MAGIC OF OLD VI­ENNA

AUS­TRIA’S CAP­I­TAL TURNS ON A GLIT­TER­ING SHOW AT CHRIST­MAS WITH MID-WIN­TER STREETS MADE INTO A SEA OF LIGHT AND OLD-STYLE MAR­KETS WITH A TEMPT­ING AR­RAY OF SEA­SONAL GOOD­IES, ALL AGAINST A BACK­DROP OF BUILD­INGS FROM THE AGE OF EM­PIRE

The Weekend Post - Cairns Eye - - Escape - WORDS// ALKI­MOS SARTOROS

It’s al­most as if the Aus­trian Em­pire were still alive and well – every­where in old Vi­enna, ma­jes­tic build­ings from the 19th cen­tury at­test to erst­while im­pe­rial glory. That feel­ing is es­pe­cially in­tense in the pre-Christ­mas sea­son. A tour of Vi­enna at Christ­mas log­i­cally starts at the Town Hall, where the tallest Christ­mas tree of the city al­ways stands, lit up by thou­sands of bulbs. Then, pro­ceed­ing from the Al­bertina Mu­seum through the old streets, a vis­i­tor will be walk­ing through a sea of light pro­vided by more than two and a half mil­lion tiny bulbs that pro­vide a glit­ter­ing an­swer to the dark­est time of the year. Peo­ple usu­ally grav­i­tate to the Kaern­tern­strasse av­enue, Vi­enna’s prime pedes­trian and re­tail shop­ping zone. Sus­pended over­head are gar­lands of stars while lo­cal res­i­dents, from stu­dents to pen­sion­ers, head to the old-style Vi­en­nese cof­fee houses to take refuge from the icy De­cem­ber wind over a steaming cup of cof­fee. Vi­en­nese women of­ten re­fer to their “storm hair­dos” be­cause of the tricks the wind plays on their hair­styles, ac­cord­ing to city tour guide Beatrice Au­mayr. Tak­ing visi­tors on a tour of the Christ­mas-time high­lights, she points out the var­i­ous mar­kets and their dif­fer­ent styles and fea­tures. “Each Christ­mas mar­ket has its own char­ac­ter,” Au­mayr says. Al­to­gether 25 Christ­mas mar­kets are spread around the city. In the old city cen­tre area many are close to each other, so you can eas­ily stroll from one to the next. Those seek­ing old-style tra­di­tional Christ­mas themes will go to the Altwiener Mar­ket, noted as the long­est-run­ning in the city. The small square is filled with old, mod­est-look­ing wooden stands offering tra­di­tional hand­crafted items and tempt­ing sweets. The air is filled with the scent of roasted chest­nuts, mulled wine and a tempt­ing, mouth-wa­ter­ing pas­try con­fec­tion called pun­schkrapferl. One of the more re­cent ad­di­tions to the range of Christ­mas mar­kets is at the tow­er­ing St Stephan’s Cathe­dral. The colour­fully painted mar­ket stands nes­tle against the base of the Gothic-style, 15th-cen­tury ed­i­fice, which rises 135m above the city sky­line. Af­ter 4pm, when it starts to get dark, those who climb the 343 steps up to a view­ing plat­form will be re­warded with the un­for­get­table panorama of Old Vi­enna bathed in a sea of Christ­mas lights. Au­mayr advises visi­tors seek­ing a snowy Christ­mas land­scape to per­haps head out to­wards Vi­enna’s western out­skirts, where they’ll find the im­pe­rial sum­mer res­i­dence, the Ver­sailles-style Schloss Schoen­brunn palace with its spa­cious park. When it snows, the palace and park are like the “magic of ic­ing”, she prom­ises. Every­where in old Vi­enna, im­pres­sive build­ings from a by­gone era re­mind the vis­i­tor of the grandeur of Aus­tria’s im­pe­rial history.

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