Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Three: Belvedere

All right, I might be biased. After all it’s right around the corner from my place. Still, in my opinion the ambience of this market is the most romantic in all Vienna, especially after dark. So what? Sue me!

Situated in front of (well, actually behind) Schloss Belvedere, the magnificent baroque palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy – itself well worth a visit –, this is, of course, one of the tourist hot spots of the Viennese winter. You might expect a veritable kitschfest as a result. However, that is not the case at all.

What you get instead is a medium-sized Christmas village with both hot beverages and artisans well represented. There is a carousel and a little train for children. Some of the vendors try to take up the baroque theme and sell tree decorations in that style. Of course, Christmas trees weren’t widespread until much later, so if you are a stickler for historical accuracy, you will find that appalling. On the other hand, the merchandise is quite beautiful. There is one booth with pretty embroidery, doilies, tablecloths and the like, and another one with nice woodcarvings. Almost the only vendor that doesn’t quite fit in is one selling Murano glass and Venetian masks. Yet that is beautiful, too, and I am in a forgiving mood tonight.

The food is quite good, as well, and again they are trying to stay true to the location by offering regional specialities from Savoy, especially several baked dishes with lots of cheese. Savoyard cuisine seems to be a lot like its Swiss cousin. There’s also specialities from Styria and the Tyrol, and, of course, lots of gingerbread and other sweets.

A nice touch on the way out, although it’s easy to miss in the dark, is that it is lined with several Christmas trees, each of which has been decorated by a different primary school.

Size: some 40 booths
Prices: average, hot beverages start at €3.20
Kitsch: surprisingly low
Special offer: the baroque palace, Savoyard specialities

Vienna Christmas Markets, Part Two: Am Hof and Freyung

Am Hof

Located closest to the very centre of Vienna, the square Am Hof has a rich history. It has got its name because the Babenberg dukes had their court here during the high middle ages. The square is still surrounded by magnificent buildings, although in one of the most prominent ones, the former Bank Austria headquarters, there has recently been a fire which left the square somewhat scarred.

The market is presented by a society of artists and artisans who also organise several markets throughout the year. Some of the exhibitors change over time, so there is always something new, even if you visit several times a year.

They strive for high quality, and most of the time they are quite successful. You can find lots of beautiful pottery, jewellery, and also some traditional Austrian artwork here.

There is definitely less of the usual kitsch than elsewhere. Also, the focus is clearly on the art, as opposed to food and drink, although there is still plenty of that, too.

High quality and a prime location result in premium prices, of course. No way around that.

Size: some 30 booths
Prices: high, hot beverages start at €3.50
Kitsch: low
Special offer: art


Right next to Am Hof, between beautiful Palais Ferstl and the benedictine monastery called Schottenstift, there is the triangular square called Freyung with its Alt-Wiener Christkindlmarkt or Old Vienna Christmas market.

This is one of the smaller, and also quieter, Christmas markets in town, which I, for one, like a lot. It’s also a favourite among my friends.

As the name suggests, they are trying to focus on a traditional Viennese Christmas: wooden toys, pottery, tree decorations, and sweets, sweets, sweets (mostly gingerbread). There’s also a vendor selling baskets, another one for bread, ham, and cheese, as well as one for Christmas cards. You get the idea. Traditional Austrian tree decorations are not so much glass balls as stars made of straw, apples, gingerbread, and nuts, by the way.

On the opposite side, in front of Palais Ferstl, there is also a charity Christmas market, for people who need to quench their conscience as well as their thirst.

Size: some 20 booths
Prices: high, hot beverages start at €3.50
Kitsch: low
Special offer: tradition

It’s the holiday season. Halloween is over; outside my window I can see the first snow flakes of the year dancing in the wind, and since we in Europe don’t celebrate the “conquest and genocide of Native Americans by European colonists”, it’s time to get into the Christmas spirit. In Vienna, as in many other towns and cities, this means it’s time for various Chrismas markets and villages to open.

There are some 200 of those in the city. Most of them, typically charity events, are only open for a weekend or two and very small. A few are larger and open daily at least until Christmas, some even until after New Year’s.

One of those is located in one of the cities larger parks, the Türkenschanzpark. Situated on one of the hills that form the western border of Vienna in the middle of a rather posh residential area, it is usually filled with young families, old women, and their dogs. The christmas village has a rather good reputation, which is why we went there, although it’s quite far away from anywhere I would usually go in Vienna.

At first, we had a hard time finding it. We came into the extensive park at the other end. Lovely as it might be in daylight, at night the area is positively creepy.

When we finally found the market, the first impression was that it was disappointingly small, only 20 booths or so. In the dark it’s also hard for the park itself to work its charm. To be fair, just like the park, the market caters primarily to young families. There is a carousel and a playground nearby.

On the upside, it was pleasantly devoid of kitsch, plastic toys and the like. Instead, you found delicious waffles, nice traditional wooden toys and Christmas decorations, regional goods, and of course, hot punch and spiced wine. All in all a nice, familiar affair, worth a visit if you’re in the area anyway.

