Given the cynical over-hyped world we live in, there are few experiences today that really live up to their image.
One of those is a visit to a Christmas market (German: Weihnachtsmarkt or Christkindlmarkt) in Vienna.
What’s a Christmas market?
This slideshow might help answer the question:
Imagine crisp winter air, even crisper snow, the glitter of a thousand candles, steaming mugs of punch, laughter, smiles, roasted chestnuts, the tinkle of glass baubles and the delicate crafts of a hundred artisans.
Now throw in the scent of baked potatoes, fresh breads, strudel, candied nuts and more.
Then spread it all out in front of a magnificent Baroque palace.
There you have it – a Viennese Christmas market. (I may have exaggerated the number of candles.)
The dictionary definition is a collection of wooden stalls during the weeks leading up to December 24th (and often beyond), with a mix of stands selling traditional Christmas foods, decorations, art and crafts, handmade toys, honey and other delicacies, candy, jewelry and so on.
That rather clinical description fails to do justice to the concept, though.
Taste not tack
In recent years, the Vienna authorities have worked hard to ensure an almost complete absence of tackiness from proceedings.
Today’s Christmas market is a remarkably tasteful affair, where plastic is rare and wood, straw, glass and fabric (and enough food and drink to kill an elephant) dominate.
Though they’re worth visiting just for the atmosphere, the markets also make for excellent shopping.
You’ll normally find a range of potential gift items: carved flowers made of soap, Victorian-style candy, sculpted candles, handcrafted decorations, wooden nativity scenes and much, much (much) more.
There are dozens of markets around, varying in size from a couple of stalls selling food to the many hundreds of stalls that make up the famous Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz.
The only downside is they can get busy – fighting your way through the latest bus group can take the edge off the romanticism (but see my tips for advice on when to go).