Tuesday, April 3, 2012

See ... Vienna in Winter

I'm lucky. Very lucky. I've been blessed with the opportunity to spend my Erasmus Study year abroad, here in Vienna, Austria. You've heard of it, no doubt. Some mildly famous characters such as Mozart and Haydn were locals. You may also have heard of the national dish. "Wiener Schnitzel" I believe it's called. No? Yeah, me neither. 

However, there are many reasons I chose Vienna, the most important of them being how lively and vibrant Vienna becomes during the long, dark and often depressing winter days. I'd had just come from an Argentinean winter when I arrived here in September and a whole year of winter wasn't exactly appealing. Although the Viennese thrive in winter. Ask anyone in a café drinking a "Melange" or someone shopping near Stephansplatz. They get excited for the prospect of snow, gluehwein, frosty air and "eislaufen". 
Here's a quick "Top 5" of reasons to visit this mecca of culture, music and snow in the winter months.

#5:  Vienna State Opera
Ah yes. The Staatsoper [State Opera] is a major attraction year round for many tourists to Vienna and the Viennese take it rather seriously themselves. On any given night, there shall be a near to sold out performance of a ballet or opera. Many of the Debutante Balls are held in the Opera House also. While there are cheeky ways of seeing the show at a reduced rate, tickets range from 25e to 250e [for the créme de la créme of seats]. The dress code is just as serious as the price. The locals always come dressed to kill and wouldn't look out of place as extras in a Bond film. We're talking tuxedos, suits, floor-length gowns, fur coats, cigar cases, even the children look as if they are off to their own first ballet recital.  
The Staatsoper is actually closed between June and September so by the time the evenings are getting darker, Vienna really is in the swing of it. Performances in Winter include some exceptional shows. I've seen "Dornroeschen" [Sleeping Beauty] and "La Sylphide" here. Operas such as "La Traviata" and "Madama Butterfly" also have runs here. There are many children's performances of "The Magic Flute" and "Aladdin" which remove the seats and formalities normally present and instead give an interactive show full of shocks and surprises. It's quite a sight to see, once the performance is over, all the finely dressed couples dressed to the nines on the Staatoper's steps, huddled closely together against the bitter cold. Like something from a different time and certain to catch the attention of any romantics out there.

#4: Punsch and Gluehwein
You can't but notice the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine in the air around November and December.  The smell whafts from every stand in the Christmas markets and outside most U-Bahn stations. It's intoxicating and with an array of flavours, you'll have no trouble finding the one that makes you feel the cosiest and warm. My personal favourite was Orange and Rum Punch but each Gluehwein [Mulled wine] stand carries 3 - 10 flavoured punches and wines. Be aware however of the Cup deposit [Glaspfand]. Many places have special commeraitve cups which they charge a deposit of 2-3.50e on top of the drink price. If you wish, you can keep the cup as a souvenir. If not, simply return it after you have finished and they will hand you back your deposit. A clever way of extra income for the sellers.
Word of warning though: Don't drink more than 2 punches if you are driving! They aren't shy on the alcohol content.

#3: Ice Skating
The Viennese have been ice-skating since before they could walk and they take to it like ducks to water. Ice-rinks start popping up around the beginning of November in places like Stadtpark and Stadthalle. These are basic rinks, sometimes with a DJ spinning tracks in the middle but nothing compares to the wonder that is "Wiener Eistraum" (Viennese Ice Dream) which is placed from January to the beginning of March outside of the Rathaus (Town Hall). Every year it changes but it is an absolute treat to skate. It has two rinks at opposite ends of the area and between them, the organisers have basically paved all the walkways of this park as ice. When one leaves one rink, you must skate along spinning paths and circles, up and down, side to side before skating down a gentle incline to the opposite rink. Each year it changes some bit but many say this year has outdone itself. A city radio station broadcast from the rink, providing an often cheesy soundtrack but it's a lot of fun. While there are always the show-offs, people generally don't notice if you can barely move forward without slipping on your arse and if you so do (which may or may not have happened to the author of this piece), there will always be a friendly hand offering you assistance.  It costs 6e for most adults and 6.50e for ice-skate hire. Tip: Go at night when the lights are on. Much more atmospheric. 
If you are in Vienna for a longer period of time, definitely invest in your own pair of skates which can be picked up for about 20e in most second hand shops. You will certainly get the wear out of them. On any given frosty day in any of Vienna's many parks or river walkways, you will see families and couples skating on the water surface without a care in the world.

Courtesy of facebook.com/vienna

#2: New Year's Eve

Silvester a.k.a. New Year's Eve is one hell of a celebration in Vienna. An estimated 1 million visitors pack into the inner city but around the Ring that surrounds the centre, there is a trail of events and stages. Whatever your tastes in music, Vienna has it sorted. In Stephansplatz, there is waltzing. Feel free to join in. At Rathaus, some of Austria's best known personalities take on an array of personas as they perform all the hits from the 60's, 70's and 80's. Heldenplatz is the base for many people to watch the fireworks but literally, as you turn around at 12, there isn't an inch of the sky that isn't completely taken up with amazing fireworks. There is a wonderful buzz in the air and people are so joyous, it's contagious. A great place to spend New Year's whether you are with friends or alone.

#1: Christmas Markets
What would Vienna be without the dozens of Christmas markets that spring up at the end of October and last all the way to Christmas Eve? An estimated 3 million visitors visit the Christmas markets in the run-up to Christmas and with good reason. No matter what time of day, there is always a group of people there, wandering from stand to stand, wrapped up, drinking gluehwein with friends at stalls pumping Christmas songs and decorated with rows  upon rows of fairy-lights. The smell of cinnamon is everywhere with bakery stalls full of Sacher Torte, Langos, Krapfen as well as cannisters of roasted chestnuts [Maroni] and potato wedges. Some markets like the one hidden in the alleyways behind Museumsquartier are for the food junkies whereas the Christkindlmarkt at Rathaus is for the tourists, selling everything from Christmas baubles to fine scarves, pottery to puppets. The lights that come with the markets illuminate the otherwise dull winter skyline and one of the greatest pleasures is strolling the market, gluehwein in hand and krapfen in mouth. With so many to chose from, you are sure to find the Christmas market for you, whether it is on the University campus, in front of Schoenbrunn castle, beside the famous Karlsplatz Church or in front of the grand Rathaus. Tip: Don't hang around until January when they are gone. It's quite sad walking around with them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

"We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far."
Swami Vivekananda


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...