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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

Wandering in awe….

Day 4/15. Vienna, Austria. 2023 Viking Grand European Christmas Markets River Cruise

There is the Viking tour bus on the pier.

And here we are…not on the bus!

We did it! We ditched the included Panoramic bus tour of Vienna and are we ever glad we did. We watched the buses leave on the pier at 9am as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with the Captain and some of the crew in the Restaurant. It was nice to have the ship to ourselves!

The Christmas Markets in Vienna did not open until 11am so there was no need to rush to get to downtown Vienna since we had extensively walked through the cultural highlights of Vienna with a private tour guide on a walking tour, when we were here in 2019 and with only one day in Vienna, our focus was on seeing as many Christmas markets as humanly possible!

We left the SKADI at 10am, walking to the Metro to ride the metro for the 4 stops to Stephanplatz station, which would bring us to St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the main pedestrian area of Vienna. Richard was able to purchase himself a seniors tickets on the Metro at 1.5 euros per ticket, since he is 65. My ticket was 2.25 euro for a one way ride.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria

We arrived at Stephanplatz station, took the escalator up to the exit of the metro and BOOM! St. Stephen’s Cathedral! St. Stephen’s is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna, with its ground breaking in 1137, and completion in 1578; built with Romanesque and Gothic architecture; the height is very impressive at 448 feet high!

Since the cathedral was open we decided to go inside and look around. Although we had seen the cathedral in 2019, we were not able to see a choir perform before and since the choir of St. Stephen’s was practising for an upcoming performance, it was nice to see and hear them in their rehearsal. Richard of course lit a candle to remember his father, since he is Catholic and I am not. Richard did show me how to take the holy water as we exited the Cathedral and make the sign of the cross.

Our next order of business was to walk the pedestrian walkway with all of the shops in Vienna. We were on the hunt for souvenirs and this shopping area we figured would be one of the best of the entire trip, with Vienna being such a big city.

And the first shop we saw tempting us in was the Lindt store! We had a Lindt store in the underground shopping area in Toronto when I was working. Every Christmas our tradition was for me to visit the Lindt store and buy the large bag of chocolate balls. I think the cost was $40CAD for 100 balls. I would save them and bring them with me to Florida on the flight in my carry on, when I flew down for the 18 days or so we would spend at our home in Florida every Christmas. My neighbour has a penchant for these chocolate balls so it was a nice treat to have at Christmas and buying them in bulk allowed me to choose which balls to put in the bag. Of course in Vienna the price was in euros but at 29.99 euros, I figured it was still a nice treat to bring home with us! And they had marzipan balls and marzipan chocolates too to fill the bag and now that I’ve had marzipan and chocolate in Europe already…..I’m obsessed! My father loved chocolate and marzipan and every year I would always visit the German deli called Deningers in Oakville to buy him a large chocolate covered marzipan bar. I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree as I am my father’s daughter and I LOVE marzipan and dark chocolate! Europe and its marzipan chocolates could be very dangerous for me on this trip!!!

My Lindt purchases!

After purchasing our chocolates and Lindt baking cocoa (which I will use to make some decadent flourless chocolate brownies once I’m back in Florida), we started walking down the pedestrian boulevard to check out the stores along the way.

I need more cheese!

What should I try next?

We wandered into the most amazing cheese store called ‘Cheese & More’ by Henri Willig. We are both suckers for good cheese and the store had lots of samples of cheese out for sampling. After sampling a few different cheese , I had decided I was going to buy some cheese tools which would be easy to transport home with us.

Cheese flower with wine balls on top.

We were just about at the cash register when one of the staff asked us if we had ever had a ‘cheese flower’? Of course we had not experienced a cheese flower before, so the employee showed us this device that scored the cheese and made a thin cheese flower. The clerk then proceeded to add a couple of small wine balls on top of the cheese. We both tried them and Richard had the white wine balls on his cheese. I had the rose wine balls and I was convinced. We had to buy this device which would create cheese flowers, to bring back home with us. I also bought some red wine balls too. I think the device will be put to good use at an upcoming cocktail party in Florida!

