My daughter had requested to spend the holiday season with her (distant) Grandparents, so that left me free – and alone. I figured it would be better to take a tour than to wallow at home without my little nuclear family.
So, Austria it was. My great Grandfather grew up there so I felt a small connection to the country – enough of a connection to draw me over. And as a bonus, Austria is very centrally located – surrounded by incredible, gorgeous countries – all worth exploring.
And explore, I did. Before this journey ended, I would connect with a tour company in need of an English guide. This amazing event would take me not just through and around Austria, but also to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Italy.
But I am getting ahead of myself…
Through my various medical issues, I had managed to make a connection with an Austrian Neurologist who happened to own a number of buildings in downtown Vienna. I mentioned I was coming, and that perhaps we could have tea – he offered me one of his ’empty’ buildings to stay in while I visited.
Funny how sometimes things work out – how a bad thing can bring good.
Pictured above is my Vienna home, favourably located beside the convenience market ‘Stiefelkonig’ – though in Austria the idea of convenience is a bit different than ours here in North America.
Not open on Sundays, or late in the evening, and not a drop of take-out coffee to be found anywhere. Though I did manage to introduce the idea to a few local cafe’s.
The location was perfect. Right off of one of the main Viennese shopping streets, Mariahilferstrasse (strasse means street), and next to the Neubaugasse subway stop.
I took a picture so I wouldn’t forget. Not a bad tip if you are visiting a foreign language place. Personally, once a word is over 5 or so letters, I lose track!
I was able to walk the entirety of old Vienna from this location.
I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic view out my apartment windows. The unit itself was very ‘old world’. Unfamiliar heating and water units, stuffed full of unusual paintings, boxes and antique furniture.
Indeed, judging by what he collected, my host was quite a character. More about that later.
Other than once, I always took the stairs to the top floor to my temporary apartment – the very narrow, very windy, twisty and scary stairs!
The other alternative (that I tried that one time) was the tiny, plastic-y, rickety, (scarier!) single person elevator pictured below.
Thanks, but NO THANKS!
Needless to say, I left Vienna with nicer gams than I came with!
Right below my quarters was a beautiful Christmas market (Christkindlmarkt), known as the Adventmarkt. It was really quite special being greeted by twinkle lights and festive, cheery people every time I walked out the door.
And thank goodness, because I would not be having a grand meal, opening gifts or spending time with my family this year. I wouldn’t even have a tree. I would spend this year gloriously alone.
It seemed that there was a Christkinlmarkt for every neighbourhood – and maybe there was. I am sure I visited more than eight different markets – four in my first day – and all within walking distance of each other.
Some took over sidewalks, while others were beneath epic cathedrals, museums and the city hall.
They sold delicious (intoxicating) mulled wine and ciders, handmade wooden toys, paper crafts, knit items, chimes and trinkets, tree ornaments, traditional snowy hand carved scenes, dolls, jewellery, glass art, clothing, foods and so much more.
I convinced myself I needed something every time I entered; a new hat, another pair of gloves, mulled wine, a special ornament, a gift for my host, mulled wine, a knit poncho, a hand made corset, a gift for my daughter, mulled wine, a sparkly Christmas card, something for my Mum, a matroyshka doll, some postcards – and more mulled wine.
And the decorations – never have I seen such giant tree lights!
Fantastic! And though I was companionless, I found the Austrians to be quite friendly – and I was so enthralled with the overwhelming beauty of winter in Austria – that I hardly noticed my aloneness.
While perusing Christmas markets, I also made an attempt to take in the local architecture.
Every way you turn in Vienna your eyes are greeted by immaculate white stone, adorned with impeccable, romantic sculpture.
This alone was the main reason I intentionally walked almost every street of central Vienna. I was compelled to try to take it ALL in. It took me a total of 4 days to cover the city – 4 days and a pack of band aids.
On my walk to the Innerestadt (central Vienna), I discovered the Museum of Modern Art (pictured below), the Museum Quartier, the Volkstheater, Volksgarten and the Rathauspark. You can see the photo tour here.
I even found an old WW2 remnant – a weigh scale at a local bus stop. It was once very important to be considered a ‘healthy, fit nation’ – a nation of strength. This is a legacy much of Austria still relates to.
In fact, I did not see a single disabled person on my walks. Not a cane or wheelchair or even a limp. Really – and after the first day, I was looking.
Was this anomaly apparent because Austrians ARE impeccably healthy and don’t age and fall apart like the rest of us? Or is it because the elderly, infirm and disabled feel less comfortable being out and about in their community?
I wasn’t sure, so I will save judgement for others.
Austria was to be my home base for a few months, and so I planned on getting fully acquainted! I still had to visit the Votivekirche Cathedral and Klimt museum, the famed horse ‘barn’ and adjacent Roman ruins, Schonbrunn Palace, the Museum Quartier Market and a pile more stunning, historic architecture.
I was far from done with Vienna!
Additional photos in the slideshow.
More to come…