Christmas in Vienna

Vienna, Austria

We returned to our favorite breakfast spot, Bohemia Bagel, early this morning before checking out of the Mandarin. We were sad to go — this really is an almost magical hotel. As a thank you, the concierge gave us two gift certificates for complimentary 90-minute Ultimate Body Massages, valid on our next two-night visit. Since we don’t plan on returning for some time, we’re happy to pass them along — simply mention promotion code “FANS” upon making a reservation. You can thank us for the 290 euro present later.

We took a cab through the deserted streets to the Prague Main Train Station, an Art Noueveau building built between 1901 and 1909, that is largely under renovation right now. Our 10:57 a.m. SuperCity Train to Wien departed promptly on time. There were three other passengers in our car — making us glad that we had paid extra for reserved seats.

The train made a couple of stops in the Czech countryside before an uneventful crossing into Austria. A new crew came on board and rechecked our tickets. Somewhere close to the end of our 4-hour journey, perhaps while flipping through Lonely Planet, we realized that there’s a lot to do in Vienna. The next three days would need to be well planned if there was any hope of seeing the bare minimum.

We pulled into the Sudbahnhof Station, unloaded and grabbed a cab to our next hotel, Le Meridien. It wasn’t long after passing through the bird-chirping revolving door and entering the vibrantly lit, strangely decorated lobby that we understood why this hotel has been called the city’s most contemporary accommodation.

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We were given #812, an executive room on the highest floor, with mood lighting, a glass headboard, hot pink bathtub and huge flatscreen. A bottle of champagne welcomed us. Needless to say, the place would do.

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To hit the ground running, we dutifully followed our guidebook’s “Essential Vienna” walking tour, which we hoped would provide a good introduction to the city. Our hotel was in a great location, just across the street from the Staatsoper (Opera House) and Hofburg Palace. We made our way to Stephansdom, the iconic church, with its tiled roof and skeletal southern tower. Christmas Mass was just getting underway, and the Pummerin, Austria’s largest bell at 21 tons, was offering a resounding call.

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Backtracking to Graben Street, one of the city’s grand pedestrian drags, we hit up Demel. This café is best known for its Ana Demel Torte, a chocolate and nougat cake that necessitates an almost immediate trip to the gym.

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We treated it as an amuse bouche and went in search of Ra’mien, an Asian-fusion restaurant that Lonely Planet called a “sheer delight.” Unfortunately, this sheer delight was mismarked on our guidebook’s map, so we spent the next 90 minutes hunting around the city in search of it. Helpful locals pointed the way but we somehow kept walking around in circles. The best part: when we finally got there, it was closed.

LP, prepare for my complaint letter – if my fingers ever thaw.

We walked back to the Meridien and noticed a restaurant a few doors down. It looked nice so we stepped into MartinJak, whose décor was straight out of an Alpine ski lodge. The friendly host showed us to our seats; we ordered up some Maker Marks for warmth and a wild mushroom risotto and spicy beef goulash. Homemade bread and some chive butter went well with both. We were happy.

Afterward, we walked back to the hotel, popped our champagne and waited patiently for Santa.

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