I was in search of the Gerry Weber ladies clothing store in Vienna. The last time we were in Vienna I had bought a nice top and matching scarf from the store, so I wanted to go back and take a look at the store. As we were looking for the Gerry Weber store, we remembered this department store called ‘Peek and Cloppenburg’ which was on the main pedestrian street - because the store had a free restroom as well! We went inside and I started shopping, while Richard found a nice chair to sit down on and wait for me. After wandering around for a while I found a long hooded, puffer vest that I thought would come in handy for the rest of the trip; and possibly in the future for cool October golf weather back home. I went to pay for the vest and saw that they had ‘Global Blue’ which is the duty free refund available to tourists. I asked the cashier what amount I needed to spend to be able to get the refund and she said 75 euros. Since the vest was a little more than 75 euros, I asked if I could put the vest on hold until later in the day since I needed to have my passport with me to be able to apply for the 11.5% Global Blue tax refund. The cashier gave me a printed slip to hold the vest for me until later in the day and advised me the store closed at 8pm. We would be back!

We wandered down to the end of the pedestrian walkway and of course to the iconic Sacher Hotel, the inventor of the famous Viennese dessert the ‘Sachertorte’! The last time we were in Vienna we were able to have a fabulous corner table in the hotel to enjoy this popular dessert, without waiting. Today the lineup was extremely long at the Sacher hotel. We didn’t want Sachertorte today anyway!

Souvenir from Vienna.

After visiting ZARA home for a couple of souvenirs we walked back along the pedestrian walkway and headed to our first Christmas market beside and behind St. Stephen’s cathedral. The first order of business was to buy something to drink as we wandered through the market stalls.

Since we were not big fans of the Gluewein that we had in Budapest we thought we would give some other drinks a try and purchase the souvenir mugs. Richard had the orange vodka and rum punch and I had Kinderpunch which turned out to be hot apple cider. I really liked the mugs so we did not return them for the 5 euros deposit per mug and will bring them home instead as souvenirs. .

I wanted one souvenir from the market in Vienna and I found a neat little Christmas decoration which is powered by a lit candle or an electric tea light. My mom had something similar to this when I was growing up and as a child I was always fascinated by how the angels moved when she lit the candles. I don’t know where her Christmas angel decoration went so I’m glad I have my own now, which reminds me of my childhood.

After wandering around the our first Christmas market it was time to explore a bit further in Vienna to find the other Christmas markets that were listed on the ‘Christmas Market map’ that was provided by Guest Services on the SKADI. We were specifically looking for Markets 4 & 5 because they were near each other, The map showed 6 Christmas Markets in total in downtown Vienna, but we did not have any intention of trying to do all of the markets in Vienna.

Once we found market 5 called ‘Weihnachtsmarkt Am Hof’ we decided it was time for a bite to eat. We explored the entire market before settling on a spicy bratwurst with Dijon mustard, a slice of rye bread and a cheese and spinach filled bread. A nice little meal to eat at a stand up table in the market.

We looked at the souvenir mugs at this market but we did not really like them, so we didn’t purchase anything to drink.

In the distance we could see Market 4 called ‘Old Viennese Christmas Market’ so we walked though it looking for some lebkucken cookies for our dessert. I was able to buy a small plate of various types of Lebkucken cookies which we shared for 3.50 euros.

At this point we headed back to the closest Metro station where we had to transfer after one stop from the Green line to the Red line at Stephansplatz. We were beginning to feel like ‘old pro’s’ taking the metro in Vienna, as it is so easy to navigate!

