Friday, 27 December 2013

The Chronicles of Christmas: Indulging the Senses at the Austrian Christkindlmarkts

The Chronicles of Christmas:
Indulging the Senses at the Austrian Christkindlmarkts

After I checked out of the hostel in Munich, I made my way to Hauptbahnhof station to catch the train to Vienna. I decided to get first class seats for this one trip because I came across this amazing deal that upgraded you for only 5 euros and I decided to take it. I had never been in first class for anything so it was nice to ride in luxury for once. I also wanted to have a window seat so that I could see the Alps as they passed by and having a first class ticket secured me an ideal seat by said window.
Not actually what my seat looked like...

However, riding in first class wasn't terribly spectacular...I mean I didn't have a red carpet pull out as I walked to my seat, there was no complimentary neck massage (although I really do wish there was) or hot male models (sans shirts) fanning me with branches and feeding me olives (ditto) but we were given these free olive crackers on the train which were very good so I was willing to make a compromise (not that I really had a choice *sigh*). One thing that was a major bonus though, was the fact that I had a seat by myself so I didn't have to risk the chance of having a misfortunate passenger next to me again. Yes, this also meant that I lost my chance of recreating Before Sunrise but that was fine by me. I'm not exactly smooth in those encounters anyway...not saying that they ever really happen to me at all but believe me, I could just imagine the outcome. And come to think of it, could you, now that you have adequate knowledge over my previous failings with the opposite sex *sigh* the Spinster life it is...

Since I was hungry and they offered hot lunches (as opposed to the cold pre-packaged sandwiches of 2nd class - another bonus!) I decided to order something off the menu. As soon as I saw the words 'Frittatensuppe', my decision was locked and set. Now guessing that a lot of you have no idea what Frittatensuppe is (and this will not be the only time that I will mention it) I'll let you know just what this amazing godsend dish is.

Frittatensuppe is a traditional Austrian soup that consists of a herbal broth (sometimes there are vegetables inside like carrots, celery, etc) and thinly sliced pancake noodles (think about rolling up crepes and cutting them into thin strips). The combination of the two is absolutely amazing! Trust me. If you ever have a chance to go to Austria, no matter where you go, try Frittatensuppe. Like I said, it is godsend!

I haven't had Frittatensuppe since I was last in Austria so as soon as I saw it on the menu I knew I had to order it! And it was absolutely delightful although not as good as my Oma makes it...but most things rarely are.

After my delicious meal of the gods gift to mankind and a Prosciutto and Cheese croissant sandwich, I was more than content with my choice in first class. However there was the decidedly less-than-appealing case of the view...which was non-existent. I would love to say it was breathtaking and beautiful but I couldn't actually see anything because it was covered in a blanket of fog. Figures. Oh well, not much I can do there. But that does bring me to another aspect of my trials and tribulations of first world living: the weather.

No matter where I go, I bring the bad weather with me. For example, when I went to Los Angeles it rained...twice! Now to my fellow Canadians and Brits you wouldn't find a tiny drizzle cause for a shocking display of overdramatic proportions but apparently it doesn't rain in Los Angeles...EVER! So it was like the dawning of the apocalypse when I was there. It didn't bother me though, since I actually like rain but it truly put a damper on the rest of the trip (bad joke?) since we still had to do the 2 hour long walking tour without the chance to go back and grab a coat...and I was wearing a white shirt. Figures.

So the fog wasn't all that surprising but that didn't make it any better.

When I arrived at the station, I met up with my cousin Eva who was nice enough to let me stay at her flat while I was in Vienna. I haven't seen her since she stayed with me and my family in Canada a long while ago, so it was nice to see her again. As soon as we saw each other at the station we rein-acted a cheesy movie scene that had us running from opposite sides of the lobby to greet each other. Although we didn't squeal like pre-pubescent teenage we were able to retain some aspect of our dignity. Well she was at least...I lost my dignity a long time ago when I made a terrible decision that involved me and a spray tan, but that's another story.

Anyway, as soon as we met up she took me around the city and my goodness... this is what I have to say:

Hallo Wien! Du bist schön und Ich liebe dich

...which means: Hello Vienna! You are beautiful and I love you. As you can see I am getting better in German ;)

Just kidding, I used Google translate...

One of the first things we did after I arrived in Vienna was go to one of the many infamous Christkindlmarkts that are dotted throughout the city. You don't have to go very far to get to one, in fact some of them are mere steps from the other. I've already wrote about my love for Christmas and Christmas Markets so it's no surprise that I fell in love once again with the Christkindlmarkts in Vienna but my goodness, these markets were ten times better than any of the ones I have visited before.

Each market created the perfect atmosphere of nostalgia and magic. It was like opening pandora's box and instead of unleashing the evil into the world, the reverse happens and the evil returns to the box to make room for the magic of Christmas.

I could wander through the many stalls of traditional handcrafted ornaments for hours, take in all the sweet scents of baked goodness and close my eyes and imagine myself in a giant snow globe. All that was missing was snow! Unfortunately the western hemisphere took all the snow away from the world during Christmas time (figures) and I didn't get to see one freaking snowflake while I was in Austria! Okay so there was snow on the Alps, but they don't count.

But I couldn't be upset with that minor detail in a place like this! And while I was already drunk with happiness, it was time to try another traditional aspect of Austrian culture: Christmas Punsch. It is a hot festive drink that is lot like mulled wine (although sometimes they use rum) that comes in many fruity flavours. I ordered an orange flavoured punsch while Eva got a pear flavoured one. To be completely honest, I hated it. I am not a fan of hot alcoholic beverages but I can definitely see the allure especially during the chilly December nights. It definitely explains how so many people can stand the cold temperatures as they are partying in the Christmas Markets.

