Growing up in Washington State and spending three of my four and a half University years in a sorority where people were given a lot of opportunities growing up, the romanticized ideas of top travel destinations were planted in my buried travel mind’s eye. I honestly cannot recall what it was that prompted me to pick Australia as my study abroad destination and I cannot be more thankful for whatever or whoever it was! As I continued traveling, I started to form ideas of the places I wanted to see and the ones that I wouldn’t be opposed to letting fall by the wayside; the latter of which are growing smaller and smaller it seems by the minute. Every city has something to offer, and the longer I travel the more I believe that statement.
When I first came to Europe I wanted to see all the hotspots that people fantasize about seeing, and the places that my friends brought back fabulous pictures of from their semesters abroad. Western Europe, the party spots, food capitals and best beaches along the way. But the longer I’m here I’m opening my eyes to the beautiful differences that European cities have to offer and realizing that the places that I had originally written off as ‘not my thing’ are becoming some of my favorite destinations to date!
The Vienna trip that my company puts on is called “Vienna Christmas Markets”, so really, how could I not expect it to be amazing? We arrived around 5 o’clock in the morning on Friday so I wasn’t too keen on the freezing cold outside, but after a few hours of sleep and an amazing shower I was ready to explore!
On a side note: we stayed at the Radisson Park Inn just outside the city center and I highly recommend it!
My lead tour guide is a well-traveled, old, Italian professor who went to university in Vienna and has forever held it dear to his heart. He knows the ins and outs of the city, which meant we were offered a fabulous city tour with detailed history of all the stops including the Stephandom (St. Stephan’s Cathedral), Hofburg Palace and die Graben (shopping street). In all honestly, the history is fascinating but I wasn’t that interested beyond what I read in the Lonely Planet earlier that morning because what grabbed me even more was watching the students.
This is the last trip of their short semester abroad. Most of them are broke, they are tired and have finals to think about next week and by this point most of our Uggs (including mine) are soaked through from the slush, leaving us treading around in ice water; but there is some kind of miracle. Every single one of them is jumping and taking photos and playing in the snow, they are asking questions about the landmarks and taking pictures before becoming giddy again with excitement. I heard numerous mentions of wet, cold feet but never once was it in the form of a complaint. It didn’t matter, we had finally landed in the winter wonderland we’d all hoped for.
Our next stop was the Schonbrunn Palace, which I’ll write more on later, but for now I want to focus on the Christmas Markets and the joy they bring. The first market that we had the chance to visit was just outside of the Schonbrunn Palace and although fairly small scale, it was absolutely stunning and it was my favorite of the three markets I saw all weekend (Rothaus, Schronbrunn and Belvedere Castle). Front-and-center was the mulled wine and hot spiced cider. Those clever Austrians even sell their wine for €5 for the first cup which comes with a ceramic mug, generally representing the market you got it from, the perfect souvenir!
As the sun began setting there was a soft twilight glow surrounding the palace and the snowflakes continued to fall. In the midst of the light of the giant Christmas tree and the reflection of the soft yellow-colored palace, there was that thick silence that only comes when the snow is falling. All the sounds seems to fade into the background and you can almost hear the sound of the flakes floating through the air. I excitedly tried to capture that last light when I discovered for the first time since I started using it, that my camera did have amiable features! When it flashed it captured each individual snowflake floating through the air and lit it up, but somehow didn’t cause the rest of the shot to fade into the background. It was in that moment I put down my camera and watched my students sip their wine and snap their photos; I looked around and knew that Vienna was a city worth falling in love with.