This was my first Christmas away from friends and family. I decided to spend it in the charming city of Vienna, Austria. I stayed at a hostel called Believe-It-Or-Not that was ran by a young hostess named Lily from South Africa who was warm and welcoming. This was the first hostel I’ve ever stayed in that felt homey instead of like a college dorm. The hostel can only hold 12 people total and only has two large bedrooms. It may sound like it is a bit of tight squeeze, but actually brought everyone who stayed in the hostel together. Never before had I experience such unity with other people in the hostel.
Our Hostel Christmas family was represented by guests from Brazil, England, Australia, Canada (Quebec), India, Thailand, Argentina, and America. We all came into the hostel as lone travelers (except for the couple from Quebec) who needed a place to stay for the holidays. Most of us chose Vienna for a similar reason – it is notorious for their Christmas markets, which I made sure to visit on my first night.
There were several different Christmas markets located all over Vienna, but the one I spent the most time in was the one in front of the parliament building. It had the most lights, decorations, and a small children’s Christmas training circling the markets. There were many different crafty items for sale. I was tempted to buy an owl purse I found as well as a tiny wooden stump with cute, tiny drawers, but I passed both up and bought a tea-light candle holder with a village winter scene etched in the ceramic. To be quite frank, the real attraction for me in the Christmas markets were all the food, drinks, and sweets they sold. There was a stand that sold the biggest baked potato I’d ever seen. My mouth watered at the sight; I purchased one and gobbled it up. I didn’t stop there. Another specialty in the market that I saw everyone buy was deep-fried flat-bread with garlic. It sounds weird, but it was very good. I also purchased as Nutella crepe, which made me beyond stuffed. I finally had to walk off all the food and explore the city.
Vienna has beautiful architecture and is filled with so much history. On my first day, I visited the St. Stephan Cathedral. I went on a tour of the catacombs underneath the city that were filled with graves, bones, and urns. The important church officials were kept in a room of crypts, which included a bishop from Vienna who died about eleven years ago. Then there were the rooms where the corpse of the commoners were tossed in a giant pile, and there was another where the bones were piled up like logs. It was fascinating, but creepy to see that these bones were real and several hundred years old.
On a more positive note, I did get to climb to the top of one of the towers of the cathedral and see a breathtaking view of Vienna. The climb, however, was a workout. I was out of breath after climbing all 343 steps, but the view was worth it. I was just on time to see Vienna at sunset.
On December 24 and 25, several places in Vienna were closed. On Christmas Eve, there were a few museums that were kept open. One of the places was the House of Music. My fellow travelers from Brazil and Argentina also went to the museum. We learned about the science of sound as well as the history of various composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, and other great musicians of history. It was fascinating. Another place that was neat was Mozart’s house. It was not a spectacular building, but we were in awe that we were standing in the same rooms that he used to dwell in and compose some of his great masterpieces. And then the cathedral nearby was the same cathedral he and his wife married in.
When it was night on Christmas Eve, about seven of us from the hostel found an Indian restaurant that was still open for the holidays. We were very glad to find a place to eat, but we were mostly happy to find a place to have a nice Christmas dinner. We spent the next couple of hours chatting and spending time with each other, reminding us that we are not alone for the holidays.
Christmas day was a relaxing day with a morning filled with chatting and card games. In the afternoon, a group of us went to see the palace, Belvedere Castle, took pictures of it as well as explore the museum inside (since it was one of the few museums open on Christmas day).
I left Vienna the next evening on the 26th. During the last few hours of my time in Vienna, it started to snow. My Brazilian friend, who had never seen snow in his life, quickly put on his coat and dashed outside. I followed him and watched him look up at the sky in awe. Seconds later he opened his mouth and tried to catch a few snowflakes. For the next several minutes, he kept on saying, “It’s snowing! It’s actually snowing!”
The snow picked up as I made my way to the bus that would take me to Berlin. All this time I kept on thinking how my new Brazilian friend would love these huge fluffy flakes and I was sad I would not be there to see all the stages of his snowy delight. However, the next day he sent me pictures on Facebook playing in the snow the next day, making his first snow ball and then eating it. He said it tasted so good.