We woke to a foggy Danube. Although it was predicted to be sunny and 45 degrees, it stayed gray and right around freezing all day. I started out without the thermals and Uggs, but added them at midday and after that was very comfortable. I am wearing a felt hat I bought in Budapest so I was easy for Boris (and the guide to spot). I got lots of comments from the women. The men probably agree with Boris and didn’t like it. It is Vienna, so I thought a special fashion statement was in order. (Someone told me later that seeing me in my hat inspired several others to go out and get unique hats. Happy to help a fellow traveler.)
We met our guide on the bus and recognized her voice; she was the actress who had played Sissi the night before. We passed the Franz Ferdinand Jubilee Church that is just at the port and then the ferris wheel from The Third Man, the riesenrad, which Rocky, Boris, and I all rode the last night we were in Vienna. We passed through the second district, traditionally the Jewish section of the city. Finally we crossed over the Danube canal. This was the original route of the river, but the river was diverted to prevent city flooding. A shallow canal is still there. Along the sides, young entrepreneurs add sand and set up beach huts in the warmer weather to create an Austrian Caribbean experience.
After the Danube canal, we were in the First District, the old city with the amazing architecture. We were taken first to St. Stephen’s. The front façade has been recently cleaned; the sides were black. There was limited touring inside. We passed next through a major shopping district of the Kohlmarkt and Graben a legendary street ending at the Hofburg , the imperial palace of the Habsburg Dynasty. The over street lighting was faux chandeliers. I would have loved to see this at night.
We stopped at a confectioner that had once served the monarchy (designated by the KUK on the sign). We tried the most famous Austrian Christmas cookies and marveled at the lovely shop. At the palace we noted the uncovered Roman ruins of a cathouse identified by the coins found there. (Apparently the ruler refused to pay for the prostitutes with coins with his face on them so special ones were minted for this purpose.)
We walked down some of the smaller streets nearby, passing the famous Central Café where we stopped on our last trip to Vienna. Part of the group has gone to the National Library, a must see on your first trip to Vienna. Boris, Rocky, and I went last time. It is breathtakingly beautiful. As we walked through this charming shopping area, it opened to the first small market we were visiting. I, among others, thought the Taste of Vienna tour was a sampling of some of the less known areas of the city. I should have taken it literally. We tasted food. At this first market, we tried fruit bread and a poppy seed cake.
The smaller markets have homemade goods from small vendors. Boris found a blue and white cloth he liked and selected an apron for me. (Yes, I was surprised. Yes, he had an ulterior motive.) The most charming part of the market was the small stage where a puppet show was being performed for a group of children. We saw groups of school children all over Vienna.
At the second small market we tried Speck (a German ham). There were many artisans at this market. I had had a special Christmas gift request that I was able to fill at this market and was so pleased. As the recipient is a frequent reader, I cannot disclose the item at this time. Leaving we saw a corner building with a wonderful tower. Can you say Rapunzel?
We next visited a lovely church with the most detailed nativity I have ever seen. You could have stood there for an hour to take in all the intricate details . The church also had a wonderful large-scale mosaic of the last supper that looked just like a painting.
Finally, we came to the last stop on our tour, Austria’s most famous Christmas market just in front of the Rathaus (city hall)- a destination in itself. We had our last two samples there. We tasted an apple donut called stanglkrapfl; it was warm and fabulous. We also had some of the warm wine. While I liked the mulled wine I tried in Budapest, this was horrible. It came in a nice mug that we bought, but I would definitely pass on the wine if it was offered again. It is the perfect setting for a market; look one direction you see the Rathaus and the other you see the Hofburg Theater.
We didn’t have time to visit the market before lunch. Some people chose to stay, but Boris didn’t feel well so we returned to the ship. I had lunch and he went to bed. I returned to the market by shuttle. I wandered back into town first and found an ATM and then made my way around this large market. I had to hunt for my treasures, but I did find a few things. The market can be a family event. Food and drink for the adults (or the teens who were all over the place) and a train or pony rides for the children. I took the shuttle back at sunset just as the lights were coming on. We spotted mistletoe in many of the trees along the canal.
I got back to find that Boris was sick. He had been well taken care of by the Uniworld staff during I absence. I offered to stay with him for the evening, but he preferred me out of the room so he could sleep. I left him supplied with diet coke and water and after dinner joined my shipmates for a concert in Vienna. I wished Boris could have gone to the concert, but I was really disappointed that he missed dinner. They were serving one of this favorites, weinersnezel; it was excellent.
On the way to the Viennese concert hall, we drove the Ringstrasse (ring road) and enjoyed the sights-Rathaus, Parliament, Hofburg and Staatsopher-at night. Seeing the city lit up for the holiday was a treat; the market with the city hall behind it was particularly delightful. Each of the large trees had a different theme of lights on it.
The performance of music by Mozart and Strauss was being filmed for television. It was in a small room, packed full. There was a chamber orchestra, accompanied for some of the pieces by dancers or opera singers. Champagne at intermission-a Natasha favorite. It was a wonderful performance.
Since we had had an early dinner, they offered a sausage buffet upon our return. Getting food on this ship is never a problem. Boris is still sleeping; hopefully he will be better for the Abbey and Wachau Valley tomorrow.