New Years in Vienna

Our desire to to go Vienna for New Years actually stems from a different New Years Eve event than the one we went to. We both desperately want to go to the Vienna Philharmonic New Years Eve concert (…or the one the day before or day after…). The lottery for tickets (yes, that’s how in-demand they are!) opens on January 2nd each year for the concerts at the end of that year. Unless you’re some fancy and important Austrian person, you have to sign up with your desired New Years concert(s) and select which price level of tickets is your max. Then in March they do the drawing and, unsurprisingly, we didn’t get selected for tickets. Just to give you an idea of how insane the demand is: the lottery for New Years 2017 tickets closes tomorrow and it has almost 450,000 entries! In other words, we could enter every year for our entire lives and still never get tickets. But we’ll still keep trying!

So, once we officially knew the inevitable (no Vienna Phil tickets), we still had to figure out what to do for New Years. One thing we had discussed as an alternate plan was going to the Hofburg Palace Silvesterball in Vienna, which Randolph’s coworker had gone to and told us about. After mulling it over for a while, we decided to still go to Vienna and go to the ball. With or without the Vienna Phil concert, Vienna is still very much a great place to be to celebrate the new year! And now, even if we never get concert tickets in our entire lives, we still got the Viennese New Years experience!

DAY ONE

We’d only had two days at home between returning from Morocco and leaving for Vienna. I was still sick and we had to jam quite a bit into those two days (laundry, re-packing, half a day of work for Randolph, a quintet rehearsal for me…). Somehow, we still managed to get ourselves all packed up and onto our [very early in the morning] train.

We arrived in the evening and checked into our Airbnb apartment. I have to say, this was the prettiest, nicest Airbnb we’ve had yet. It was in an old building that was very well maintained and had so many nice architectural details: hardwood parquet floors, tall doors, baroque trims. It was very elegant.

After dropping off our bags, we headed out for dinner. The apartment was a few blocks away from the museum district, so we walked through that on our way. Even though it was dark out, we could already tell that this was a city packed with beautiful buildings! There were also a couple small Christmas markets still going on. The first one, next to the museums, was closing up for the night, but we grabbed drinks at the one at the Rathaus.

Sorry, Vienna – Germany still has the better holiday drinks
In the park in front of the large Rathaus was also a huge ice skating rink. And not just one of those ones where you go around in ovals over and over. It wound throughout the park, around all the trees. I’ve only see one like that once before (in Montreal, many, many years ago) and I think they’re the best kind of skating rink! We were too tired to do any skating that evening and, unfortunately, we never made it back since we we in Vienna so briefly. Hopefully we’ll make it there again during holiday time!

We ate dinner at Café Landtmann, one of Vienna’s storied cafés, which is known for its Apfelstrudel, a specialty of the city. We had a very nice dinner (it’s actually a fairly upscale restaurant, not just a coffee café) complete with excellent Austrian wine. And then some Apfelstrudel at the end, of course. It was all quite delicious!

 

DAY TWO

We started our day with breakfast at the local bakery down the street. It wasn’t anything fancy, just good coffee and good pastries.

After that we went to the Hofburg Palace to pick up our ball tickets and waltz lesson tickets (wheeeee!!!).

There are so. many. gorgeous neoclassical and baroque buildings in Vienna! Literally everywhere you look is beautiful architecture! And it’s also such a clean city! Randolph and I agreed that the architectural style kind of reminded us of parts of Paris and, due to the impeccable cleanliness, he agreed with my assessment that it felt like Paris with the OCD-ness of Germany. I can definitely see us making a return trip to Vienna!

After a little wandering we wandered our way to the shopping district to pick up a couple things. Randolph was on the hunt for white cotton gloves to go with his tails for the ball (they’re not required, but it’s a classy touch). I was on the hunt for cheap sunglasses (I forgot mine at home…) and some cheap flats to wear to our waltz lesson the next day (I also forgot that at home…). I blame my forgetfulness on our whirlwind Morocco-home-Vienna travel and (still) being sick. At least I remembered everything I needed for the ball, though – that was the important part and I made sure to triple check I had it all packed. I found some cute sunglasses, courtesy of Mango, and some delightful hunter green velvet loafers, courtesy of Zara. I’m really into velvet right now and I’ve been wanting some velvet shoes for a while, so finding those shoes on clearance and in my size was a total score!

We weren’t quite ready for lunch, yet, so we made a stop at the Manner store. Manner wafers are super delicious wafer cookies “the Original Neapolitan Wafers.” The traditional flavor ones have a chocolate hazelnut filling and chopped hazelnuts. Think wafer cookies made with nutella. Yum. We only bought one little pack of cookies that day, but we scoped out the selection of goodies to send as gifts.

