English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “Seasons”

Autumn has Come to Vienna

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

 

Autumn is a lovely time in Vienna and is characterised by three things; pumpkins, chestnuts and booze.

Pumpkins are everywhere: supermarkets are filled with turnips, squash and gourds of all shapes and sizes; pumpkins are used as decoration all around shopping centres and in people’s homes and not just as a nod to Halloween, but in celebration of the season in its own right. Pumpkin soups, salads and ravioli appear on every restaurant menu. I even went to a festival dedicated to the celebration of pumpkin-time and got to sample pumpkin punch and pumpkin beer.

Autumny decorations for sale

Autumny decorations for sale

Brass accompaniment for  the pumpkins

Brass accompaniment for the pumpkins at the festival

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Horse chestnuts, having fallen from the trees can be seen rolling around pavements, but sadly, children here don’t play conkers as the game is unknown. Roasted chestnuts, called Maroni, are available on most street corners and always make me think of a Dickensian winter scene.

And finally, the booze part. Autumn is the time when Sturm is available. Sturm is wine in its very earliest form, basically fermented grape juice. It is cloudy and, due to its juice-like taste, can be very potent as it is tempting to knock it back much quicker than you would a glass of wine. Locals warn you to only have one or two glasses because for many it can be sturmisch (stormy) for the stomach and be an inducer of diarrhoea. Stalls pop up all over the city centre offering red and white varieties.

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

So, enjoy the orangey pumpkin glow of autumn before winter and the Christmas markets are upon us, but please be careful; for while it is tempting to jump into a big pile of golden autumn leaves and crunch your way through them, remember that this is Vienna and there may be a big pile of dog poo lurking beneath the surface.

Advertisements

One Glühwein, Two Glühwein, Three Glühwein, Lama!

It’s my favourite time of year in Vienna. It is Christmas market time. It is actually the reason I moved to Vienna. I came here on holiday once at the beginning of December and instantly fell in love with the twinkly splendour of the city.  A handful of markets opened last weekend and the remainder open this weekend and so, seeing as they are the reason that this English girl is in Vienna, I thought a write up was in order.

The locals I have spoken to all say that they totally avoid the market at the Rathaus, which is the biggest one and pulls the most tourists in, so it can get really busy, uncomfortably so at times. It is however, a very grand and lovely one with the biggest Christmas tree lit up amidst the back drop of the grandly gothic town hall building. The Viennese complain that it is too commercial and sells rubbish, but if you want some lovely Christmas tree decorations, toys and sweets, sweets and more sweets then it is more than worth a visit. Be warned, it also has the most expensive Gluehwein. Coming in at four Euros a cup, it is a whole Euro more than at other markets. Last year the prices pretty much seemed to be uniform, but this year there is a noticeable difference in cost, although it has to be said, it definitely tastes good.

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Gingerbread heart heaven

Gingerbread heart heaven

Next we have the Spittelberg market which lines the small and charming lanes around Stiftgasse. It is small, but perfectly formed and has a very unique feel to it.  Most people agree it is best for buying jewellery, so it is a good place to buy a few presents. It also has great spaces under trees lit with fairy lights in which to enjoy a Gluehwein or Punsch. If you get too cold, there are also lots of bars and restaurants to shelter in and it has many covered areas in which to stand and have a drink in. It is very atmospheric, especially in the evenings.

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

Yesterday I was at the Karlsplatz Christmas market, right in front of Karlskirche church and it was there I discovered it is the best place for lamas. No, I hadn’t had too much mulled wine, there were actually lamas being led around. They were part of the ‘attractions’ for kids, because this market is probably the best one for families. It has an area dedicated for kids, with animals, straw for them to play in and a little workshop for them to do crafts. Food and drink stalls circle this area and so parents can amuse themselves while keeping an eye on the kids. This market is also popular with locals who appreciate the crafts, ceramics and glassware on sale. Lovely atmosphere, lovely Gluehwein and lovely lamas. Oh and if you ever wanted to see a photo of the baby Jesus, this is the place to go.

The market at Karlskirche

The market at Karlskirche

Here's a close up of that little baby Jesus

Here’s a close up of that little baby Jesus

That lama just winked at me I swear

That lama just winked at me I swear

The market I will end on is my favourite one of all. The Freyung market claims to be the oldest and for me it is definitely the most Christmassy. Freyung is a gorgeous little square which is beautiful at any time of year, but is especially magical at Christmas. It’s great for Christmas decorations and gourmet food products like mustards and honey. Even the Viennese give the Freyung market their seal of approval.

