Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weihnachten in Wien

Vienna is immersed in Christmas, with holiday markets everywhere, streets decorated with a wonderful mix of lights, and temperatures that remind us why we left Minnesota for Virginia a decade ago.  A friend (thanks King) told us that Vienna is at the same latitude as International Falls, the northernmost town in Minnesota that is known as the nation's ice box.

It's hard for formerly hardy Minnesotans to admit, but Vienna's temperatures averaging about 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius) are feet-numbing. 

Snow, Traffic, Blue Clouds
Kier off from School 
Mix in snow and ice and you end up with Vienna being a bit of a challenge.  Keir had his first Austrian snow day off from school last week, and suddenly I understand why snow tires are mandatory.

All three of us have been a little sick … some European cold/flu thing that our immune systems clearly hadn't encountered before … so we've been quietly getting ready for Dylan, Reeve, Melanie and Ocean to arrive on Wednesday. Yesterday's highlight was the Christmas tree Keir and I carried five blocks to the apartment … only to find it is too big for our second-hand tree stand.  

Rathaus Park, Day
So this blog is a collection of mostly Christmas images and a few other things.

We were at a Christmas market today that is like the annual art fair in Minneapolis … it is for artisans and all of the booths have handmade items.  There were pony rides for the kids, a merry-go-round, and a guy in a Russian hat selling tickets to the Mozart concert in the nearby church.  We made it once around the market before we were frozen solid.  It's hard to look at nice pottery when you don't want to take your hands out of your pockets.

But last night, when it was a little warmer, Misti and I wandered over to the Rathaus (city hall) market.  It is beautiful at night.
Up, Up and Away 

Rathaus, Night
As we entered the park, there was a group of young guys launching paper hot air balloons, complete with flaming cubes to provide the lift, into Vienna's night sky.  The glowing balloons rose into the sky next to the full moon and floated over the center of the city … it was a gorgeous sight … and the guys would have been so arrested had they been in DC.

The big trees in the Rathaus Park are decorated with lighted candy canes and ornaments.  There is a castle in the woods, along with a carousel for kids.  And the Rathaus itself is stunning, day or night.

While it is easy to make beautiful buildings look festive, the Viennese managed to even do an ugly tall office building proud, draping an electric Christmas tree around the corner of the structure.  It is something to see.

Translating is Important 
Keir, Misti, Snow
As the snowy weather arrived, all of the buildings in town sprouted red and white poles from their sides.  The poles protrude onto the sidewalk as they lean against the buildings, forcing pedestrians away from the buildings.  We weren't sure exactly what they were until we saw one with a sign reading, "DACHLAWINE!"   That translates to "ROOF AVALANCHE!"   We moved to the curb.

It is always good to wander through archways into courtyards – you never know what lies within.   On a cold walk through the First District we went into an inner courtyard and discovered a tent set up by the Rotary Club.  They were serving Gluhwein (mulled wine) inside … hot and sweet and perfect to make you care a little less about the cold.
Rotary Club Wine

We passed another church on the same walk – a church we've gone by a dozen times and barely noticed.  It was open and we were cold, so we stepped in.   This is what a rather non-descript Vienna church looks like on the inside.
Non-descript on the outside

We have intended to resume our walking tour of the hidden Vienna … the hideout of the Knights Templar on what is now known as "Blood Street" (that's a hint as to what happened to the knights), and the oldest public toilets in Europe are still on the itinerary.  It is just too cold. 

So that's it. Christmas is coming.  Here are some images of the lights that decorate the streets.

Christmas Market Meat 

The lighted cubes are part of an art piece in Sigmund Freud Park.  The cubes are filled with water and throb and pulse different colors timed to music played by different DJ's every night.  It was announced by the city with great fanfare, but there really isn't much to it.  It looks better in the photo than it does in person.

And after Christmas, we get to celebrate Sylvester, a New Years Eve that is filled with high explosives throughout the city that are perfectly legal.  "Just get on a roof and you'll see fireworks everywhere," a colleague at work said.  "You can bring your own … big skyrockets, high powered firecrackers … everything you can imagine.  Everybody has them.  It's great fun … just pay attention."
Getting Ready for New Years

I'll bring my camera.  We'll share.