Christmas markets in Vienna: part I.

It’s that wonderful time of the year again: Christmas time! I’ve been in a very Christmassy, festive spirit for quite some time now, and it’s the first time in 3 years that I can actually enjoy the Christmas spirit here in Vienna. So I took my chances and went straight to all of the bigger Christmas markets, or Christkindlmärkte in German, already shortly after they opened at the end of November.

So for the sake of this year’s Christmas spirits I will show you some of the Christmas markets of Vienna. The first episode of this mini series brings us to one of the classics when it comes to Christmas markets in Vienna: the Viennese Christmas Dream in front of the City Hall.

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Viennese Christmas Dream

The Christmas market at the Rathausplatz in front of the City Hall, also called Viennese Christmas Dream, is probably the biggest one in Vienna, and also the one with the most kitsch. The surrounding of the market – the trees and the park – are lavishly decorated, and there is even some kind of fun fair at one part of the park and an ice skating rink at the other.

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You’ll find all sorts of stalls there where you can buy the typical like wooden kids toys, beeswax candles, knitwear, Christmas tree decorations, and all other sort of knick knack. There are plenty of food stalls, and there are many different varieties of punch and mulled wine.

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This market is usually bustling with people (mostly tourists), and trying to find your way through the market can be a dreadful undertaking, especially during the weekend.

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With this one I definitely have a love-hate relationship. I mostly avoid this one, as it’s just too busy with people, and the trade stalls don’t attract me that much. However, I like walking or driving past it, the gloomy looking city hall with the beautiful lights of the market are looking really beautiful. And in general, I just like the scenery with all the grand, old buildings located next to the market. So there’s definitely always something to look at, be it the bits and bobs on the stalls, the beautiful architecture, or the many people walking around. It never gets boring.

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Where to find it
Directly in front of the City Hall on the Rathausplatz

Opening times
Sun–Thu 10:00–9:30 | Fri–Sat 10:00–22:00 | special opening times on December 24 & 25!

Duration
17th November to 26th December 2017

For more information – check the website

Day trip to a foreign city: Brno.

When I was planning my summer travel adventures it turned out that I would do most of my travelling only during  July as I had to attend a few things in Austria in August. I just couldn’t have one month full of travelling (abroad) and another one without hardly any travelling at all, could I? So I thought about which places I could go to that would only take me little time on the road but would still be ‘exotic’ and new… So Brno here I came!

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Brno is with almost 400,000 inhabitants the second largest city of the Czech Republic and is the centre of the South Moravian Region. It is located in the Southeast of the country, more or less right next to Austria. The city is a centre of universities, science, research and innovation, is known for Gregor Johann Mendel (who discovered the laws of modern genetics) and the Villa Tugendhat (modern architecture landmark listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List). Very intriguing – so why not spend one day in this town?

It took us only around 1.5 hours by train (7.50€ one-way) to get to Brno from Vienna – so it was a perfect day trip in August. Luckily, it wasn’t a typical hot summer day – so the timing of our trip seemed to be perfect. It was a bit clouded, which gave the city and its old buildings the perfect edge.

Climbing the tower of a church
Upon arrival we got ourself a small city guide and loosely followed two suggested routes so we could see mostly all of the major attractions of Brno. One of ours first stops was the cathedral of St. Peter and Paul – a Gothic style church on the Petrov hillock. The tower is open to the public for a small fee, so we climbed the many stairs just so we could have a beautiful view at the city. Definitely worth the scary wooden staircase!

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Having a drink in the middle of the day (or not)
Afterwards we just strolled around for a bit, passed countless churches, and then decided to sit down at what seemed like a pop-up bar at the Náměstí Svobody – the main square of the city centre – and enjoyed a fresh lemonade. At 12am we just didn’t feel like having our first Gin Tonic of the day yet even though it was quite tempting ;)

