Andreina Cordani has a suggestion for next Christmas…
Many cities around the world have copied the Christmas market idea, but their true home is in Germany and Austria, and it’s there that you can find the widest choice, and the best atmosphere. In Vienna the whole city turns out in the afternoons and evenings to hang out at the local Christkindlmarkt. There’s a cheerful, relaxed atmosphere, and you’ll end up chatting to all sorts of people.
The city is sheltered by the nearby alps, so if you visit in winter it’s cold enough to feel Christmassy but not so freezing that you can’t spend hours outside, hunting down presents and decorations, or warming yourself with food and drink.
In fact you can’t really avoid the Christmas markets. There’s a big, tacky touristy one at Rathausplatz with a little train ride for the kiddies, another near the cathedral which has pony rides and arty gifts, one outside the Natural History Museum* with a wide range of gifts, another near the University which, unsurprisingly, is more focused on drinking. Or try the one in Spittelburg, which is probably the most authentic experience you can have.
These are my Christkindlmarkt best buys…
Decorations – there’s tons of shiny stuff to dazzle you, but look out for carved tree decorations, simple glass or crystal baubles, and little wooden toys that look like they’ve come straight out of Santa’s workshop.
Random presents – I bought a long twisty candle made with beeswax and honey, which the saleswoman said was a traditional Austrian gift. I’d certainly never seen anything like it before. There was also an endless array of chocolate in any flavour from strawberry to chilli.
Gluhwein – A few Euros will buy you a mug of hot spiced red wine (or equally delicious hot punch) and if that doesn’t warm you up, then nothing will. Keep the mug to take home as a souvenir, or return it to the bar and get your €1 deposit back.
Delicious Stodge – You won’t be finding any salads at the Christkindlmarkt, and pretty much everything on sale involves dumplings and pork in some way. A particular favourite was kaseknuddel, a kind of cheesy gnocchi. We also discovered a kind of bratwurst and potato mush which looks like brown sludge but is actually delicious. When I asked one of the locals how Viennese women stay so slim I was told: “they don’t eat local food.”
Christmassy food – Stollen, gingerbread, prettily shaped icing confections to hang from the tree… stock up on yuletide goodies without having to buy the fake or imported stuff at your local supermarket.
But remember, Cinderella… be done by 10.30 – all the stalls start to close then, and the Viennese make their way quietly home, or onto one of the many clubs and bars.
In fact, the only drawback of the Christkindlmarkt is that sometimes the jingly Christmassy music can be a little too much to take. If you have a low tolerance level for Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, take a really, really thick pair of earmuffs or it may ruin your Christmas spirit for good…