We walked back to the SKADI with all of our purchases and while Richard had a nap, I started the blog from yesterday on our SEA day. We wanted to hear the Port Talk at 6pm, as the Port Talks on the River Cruise, unlike the Viking Ocean cruises, are not recorded. There was some movement tomorrow that we needed to be aware of and it was easier to just come back to the SKADI, take a rest, hear the port talk and then leave the ship again for another visit to Vienna at night. Our Back on Board time was 11:50pm in Vienna, so we had lots of time to explore Vienna at night.

What we didn’t have though was lots of time to get back to Peek and Cloppenburg to pick up my long puffer vest, as that store closed at 8pm. Dinner on the SKADI was not scheduled to start until 7pm though, which meant we would have to miss dinner onboard. Oh well!

We also needed to find a grocery store in Vienna to pick up a bottle of Outlander Rum 38% for my very dear friend Bob in Canada. His mother who is from Hungary bakes with this kind of rum which she can only get in Austria. So we were on a mission to find Outlander Rum, which our friend Ule had told us could be found at any grocery store.

We left the SKADI around 6:20pm and started walking in a different direction than our usual route to the metro; following google maps to a grocery store. We had about a mile walk to the grocery store and once inside we found the Outlander rum! We also found a box of dark chocolate with marzipan, so of course I had to buy that too!

After leaving the grocery store we had about another mile walk back to our metro station. We sure were getting our steps in!

We took the metro back to Stephansplatz station and then walked to Peek & Cloppenburg to retrieve the vest I had put on hold. The cashier gave me the receipts to take to the 4th floor of the store where I used the self serve kiosk to apply for my 13 euro rebate on the vest. Now I have to remember to visit the Global Blue office in Amsterdam’s Schipol airport before we board our flight to Heathrow, when we disembark the SKADI. A customs stamp is still required on the store receipts or the tax refund will be negated with a penalty! Hopefully that process won’t take too long at Schipol airport.

The atmosphere downtown Vienna was completely different at night. The lights hanging over the pedestrian shopping areas were so pretty! Carollers were serenading the shoppers with Christmas carols in four part harmony and some beat box vibes too and it truly put us in the Christmas spirit listening to their merry tunes. After visiting the Christmas market one last time we bought a small loaf of Lebkucken to eat on the ship or bring back with us from our trip to share.

We were pondering what to have for dinner which included the choice of 3 different homemade soups in a bread bowl in the market, when Richard said he felt like going to the Chicken shwarma joint that we had seen near our Metro stop back near the SKADI. So we jumped back on the metro at the Stephanplatz station and 4 stops later we were back having a delicious chicken shwarma for dinner!

Viking was having a guest historian from the local university join the ship for a lecture on the history of Austria at 9pm. We did want to hear the lecture, so at 8:42pm we left the schwarma joint and hurried back to the ship. We made the lecture with 2 minutes to spare!

The historian was an excellent story teller and it was fascinating to hear about Austria’s history which we were not familiar with other than to know that the Hapsburg family ruled continously for over 600 years; Marie Antoinette was a Hapsburg who had married the Louis the XVI, King of France and she was beheaded in the French Revolution in October 1793.

We did over 20,000 steps today and we were both feeling pretty exhausted after the lecture so we headed back to our cabin so I could upload the photos into the blog.

Vienna is such a beautiful city and it is hard to do it justice in one day. I’m glad we were able to wander the beautiful city at night and look in awe at the Christmas lights and take in the amazing holiday ambience all over the city. Vienna is definitely a dreamy, romantic city and it deserves a longer stay, but we’ve done that in the past, so seeing the Christmas markets for one short day at this wonderful time of the year, was such a big treat!

And just like that we started sailing for our next very interesting destination at exactly 11:55pm! The sound of the ship moving lulled us to a very long, restful sleep!

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Robert Varga
Robert Varga
Dec 24, 2023

Looks like you’re both having a blast with your pre-Christmas shopping extravaganza. Thanks again for the rum and honoured to have actually made it into the blog!! 😊 Bob

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