CHRISTMAS IN VIENNA – PART FIVE

It’s the final day of our break in Vienna, with our flight at mid-afternoon. Plenty of time therefore for a spot of last-minute exploring.

We set off for one of the few remaining landmarks yet to be ticked off our to-do list – The Belvedere Palace. It’s a glorious Sunday morning, chilly of course, but the sun is beating down, soaking the city in shimmering light.

And it provided the perfect shadow-filled backdrop to enjoy The Belvedere at its very best. Sitting on the south-eastern edge of the city, the palace is set in a Baroque park landscape and the building itself consists of two palaces. It was built during a time when Vienna was the Imperial Capital and home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty.

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The Belvedere Palace. Photo: Scott Hunt

It is also now home to another of Vienna’s Christmas markets. We arrive by taxi and it’s a swift zip through the city’s streets, which are largely deserted due to the lack of Sunday activity. We are therefore too early for the market, and the stalls all still have their shutters down.

No matter, time to wander the grounds. Down the gravel paths of the garden at the Belvedere provides a super view back across the rooftops of the city. The landscaped gardens in the foreground make for a sensational shot in the beautiful sunlight.

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The gardens of the palace looking out to the city. Photo: Scott Hunt

On your way down the walkways, you pass a number of carved sculptures, all of which are immaculately kept white stone. It soon becomes apparent that these paths are a popular thoroughfare for joggers, a whole stream of whom pass by at regular intervals during our brief stay at the palace. No wonder, it’s hard to imagine too many more idyllic spots for a morning run.

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One of the many carved sculptures in the gardens. Photo: Scott Hunt

We reach the magnificent gates at the foot of the garden, guarding the entrance to the grounds. Two carved lions stand atop the gates, holding a gold crown and shield. Back up the garden paths and the full beauty of the palace and its gardens, bathed in sunlight, stretches out in front of us.

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The ornate gates that lead to the palace. Photo: Scott Hunt

The Belvedere Palace, made of an off-white stone with a green roof, is a wondrous sight. The architecture of the building is quite superb and as the sun streams in from behind, it makes for an ideal photography opportunity.

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The Belvedere Palace and it’s lake in the grounds. Photo: Scott Hunt

It’s now time for the stall-holders to busy themselves as the market opens. It’s a small affair, much smaller than many of the others we’ve visited during our stay, but it possesses a certain charm nonetheless. Similar to the other markets, there are a range of crafts available, as well as some confectionary choices and some hot food and drink. We pick up a few last-minute souvenirs and decorations before deciding to head back to the heart of the city.

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The market stalls at The Belvedere. Photo: Scott Hunt

We still have a couple of hours before our airport transfer is booked, and so we pay another visit to Maria-Thereisen-Platz to see what it’s like in the morning sun.

And we weren’t disappointed. The Natural History and Art museums looked a picture bathed in the light. The market was open but largely deserted, giving us the opportunity for a final look around.

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The Natural History Museum bathes in the sunshine. Photo: Scott Hunt

The Museums Quarter was also quiet and we decided to wander into the back-streets in search of a coffee. We find a coffee bar that was packed to the rafters – so that’s where everyone was!

Sadly, inevitably, the time has come to return to the hotel, pack up our bags and head for the airport.

Vienna airport is an interesting experience. It’s not large by any means, but there are a few shops and a large supermarket selling typical Viennese food and snacks to take home. There is of course the mandatory duty free section.

What I found odd, in this modern climate of security, is that you bought all of your shopping, chocolate, alcohol etc. before going through the airport security scanners. Usually those shops are after you’ve handed over your luggage.

But the airport is clean, easy to navigate and the staff were very efficient. And so it was time to say goodbye to Vienna.

It has been one of the most fantastic trips I’ve ever been on. Just three and a half days spent in Vienna was enough to make me fall in love with the place.

It’s a city of tradition, of class, of history. It’s not what you consider a modern city, with high-rise buildings, sleek business districts and skyscrapers.

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Vienna has remembered and celebrates its history. Photo: Scott Hunt

No, Vienna has maintained its past. Everywhere you turn you can feel the history of the city, from the architecture that jumps out at you at every turn, to the nods to history in the culture of the city and the people.

There is no shortage of things to do in Vienna. We’ve crammed a remarkable amount into our short stay. And every single thing has been enjoyable and worthwhile.

And the markets, the main reason for our visit, were every bit as incredible as I imagined they would be and then some. There is a buzz and an excitement when the light fades and the markets light up that is impossible to capture in words. It just feels magical.

And that is the word I would use to describe Vienna. Magical.

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