Waltzing through Vienna

December 17, 2014
gorgeous bldg

The scale of the old buildings in Vienna is beyond imagination.

Well, ok. I’ll admit that I have never really mastered the waltz, so I did no waltzing through Vienna. We strolled. But where to start in this, one of the most beautiful cities in the world?  This was my second visit to Vienna –my first in winter–and even though it wasn’t the snowy wonderland of my imagination, it didn’t disappoint in the least.

I love me some palaces, always have. I don’t know if I lived in one in a prior life or if it’s just a fantasy, but I like to imagine the skirt of my silk gown swishing as I glide gracefully up those broad, not-very-high stairs in palaces all over the world.

Yeah, the word gracefully tells you it’s a fantasy.

Have you ever wondered why palace stairs are so small? The steps are just a few inches high because women in gowns weren’t allowed to show ankle. If the stairs were higher, the risk of ankle skin showing would be greater.

Of course, they didn’t seem to mind a whole boatload of bosom. So go figure.

schonbrunn mit tree

Schönbrun Palace in December.



Schönbrun Palace was the 1,441-room summer residence of Empress Marie Theresa of Austria, who was the only female head of the Habsburg dynasty in the mid- to late 1700s. She had 16 children, can you imagine? One of them was Marie Antoinette. It’s said that she and her husband were a true love match and they were the only royal couple in Europe who shared a bedroom. I guess all those kids were proof. Lucky for her she had a passel of daughters, though, because she married most of the girls off to Bourbons for political reasons. (Poor Marie Antoinette’s match wasn’t so good for her, though.)

The oh-so-baroque summer residence was finished in 1699. We got to see 25 of those rooms; of course I wonder what the others look like. Because the rooms we saw were impressive, all gold leaf, crystal and ceiling fresco. It was good to be the Empress.

winter palace

Hofburg Palace.

This is the baroque Winter Palace of the Habsburg Dynasty.  Kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation lived here from 1328 to 1583 and again from 1612-to 1806. Until 1918, it was the seat of the Emperor of Austria. Those royal families had short lives, but big ones.

What about Vienna’s famous coffee shops and cafes?  Like this one:

cafe grienstedOr the horror of finding a whole bunch of these: the coffee shop whose name I refuse to speak.

starbucks vienna

I only saw one of these in 2004 but now there are many.

Did you know that when coffee shops first appeared, they were places for wealthy men to do business?  As they developed, some cafes featured some 200 newspapers for men to peruse– I didn’t think there would be access to 200 newspapers back in the day. Billiard tables appeared in the cafes and after telephones were invented, they could be brought to your table, too, just like in old Hollywood movies. I was surprised to learn that back in their day, Mozart and Bach gave impromptu concerts in coffee houses. At the turn of the 20th century, Bohemians went to coffee houses to be seen.

Presentation was everything and is still a tradition. Coffee was and is served on a small silver tray in a glass with a silver spoon carefully positioned and a glass of lukewarm water.

Women weren’t welcome in coffee shops until 1856 and after that, food was added to the menu and coffee houses became places to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Apple strudel is a very big deal in Vienna.  (I’ll have an authentic recipe here on Dec. 26.)

We decided to have hot chocolate instead. Oh, and M. wanted apple strudel.

We decided to have hot chocolate instead. Oh, and M. wanted apple strudel.

Vienna is home to the famous Spanish Riding School, where Lippizan horses are trained. The school will celebrate its 450th anniversary in 2015. Yes, that’s right: 450 years! I visited it in 2004 and saw horses being trained. On this trip we were walking by the stables and stopped to watch a groom feed a horse — taking video for you, of course–when I heard someone yell, “Here they come!” and something spectacular happened.

Here’s what I was shooting:

and then, right in front of me, the horses were led to their stable. I mean RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. They were three inches away and nearly trampled me, which is why THIS video is so close up and personal. I couldn’t pull the zoom back at all because they were RIGHT on top of me.

Oh, they are such beautiful creatures. Here’s the end of that parade:

These kinds of serendipitous things are the best part of travel. I’ll remember it all my life.

