** This post is part of an ongoing series detailing our experience cruising down the Danube River visiting Christmas markets in Hungary, Austria, and Germany, aboard AmaWaterways‘ MS AmaSonata in late November 2015 **
We woke up in Vienna and I was raring to go since it is a city that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. There were a couple of tour options available, starting with a walking tour of the historic city center that ended at the Christmas market in front of City Hall. I really enjoyed our tour guide and learning about the Hapsburg dynasty and how it shaped both the politics and the architecture of the city. The city itself reminded me a lot of Paris in terms of architecture and color palette. I’d be curious to see it in summer with all of the trees in bloom as I imagine it’d be even more beautiful.
The Vienna Christmas Market (Rathauspark) is often cited as one of the absolute best markets in all of Europe, but of the ones we visited it fell at the bottom of my list. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were there so soon after the attacks in Paris, or that we were there in the afternoon, but it seemed very commercial to me and lacked the warmth I found at others on our trip. The other thing that really impacted my enjoyment of our time there was the surliness of one of the vendors. I was taking a general picture of the setting when one woman – maybe thinking I was taking a picture of her stall specifically – put a paper plate in front of her face and started talking, very loudly, about “f***ing Americans.” She grumbled that way for several seconds and I felt really bad that maybe I had somehow broken protocol by taking pictures. I checked to see if there were any “no photos” signs up in the vicinity of her booth and there wasn’t. I approached her booth with a smile to look at her wares and she started grumbling again about “f***ing Americans.” Right, I get it. You hate Americans, which, is kind of funny because I’m pretty sure the majority of the people who were in the market at that particular hour were, in fact, Americans there on Christmas market trips who were spending a lot of money.
As all of this was going down I tweeted about this and my friend who is an artist mentioned that maybe the woman was frustrated about the picture taking because people had stolen her designs in the past. I can understand that. I’ve had my photos used in the past without my permission and I found early drafts of my first book on the internet without my permission. Truly, I get how that can feel like a violation and I would have felt horrible if I was somehow contributing to that same sort of situation for her. But all of the baubles in her stall were clearly stamped Made in China. I checked because again I was worried about having somehow done the wrong thing. She was just a really unpleasant, horrible woman who had no business interacting with the public in any way, shape, or form and she really made me dislike the experience of that market.
We had the option to stay in town after that or go back to the boat and by then I was over it. I had no desire to see anything else, so we hopped on the bus and hung out on the boat until it was time to leave for our turn of Schönbrunn Palace, the former imperial summer residence of the Hapsburgs. The 1441-room Baroque palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in Vienna. The interesting thing (to me) about Schönbrunn is that it rivals Versailles in size, but unlike Versailles, a large majority of Schönbrunn is original (Versailles was ransacked and looted during the French Revolution). The walking tour of the Palace was your standard tour, so I don’t know that it’s worth calling anything out here of import, but it was beautiful and I was glad to have signed up for the optional tour. (Although given the price of admission to the Palace it would have been cheaper to do it ourselves by taking public transportation from the city center out to the Palace and back had we been so inclined).
The thing I most liked about our visit there was the layout and visual of the Christmas market there. It was probably the most spacious market we visited and next to the one in Budapest, the least hurried and one of the ones with the most handmade crafts. I saw a couple of booths with items that were obviously made in China, but in many cases it was the artisans themselves running the booths. Feeling very gun shy after our experience at the earlier Christmas market, I made sure not to take any pictures that could be construed as intruding on the artisans and asked for permission in several cases. Where stall owners didn’t want photos, there were signs asking patrons to refrain from taking them. (I only saw two, incidentally.) At one stall I was looking at a beautiful glass ornament that was hanging on a string as part of the display when another patron removed her hand from the one next to it. You know where I’m going with this, right? So, it swings into my hand and hits the ornament I was holding and then proceeds to ping around the rest of the area. The stall owner started grumbling at me to be careful and to not touch anything. Um, I’m sorry? I didn’t do anything, and now I’m leaving your booth and not buying your ornament because you’ve just treated me pretty shabbily. I know she didn’t care about my lost sale because she’ll just make it up on someone else, but I was again taken aback. I checked to see if there were any signs saying “do not touch” and there weren’t. People all around the stall were manhandling her wares. As you can imagine, after that I was pretty down on the whole experience and while we looked for another ornament to buy, I couldn’t make myself really care so we left without having purchased anything but some gluwhein.
For this leg of the trip we had the option of going back to the boat and eating an early dinner and then heading out for a concert at a private palace in the city. I had been really tempted to do so, and after everyone left and we were sitting in the lounge I wondered if we had made a mistake in not going. We ended up retiring for the night before that group came back, but the next morning I was happy to hear that we’d made the right decision. Apparently the room the concert took place in was sweltering, the seats were unbearably uncomfortable, and another tour was there with some pretty rude people who talked through the majority of the concert.
As you can probably tell from the tone of this post, I went in to Vienna wanting to like it, anticipating it being one of my favorite stops during the cruise. Alas, it was my least favorite stop and outside of our two Viennese tour guides, I really didn’t like the people of Vienna at all. I know it’s not fair to judge a whole capital city’s worth of residents by two surly women, but as the face of that city’s biggest international event, I have no choice but to consider how my interactions with them went. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be back to Vienna.