3 Highlights of Christmas in Vienna

No one quite does Christmas like Germanic Europe. The beautifully illuminated buildings covered in fairy lights, the smell of Glühwein wafting across the still night air and of course the Christmas Markets. After spending a few days working in Vienna this week and enjoying the festive atmosphere I have come to realise one thing.

Vienna is quickly becoming my favourite city in Europe!

Vienna has everything, amazing museums, great restaurants and the Imperial architecture is nothing short of breathtaking. Adding to that, Vienna is rarely seen on travel shows, or celebrity endorsed documentaries and you don’t very often see publications about it featuring in the top ten lists. That means people arrive with no preconception of what to expect. So most visitors are pleasantly shocked by the grandeur of city.  With a relatively small population of 1.7 million, it is a city that once ruled most of Europe.

Vienna in summer is a lovely place to waltz away a few days, but at Christmas the city really comes alive. Christmas markets scattered throughout the historic centre entice visitors with arts, crafts and traditional foods. The Imperial boulevards are covered in decorative lights and the streets are filled with a festive energy. So if Vienna is not on your festive season European travel list, it may be time to change that. Here are our three highlights of a Christmas in Vienna.

1. The Christmas Markets

Dating back to the 1200’s the oldest and largest Christmas Markets are found in front of the Vienna Rathaus or Town Hall. Brimming with well over 100 stalls, the Rathaus Markets are a throng of festive humantity. Christmas baubles of all shapes and sizes, wooden decorations and nativity sets, plus stalls selling sizzling bratwurst and langos (a Hungarian deep fried bread) abound. Glühwein stalls are packed and celebrities read Christmas stories from a stage in the evenings.

The entrance to the Rathaus Christmas Markets

The entrance to the Rathaus Christmas Markets

The Maria Theresa Platz also has Markets now and have been running for the last few years.  Not as large as the Rathaus but still all the same goodies, it is a nice break from the crowds. However there is easy parking for coaches so expect loads of tour groups.

Some of the beautiful decorations on offer in Maria Theresa Platz

Some of the beautiful decorations on offer in Maria Theresa Platz

Surrounding the St Stephen’s Cathedral there are a small number of markets but the setting is lovely. With the Gothic Cathedral towering above, food stalls and more traditional Christmas gifts can be found here, and the lighting is amazing.

The markets of Maria Theresa Platz are surrounded by stunning architecture

The markets of Maria Theresa Platz are surrounded by stunning architecture

However for a real local Markets experience head to the ‘Alt Wiener Christkindlmarkt’. Nestled behind the Burg Theatre situated on Freyung, these are by far our favourites. Fewer crowds and virtually no tourists this is a much more local experience. Prices seem a little cheaper and the stalls have a higher quality of product. Carol singers grace the stage in the evenings, the locals from the surrounding offices stop by for a wine and it is a totally different experience than the chaos of the Rathaus.

Our favourite Christmas Markets in Vienna

2. Stroll along Kornmarkt and Graben

The two streets are the two most elegant streets in the historic Am Hof centre of the city. Enormous fairy light chandeliers decorate the Graben as Christmas tree vendors sell there wares in the last two weeks of advent (Austrian tradition dictates that the Christmas tree is not decorated until Christmas Eve). Kornmarkt is also lit with thousands of fairly lights and add that to the sparkly of jewels, designers and Imperial Antique dealers, it is hard not to be impressed.

The enormous chandilliers of the Graben in the center of town.

The enormous chandilliers of the Graben in the center of town.

3. Enjoy a Mozart and Strauss Recital

Mozart and Strauss recitals are about as common as schnitzel and strudel in Vienna and are performed almost nightly year round. While these concerts are aimed squarely at the visitors and tour groups, Vienna is the home of classical music and their music an important part in the history, culture and identity of the city. We enjoyed a concert by the Wiener Residence Orchestra inside the Vienna Military Museum. As we sat under the ornate golden dome we were amazed at the incredible acoustics and lavish interior of the museum. The Sound of Vienna concert at the Kursalon is also highly recommended.

The Vienna Military Museum was the setting for our incredible Mozart recital

The Vienna Military Museum was the setting for our incredible Mozart recital

 

I never thought Vienna could be any more beautiful, but that was before I visited in December. It truly is a magical time of the year, and Vienna adds a touch of class to Christmas festivities.

Merry Christmas everyone.

– Dean

IMG_8714.JPG

Advertisements

Remembering Sarajevo

Following on from our blog last week, this week we are continuing to look back at the commemorations of the Great War.

Saturday 28th June marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, by the 19-year-old Bosnian Serb national Gavrilo Princip.

The Roman Bridge Franz Ferdinand's car was driving across in 1914

The Roman Bridge Franz Ferdinand’s car was driving across in 1914

Over the years the assassination has been widely overlooked as focus has been placed mainly on the battles and horrors the combatants suffered through. However the importance of Princip’s actions should not be glossed over. There has been much written about the consequences of those bullets that killed Franz Ferdinand have had, to the point that even many conflicts today and most conflicts throughout the 20th Century can be traced back to that fateful day in 1914.

The plaque on the street corner of Sarajevo where Princip fired his gun from

In Sarajevo there is a plaque on the street corner where Princip pulled his revolver and fired into the Archduke’s car and a small museum dedicated to the 28th June 1914. There are planned commemorations as well as Sarajevo remembers being the centre of the European Political Universe on that fateful day.

