Today we arrived in Vienna for a walking city tour and a visit to the Christmas market in front of the Rathaus in the city center. It was freezing! The wind chill made the temps seem much colder so we were appreciative of the vouchers the ship gave us for complimentary Gluhwein in the market. We made a quick circuit of the market and then popped into a nearby cafe to warm up with coffee before circling back thru the market one more time in search of treasures.
After lunch back at the ship, we ventured back out again, this time headed to Shonbrunn Palace. Though I'm not a huge fan of touring ornately furnished buildings of opulence spun out of control, today I welcomed anything that would get us out of the cold for a bit. Our guide was lovely! She asked us to step back in time and imagine Vienna in the late 1700s when Shonbrunn was constructed, complete with details such as the smells and the origin of the 'flea markets' where wealthy noblewomen came to have monkeys groom the fleas and lice out of their hair! I found the reality of the times so much more intriguing than finding out about what each piece of furniture was made of and how much it was worth (which is what I remembered of my experience in Shonbrunn 20 years ago!).
After touring the palace, we stepped back out into the cold to explore the Christmas market in front of the palace. This one was a bit sweeter than the Rathaus market with more handmade goods and a more personal feel. Despite the cold, we enjoyed the sweet stands, beautiful lights and delicious smells of roasting nuts, potatoes and gluh wein mingling together. Still, we were thankful to head to the bus after an hour and thaw our frozen hands.
Our next stop was the Christmas market at Karlsplatz in front of the stunning St. Charles Cathedral. This definitely seemed to be the spot where the locals hung out. About half the booths offered food or drinks and locals were chattering happily, mashed together under small tents drinking Gluhwein and smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, having had our fill of Gluhwein and being nonsmokers, we found it challenging to fill an hour here due to the exceptionally biting cold. Since there is nowhere for buses to park at Karlsplatz, the bus had dropped us off and had to circle back at pick up time so we couldn't seek shelter there. We finally broke down and bought some hot drinks, simply as an excuse to get out of the wind a bit.
We were relieved when our hour was up and we met up with the smiling face of our guide and the rest of our group. We chatted for a bit waiting for the bus until our guide got a call that our bus was stuck in a huge protest rally that had closed all the major streets in and around the market. Our clever guide suggested that we make our way a couple of blocks down to the concert hall to take shelter as we waited. There we could use the facilities and admire some of the smartly dressed locals that arrived for this evening's concert.
After waiting for quite some time, our guide once again decided to take charge. The bus was still stuck in protest traffic (as was every other vehicle in central Vienna) so she escorted us a few blocks down to the subway station to catch a train back to our ship. We were incredibly grateful to our guide for her problem solving! Again, AMA did an incredible job of re-routing 6 different groups heading in all different directions in the stalled traffic. Some of the guests had been heading out to the concert, others from the market to the concert or from other areas in the city back to the ship. In all cases, they had to find alternatives to get everyone where they needed to be in a timely fashion without the roads on a cold, windy night.