There is no denying it. We simply weren’t prepared for Vienna. Not known for being as charming as Salzburg, Vienna isn’t usually the Austrian city people fall in love with. It doesn’t possess the whimsical style of Paris or the mythology and romanticism of Ancient Rome. This can cause Vienna to be overlooked.
The irony of that is striking. How could a city so impossibly filled with grandeur be overlooked! Because Vienna is a monster, a behemoth, royalty on steroids. It really is, and the glistening, white marble buildings are so tremendous you often feel like a minature who has been dropped back in time, engulfed by a land of giant palaces and museums. Vienna inspires you with its opulence and reminds you of your infintesimal place in the universe all at once. It’s wonderfully overwhelming.
New Years in Vienna is special. Home to the largest outdoor ballroom in the world, Graben Street’s New Year’s eve begins promptly at 2 PM. Our New Year’s began at 11 AM, when we went to the Imperial Palace to watch the iconic Lipizzaner horses kick off our celebration at the Spanish Riding School. Here in Vienna, even the horses have developed an affinity for classical music, and the graceful movements of the Lipizzaners are testament to that. The venue is glorious, and this was an inspiring way to kick off the party. From there, we moved towards Graben Street by way of the largest Hot Chocolate known to humankind. On Graben St., the festivities were already well underway. Here statues line the street below glittering lights in the form of chandeliers. Music fills the air, and free lessons in the Viennese Waltz are given to anyone preparing for Blue Danube. Karen and I joined in and did our best to waltz toward 2017, while our children did their best to pretend they didn’t know us. Karen’s a ballerina and I am an 18 wheeler on the dance floor, but in Vienna, the ball is for everyone.
After what already seemed like a full day, we returned to our flat in the mid-afternoon. Now that we are fully immersed in our Spanish lifestyle, it seemed important to stick with our daily siesta in an effort to be ready to make it to 2017. After re-charging, we headed back to Graben Street around 8 PM. By this time, the streets were flooded with people, and we merely joined in. Karen and I drank champagne (which was available everywhere in a city that has never heard of the expression open container). And the boys got their first real experience at a New Year’s party. By all accounts, they liked what they saw regarding their options. After all, what can beat “street meat” (as Cassius likes to say in homage to Brooklyn 99), and so they consumed some burgers whose massive nature mirrored that of the city. We ate as well, while enjoying the music and people who are incredibly well-mannered for half a million strong.
By the end of the evening, we had made it down the New Year’s trail and heard a concert in every plaza to find oursleves at the foot of City Hall. As Cassius fainted weariness, we sought a little space from the masses as fireworks exploded in every direction to ring in the New Year. Even when we piled into the taxi, the beautiful music of Strauss poured through the radio. Pretty glorious.
Over our short time in Vienna, we saw so much–the Imperial Palace, Shonbron Palace, Belvedere Palace, Opera House, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Mozart House, the Zoo (with 2 baby pandas), Lipizzaners, and more. And yet, Vienna left us wishing we could have seen more. It is quite a feast for the senses.
We concluded our time in Vienna spending a day with the Vismaras, a wonderful Viennese family we met last fall when we were in Marbella for Karen’s birthday. We had planned to have dinner at their home, but unfortunately, their daughter wasn’t feeling well, so Fabrizio and his son Luca met us in the city to take in the Klimt collection and go out for an authentic Viennese dinner in town. Quite, simply, they are a lovely, gracious family, and the boys bonded famously with Luca over Fifa and Clash Royale while Fabrizio talked with Karen and I while giving us a sense of Vienna and its history. We dined at a great restaurent and became big fans of Wienerscnitzel. Luca even convinced Cassius to try it by calling it a “giant chicken nugget!” Afterwards, they took us to taste their favorite Vienna cake, but alas, it was closed. However, Fabrizio insisted that he drive us to the airport the next morning, and he arrived with the cake in the back seat. It was every bit as good as advertised.
As we boarded our plane for Madrid, it was easy to feel that Vienna was special. From the Habsburgs to the Vismaras, Vienna was grand and gracious all at once. It was royal and real, refined and relaxed, and fabulous and friendly. These combinations are unlikley, but Vienna is that rare city that makes them look easy.