It was getting dark as I left the Votive Church, but that didn’t mean the city was slowing down. Quite the opposite.
As night fell, the festivities heightened.
I walked 6.7 km from the Votive Church through the Innerestadt (centre of old Vienna) back to my temporary Marihilferstrasse home, and what I saw along the way was quite magical.
I encountered another four Christkindlmarkts (Christmas markets), all as cheery and warm as the first. I enjoyed a mandatory mulled wine at each, and so was not feeling the cold (at all!) on my journey.
There were many people out last minute holiday shopping, enjoying the twinkle lights and friendly neighbours.
I wandered through the city looking in shop windows, watching Viennese life float by me. I didn’t have a destination, I just wanted to walk through the middle of the city (and down a few alleys) to feel like I was a part of it for a time.
I felt very safe walking alone, and didn’t take any precautions. My money was in my wallet in my bag over my shoulder. My pockets were full, I was madly snapping photos like a tourist (which I was), AND I was a wee bit drunk. If ever there was a target…
But Vienna is a safe, respectful city – and I ran into no issues.
The Viennese underground has quite a history. Under the city is a labyrinth of tunnels, crypts, cellars, shelters, Roman ruins and restaurants.
You can take tours of the underground, or try your hand at finding a hidden entrance and take a walk yourself. There is plenty to explore depending on what you are interested in. And the restaurants are full of a medieval ambience you can hardly get anywhere else.
The underground served as an air raid shelter during WWII, and before then many less fortunate Viennese found themselves begging from below grates, as is depicted below.
One footstep after another I found myself in awe, marvelling at the incredible architecture that fills the Innerestadt. I wouldn’t normally willfully walk 7km – but just like the cold, I didn’t notice the distance either.
Also along my way was the ‘mall’ pictured below.
Walking through was like entering a palace. The ceiling was marvellous. Little shops filled with quaint (and surely costly) trinketry lined the hall. Glass and gemstones, sparkling Faberge style eggs and dancing ornaments caught my eye.
I didn’t want to disturb the dark calm with my rude tourist flash, so I was unable to capture a decent image.
Being inside Stephansdom was almost oppressive – but in the most interesting way imaginable. The air was thick with age (construction started in 1137) and there was a particular smell – not a bad smell – just a smell.
The building felt ancient and holy. Life was so different 877 years ago – but Stephansdom was not. It stood here then, just as it does now – with very little change but for an upgrade in the 1300’s.
I sat inside and tried to imagine myself immersed in that life, centuries ago on a Christmas eve, before heading out into the cold for more mulled wine.
Arguably the most fabulous Christmas Market of them all happens at the Museum Quartier. All of the markets are free, and this one is no exception.
Delicious food and entertainment (and the mulled wine) would bring Christmas cheer to even the most Grinch-iest of Scrooges.
I know I was certainly enjoying myself, and not lamenting for a moment that I was alone for the holidays.
Christmas cheer? Check!
Something else I had not seen in Canada were the outdoor bars that pop up here and there. Pictured above is one I spent a bit of time in.
They appear to be temporary structures and are without doors. The ‘walls’ are opaque and lit with messages (most of which I couldn’t read). Inside (again, no admission, just go in) is a drink bar (or two), some heaters and a DJ.
After stopping for another beverage (I hope you are not counting!), I found myself in front of the beautifully lit, regal building below.
Surrounded by grand statues and flanked by unearthed Roman ruins, the building above is known as The Imperial Riding Palace, currently home of the Spanish Riding School.
In other words, it is a HORSE BARN. I just couldn’t believe it! Its grandeur shows how important horses were (and still are) to the empire.
Judging by the photo above, the inside is as resplendent as the exterior. And the equine residents aren’t bad either – this is where they train the famous Lipizzaner horses.
In addition to the incredible beauty and magnitude of the Imperial Horse Palace and its adorning statues, is the Archäologisches Grabungsfeld Michaelerplatz – the excavated Roman ruins under Michaelerplatz.
On this spot, the Celts had an early settlement known as Vindobona which was followed by a Roman military camp when the area became part of the Roman province of Pannonia.
The complex is said to have covered 20 hectares and housed 6000 men. There was a town associated with the encampment, it was known as ‘Canabae’.
The roads of present day Vienna still follow the old asymmetrical Roman military camp routes.
The street directly across from the ruins was lit up spectacularly. Shops were still open and many people were milling about. I wandered a bit before heading back to my temporary home near Neubaugasse in district 7.
I don’t know what time it was when I decided to return, but surely Santa, Weihnachtsmann and Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus and Christkindl were already starting their rounds.
Best Christmas eve ever!
Many additional photographs in the slideshow. You can click on any photo above to view it on a larger scale.