I was going to grab something on the go to maximize sightseeing, but it was so cold that my Kfood spidey senses brought me to a Korean restaurant. Soup would have been perfect, but dolsot bibimbap also hit the spot.

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One of the things that I learned during the walking tour was that they do daily tours of the opera house. I didn’t expect to be able to get to the opera that night and theater tours make me incredibly happy, so I figured I’d try even though I had a reservation for the guided tour of the Spanish Riding School at 3. When I got to the opera house, I quickly found out that the line to get tickets was significantly longer than I expected and the tour was too late for me to try to do both.

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So, I did what anyone else should do when they have time to kill in the Christmas season, I had some mulled wine and waited for my tour to start.

The Spanish Riding School tour was pretty fun. I had looked into tickets to go to one of the shows, but it was either showed out or not available the date didn’t work out. I did the tour instead. The best part was obviously the horses, but we weren’t able to take photos for safety reasons. I did learn that one of the horses in the horse hall of fame was named Alea. …Okay, maybe not something to brag about, but yay horses!

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The National Library of Austria was right around the corner from the Spanish Riding School and that was quite an experience. The library is beautiful. Sure, I read the exhibits that were up in celebration of the library’s 650th birthday, but I could have just sat in there pretending I was living the best parts of Beauty and the Beast. Look, the love story and message about beauty being on the inside is great and all, but the library the Beast gives her is the true life goal of the movie.

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Next on the tour of Vienna was the Viennese coffee shop experience at Cafe Hawelka. The cafe was on the list of historical cafes recommended by the tour guide earlier in the day. Stepping into the cafe was like taking a step in the past. The cafe was significantly more crowded than I expected, but I somehow managed to get a table. I got some coffee, tried a sachertorte (delicious) and mapped out my plan for my evening Christmas market hopping. I probably could have stayed longer. Given the crowds, I didn’t want to take up space for too long and headed out for an evening of market-hopping (which we’ll discuss in a separate post).

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I spent a lot of my next day doing some museum-hopping. A few weeks before the trip, I read an article about the opening of an exhibit at the Kunsthistorisches Museum that was curated by Wes Anderson and his partner Juman Malouf. This appealed to the faux-pretentious Wes Anderson fan in me and I had to go. I heard on our tour the day before that the museum gets crowded, so I tried to go as close to the museum’s 10 am opening as possible. When I bought my tickets, the person at the ticket booth wanted to make sure I was okay with the fact that the big Bruegel exhibit was sold out. Little did he know that I was at the museum because I have watched Rushmore more times than any person probably ever should.

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The exhibit was pretty delightful, too. It was so Wes Anderson. The exhibit is centered around a coffin of a spitzmaus mummy (hence the name, Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures). It was practically empty when I got there, which was nice because I took my time in the exhibit. The audio guide with commentary from Wes Anderson, Juman Malouf and a very goofy Jason Schwartzman (!!!!) was worth the five Euros. I’ll make fun of myself for the fact that I love his movies, but the exhibit was worth it.

I actually really enjoyed the rest of the museum as well and spent most of the morning there. There were even mummies, which actually make me more uncomfortable than anything else, but were pretty cool. At some point, the museum did start to get very crowded. I felt like that was a good time for me to leave.

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I left the museum right around lunch time, so I went to the 7 Star Brewery nearby to finally try wienerschnitzel and the unique beers they have at the brewery. I went with the hemp beer (kind of hoppy without the aftertaste) and the chilli beer (super intense at first, but not too bad).

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From there, I went to the Theater Museum, which I felt was the best replacement that I could get for not being able to do the opera tour Saturday or Sunday. Surprisingly, they had a whole exhibit on the Bosch painting and art inspired by it. I used to be fascinated by the painting, but it kind of reminded me of the Good Place when I saw it this time. I’m a sophisticated person, I know. There were a number of things to see there a little more theater-related. I enjoyed going through the exhibits, but many of them were in German. Also, there was also a dog marionette.

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So that was Vienna. I fit a lot of stuff in a relatively short span of time and had a lot of fun doing so. With a little more time, I probably would have done another cafe on Sunday and I wish I had time to get to the opera in some capacity, but I think it was a pretty full trip already.

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Trick Fountains at Hellbrunn Palace

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I was going to write about Hellbrunn Palace in the post about Salzburg, but I had so many pictures from my pretty short stay there that I thought it might warrant its own post. Also, after two months of going somewhere every weekend, I’m forcing myself to stay local (seriously local) this weekend, so I probably won’t have much to post about next week.

I wasn’t going to spend much time in Hellbrunn Palace. Initially, the plan really was just to stop by the palace to see the pavilion that Liesl and Rolfe (ugh, he’s the worst) dance around in the Sound of Music (appropriately, called the Sound of Music Pavilion). On the way back from Hallstatt, however, our guide told us a little about the palace and I was intrigued and felt that it warranted slightly more than just a movie-themed stop. You see, the palace, which was really more of a very elaborate event space given that it was only used for summer parties, is full of “trick” fountains that the Prince Archibishop who built the palace used to play jokes on his party guests. The palace intrigued me, so I decided that a lengthier visit was worthwhile.