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Unfortunate food failure
After the nice little sit-down our way led us past further churches, along shopping streets, past horse statues (?), more churches… until we decided that it was finally time for lunch. I had already looked up a few places the day before so we wouldn’t be at a total loss when it came to vegetarian places. As we were at the northern part of the city centre we opted for a place called Vegalite. This restaurant offers vegetarian and vegan food at cheap prices. Unfortunately, more or less a total bummer for us – but mostly our own fault. We asked the waitress for an English menu and she only gave us a single sheet of paper that had the daily menus for the whole week (which consisted of a soup plus one out of 3 dishes of which one was already sold out). So we were stuck with two dishes that neither of us really liked as leaving the restaurant was impossible due to growling stomachs. Only after having paid we saw a pile of ‘real’ menus (not just the weekly menus) a few tables down. Of course we had one last look at them before leaving the restaurant… Turned out there were many other dishes available that we could have chosen from – burgers, salads, Bohemian etc. but the waitress had failed to give us the ‘real’ menu and we had been too stupid to ask if there was something else. Definite facepalm reaction from our side! So I guess I could recommend the place after all as they offer quite a lot of vegetarian and vegan dishes at a very good price :D

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Špilberk Castle
The royal castle of Brno dates back to the 13th century and was rebuilt into a fortress in the 17th century. It used to be the most notorious and harshest prison in the entire Habsburg Monarchy and was known as ‘Jail of Nations’. Now it is ‘just’ home to the Brno City Museum. It is located on a hill which can easily be reached by walking through a vast park. On top of the hill the view over the city was – again – very beautiful and worth the march. However, they could have put a few more benches along the steep paths… :D

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Coffee & cake break
With still time on our hands we went to a place for coffee and cake. Not just any place but the most hip and trendy place in town according to the interior and the people in there – Skøg Urban Hub :D Nevertheless, quite a cool place with delicious coffee and a quite unusual black forest cake that tasted amazing!

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After having coffee we already decided to catch a train back home. On our way to the train station the sun came out but as we had already set our minds on going home we didn’t want to stay just for the sake of a few sunrays. We had a lovely day in Brno (despite the clouds!) and it’s just perfect for a cheap daytrip – as the (food) prices are very low (in comparison with Austria).

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Travelling through Austria: Bregenz.

On our way to Liechtenstein and Switzerland we also wanted to explore the westernmost province of Austria – Vorarlberg – and its capital Bregenz. With around 29,000 inhabitants the city is only the third biggest town of the province (after Feldkirch and Dornbirn). Bregenz is located on the eastern shore of the Bodensee (Lake Constance) between Switzerland and Germany.

Even though the city is kind of hard to reach and it takes me over 6 hours on a train to get there, I really wanted to go there this year. It’s already been the third time for me but I’ve taken a great liking to the small town so of course my bf and I had to make a stop there and do a little exploring :)

Bregenz Festival
The city is famous for its annual performing arts festival – the Bregenzer Festspiele (Bregenz Festival), which is held every July and August. A very special venue of the festival is the ‘Seebühne’ – a floating stage with an open air amphitheatre on the shores of the lake. Every other year they change the stage decoration and as this year’s opera performance is Turandot (a play set in China) the decoration consists of the  Chinese Wall and the Terracotta Army. I never knew that you could just walk inside the venue during the day or else I would have gone there all the times before… It was really cool to see everything ‘up close’ without having to pay for it :D

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Bodensee
The Lake Constance is the third-largest freshwater lake of Europe. It is situated in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The river Rhine flows into the lake from the south and has its outflow in the west. In Bregenz there are many seats right next to the lake where you can enjoy the beautiful view. Naturally, there are many birds – especially swans – hoping to be fed by the people. It’s also possible to rent a paddleboat and enjoy the cool breeze on the lake itself.

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Bregenz City
We couldn’t just sit next to the lake the whole afternoon so we went on a little tour through the city. We started our tour by climbing the hill to reach the Martinsturm, which is located in the Upper town – the oldest part with remains from the 13th and & 16th centuries. The Martinsturm is the landmark of Bregenz. This tower is apparently the biggest Baroque bulb-shaped steeple in Central Europe, built in 1601. Right around the corner of the tower is also the old town hall from 1662 with a beautiful colourful facade. A little further down the road is the Gothic parish church of St. Gall, whose foundations date from before 1380. The Landhaus – already in the Lower town –  was also nice to look at, which was built in the 1970ies.