We managed to score a table at Zum Figlmüller for lunch. Randolph had tried to book a table online, but by that point they were already booked weeks in advance. We just showed up at the restaurant and got super lucky that they had a table free (“you can only have it for an hour!”). They are famous for their GIANT schnitzel. It takes up the whole plate, and then some. Randolph, of course, ordered the schnitzel. Since almost everything on the menu involved meat, I ordered one of the only things that didn’t: pan-fried Emmenthaler cheese. It was basically like the fanciest cheese sticks in the world. I got a plate with three large slabs of cheese that had been breaded and grilled in a pan. It was glorious.We also both had some Austrian white wine to help cut the richness of the food (a good decision, for sure).  Unsurprisingly, we both had leftovers. We wound up forgetting them in the fridge at our Airbnb (boo!).

So. Much. Cheese.

After lunch we walked around to find some sheet music shops, thinking that we’d be able to pick up some great sheet music in Vienna. Sadly, the ones we found weren’t very good. There must be a better one somewhere in the city, but we didn’t find it.

We then walked down Mariahilferstrasse, another shopping area, on our way back to the apartment.

 

I loved these! They also had guy-guy & girl-girl
After a little break in the apartment (we’d done quite a bit of walking!), we headed out for dinner at Karma Ramen. The cold winter weather had been making me crave a nice warm bowl of ramen, but that’s not something that’s available where we live. So, we had to take advantage of the opportunity for ramen while we could! I got the smokey ramen, purely because I love things with smokey flavor. It was good, but as someone who doesn’t eat meat I probably shouldn’t have ordered something made with a pork-based broth. I don’t normally mind if something involves a meat broth and it didn’t make me sick or anything, it was just too heavy and greasy for someone not used to that. The “smokey” part of this particular ramen comes from the use of Smokey Goat Whisky in it, a Blended Scotch. So, being a lover of whisky (especially smokey ones!), I also ordered the Smokey Goat to drink. It was excellent! From what I found online, it seems it’s a scotch custom-blended by a small company and it’s mostly only available in the German-speaking world, oddly. Now I just need to find a bottle of it somewhere!

 

DAY THREE

We slept in, since we knew we’d be up pretty late at the ball. We were pretty hungry by the time we were leaving the apartment to get breakfast at the same place down the street as the previous day. I had been hungry the whole time we were getting ready but as we were walking out the door I was starting to feel nauseous, probably from being so hungry. That’s when things got interesting. When we were almost to the bakery (like, pretty much across the street) I started feeling super pukey and weird all of the sudden and then dizzy. I crouched down on the sidewalk and I told Randolph I thought we should go back to the apartment so I could lay down. He was holding me up and was starting to help me walk back. The next thing I knew I was waking up on a cold sidewalk. Ugh. Fortunately, since Randolph had been holding on to me I didn’t hit my head or anything (unlike the time 4 years ago when I passed out in the middle of the night walking back to bed after using the bathroom …and smashed my face into a hardwood floor…).

When I woke up there were already a couple people there helping and one of them had already called an ambulance. He assured us that we didn’t need to worry about paying for it (“It’s free!”). So there I was sprawled on the sidewalk, then I puked on their beautifully clean Viennese sidewalk (sorry!). And there was a perfect stranger standing there helping hold me while I was leaning over puking. The people who walked by were all stopping to make sure I was OK and shopkeepers were poking their heads out asking if I wanted a blanket or to come sit in their shop and one of the guys helping handed me his coke to drink. I was so surprised by how kind and helpful everyone was. Randolph asked me later if I thought anyone would’ve stopped to help if we were in the US. I think that someone would’ve helped… but I can’t imagine every single person trying to help like they did in Vienna. So, then the ambulance arrived and the EMTs checked me out. Even though I seemed more or less OK at that point, they recommended I go to the hospital in case I needed fluids. I agreed to go, since I wanted to get patched up and be back in good shape for the ball. That was my first ever ambulance ride! Yay, I guess?

When we arrived at the hospital they rolled me in on the stretcher (wheeee!), did an initial test for triage, then we waited for probably 40-60 minutes or so. Once the doctor called me in they did one last quick test and sent me on my way, with instructions to make sure to eat and stay hydrated. We walked out with a couple sheets of paper for our records… no bill. So, for all my fellow Americans claiming that “socialized healthcare” is so terrible because people in need wait a gazillion hours just to see a doctor in the ER and it’s completely dysfunctional… false. I was not even close to being an urgent case and even at Europe’s largest hospital (which is presumably pretty busy) I didn’t wait long at all. And they sent me out the door without demanding a single cent, despite me being a foreigner. This is exactly how healthcare should be: easy!