It was raining when I got there and the actual first thing I did was go to the gift shop. I did not pack for how cold it was in Salzburg and was actually looking for an overpriced Salzburg sweatshirt to keep me warm. Ended up getting a scarf instead. Why I didn’t bring a scarf to begin with is Alea’s amateur hour. Once I acquired my scarf, I got a ticket to the palace, which required you to take the tour. This threw off the plans a little because even though I had decided to see the palace, I was going to do a quick tour so I can get back to the city center to see the big fortress.

So, the tour starts with the most famous of the fountains. Guests would gather around the lovely dinner table and after everyone ate and drank, one of the servants would turn on the sprinklers that would spray all of the guests. As you can see in the picture below, the fountain sprayed out of the seats themselves. All except for the head of the table, of course, which is where the Prince Archbishop would sit.

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When they talk about the trick fountains of the palace, I assumed that this one would be the only one. I mean, honestly how many trick fountains do you need anywhere outside of maybe a water park?

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Apparently, the answer is quite a few. It wasn’t just about the fountains that would go off in random places. You also had water coming out of random walls in rooms, out of the ground, near other picturesque fountains.

Not all of the fountains were trick fountains, but the palace grounds were certainly elaborate for a palace that no one actually lived in or slept at.

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There were also a lot of things that would dance and perform based on hydraulics. Some of them were built at the time and others were actually installed much later. Either way, they were pretty impressive.

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There was an archway fountain that I think is supposedly good luck to cross under. Everyone was scared of doing it, probably because they were (rightfully) afraid of some other trick fountain getting them. There was, by the way. I was the first one to go through. It worked out because the tour was so crowded and no one else  showed up in my picture. Also, the tour guide hadn’t started turning on the trick fountain when I went through.

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There wasn’t much more to the tour after that. Our tickets included an audio guided tour of the actual palace, but I really did not have much time if I wanted to also wander around Salzburg a little bit. So, I wandered the palace grounds a little bit before heading out to the Sound of Music Pavilion.

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The actual pavilion isn’t open, so you can’t dance around inside a la Liesl and Rolfe. No one was around to take my picture of me doing it anyway, so a selfie had to suffice.

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All in all, the palace trip was a surprisingly fun trip despite the fact that it rained through most of the tour. It would have probably felt nicer during that extreme heat wave we all got out of here, but I guess you also don’t notice trick fountains when your shoes are soaked through. I expected the trip to be interesting, but did not expect that it would be as entertaining as it was. Definitely worth a trip out if you’re in Salzburg.

I leave you with a statue of a lion that looks like Bruce.

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The Hills are Alive with the Sounds of Salzburg

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Okay. I’m pretty sure you may have expected this title from a trip to Salzburg, but I couldn’t help it. My stay in Salzburg was far too short and it rained through most of my stay, but I loved Salzburg. I wasn’t going to combine it with the Hallstatt trip, but I think it worked out. What I really wanted to do, especially since I spent the Thursday before the trip hyping up my stay with the movie, was do the Sound of Music tour. Unfortunately, I did not have time for the tour if I wanted to make it to the airport in time I think it would have been fine in the end given that it rained through most of the morning. Next time.

I will also say that I’m separating out a separate post on Hellbrunn Palace, mostly because I have a lot of pictures from the palace that would be better shared on a separate post. In any case, I spent the night in Vienna and took a morning train to Salzburg. I got there mid-morning and was able to check into my hotel and get into my room pretty early, which meant I didn’t have to lug around my backpack and bring it with my to Hallstatt. That also made it easy for me to do some mild touring before the Hallstatt tour was scheduled to leave at 1 pm. I was going to try to do a quick tour around the old town, but I ended up starting with the gardens of Mirabell Palace.

Mirabell Palace

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The gardens were beautiful, it not a little crowded. It used to be a palace but is now used for concerts and weddings (there were quite a few when I was walking around). More importantly, a lot of the scenes from Do Re Mi were shot in the garden. The Pegasus Fountain (above) is the fountain the Von Trapp kids march around during the song.

Korean Food 

Once other thing I noticed while exploring the gardens was that there were a lot of Korean tourists. A lot. I heard more Korean than English and maybe German. My Korean food spidey senses went off big time and, lo and behold, there was a Korean restaurant literally right around the corner. Given that it was lunch, I decided to use the hour(ish) I had to eat instead of explore the old town. I got some chicken bokum. The food was pretty nice, except for the fact that they charged for kimchi like many Korean restaurants in Europe seem to do. The chicken bokum was good, though.