The old Viennese Christmas Market

The old Viennese Christmas Market

There are many more markets around the city, which I will try and review within the next few weeks. Until then enjoy the hot booze, the hot chestnuts and the lovely lamas.

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Wein in Wien

With the onset of autumn, I have started thinking back to the summer and how we coped with the high temperatures. One pleasant way was to head to higher ground. You might not know this, but Vienna is not all just city city city. It is hugged by a forest and surrounded by hills which the locals love to walk in, cycle in, jog in, but mostly, drink wine in. For in the tiny little villages on the outskirts of the city, and in the hills, grow lots of vines which produce lovely grapes, from which you get lovely local wine.

Dotted around the vineyards and walking trails you can find little taverns selling the new wine. The style of these Heurigen varies from very informal ones which operate out of a hut where you can relax on deck chairs only a stone’s throw from the vines, to the longer-established ones with their heavy wooden interiors with twee curtains.

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

Grinzing, a part of the nineteenth district of Vienna, is well-known for its Heurigen and bus-loads of tourists regularly roll up to enjoy some wine and schnitzel, but it’s not just the tourists who visit these. Throughout the long summer evenings, most Heurigen outdoor gardens are full, with tables reserved for large groups of people both young and old. It’s a part of the culture that I really love, as do all of my expat friends. After all, I like to think I am doing my bit for the environment by drinking wine that is literally produced just down the road: my wine doesn’t have to travel half way round the world. Imagine that; drinking wine to help the environment, good conscience booze – another reason to love Vienna!

Winery Mayer in Grinzing which was once where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Winery Mayer in Grinzing where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Austrian wine is little known in the UK, but actually there are many wine regions throughout the country and wine is an integral part of the culture. I have wiled away many a Sunday afternoon with a walk down Kahlenberg hill, wandering from one vineyard to another, and there are many festivals throughout the year to celebrate the local produce.

Most Austrians drink their wine with soda as spritzers, which is probably wise considering a litre of wine will only set you back around ten Euros and is extremely quaffable. There is always a buffet selling bread, ham and cheese to soak up some of the alcohol.

Heurige Zimmerman in Salmonsdorf

Heurige Zimmerman in Neustift am Wald

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

Early autumn views

Early autumn views

Lovely wine

Lovely wine

These taverns are open from around mid April to November, so you can enjoy the various seasons of wine. At the moment it’s Sturm time, when people enjoy the very early wine which takes the form of cloudy grape juice still fermenting and is surprisingly alcoholic. So, you see, the English Girl in Vienna is not always pounding the pavements in the city soaking up the culture, but can often be found in the forest and hills imbibing a lot of it – along with the locals, doing my bit for the environment.

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

2012-08-18 18.17.19

http://www.pfarrplatz.at/heuriger-eng.htm

http://www.weinhof-zimmermann.at/

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know this is horribly overdue as an entry about Christmas and New Year, but there are so many lovely photos to share, that talk about Christmas I must.

Christmas in Vienna and the run up to it is truly magical. The centre of the city is tastefully decorated in the most splendid of twinkly lights and people bundle up, ready to spend most of their time outdoors despite the winter temperatures. Vienna is a very outdoor-sy city and the winter is no exception. You can’t move for Christmas markets that cater to your every Christmas gift need, and stands selling roasted chestnuts and hot cups of punch spring up on every pavement, there to provide residents and visitors with warm food and warm alcohol. What I love is that, although the place is overrun with tourists, the markets are enjoyed by everyone who lives here. It is not uncommon for friends to meet each other after work at a market to enjoy a Gluehwein and families meet up at weekends to wander round and look at the stalls, enjoy the brass bands and generally soak up the jovial atmosphere.

The twinkly chandeliers in the mains street called Graben, note the punsch stands

The twinkly chandeliers in the main street called Graben, note the punsch stands

Belvedere Christmas market

Belvedere Christmas market

Can you see the brass band?

Can you see the brass band?