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Relaxing
We had our early dinner break at a very nice restaurant somewhere in the city – Nashia Kulinarisches. It’s a vegetarian and vegan restaurant that offers a variety of african, asian and indian food. Very delicious and at a reasonable price. I’d definitely recommend the place.

After our almost 8 km march through the city we felt like we deserved a little break on the shores of the lake, where we just sat and relaxed for the rest of the evening before heading to the next city.

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Even though it’s been three times now I’m definitely going there again. Maybe I’ll even be able to get hold of a festival ticket and see it in real action – even though I’m not the biggest opera fan to be honest… :D

 

Travelling through Austria: Lienz.

I have always wanted to pay a visit to Lienz – the ‘capital’ of the region East Tyrol, which is an exclave of the region Tyrol, located in the South(west) of Austria on the border to Italy. The city’s name is so similar to the city where I went to school – Linz. However, only slightly over 12,000 people live there, so it’s very very small in comparison to Vienna’s 1.7 mio and Linz’ 191,000.

As I’ve already been warned before that there’s not much to do or see in Lienz, we only planned on staying there for one afternoon. As my boyfriend’s grandparents offered to accompany us, we took the car and drove a few extra miles to see the beautiful Gailtal, a valley formed by the Gail river that is surrounded by the Lienz Dolomites, Gailtal Alps, Carnic Alps and the Karawanks. On our road trip we saw quite some impressive mountains as well as steep roads and meadows. As it was in the midst of summer which is the time for haying, we saw many busy alpine farmers doing their work.

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As we took our time exploring the countryside and due to the narrow roads and everything, we arrived quite late in the afternoon in Lienz – perfect for getting a cup of coffee at the main square to get a first impression of the city and its people. The main square of Lienz is surrounded by colorful buildings, with a green area, benches and a small fountain. It was quite busy that day, there seemed to be many tourists wandering around – mainly Italians :)

The first noticeable building on the main square is definitely the Liebburg, built in the 17th century and used to be the home of some barons and counts. Since 1988 it is the townhouse of the city.

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Schloss Liebburg

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After our little break at a café at the main square we just strolled around for a bit, without any clear direction. Well, we stayed more or less just in the pedestrian area, but we also explored some side roads. It was really nice walking around and seeing all the beautiful house facades and the cute alleys.

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We also came across the Johannesplatz with a Marian column. A highlight for most of the tourists (and kids!), and of course also for us was the appearance of a rainbow right above the column.

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What struck me most was that you could see the mountains almost everywhere within the city. You just had to look through an alley and there they were!

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Mountains

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It was such a lovely afternoon in such a beautiful small town – surrounded by the beautiful nature ! Even though it is not my type of city where I could imagine myself living in (as it is just too small for my taste), staying there for even such short amount of time was really relaxing and calming. If you ever get the chance of going there – do it! If you’re in the situation where you could spare a couple of hours and you happen to be ‘relatively’ near , go & explore the Lienz! :)

 

Travelling through Austria: Klagenfurt.

My boyfriend’s grandparents live in Kärnten (Carinthia), one of Austria’s nine provinces, so it was the perfect opportunity for me/us to pay a visit to the capital of the region and have ‘locals’ with us who could tell us stories about basically everything. Kärnten is the southernmost province of Austria, and most famous for its mountains and lakes. The city has a population of around 99,100 and is the 6th largest city in Austria (= not very big). It was my first time in Klagenfurt. Technically not the first time though as I have been to the train station a couple of times now, but train stations don’t really count, do they?!

In order to get from my parent’s home to Klagenfurt, you need to take a train (or three to be precise). The most beautiful way to travel is to take the train that goes through the alps. Admittedly, a train takes forever and it stops at almost every station, but you also get to see the beautiful mountains and nature.

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Benedictine Market

After arriving in Klagenfurt we drove straight to the city centre. Our first stop was at the Benedictine Market, a place where you can buy local food twice a week. On Monday there’s no market, but as there are two small market halls where you can go shopping as well, we had a look at it and opted for delicious fresh-made juices at a fruit & veggie stand.

