Saturday, 2nd December 2006 – Vienna, Day 2
Saturday got off to a good start (though everyone was a bit sleepy). Breakfast proved to be excellent, with some superb bread and rolls in all shapes, sizes and textures, and hams, cheeses, spreads, jams and things to go with them. There was plenty of fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, yogurts and fruit juices – oh, and muesli if you wanted to take the healthy option. All this was included in the room rate, and scrambled or boiled eggs were also an option. There was absolutely no risk of starvation! Anyway, fortified for the day, we lurched out into the Vienna air, stopping off inside the Stephansdom again for a better look, then meandering down the Kaerntner Strasse, and into Steffl, the department store, because Angela wanted to buy a top to wear on Sunday evening. After that had been achieved we set out to fulfil my intinerary for the day, but still got side-tracked into the Neue Markt area, and then into the Maltese Church, a tiny but quite splendid medieval structure on the Kaerntner Strasse, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and with connections to the Order of the Knights of St. John of Malta.
However, our real ecclesiastical highlight of the day was the Karlskirche, which is apparently the largest Baroque cathedral north of the Alps. It’s an unusual classical style building with pillars based on Trajan’s column, among other things. White, copper-domed, and tipped with gold all over the shop, inside is an amazing painted cupola. These days, you can get a lift to the top to take a close look, so we duly did just that. Those of us who don’t suffer from vertigo flogged the rest of the way up to the very top, which allowed us to study the paintings up close, and also gave us quite a view of the city, stretching out below us. Sadly, the wire mesh over the windows made it impossible to get a photo, which was frustrating, but I made up for it with shots of some of the stranger figures painted on the dome. After that we were starting to feel a little peckish, so we made our way to the Naschmarkt, taking in the outside of the Secession Building before stopping off at Wein & Co, one of my favourite bars/shops. We demolished three tapas-style selections of meats and cheeses (Spanish, Italian and Austrian) and drank sekt, then dessert wines, before we set off to walk through the market. Various people dived into the shops and came out with all sorts of goodies, but I managed to restrain myself. I just drooled a lot… It really is the most fabulous market, full of goodies, with the most amazing displays of food (fruits, vegetables, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Chinese delicatessen foods), and I swear if it’s edible you can buy it there.
After we’d all wandered around identifying tricky vegetables and the like, Irene decided she’d had enough (she’s been ill for some time and is only just getting better) so she retreated to the hotel, while we made our way, via the Museums’ Quarter, and the Scwharzenberg Platz to the Belvedere, which was looking especially lovely as the day started fading towards dusk. We wandered through the gardens, up to the Oberes Belvedere, where we mostly muttered disparaging comments about the Klimts (but quietly – this is Vienna after all), and then as night fell, went back down the slope to the Unteres Belvedere, which houses the medieval collections, including some of my favourite sculptures, a number of heads by Francis Xavier Messerschmidt, all of them pulling the most extraordinary faces (they can be seen about two thirds of the way down the linked page). Anyway, with that, and the amazing gothic art collection behind us, we wended our way back to the hotel the long way round, stopping off for a stroll through the Christkindlmarkt in front of the Rathaus, a mad mock-Gothic confection of a building that has its windows turned into Advent calendar windows at this time of year. The trees in the park are festooned with lights, and there are all sorts of little cottages tucked away, including the Post Office of the Clouds. The kids wandering around all looked absolutely enchanted by what they were seeing, and we wondered, not for the last time, why Christmas in the UK (especially in the shopping centres) just doesn’t have the same sense of wonder – or for that matter the same friendly atmosphere.
Anyway, we tried to get the 1A bus back to the hotel, but were told the sheer volume of pedestrians meant the buses couldn’t get through, so we walked, aiming straight for the Stephansdom’ Tower. A little later we convened again, jumping on the Underground to get to Spittelberg for a look at the Christmas market there, and to go for dinner at the historic Witwe Bolte. The potato soup was terrific, and the venison also… Eventually, gently stuffed full of food, and happy, we wandered back to the hotel and to bed – though not before we drank the Champagne.