In Vienna, the Heeresgeschitliches Museum or military history museum has a whole room dedicated to the assassination called the Sarajevo Room. Amazingly as we approach the 100th anniversary the WWI and Sarajevo exhibitions are currently closed, they are not due to open until the 29th of June, the day after the assassination. According to the front desk the exhibitions were in an urgent need for repair!

Part of the Arsenal complex that houses Vienna's Military Museum

Part of the Arsenal complex that houses Vienna’s Military Museum

The Military museum is one of Vienna’s least visited, as tourists tend to flock to the palace of Schonbrunn, the Belvedere or the Fine Arts Museum. Even for those not interested in Austria’s military involvement throughout the ages the museum is worth a visit for the amazing architecture.

The Hall of Field Marshals in the Military Museum

The Hall of Field Marshals in the Military Museum

Originally built as an Arsenal to house weaponry for the defence of the city, some of the rooms resemble more of a palace than an armoury. They even hold classical music recitals in the main hall room on the first floor.

Entrance to the upper floors of the museum

Entrance to the upper floors of the museum

When the WWI exhibition reopens on the 29th of June the showpiece will surely be the room dedicated to the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Situated in the room is the car the Archduke was riding in during his visit to Sarajevo as well as his blood stained tunic he was wearing that day. The room details the lead up to events, black and white photos including the last photos taken of Franz Ferdinand before he was killed and also photos of the would be assassin, Gavrilo Princip. Amazingly the most famous photo of Princip is not even Princip himself, it is of an innocent-bystander grabbed off the streets a man called Ferdinand Behr!

The ornate interior roof of the Military Museum

The ornate interior roof of the Military Museum

The museum also has a fantastic collection relating to the 30 years’ war that decimated much of Central Europe in the 1600’s and a vast collection of weapons plundered from the retreating Ottoman Turks after the Siege of Vienna.

For anyone who has a keen interest in Military history and particularly WWI history the Heeresgeschitliches Museum should be high on your list of things to visit in Vienna, even if to stand and stare at Ferdinand’s car and tunic and think what if…

– Dean

Das Schnitzel Kaiser

Walk into just about any restaurant, pub, or beer hall in Germanic Europe and there is sure to be one staple on the menu, the schnitzel. In fact the schnitzel and its various incarnations can be found all around the world. Veal, pork, chicken, turkey even fish and vegetables can all be given the schnitzel treatment.

In Australia it takes the form of the mighty chicken parmigana, a breaded chicken fillet, covered in Parma ham, tomato sauce and melted cheese. In the USA there is a hotdog chain called Wiener Schnitzel, but for the real deal or as I like to call it,  “Das Schnitzel Kaiser” or ‘The Schnitzel Emperor’ we have to head to the source where it all began – the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Now before we dive in and devour our schnitzel it is worth mentioning there is some controversy over the schnitzel’s origin. Most agree that the schnitzel recipe was bought to Vienna by Austrian General Joseph Graf Radetzky, a man more famous for the musical piece composed bearing his name by Johan Strauss Senior than any military victory he ever achieved. While down in Milan he discovered the Cotolleta alla Milanese and upon his return to Vienna the Emperor Franz Joseph, asked for the recipe.

Another story believes it originates from the Byzantine Empire, where in the 800’s Emperor Basilieios insisted on eating meat covered in sheets of gold! As you can imagine this practice was frightfully expensive so the sheets of gold were replaced with the golden coating of breadcrumbs. Regardless of the origins, Vienna is where one must head for the perfect Wiener schnitzel.

Wiener Schnitzel is the national dish of Austria, and the term Wiener schnitzel is rigidly protected. To call your schnitzel a Wiener schnitzel it must be veal, any other meat and you may refer to it as the Wiener Style, the Wiener Art or the Wiener Escalope, but not, repeat not a Wiener schnitzel.

This way to schnitzel heaven

This way to schnitzel heaven

Just like the Emperors of old, there is one Vienna institution that towers above all others in the culinary world of the schnitzel, a restaurant called the Figlmüller. In this small little restaurant nestled in the back alleys of St Stephens Cathedral, Figlmüller has been dishing out world-renowned schnitzels since 1905. So popular has it become that literally just around the corner a second restaurant was opened in the early 2000’s and every night people hungrily wait in line to try this enormous piece of history.

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Painstaking attention to detail and schnitzel pride come to the fore to feed the starving masses a schnitzel that is the size of a pizza. Every cut of meat in hammered out by hand with a mallet until it is wafer thin and roughly 30cm in diameter. It is then shallow fried in three different pans until a golden colour. So particular are the chefs at Figlmüller only one type of bread roll is used to supply the breadcrumbs. It is served, hanging off the plate with a slice of lemon and that’s it! If you have room the traditional accompaniment is either a small green salad or a side dish of delicious Germanic potato salad, but again only if you have room.

A German friend once told me there are two ways to tell if you have the perfect schnitzel. Firstly, when you cut into the schnitzel there should be a small air pocket between the breadcrumbs and the meat, and secondly believe it or not, is to place a napkin on your schnitzel and then sit on it! That’s right, if you sit on your schnitzel and no oil soaks through the napkin you have the perfect meal. If you do decide to test this theory out on your next visit to Vienna, don’t blame us if you are asked to leave!

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

Whether you get oil on your trousers or not, Figlmüller regularly wins awards for it’s schnitzels, and the huge lines every night come rain or shine to try Austria’s National dish can’t be wrong. Figlmüller truly is ‘Das Schnitzel Kaiser’.

– Dean