I only wish that I could thank all of the wonderful people of Vienna who so graciously assisted me without hesitation. It just further confirmed that Vienna is an awesome city that we want to spend more time in.

During the time that I was waiting to see the doctor, I was watching the minutes tick by on the clock and had resigned myself to the fact that we wouldn’t make it to our waltz lesson. I was feeling pretty bummed and Randolph was trying to cheer me up by looking up Viennese Waltz lessons on Youtube and playing them for me. But then, miracle of miracles, we made it out in time! We grabbed some food and water in a shop on the ground floor and caught a cab with a little time to spare. As soon as I knew we’d make it to the lesson I was immediately feeling more cheery.

The lesson was in a different section of the palace from where the ball would be that night. It was being taught by some pros from the Elmayer Tanzschule, a top dance school in Vienna that also puts on the Opening Ceremony debutante performance for the ball. In case you’re wondering what exactly Viennese Waltz is and how it’s different from “regular” waltzing, the simple answer is that it’s faster (think of all those upbeat Strauss waltzes) and you go round-and-round in circles (instead of just back-and-forth). To me, this all makes it look more “swooshy”, which is very elegant and Disney princess-y with ballgowns. This little video of some Viennese debutantes will give you a quick idea of what it looks like.

Despite being very crowded, the lesson was quite excellent. The man teaching really knew how to explain for newbies and get us on the right track. He taught it to us one movement at a time, which made it a lot less complicated and intimidating. And, truth be told, when it came to actually waltzing at the ball we had far less room than in the class, so the class was more just part of the whole experience, anyway. And I got to Viennese waltz in my new green velvet shoes! Looking back at the photos all I can think is “yep, I look like I just got out of the hospital”, but I promise I truly felt way better than I looked – I was having a blast!

 

WE MADE IT!

After that, we kept it pretty chill so that I didn’t overdo it. We went to one last menswear store to see if they had the aforementioned white cotton gloves for Randolph and we finally met with success! God only knows when he’ll ever use them again, but now Randolph has actual Viennese gloves to go with his tails! What a classy guy…

We also went to Hotel Sacher, home of THE Sacher-Torte (since 1832!). If you’ve never heard of it before, Sacher-Torte is layers of chocolate cake with apricot jam between them, covered with a chocolate ganache shell. Since the line to eat in the dining room was enormous, we just went to the shop and picked up a little mini cake to take home.

We had already decided before the trip that we didn’t want a fancy New Years Eve dinner. Partly because we were already doing one fancy thing that night and partly because we needed time to get ready for the ball and dinner would make that difficult. I also wound up being glad we hadn’t planned a formal dinner since I was trying to reserve my limited energy for the ball after an exhausting day. We planned on just grabbing a casual bite somewhere, but didn’t realize that a lot of places close early on New Years Eve. So we wound up with a small assortment of sandwiches and salads from a grocery store we passed by on our way back to the apartment, lattes from a cafe, and a bottle of champagne – for some pre-celebrating. It may not have been a very classy dinner, but it did the trick.

We got ready and called a cab, which is atypical for us since we usually walk or use public transit everywhere when we’re traveling. That just made it feel even more fancy! Because we had the most simple (i.e. cheap) ball tickets our entrance time was later than the people with the expensive, dinner-included tickets. Our entrance time was 9:15 and when we arrived there was already a crowd of people waiting to get in. Fortunately, we were able to stand indoors in the entryway. I had to admire the [American] lady in front of me who was drinking a Red Bull while she and her husband waited. She definitely had the right idea!

So, then it was time and we were let in! We bypassed the huge self-service coat room since neither of us was wearing outerwear. As we entered the first hallway, we were greeted with glasses of champagne. Until they “officially” open the grand staircase for you to go upstairs, you hang out in the foyer and drink your champagne. And admire all the other gowns! My two favorites were: 1. a lady with platinum blonde bobbed hair wearing an elegant silvery, dusty pink gown with a fur wrap that matched mine (what good taste!) and 2. the pianist who was playing background music. I was able to get a picture of the pianist, but I couldn’t get one of my “fur twin”without looking like a total creeper. I will admit that I was surprised by the range of gowns women were wearing. They ranged from full-on giant-skirted ballgowns (way too poofy, guys!) to middle-aged ladies in tacky prom dresses (you could afford tickets to a Viennese ball and that’s the best gown you could come up with??). Unsurprisingly, I guess, the tacky gowns seemed way more prevalent when we were waiting around with the other “cheap ticket” people. I saw many more super elegant gowns later once we joined up with the fancy “expensive ticket” people.

