Category Archives: Vienna at Christmas

Christmas Markets in Europe


This photo is of skaters at one of the great Christmas markets, the one that takes up the main streets of Munich. As I sadly and angrily think of the carnage this week at the market in Berlin, I thought I’d post some photos of markets I’ve loved over the years–not that I ever buy much.  The point is for people to be together, enjoying the season and laughing at ice and snow.


Vienna has some of the most beautiful markets, each with its own unique flavor. The one at the Rathaus–the City Hall–is the largest and has the most festive lights.  For weeks before Christmas, it’s packed day and night with happy people strolling, eating and drinking.


Inside the august halls of the Rathaus, the Christkindl angel speaks with thrilled little children. In Austria and Germany, the angel seems to serve somewhat the same function as a visit to Santa in the United States.  But it has not become a big photo op–it’s just a chance visit, all the more thrilling because it can’t really be planned.

Children sign up for gift workshops in the Rathaus, making presents for their loved ones.  No hovering adults are allowed.  I would love to receive a lopsided gingerbread man from the baking workshop.


My favorite Vienna market is the one in the plaza of the historic Karlskirche.

The Karlskirche market is especially kid-oriented.  There’s a big straw play area with animals ready for the bolder kids to pet.


One of the most popular activities at Karlskirche is to lead a gentle llama around on a leash.  As soon as I find the photo, I’ll post it! Meanwhile, I’ll dream of being in Austria or Germany again at a Christmas market–hopefully in snow.

I haven’t posted in awhile because on my last trip I caught a nasty virus which took awhile to overcome.  Am I discouraged about traveling? Not a chance.  I’ll be on a plane again as soon as I can. And I’ll be praying for world peace and harmony.

Join me next time for more explorations in European art, history and culture!



Why I Love Vienna in Winter


Christmas trees, even commercial ones, are decorated with simplicity. They all look like they were decorated by a cheerful child with very good taste.



The moon rises over Baroque buildings, coexisting with all that is hip and modern.


The Kunsthistorisches Museum is packed with masterpieces.


Just outside the doors of the museum, there’s a Christmas market.  A grand statue of Empress Maria Theresa presides over the square. She  did more than almost anyone else to consolidate and increase the wealth and power of the Habsburgs, who built a huge part of the Vienna we see today. Maria Theresa worked hard, but she always enjoyed a good party. I hope she’s enjoying the holiday season!



A Kinder, Gentler Church: Strasbourg Cathedral


Among the many wonders of Strasbourg Cathedral is the Tower of Angels.  The breathtakingly beautiful column reaches from the cathedral floor all the way to the vaulted Gothic ceiling.  It was sculpted between 1225 and 1230, early in the 400-year span of time it took to build the cathedral. The subject of the column is really the Last Judgment, but it has a startling twist on the usually-dire subject.


The four Evangelists appear on the lowest level, with angels above them, then the dead rising, then finally Christ.  My criticism of the column as a teaching tool for the faithful is that it’s hard to see the pinnacle, the figure of Christ, and get the point. But helpful placards provide close-ups and explain, in several languages, what is going on.


The Christ figure at the top is not sitting in splendor on a grand throne.  He is not giving anyone a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Instead, this Christ bestows a gentle welcoming smile on everyone. This is a humble figure, a figure of loving understanding and compassion for the always-messy human condition.

I thought of the tower and its message this morning as I read the bold new statement by Pope Francis concerning the future of the Catholic Church.  Full disclosure:  I am not now and never have been a Catholic.  I visit cathedrals and churches for their art, traditions and history. Wherever I’m living, I attend whatever Protestant church seems the most socially active, inclusive and forward-thinking. But like many non-Catholics, I’m impressed by the current Pope. (Actually, he had me as soon as he decided to wear regular shoes instead of red Papal slippers.  Then when he chose to live among regular priests instead of in the much-fancier Papal Apartments, I decided he was worth a listen anytime).

In his latest statement, cited in the article below, the Pope said, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.”  He has consistently shaken things up by insisting that the church should boldly reach out into the world with love,  compassion and creativity.  His vision is that the church is a place of refuge for all, not a place of harsh judgment. This is not a new idea, of course.  But it’s one that can certainly use a new champion.