Alas, my drink tasted like orange vitamins. And not even the good gummy flavoured ones, I'm talking the nasty chalk-hard no-name brand ones that your mother buys because they were on sale (or maybe just mine...). Regardless, it was nasty.

The cool thing about the punsch is that you can actually keep the festive mugs they give you or return it for some buy more punsch of course!

But to make up for bad taste left in my mouth we had these amazing belgian waffles with chocolate and vanilla icing on it. It was absolutely mouth-wateringly brilliant and incredibly messy to eat. I literally got it all over me! But it was so worth it!

Throughout the week we went all around Vienna. Eva took me pretty much everywhere! I am a huge fan of architecture and Vienna was no short of brilliance. Each and every building is incredibly detailed, as if someone took great care to make each and every tiny speck intricate. And the artwork is phenomenal. It is like you are walking around a giant museum with all the history and sculptures. It truly is a gorgeous city!

We went inside this amazing Romanesque, Gothic cathedral called Stephansdom and it was absolutely stunning. Now I am not one for religion or churches mind you, but like I said I do appreciate art, history and architecture and this cathedral had a plethora of it.

We walked all around First District, past all the swanky expensive stores that I can only admire from the outside. I didn't dare actually entering one of the stores with the fear of being thrown out like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, not that I was dressed like a prostitute! God no, it's way to cold for that!

The street was done up immaculately in the spirit of Christmas and there was even a mini Chriskindlmarkt on the street. We got piping hot roasted chestnuts (called Maroni) served right off the stove in a brown paper bag (absolutely delicious!) and walked through the rows of christmas trees with the smell of fresh pine in the air. Ahh, I love Christmas! The only thing missing was some good ole fashioned Christmas tunes. I mean there was a one man band playing classical music but it's not exactly the same. I need the proper tunes: George Michael, Louis Armstrong, Mariah Carey, Michael Bublé, Frank Sinatra, Elvis...even Alvin and the Chipmunks!

Eva took me to so many glorious sights in Vienna but two places that stood out to me were the Schloß Schönbrunn and the Staatsoper.

Scloß Schönbrunn
Schloß Schönbrunn is a palace that was used as the former Imperial family's summer residence. During Christmas time, there is a famous Christkindlmarkt on the palace grounds and it is simply magical...unfortunately it was terribly cold when we went and I didn't feel like taking another risk of the distasteful punsch. Eva and her boyfriend, Artur, were going to take me on a stroll through the gardens but they were unfortunately closed and it was too cold to hike up to the Gloriette. Next time I am in Vienna I will definitely check it out!

Staatsoper in Vienna
Another thing that Vienna is famous for is the opera. I never had the chance (or money) to actually visit the opera, but I did have a chance to walk by the Staatsoper which is the most famous Opera house in the city. It was so beautiful! One day I hope that I have enough money to actually see an opera at the Staatsoper but for now I can only admire from a distance...either way it was still a sight worth seeing.

With all the beautiful architecture and the magical Christmas Markets, Vienna was looking to be a perfect city...and it truly is, but there is something incredibly important that I failed to mention: the food.

Now famous Viennese dishes consist of Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel), Sachertorte (a rich chocolate cake), and Wienerschnitzel. I skipped the former and the latter because I am not a fan of apple desserts and I don't like breaded meat for some reason (yes I know I make a terrible Austrian) but I did have a chance to try Sachertorte...however not in Vienna. But that does not mean I didn't have amazing food.

Eva made me this amazing Spaghetti Bolognese the first night I arrived, which I have to say was better than the time the Italians made it for me in Spain (and that is saying a lot)! Eva's roommate Krisi (such a sweetheart) is also a master chef and her quiche and risotto were heavenly! I was truly spoiled!

I also had plenty of Frattatensuppe obviously, and ordered it every chance I could! We even met up with my other cousin Phillip one night and he took me out for another extraordinary bowl of the soup and also made me try Almdudler (a popular ginger tasting fizzy drink that was slightly less extraordinary, no offence but I'll stick with coke). I'm going to have to learn how to make this amazing soup one day because there is no way I am waiting 9 years again.

One restaurant that I really enjoyed was this place called Der Wiener Deewan. This buffet restaurant runs on a "pay as you wish" policy which is just as amazing as it sounds. You can eat as much as you want from the buffet (consisting of chicken and vegetarian curries, fresh nan bread, rice, salad, dessert, etc) and pay as much as you think it is worth. Water is free but you can always order one of many drink options from the menu at an added price. Eva made me try a Mango Lassi and it was delicious! The food hit the spot as well. If you are ever in Vienna and you are on a tight budget, check out this place. It is in a pretty central location (located right next to the Votive Church and the Danube Channel) and can be easily accessed by the subway or the tram.

Vienna was simply spectacular and I am glad that I had a bit over a week to explore it's brilliance. I also had another night out with my cousin Theresa but that deserves a blog post on it's own so look out for that one next. Eva's friends and roommates were so hospitable and friendly, and it was such an honour to meet all of them. They were even nice enough to speak English to me so as not to make me feel left out, even though I could tell that it was difficult for them at times. This I greatly appreciated much more than I can say as it is difficult to explain the awkwardness of having a conversation you can neither understand nor contribute to.

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