There is always a buzz in Vienna, always things going on. However, to me, the period from the end of September through to mid-November is as close as the city ever gets to taking a pause.
Then as you start to wrap up, with autumn turning to winter, small huts start to be erected across the city, street decorations are installed and the purveyors of holiday trinkets bring forth their wares. All over Vienna the Christmas markets beginning to open, signalling the start of another year of partying in the City.
Walking through the Rathausplatz the other evening, between the stalls still being erected and those being prepared for the opening of the market on the 17th November, I took a look at the Christmas tree that takes pride of place in front of the City Hall. Not yet decorated, this tree has got a bit of a history having already been to the Vatican where it was rejected – more on this story here in the Austrian Times.
The Christmas markets provide the City with an enhanced sense of the Christmas festivities. They also reflect the Austrian habit of socialising outside all year round. No matter how cold it gets (& even better if it snows) we will all be standing around with our Glühwien and food chatting away to friends and enjoying the party which will carry on through New Year celebrations, winter activities, spring festivals and the gorgeous summer months by the river and in the vineyards.
If you are paying a visit to Vienna here’s a link to more details on the Christmas Markets
You don’t have to like winter sports to enjoy spending time in the Alps.
A report in today’s derStandard names Austria as the top destination for winter sports according to a survey by a Dutch tourism website. Personally, winter sports and I go together as naturally as oil and water. However, living in Austria, winter is probably my favourite time of the year and I enjoy spending time up in the mountains.
Whist I may not participate in most of the traditional sporting activities of tourist and locals, I do find plenty of things to entertain, amuse and inspire me on my trips to the Alps.
One of my pastimes starts by travel up the mountain on a cab car with the morning skiers, strolling slowly over to the restaurant, taking up residents at a table by the window, and ordering the first coffee/strudel combination of the day. If you want an alternative winter sport let me explain.
Now some of these restaurant/cafe huts can have the look and feel of a factory canteen, whilst others have that traditional look associated with Hollywood Christmas movies . For this particular ‘sport’ either type of venue will do but you need a table with a good view of the ski lift(s). Ideally, if they have one, your table should also be near a roaring open fire to add an additional layer of snugness and smugness. After having settled down with your coffee you can turn your attention to the warm-up game. This one is called spot the Brit and it’s not that hard to pick up your first points. You turn your attention to the endless queues waiting for the ski lift(s) and simply look for the ‘skiers’ who seem to be continuously failing to reach the front of the ‘queue’. These are the novices Brit’s who will take some time to overcome their ingrained desire to stand and progress in an orderly fashioned. Gradually you can observe them coming to the realisation that the word for queue when translated back into English from German re emerges as the word scrum. However all this, as I say, is by way of a warm-up exercise. The skill in this particular window ‘sport’ is to pick a dozen or so subjects and commit them to memory. This is a relatively easy exercise as you will have plenty of time to get to know your chosen targets – most people on the slopes spend hours standing/shuffling in the scrum for the pleasure of a few minutes going downhill on their bone breaking device of choice. You can then take up to an hour’s break reading a book or catching up with twitter (reception is often excellent in such locations whilst oddly and annoyingly none existent in some parts of Vienna!). It’s important not to spend more time on these distractions or you can miss the chance to pick up points. Three points are awarded for ever person who comes off the slope in under two hours and one point for those that last a full two hours. An additional three points are gained for each individual who spends more time then eating and drinking than they did on the ski slope. On a sunny day these points are also awarded if the individual takes a seat outside and after eating then joins the others around them in the ritual by which you spend a long period of time with your eyes closed, head tilted towards the sun. If you are playing this game competitively then the skill is in selecting those rare individuals who will provide you with an automatic 30 points. These are the ones who actually spend more time on the slopes than sitting around enjoying the food, drink and sun – but they are a truly rare breed and not easily spotted.
For a more energetic time on the mountains I would recommend taking a stroll along (safe) paths ways from the ski slopes. The frozen landscape, the beauty of the mountains and the peace of the walk is often without comparison. It also happens to be health, cheap, fun and you still end up in the ski hut drinking and eating but without the frustration of the queues and the pain from the bruises. For something even more special take a stroll through the winter landscape after dark on a clear night. Venturing out into the icy landscape and seriously sub-zero temperatures to observe the night sky, the woods and mountains under moonlight, the stillness in the dark, are all truly worth leaving the warmth of your accommodation and afterwards there is always a mulled wine to warm you up again.
It’s Austria’s official birthday today. The Austrian National Day marks the birth of the Second Republic in 1955. Although the Austrian State Treaty was signed in May and came into force on the 27th July, it was the 26th October that was chosen to mark the start of the new independent, democratic state. On the day before the last foreign troops had left Austria, ending ten years of occupation, and so the 26th October 1955 saw the Austrian 2nd Republic enjoy its first day as an independent and sovereign state.
At the end of the Second World War, Austria was occupied by the Allied powers and divided into four zones overseen by the Soviet Union, Great Britain, United States and France respectively. The ten year occupation lasted much longer than most people had expected due to the deterioration of relationships between the allies and the struggle for whether the new Austria would become part of the Eastern or Western block.
Bring us back to the present day, I note that der Standard has an article (on its website) in which a national survey suggests that only 34% are ‘very proud’ to be Austrians compared to 42% respondents a year ago. This may in part be connected to the number of high profile scandals that have been enveloping the political parties over the last twelve months or so.
On a lighter note, I have to agree with the 86% who are proud of the scenic beauty of the country and the 66% who highlighted the high quality of life. As a vegetarian I’m less inclined to concur with the 68% who mentioned the quality of the local cuisine – this is a very meat orientated country and vegetarianism outside Vienna can be challenging at times – but they are probably right none the less 🙂
I really need to buy a few books to read in the down time I’m going to have as I play chauffeur to my daughter and her friends. Amongst the growing list of places I seem to have promised to take them are:
The rather enjoyable water park in St. Gallen, Steiermark:
A return trip to the excellent Carnuntum Roman Archaeological site:
The Marchenpark, Neusiedlersee, Burgenland:
An Austrian friend and I got talking about public holidays the other day. The conversation was stimulated by the fact that in June we will have six days of public holiday. He started to complain that as some of the public holidays this year fall on weekends (Christmas for example) 2011 will in fact be a poor year for leisure time. Unlike the UK, holidays here follow the religious
calendar and are never moved.
I tried to be sympathetic to my friend’s frustrations but in Austria we have more holidays than the UK and an interesting Austrian quirk. Take June, technically there are only three bank holidays which fall on Tuesday and Thursdays rather than as in England on the first Monday. The Austrian approach to this inconvenience is that if the holiday falls on the Thursday you have the Friday off, whilst if it falls on the Tuesday you have the Monday before off as well. A rather simple but elegant solution to the problem of holidays disrupting the week.
Ah yes my hard working British friends might say but what about the economy. Ah well yes, the Austrians do like their holiday time, weekend often start early on Fridays and shops are closed on Sunday. Oddly the Austrian GDP has generally been higher than the UK’s since the fifties and the economy is in better shape at the moment than Britain’s (though in part this has to do with the strong links with the German economy which is also doing well presently).