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

Most markets close on 23rd December and the biggest one, at the Rathaus, closes on Christmas Eve. There is one, however, that opens on Christmas Day itself and for the past two years I have gone on Christmas morning, pre-Christmas lunch to the Schoenbrunn for a final mooch around. I’m not the only one; it is always busy with shoppers, tourists and Gluehwein guzzlers and is one of the nicest ways I can think of to spend a couple of hours on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Although the Christmas markets disappear quite abruptly, their void is filled soon after by the New Year stalls that help revellers see in the New Year. They mostly sell, food, alcohol, cold alcohol, hot alcohol and more food, but there is a great number dedicated to the selling of lucky charms. You can buy fluffy pigs, pig ornaments, pig stickers, tiny pig figures, pigs of every description, some of them even dressed as chimney sweeps or holding four-leaf clovers. I asked my students about the relevance of the pigs and they apparently signify prosperity because, in the olden days, if you had a pig at the start of the year, it was a sure sign that your household would not go hungry.

I went to the city centre on Silvester, which is New Year’s Eve. I went in the afternoon and the place was heaving with people already in the party spirit. The atmosphere was much more boisterous than it ever was over Christmas, with people chugging down a few Jaegermeisters with every Gluehwein. It seemed like the whole city was on a mission to get drunk. I left before darkness fell, mostly because I had been warned by people who have been here a long time that the crowds in the city get unbearable in the night time and it becomes every claustrophobic’s nightmare. Apparently the general din is so loud that you can’t even hear the bells of St. Stephan’s Cathedral chime in the New Year, even though the party takes place literally outside it. The whole city also becomes obsessed with fireworks and from about 8pm onwards anyone can look out of their apartment window and see a fireworks display from a number of locations; it naturally reaches its crescendo at midnight and the sky glows pink and yellow and the sounds of explosions can be deafening.

A sunny New Year's Eve afternoon

A sunny New Year’s Eve afternoon

Turbo Gluehwein

Turbo Gluehwein

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

On New Year’s Day debris littered the whole city. We went for a bracing walk up to Kahlenberg, one of the hills in the woods that overlooks the city, and it was apparent that it had been one of the places to be the night before. It also seemed, from the number of empty bottles, that everyone had been on the sparking wine. The fog hung low and freezing and the city was eerily quiet because everyone must have been in bed sleeping off the excesses of the night before, but Vienna being Vienna, we still found a place to have an outdoor drink on such a biting winter’s day. We found a tiny open-air Heurige (wine tavern) open for business. The tall round table at which we stood had a layer of frost on it, but they were serving hot booze and sausages and had a fire lit to keep us toasty. Every passer by who stopped for a New Year’s drink was given a lucky charm, a little pig, to see in the New Year and I thought how glad I was to be in Vienna for the start of 2013.

The staff braving the cold

The staff braving the cold at the Heurige we found

Good luck charms with every drink

Good luck charms with every drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year's drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year’s drink – perfect with the fire

Oster

Easter market decorations

So by now I’ve spent my first Easter in Vienna and I have to say it was a lovely one and I was really impressed by the level of preparation for it. It wasn’t merely marked by the presence of chocolate rabbits and eggs in supermarkets, but it was celebrated as a festival and for a good few weeks. I loved how everyone, shops, restaurants, doctors clinics even as well as other places of business decorated their windows with colourful eggs, cute chicks and bunnies. Shops and bakeries sold special cakes and the city hosted Easter markets in some beautiful venues where you could buy the most delicate and intricately painted eggs to take home and decorate your house with. The most beautiful markets were at the Schonbrunn Palace and in a tiny old courtyard near the centre of the city.

People here like to mark the changing of seasons and the advent of major festivals. The city takes a seasonal approach to most things, including its food. For spring special cakes have appeared in the famous coffee houses and asparagus is making a come back in the supermarkets which is something that drove me mad last year when I couldn’t get any out of season, but something I appreciate now. The city is covered with gorgeous purple and white tulips which are starting to open and people rush to get a seat at an outdoor café whenever there is an hour of sun. It all feels lovely and traditional and I love how the city takes pride in differentiating between the seasons by making each one uniquely beautiful and attractive. Easter felt less commercial this year, but however much I tried to appreciate a real, hand painted egg, I couldn’t disassociate Easter from chocolate, namely with Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, which I love. After hunting around the shops and not being able to find any, I did what any expat would and got a visitor to bring a stash out and she did me proud. I’ve been enjoying my egg a day and I don’t even feel slightly guilty. Easter – how do you do it?

Schonbrunn Palace Easter market

One big egg at another Easter market at Freyung in the city centre

Not tulips from Amsterdam, but tulips from Vienna city council

No English girl in Vienna can live without them

 

Post Navigation