Ah, Österreich! But first, the train from Zagreb. Could have taken a bus, but trains have bathrooms! And bar cars! For about the same price as the bus, you can ride the rails like a hobo. Sadly, the train runs only once per day. At 7:27 in the AM.
I, as you may have noticed, tend to err on the side of caution. That’s a nice way of saying “anal-retentive.” So, I add up the walk to the tram stop (7 min), buy a tram ticket (hah, I already have my ticket! Anal, indeed.), waiting for the tram (up to 10 min), the tram ride to the station (5 min), getting to the platform (5 min)… and get… well, let’s round it up to 45 mins. Call it an hour, just to be safe.
As it turned out, I arrived at the station 40 minutes before departure. But, what’s this… nothing on the departures board for 07:27? Oh, the train is departing at 07:05. Crap! I’m late! Well, I’m still early, but I almost could have been late! I mean, the train was already at the platform. Waiting.
I buy a snack, get on the train, and find my seat. In first class, thank you. Sure, it is more expensive (as the lady at the ticket counter said it would be when I asked about the price), but it is also empty! Nice. On Austrian trains (ÖBB), and German or Swiss, first class isn’t a much more luxurious than second class, but it’s twice the price. Why bother? Did I mention it’s empty? And the added price is just a few bucks an hour, so I’ll call it a decision well made.
The train departs. First class? Check. Wide seat? Check. Table? Check. Peace? Well, Quiet? Check. I don’t even have to get out of my seat to clear customs at the border of Slovenia. Didn’t clear customs at the Slovenian-Austrian border, because it was all part of the Schengen (free travel) zone.
Vienna, like everywhere here, has been around for a long time. In fact, there is a small statue in the Naturhistorisches Museum, called the Venus von Willendorf, that is 29,500 years old. So, there you go.
When I arrived, Vienna was in full Christmas Market mode.
So, Merry Christmas, or Froh Weihnacht, from jolly Vienna (aka, Wien, although Google seems to prefer Vienna). Plenty of markets selling hats, gloves, art, food and drink. Lights hung over the main streets. How festive!
Christmas day itself? Not much to say. Seems everyone celebrates quietly with family. Almost every store was closed. The exceptions were non-Austrian: Japanese restaurants, Turkish restaurants, and so forth. One thing that was cool, is that the public transit was all running at full schedule. Got to get to grandma’s house somehow, right?
After Christmas, it was time to transition to New Year’s Eve. Booths were replaced by bandstands, but lights stayed up. Seems, New Year’s Eve is a big deal.
So, I have to digress a bit, before I can continue. Let’s talk about the Pope dying on New Year’s Eve. December 31st, 335. Yep, Pope Silvester died on NYE. That’s why it’s Saint Silvester’s Day. And that’s why New Year’s Eve is all about the “Silvester” in Vienna.
The Silvesterpfad, or the Silvester Trail, winds through Vienna (remember all those Christmas lights they left up), with music stops along the way. Festivities begin at 2pm. Do you like standing in line? Then get a drink. Afterwards, you can queue up for the porta-potty!
Don’t want to fight the crowds? Head for the hills—or any high place, really—to get a good view of the fireworks.
Wish someone a happy New Year by saying “Prosit Neujahr!” Before midnight, you can say “Guten Rutsch!” Rutschen means to slip, slide, skid… so before midnight, just say “I hope you fall and slide in to the new year without getting hurt?” Well, that didn’t translate very nicely. But it works figuratively and, with enough schnapps, literally.