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Neuer Platz with Lindwurm fountain

The Neuer Platz is the place where you can find the city’s famous landmark – the Lindwurm – and the Maria Theresia Monument. I’ve always wanted to see the Lindwurm and I must say I was not disappointed at all.

The Lindworm statue was erected in 1593, the fountain was added to it in 1624, the statue of Hercules in 1636. A legend says that there used to live a lindworm – a wingless dragon – in the swamps of Carinthia in the early 13th century. In order to be able to use the land for villages etc, a duke offered whomever killed the worm a high prize. A bunch of menials put a bull with a barbed hook near the worm, who devoured the bull along with the hook. The worm was unable to flee, the menials could then kill the Lindworm and win the duke’s prize.

As there is some truth behind every saga, there actually existed a duke who erected a village (which is now Klagenfurt) in the 13th century, which used to be a moor landscape full of ‘dangerous’ creatures such as boars and wolves. They also found a huge skull who was believed to belong to a lindworm. In the 19th century however it was pointed out that the skull was of a woolly rhinoceros :D

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Pedestrian zone Kramergasse

Our next ‘station’ was Austrian’s first pedestrian zone (since 1961) and oldest street of Klagenfurt. A special shop on this street was the bookstore Heyn, home of two black cats that stroll around in the bookstore and look at you with big yellow eyes. So cute!

Wörthersee Mandl
The Wörthersee Mandl – a small fountain with a gnome – is located on the Kramergasse. It was created in 1962 by the artist and sculptor Heinz Goll.

The gnome and the fountain represent the saga of how the Wörthersee came into existence: There used to be a big, rich city where the Wörthersee is now. The wealth didn’t agree with the residents and they became careless and wanton. On one festive occasion there appeared a gnome who called for reflection, but the residents didn’t want to listen. The gnome returned with a small barrel, from which an endless stream of water started to flow, drowning the city with all its inhabitants. That’s how the Wörthersee came into existence.

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Alter Platz

The Alter Platz is surrounded by houses and city Palais, which were built in the 16th and 17th century, making it one of the oldest sections of downtown Klagenfurt. On the west side of the place is the oldest chronicled building of the city – the house ‘Zur Goldenen Gans’, built in 1489. The facade is not very spectacular, but a golden goose thrones above the entranceway.

In the centre of the square is the Column of Trinity, also known as Plague Column, which was erected as a plague column somewhere else in the city in 1689, after the victory over the Turks a half-moon and a cross were added and relocated to the Alter Platz.

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Kärntner Landhaus

The Kärntner Landhaus was built between 1574 and 1594, with a Renaissance facade, is home of the Heraldic Hall with 665 crests of Carinthian nobility, governors and administrators. It is also home of the Carinthian ‘Landtag’ (the seat of the State Assembly).

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Patios

Another beautiful aspect of the provincial capital Klagenfurt is that there are many lovely patios that are open to the public. You can walk through them, sometimes you find a cute little café in there, sometimes there are just trees, benches and birds to be found there.

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Wörthersee

Last but definitely not least – the Wörthersee (Lake Wörth). 17 kilometres long and 1.5 km wide, and apparently the warmest of the large Alpine lakes. The lake is situated within the Klagenfurt Basin, flanked by the Gurktal Alps and the Karawanks. Along the shoreline of the lake, there is everything that one desires – from many gourmet restaurants to traditional wine taverns. Due to this and the Mediterranean climate and the clean warm waters, thousands of tourists come here every year to enjoy the beautiful lake.

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The day in Klagenfurt was well spent – we saw many beautiful spots and enjoyed a delicious meal at a restaurant next to the Wörthersee. We also visited the Minimundus miniature land, but I will talk about it and other things that I did while staying in Carinthia in (a) future blog post(s). So stay tuned! ;)

Taking a step back over the holidays…

Have you ever had the feeling that everything’s just too much and you need to stop and think for a moment and figure out a way to reconnect with yourself and your environment? Over the past few weeks I was rather absent. It’s been over one month since my last blogpost. Of course I stayed online and even posted the occasional picture on instagram. However, I made the conscious decision to take a break from blogging and being online ’24/7′. With everything that’s been going on around me – be it exam wise or in my personal life – there has been so much that I had to deal with and therefore, I decided to take a break from… (almost) everything. Spending time at home with my family and my closest friends was great.