 

Loooooove her gown & wrap!
While we were standing there sipping our champagne we discovered that the professional photographers were going around and taking photos (to be purchased later), so we got our picture taken (and wound up buying our favorite later on right before we left). We even got asked by another guest if he could take our picture! I was feeling quite princess-y.

Once they opened the grand staircase we went upstairs to stake out a spot for the opening ceremony in the main hall. It was already pretty packed, but we squished ourselves in (while I carefully protected my gown from being stepped on).

The opening ceremony was quite a spectacle! The Viennese debutantes gracefully walked in with their escorts. There was a performance of the ’80s Falco song Vienna Calling, a reference to the ball’s 2016 theme, “Rhythm of Vienna.” Then out came the dancers from the Vienna State Ballet. Their costumes were very cool – traditional in design, but very modern in the way they were constructed. And there was an excellent soprano singing a mix of classical and popular music. Finally, the debutantes did a couple elegantly choreographed dances. And all of this was accompanied by a live orchestra, of course – this is Vienna, after all!



 

 

 

 

After the ceremony comes the official call Alles Walzer, which is the invitation for everyone to come to the dance floor to join in the waltzing! Randolph and I opted not to dance quite yet, since the dance floor was immediately a mob scene. Instead, we did a little exploring of all the rooms and the little surprises that were in store for us.

First, we found the area for writing your New Years wishes. There was a pretty wide variety of wishes hanging already (ranging from traveling more to happiness to finding a partner). We wrote a little wish (I honestly forget exactly what we wrote!) and hung it up.

The second biggest hall featured a jazz orchestra playing fun tunes and only had a small dance floor, since it was mostly filled with tables for the people who had purchased the tickets including dinner. We also found the “young people” room (i.e. a DJ playing current music, complete with disco ball) and some other smaller rooms with bars and food counters. Later in the evening, we had some espresso, water, and Sacher-Torte to keep up our energy.

 

I loved how this hall looked!

In our exploration we also found this cool little “Pick your own 4-Leaf Clover” area… what a cool idea! So, I picked my own lucky clover! I carefully stashed it in my purse and later on I pressed it, so now I just need to frame it to display in our house.

Midnight actually rolled around surprisingly quickly! A little before 12 we smushed ourselves back into the main hall.

There is, of course, a countdown, so we counted down to 2017 auf Deutsch. At midnight they play a live video of the St. Stephen’s cathedral bells ringing, the official sign of the new year! Oh, and there was lots of sparkly confetti. And then the moment we’d been waiting for… [literally] waltzing our way into 2017 to Blue Danube Waltz (squee!). You can get a little taste of the Viennese New Years festivities with this video of the Viennese New Years 2017 television special, featuring the Vienna Philharmonic and State Ballet dancers.

So. You remember how I said before that we didn’t have much room to waltz at the actual ball? Yeahhhhhhh… that’s putting it mildly. Not only was there not room to turn or swoosh around while waltzing, I was pretty much just shuffling my feet in place. Functionally, it made literally zero difference whether you knew how to waltz or not, because there’s no way anyone would ever be able to tell. But in my mind I was moving my feet in the waltz pattern, haha! I knew that I could Viennese waltz! I was very focused on my shuffle-waltzing and enjoying the moment and I was trying super hard not to be bothered by the few jackasses who had decided that they were going to full-on waltz, come hell or high water, even though that meant ramming into everyone around them. I mean, really?? Wow…

We’d been hoping to do more waltzing after that, but it was followed by a series of performances by the evening’s headliner singers – none of which was particularly danceable. We eventually wandered off (I think that’s when we took our espresso/cake break). Unfortunately, we kept missing it every time the orchestra played a waltz so, in the end, Blue Danube was the only one we got. Bummer. We spent some time getting in some pictures on the staircase while we were exploring.

We stayed until I think about 2am, by which point we were getting tired. It had clearly been a very, very long day! So we decided to call it a night. We found our professional photo and bought it, then picked up our little parting-gift goodies. A short cab ride later, we were peeling off our fancy clothes and passing out.

 

champagne glasses, chocolate truffles, Guerlain perfume, fan

DAY FOUR

Not a particularly exciting day. We basically just got up in time to make our train. We happily discovered that there was a Manner Wafer store in the train station and it was open, despite the holiday. We’d thought we missed our chance to buy Manner souvenirs (for us and family) because the regular store had closed early the day before.

It was a long train ride back, but it was good to be home for a change and not be rushing off anywhere else!

NEXT UP

Two more post are incoming… our weekend in London, and then the trip to Finland & Estonia from this past week!

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