To our very great surprise, Vienna doesn’t totally shut down during the Christmas holidays. So, even though it was Christmas Eve we were still able to get in some sightseeing. Our first stop of the day was Stephansdom, or St. Steven’s Cathedral.
According to their website, Stephansdom is the number one attraction in the city and attracts just under 3 million people every year. It is clearly the star church in the city and is something that can be seen from most places within central Vienna. I really wanted to take an English tour of the church, since after a certain point European churches all tend to blur together, but the only English tour the church offered was an English audioguide that only addressed the inside of the church. My dad and I decided to pass on this in favor of buying all inclusive tickets. These tickets gave us access to the South Tower, North Tower, church, catacombs, and treasury (which was closed for the day).
We quickly wandered through the main cathedral before heading to the North Tower. The thing that struck me the most about the interior was the almost complete lack of stain glass windows. My initial guess was that the church had been bombed. Sure enough, we spotted some pictures of the church and the work that had to be done on it after World War II. We could see that the roof had completely collapsed so it was hardly a surprise that the windows hadn’t lasted either.
Afterwards, we made our way to the North Tower. Thankfully the tower had an elevator that we could ride up. Once at the top it provided us with a truly wonderful view of Vienna and the church’s unique roof.
After that we made our way down to the catacombs. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures there so you’ll have to either use Google or your imagination. The catacombs contain some Hapsburg remains and those of senior clergy and cardinals, but they weren’t solely reserved for the upper class. Mass burials occurred in the catacombs, especially when it came to burying victims of the Black Death, and you can still see the bones in the pits that they used for these burials. Additionally, prisoners were once forced to clean and stack some of the bones in the catacombs so there are literally hundreds of bones on display underneath the church.
Once we had finished there, we made our way to the South Tower. You can’t actually get to the very top of the South Tower, but you can get to about the halfway point (67 meters up). Once you climb the requisite 343 steps you get an even better view of Vienna than at the North Tower. Because there are so many steps however they do tell you that you shouldn’t drink beforehand. So no glühwein (mulled wine) for us.
When we finished, we stopped for coffee and lunch at the famous café Demel and then crossed the city to go to the Prater Ferris Wheel. Now for those of you who are:
- From my parent’s generation
- Into old movies
- Watched post-World War II movies for class
you may recognize the ferris wheel from The Third Man. I of course recognized the ferris wheel from James Bond but sooner or later hazy memories from the class “The European Postwar: Literature, Film, Politics” reminded me that I had also watched The Third Man my senior year in college. Clearly I considered pursuing all things James Bond related (allegedly for my senior thesis) more interesting that paying attention to my postwar class. Oh well.
Because we went to the ferris wheel on Christmas Eve, the amusement park that houses it was pretty deserted (in fact it was very similar to the ferris wheel scene in the Third Man), but that also meant that the lines were short. Without too much of a delay my Dad and I were able to get on board and enjoy the view from the top.
The ferris wheel only takes about 20 minutes so before we knew it we were back on the ground. While things had been open towards the beginning of the day, things started closing soon after we got off the ferris wheel. Our attempts to go to the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien and the Hofburg Palace were in vain so we ended up settling with the Christmas market in the Museum Quarter and drinking Christmas punch. I decided to try something that roughly translated to “Mozart’s punch,” and I have to say that if Mozart was drinking that I have no idea how he managed to get anything done since it had a very generous amount of alcohol poured in.
Everything more or less shut down at 3 pm, so after that my Dad and I just relaxed around the hotel until our Christmas dinner reservations. Thanks to a random recommendation from Travel and Leisure we decided to try our luck at a restaurant called At Eight. Even though the restaurant started out pretty sparsely populated, it filled up towards 7 pm and for good reason. The food was some of the best that I’ve ever had. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve at all.