Going places
Karlsplatz is my personal favourite when it comes to touristy places in Vienna. Generally I’m not the biggest fans of churches, but I have a thing for the beautiful Karlskirche. During summer it’s just great to sit out front by the fountain and enjoy the occasional concert or festival that is held at Karlsplatz. During winter there’s a big Christmas market which I absolutely love. So I couldn’t miss it this year and even though it was cold and rainy on that day, my boyfriend and I had to have a cup of fancy Schilcher Glühwein.

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Karlskirche in the heart of Vienna

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I went to the hairdresser and let the lady cut my hair to a length that I haven’t had since before Kindergarden :O However, the change wasn’t that drastic as the length before was a bit longer than shoulder-length. The only thing that I still want to change is the colour but I am still looking for the perfect hairdresser plus I want to wait until after my sister’s wedding :D (or even longer – depends on how fast I can make the decision on which colour to get and if I really want to part from my signature colour…)

Trying new things
I also went to a photography museum to see “Augen Auf! 100 Jahre Leica Fotografie” – an exhibition about the history of Leica. Great & interesting exhibition, great pictures and great cameras. Unfortunately, not in my price range ;) And on a special date night, my boyfriend and I saw a play that was very unusual and different. SPAM, written by the Argentinian Rafael Spregelburd, is a two-man show that revolves around a guy that suffers from amnesia and he tries to reconstruct what happened to him in the past 31 days. The play consists of 31 scenes and their order is randomly selected by fortune cookies. It was very confusing at some points during the play but the involvement of the Internet, technology and the audience was really unusual and funny. At the end of the play I even had to discuss with my boyfriend just to make sure that I got the whole story right ;)

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On another day, the boy took me to a ‘fancy’ restaurant, as we really wanted to try a new place. So Mercado was the place to go to. The restaurant serves latin inspired food, the interior is just great, the staff is friendly, the place is huge. However, it wasn’t the cheapest one and both me and my boyfriend preferred the dish that the other one had ;) But we were really glad that we tried it out and after exchanging dishes we were also happy with our food. Strangely enough, we both liked the side dish the best :D

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Coffee | Friends | Family
Drinking numerous cups of coffee was kind of the motto of my holidays. I even went to a coffee festival with a friend of mine. However, so-called coffee experts can become really snobbish when you tell them that you prefer your coffee with a splash of milk. Apparently, that’s not the way you’re supposed to drink coffee and the only true way to drink it is if it’s an espresso (insert eye-roll here). I get that you can only taste the difference between types of beans, grinders, roasts, machines and whatever else when you drink the coffee black, but that’s just not how I like my coffee :( So my experience was not the best at the festival, I still drank a lot of coffee (and even one with milk! Anarchy!) and the venue was great as well. I was also taught that filter coffee has a higher amount of caffeine than an espresso. Good that I have a filter machine in CPH with me ;)

Also very important over the holidays was meeting friends. I spent a lot of time drinking coffee and eating delicious treats. It was good to reconnect with them and hear their most recent stories from their lives. Most importantly however was the time that I was able to spend with my family. As my sister is getting married and I am her maid of honour we spent a lot of our time together speaking about the plans and I also got to see her beautiful dress!

I also got to meet the newest member of our family, a little tomcat. Well, he was already born in summer but I haven’t seen him before so he’s not that little anymore but still between being a kitten and a grown-up. He hasn’t got a name yet, but somehow most of the cats that we’ve ever had hardly ever received a proper name (they never listen to it anyways). But he’s also cute without a name, and eventually, he’ll get one (or not). By the way, he’s not camera shy at all, he’s a real poser and loves all the attention he can get.

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This girl says hi to everyone.

It’s been a week since I got back to Copenhagen and I already had an exam, had lunch with a friend, coffee with another, and went out for a drink with others. It was great to catch up with them, and it’s time for me to be my usual self again – so I’m back! :)

So whenever you just have the feeling that something’s off and you need to take a step back – just do it! Take a break.