And it was December, which meant that the Christmas markets were in full swing.   How about a few holiday images from the Christmas market we visited:

mkt bulbs nice

The kind of stuff we have, right? And so much more.

mkt snowflakes

mkt decor2

Traditional wax angels.

mkt ornaments3

I really should have bought more of these. I only got a couple and never saw them again in any other market.


mkt star cinn nice fb

Cinnamon and stars.

mkt angel

I love angels.


Who doesn't like a huge pretzel?

Who doesn’t like a huge pretzel?

And some great food stalls.

mkt decorWhat I love about Christmas on the Danube is that it’s not the crass, super-commercial overload that American Christmas has become.  The Christmas markets are charming and retailers don’t go over the top.   M. and I have discussed doing Christmas in Germany and Austria more often. It’s merry and joyful and so much fun.

That’s not to say there weren’t Christmas displays in some stores, but far fewer than you’d expect. This was headlined Have a hard-core Christmas.

hard core xmas

Want to walk through the shopping district with me? I should say that it bears no resemblance to where I shopped 10 years ago. It’s HUGE.

Buffalo Philamena pretty vien window vien stuffPretty, no?

nice store window holiday

Not at all excessive. Simple.

What's a city without a street performer?

What’s a city without a street performer?

Ferris wheels were very big in the Germanic countries.

Ferris wheels were very big in the Germanic countries.

I love snow globes.

I love snow globes.

old alley

I know we’ll be taking the road back to Vienna one day.

I’m always torn between going back to places I love and visiting new ones. But Vienna? Many roads lead back to Vienna, at least for me.

25 comments on “Waltzing through Vienna
  1. So many pretty things to look at in Vienna: architecture, food, store windows, and more. Thank you for taking me on a little virtual trip to Europe.

  2. Kim Tackett says:

    My only trip to Vienna was when I was 23. I remember the guy meeting us at the train station, convincing us to go home with him to stay (we did, I believe we stayed in the dining room, with two twin cots, and he also had us jump the turnstiles to the train). We also saw the opera (I think it was Der Rosenkavalier) in standing room only. Would love to go back, and stay NOT in someone’s dining room!

  3. Nora says:

    Beautiful pictures, great story. Makes me want to go back again!

  4. Toni McCloe says:

    Oh I am sooooo jealous. Vienna is gorgeous. I been to Germany several times – my son lives there – but haven’t been to Vienna yet. I love your image of gliding through palaces. Did you say 1441 rooms?

  5. Bring back hot chocolate and snow globes, please!

  6. I so want to do this trip! Maybe next year. Meanwhile, I’m loving living it vicariously through you!

  7. Ruth Curran says:

    This trip did not disappoint did it? You picture yourself in the castle and picture myself in that coffee shop with a steaming cup and snow globe (like the spectacular ones in your photo) sitting next to it! Thanks for today’s moment to travel dream with you!!

  8. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Vienna has been on my bucket list for so long. I really hope to get there someday. It must be magical to be there this time of year.

  9. Oh, I love these photos! I love Austria, and Vienna is a beautiful city….I love the history of the Hofburg and the Schonnbrun…and the Christmas markets???? I must go!

  10. WendysHat says:

    How much fun! Yes my husband has lived near there and tells me it’s the most beautiful city in the world too. I hope to go one day.

  11. These photos are so beautiful! Vienna is definitely a city I want to visit and very soon. I love the simple decorations, so lovely!

  12. Oh my! Where do I begin? I love the markets, the wax figures, the street performer, and I can’t wait for the recipe! What a great life! You Go Girl!!!

  13. Vienna reminds me of my trip to Prague. Love the hot chocolate and fine desserts offered.

  14. Janie Emaus says:

    Can you take me with you on your next trip? You always look like you’re having such a great time.

  15. Lana says:

    Oh, I so want to go to Vienna. Just beautiful. Also, I thought yesterday’s post was brilliant. I’m too tired to come up with anything of value to add to the conversation – but I just wanted to let you know how good it was.

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