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The food took a while to come out, so I didn’t end up having that much time between lunch and the tour. This meant that I, unfortunately, was unable to see the Dwarf Garden. It was fine, though. I ended up seeing it on Sunday.

Augustiner Brau 

When we got back from Hallstatt, it was raining pretty hard. Unfortunately, this meant that my plans of touring the old town during the evening were spoiled. It wasn’t an issue, though, because it was a good time to eat and I had read that I absolutely had to eat at Augustiner Brau. Google Maps had a little over a half mile walk to get there from our drop off point, so I figured the walk in the rain wouldn’t hurt. This, of course, is true if you don’t take a few extra turns and get lost along the way. Also, no taxis would stop, so I couldn’t catch a cab.

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This beer hall is the largest in Austria and is housed inside of a former monastery that had been brewing beer there for hundreds of years. There are food stalls and walls full of beer steins that you use to get beer for pretty cheap. You just grab one of the steins from the wall, rinse it out, and get some beer from the tap.

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The food was pretty good and the beer hall was warm and I even had an apple strudel, which much to my dismay was not warm. I actually had apple strudel twice while I was in Salzburg (don’t judge) and neither were warm. Julie Andrews lied to me.

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The one downside to the beer hall is that, as you may expect, it is an incredibly social place. It made it a little awkward to be there by myself, but I can’t complain. It was an all-around fun experience.

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Mirabell Gardens Revisited 

I left the hotel around 9 am the next morning because I had about four hours to spend in Salzburg before I had to turn around and leave for the Vienna Airport. The weather report promised me no rain after 9, but I was sorely lied to. The good thing about it, though, was that I had a long wait for my bus to Hellbrunn and had a quick trip to a significantly less crowded Mirabell Gardens, where I did some quick wandering and saw the Dwarf Garden.

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The Old Town

I ended up spending more time at Hellbrunn Palace than I expected in the morning, which really left me with only an hour to explore the Old Town. It wasn’t much time and meant that I didn’t have any time to visit the fortress or the convent. Fortunately, though, the rain had stopped by the time the tour of the palace had finished. I took the bus to the Mozart foot bridge and crossed over to old town to take my selfie with Mozart.

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I spent the rest of the time getting lost around Old Town.  I walked by the cathedral, got a glimpse of the fortress, and wandered around before heading back to the hotel and then to the train station.

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I really enjoyed the almost haunting statue outside of the cathedral, too.

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While the stay in Salzburg was short, it was a wonderful city and I’m glad I finally was able to visit it. The rain was unfortunate, but I feel like I got a lot more done than I expected I would in such a short stay. Hopefully, I’ll be able to come back again and geek out on that Sound of Music tour.

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Trip to Hallstatt

I’m writing to you right now from the train from Salzburg to the Vienna Airport. The initial plan for this weekend was actually to explore Vienna because I have never been and have wanted to go. The last time I tried to travel through Austria ended up being a bust because hotels were too expensive due to EuroCup 2008. I ended up shifting plans a little bit because Chris also wanted to see Vienna, so I tried to find a way to make a trip to Hallstatt work.

Hallstatt isn’t easy to get to without a car. It could be done, but it would have involved a series of different trains and a boat. I ended up deciding to do the trip as a tour from Salzburg. It would involve the hour and a half trips to and from Hallstatt and some time to explore the town.

Along the way, we passed through the beautiful Austrian countryside while our guide gave us some history of the area. We passed by the Red Bull headquarters (which explains why I mistook a picture of FC Salzburg players for the NY Red Bulls) and even stopped along the way for a view of a lake.

As we approached Hallstatt, our guide explained the various things we could do during our stay. Unfortunately, we were not in town long enough to do the famous salt mine (which is what the industry in Hallstatt is based on). We did have time to wander, go see the view from what is apparently a UNESCO view (didn’t know that was a thing), and/or see the bone church. I figured the view was most important, so when we got to Hallstatt, I (along with most of the group) followed the guide to the funicular station to get up to the mountain.

The view from the top is quite spectacular. There’s a big viewing platform that everyone takes their photos from. I didn’t wait for the long line to get a photo at the tip of the platform and, instead, squeezed through the sides of the platform for the view. It took a couple of tries (including hiking up and down the stairs twice) to get the photos because it started pouring the first time around. I wanted to get out of the rain so I didn’t lose yet another camera to water. It worked out, though, because I missed the large crowds on the funicular ride down.

It rained for the rest of our stay in Hallstatt, which didn’t stop me from wandering around the town. Hallstatt reminded me of an Alpine version of Juneau, AK in many ways. It’s tiny and has a fairy-tale like charm to it.

At some point, I stopped along the way to get a cream filled pastry. I can’t remember the name, but it was delicious.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I never did find the bone church. I’m not sure if I would have had time for it even if I did. I would have liked to see the salt mine and visit the church, but I also think I made the most out of the short and wet stay there.