Size: some 20 booths
Prices: low, hot beverages start at €3.–
Kitsch: low to medium
Special offer: very good for children

Rehab Alland, Day Twenty-One: Pros and Cons

I’m going home in the morning.

*throws playing cards during the appropriate line*

Here’s my personal list of Alland pros and cons. Your mileage may vary.

pro: Lost a lot of weight (more than 10 kilos).
con: BIG con. Crash diet. No idea how this is supposed to help finding a sustainable lifestyle.
pro: Lots of exercise.
con: Very few different kinds of exercise. I would have preferred a wider range of options so that I could find something I would like to continue at home.
con: For my joints, some of the therapies were actually painful, especially underwater gymnastics.
pro: Beautiful house and environs.
pro: With a few notable exceptions, the staff was friendly and competent.
con: Most of the lectures were on a very basic level and thus not very educational.
con: My personal situation doesn’t fit the pattern very well. Some of my problems just weren’t addressed.
con: Days start obscenely early. Some mornings you’re supposed to be present at 6.00 AM.
pro: You’re supposed to participate, but you’re not locked up. You can leave the premises and skip meals on Saturdays and Sundays, provided you haven’t got therapies.
con: You only get your timetable for the day the night before, which makes it very had to plan visits.
pro: Nice rooms, provided you’re not in a double. Most rooms share a bathroom and lavatory with one neighbour.
con: Really bad mobile phone signal.
con: The quality of the food left a lot to be desired.

Would/Will I come again? Probably not.

Does that mean I advise you to stay away if your doctor wants to send you here? Absolutely not. Just be prepared, give it a thought beforehand what you expect and what you need. Try to maintain an attitude of personal responsibility for your well-being. Have everything explained to you in great detail and take part in all the decisions. After all, you’re the person that knows best.

Rehab Alland, Day Nineteen: The House

The facility I’m at has a rich history. It was built in the 1870s as a hospital for sufferers of tuberculosis and other diseases of the lung. After World War II it was requisitioned as quarters for the Red Army. In the 1980s, when tuberculosis wasn’t that big a problem any longer, it was established as a centre for metabolic disorders, especially diabetes.

The history has left its marks. Over time, several wings had been built and subsequently demolished. Currently, the house consists of two wings that are connected on the lower level. The central wing contains a reception area, a large common room and, most importantly, the dining hall. There are other common rooms scattered all round the house. Most of them offer some kind of entertainment, like a pool and air hockey table, a Wii, a darts machine, or a foosball table. There’s also a small café, although I haven’t been in there.

I really like what they’ve done with the place. 😀 It’s gorgeous. It’s also rather large and hard to find your way around. Some people might call it a labyrinth. There are patients here who, after almost three weeks, still have problems knowing where they are and where they need to go. It’s probably an inevitable consequence of the many reconstructions the place has undergone, but it can also be a real nuisance at times. Kafka would have loved it.

Another thing people find troublesome is that due to the rather remote location, it’s really difficult to get a signal on your mobile. I’m very lucky in that respect, as my room looks out towards the closest phone tower. That way I’m getting a tolerably good signal in my room as long as I stay close to the window. Not everyone is as lucky, though.

The medical facilities have been overhauled and greatly extended only last year. As a result, you can get a wide variety of therapies, both active, like ergometer training, and passive, like massages or hay compresses. They also have a pool for physical therapy that’s large enough for swimming, and that’s open several times a week at night.

The extensive grounds are very well kept and give you lots of opportunities for long walks. If that’s not enough for you you can venture out into the Vienna Woods, which are gorgeous at this time of year.
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Rehab Alland, Day Seventeen: The Woods

Vienna Woods
Vienna Woods

The town of Alland is located in the middle of the Wienerwald, or Vienna Woods. It’s a forested area some 45 kilometres long and 25 kilometres wide to the south to west of Vienna. Part of it is actually inside city limits.

The area isn’t exactly mountain territory, although technically it is the start, or end, however you see it, of the main chain of the Alps. The highest hilltops are no higher than 900 metres and the whole area has been saved from planned deforestation in the 19th century, so it’s still heavily forested. A very small part is even said to still be primeval, although I’m not sure that is true.

Alland doesn’t have any hot springs or peat or whatever highlight you might find in spa towns. Instead, their therapy is based on long walks through the woods. If you want to lose weight, that happens to be exactly what the doctor prescribed. In my case, literally.

To be honest, hiking will never become my favourite pastime; although I must say I find it a lot more enjoyable than when I was forced to do it occasionally while still in school. Maybe it’s because here I can set my own speed and choose where I’m going. I’m not slacking off when it comes to steep or otherwise difficult terrain, either.

Anyway, I took my camera on most outings and made good use of it. Hope you like the pictures. My apologies if I’ve used one or the other before in a post.

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Rehab Alland, Day Fifteen: November

Apparently people have been reading my blog, although I get very few comments.

I’ve been very busy the last couple day, mostly hiking through the woods. I’m planning a longer post about the Vienna woods, which are gorgeous this time of year, so this time I’m just including a few pictures I took, trying to catch the foggy November weather.
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Oh, and incidentally, only one more week to go. Yay.