“Vienna. Is that in Italy?” asked the lady behind the counter at Boots in Heathrow Terminal 3. “Err… umm I’m not sure, I think it’s in Austria actually…” I replied awkwardly. And so began our holiday.
The Boots lady raised a valid point though – what on earth is Vienna and why is Lastminute.com constantly trying to make me go there?
Quite simply, it’s all about the Christmas markets. Over the last few years, German-style markets have popped up all over the major cities in England around the festive season and I adore them. I never buy anything (I mean who is seriously going to pay £8.40 for a dream-catcher almost certainly stitched together by child labourers in China?) but they have an incredible atmosphere. Christmas markets have the power to make you feel nostalgic for a time that you were never a part of. With this idea in mind, my boyfriend and I decided we had to go.
In the same way that you might decide to buy a film from HMV because it stars that man from that film with the talking dog that you really like, we chose Vienna because they spoke German and I had an A* GCSE which was currently going to waste.
Vienna is a beautiful city full of history, culture and an extraordinary selection of sausages. It is clean, it isn’t completely overrun by tourists, and they happen to be really good at making cake. It is also cold. Horrendously cold. Nothing has ever made me regret booking a holiday so much as when I made the discovery that the highest temperature we were going to witness was… 2°C. I wish I could say that after a few hours you forget the cold, but no. What I can say is that after a few mugs of warm winter-berry-liquor-punch, it becomes a lot more bearable.
The first night we arrived, we checked into our hotel (chosen for its proximity to the Christmas markets) and went to the restaurant we’d booked after days of trawling Trip Advisor. It was called Harry’s Time, and the real attraction? For €60 you could have a surprise tasting menu.
What I am about to describe is probably the best culinary experience of my entire life. They bring out a starter, and then they ask you if you would like another starter. They bring out an entirely different starter – goat’s cheese and beetroot – and then they ask if you would like another starter. That’s right: you are allowed an unlimited number of starters. Then you move onto their pasta dishes, and guess what? You are allowed an unlimited number of pasta dishes. Then the main dishes (you guessed it, you’re allowed an unlimited number), followed by an unlimited number of desserts.
We managed 13 courses. Apparently the record was 24. I felt ashamed of my poor performance. You’d think with so many dishes that they would be poorly thought through and constitute whatever they had lying around thrown onto a plate, but every plate placed in front of me was elegantly presented, rich in flavour, and quite frankly delicious. Of course, this one meal left us bankrupt for the rest of the trip. It is true that man cannot live on bread alone, but put a massive bratwurst in that bread and it turns out you’ll be all right.
Part of our time was spent visiting galleries. But most of our time was spent at the Christmas markets. They really know how to do them in Austria. Let’s not forget that the Germanic people were the first ones to think “This is a nice pine tree. Let’s put it in the living room!” It’s no surprise that their baubles are something of a beauty.
Each Christmas market had at least five stalls entirely dedicated to the most ornate, delicate and expensive baubles you could imagine. Utterly magical. They had stalls filled with wooden toys, scarves, glass pictures of tigers and, best of all, hot punch. My personal favourite? Hot love punch. A mixture of strawberry liquor and goodness knows what else to form a warm, comforting and delightfully alcoholic drink. You even got to keep the mug that it came in for a mere €2.
I left with a stomach filled with Sachertorte, a bag crammed with overpriced baubles, and my soul overwhelmed with Christmassyness. I knew next to nothing about Vienna before I arrived, and it’s now my favourite city in Europe. Auf Wiedersehen Wien! Ich liebe dich!