In September, I found the French city of Strasbourg so lovely that I’m planning a side trip there, on my way home from Vienna in December. Strasbourg is just two miles across the border between Germany and France.   I’ve scheduled a day and a night there. I’ll wander through the Christmas markets, which have been held at the base of the cathedral since medieval times. And I’ll spend time contemplating the season inside this most warm and welcoming of cathedrals.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!

Winter as a Child, Again

It is just over a year since I started my blog.  I decided to revisit my very first post, written when I was getting ready to travel to Vienna for the Christmas markets, the concerts and the museums–and of course the apple strudel.  Now I’m lucky enough to be leaving again for Vienna, one of my very favorite places.  Here’s to discovering new places and revisiting old ones!  A year ago, I wrote:

Travel is not just about being there.  Travel is about memory and anticipation.  As I pack my one small suitcase for Vienna in November, I am full of memories of past trips and high hopes for this one.

Lady Caroline Scott as Winter; image from Commons Wikimedia
Lady Caroline Scott as Winter; image from Commons Wikimedia

Last year, the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum had a special exhibit:  “Winter Tales.”  Paintings, sculpture and artifacts from all over the world were gathered in a glorious celebration of winter.  My very favorite piece was this portrait of a child with a fur-and-velvet muff and a scruffy little dog impatient for her to play:  “Lady Caroline Scott as Winter,” by Sir Joshua Reynolds.  Winter is so often personified as Death, or as a creaky old man.  Here, though, winter is a child full of hope and wonder.  She gazes out at us from the barren winter grounds of her British home, her face as fresh as the day she was painted in 1776 at the age of two or three.

This is not a glamorous society portrait.  It is only about 57 x 45 inches (just the right size to place over my fireplace, if I could afford such a thing!)  I can imagine the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, age 51 at the time, encountering Lady Caroline in the bare winter grounds of her home.  Anyone would be captivated by her rosy-cheeked face and direct gaze.  I can see Sir Joshua dashing off a sketch and finishing the portrait back in his studio.  It would have made a nice break from painting his more demanding adult subjects, who proudly posed with the emblems of their wealth and power:  swords, globes, weighty books, jewels and fine silks.

The British Peerage tells us that Lady Caroline was the daughter of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. She married the 6th Marquess of Queensberry (slightly lower in rank than a Duke, but who’s keeping score?) She had 6 surviving children and lived to the age of 80.  So she was an exact contemporary of Jane Austen, although Jane died at age 41.  I’d like to think Lady Caroline read Jane’s books.

Lady Caroline was a privileged child.  As she grew up, no doubt she learned that many children were cold and dirty and hungry.  Her rank would come with some responsibilities to take care of the less fortunate.  She lived through the American Revolution, the Terror in France, and the Napoleonic Wars.  And we all know that even for the most privileged, life holds heartbreak and disappointment.  But on this wintry day, all that is in the future.  In this perfect moment, Lady Carolin stands on her sturdy little legs, happy to be walking about in the wide world.

Vienna is an enchanting city in any season, but my favorite time there is winter.  The Christmas season begins in late November, an ideal time for crowd-free travel.  I do not have a fur muff or a scruffy little dog, but I am setting off for Vienna with all the anticipation of a child at Christmas.

Snow and Strudel

One of the great pleasures of Austria is strudel, both sweet and savory.  A very popular restaurant in Old Town Innsbruck is ALL, strudel, all the time:  the Strudel-Cafe Kroll.  It is not always easy to find vegetarian meals in Austria, so we jumped at the chance to have spinach and cheese strudel for lunch in a charming small cafe.

Of course the classic apple strudel is served everywhere in Austria, with a choice of either warm vanilla sauce or or a small mountain of whipped cream–or both.  The truly decadent can always add a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

What about snow? The holiday season in Vienna starts toward the end of November, when the Christmas markets open, sparkling lights go up all over the city, and beautiful music fills the churches and concert halls.  In the past, we’ve been lucky enough to wake up to a city frosted with snow.

This year? We shall see.  We may not be lucky enough to have snow, but for sure there will be strudel.