VIENNA, AUSTRIA — With condolences to those suffering from polar vortexes and negative temperatures back stateside, this has been one of the easiest European winters in memory. So what do you do when Father Winter is missing in action? You go hunt him down.
In Bavaria, when you’re looking for true winter conditions, there’s one place to go: Austria. So we started by heading to the capital.
Vienna is known for picturesque snowfalls, quaint Christkindlmarkts and cozy wine cellars called Heurigen. But when we arrived, the joint was a balmy 10 degrees with no white stuff to be found. So, we had no choice but to explore the capital’s premier destination: the Naschmarkt.
This mile-long row of flea markets, food stalls and tiny, aquarium-looking restaurants is the central point on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The odd looking loiterers, the mismash of tastes and smells, the overflowing spice stalls all betray Vienna’s little secret: this is where Western Europe ends and the vast plains of the east begin. It’s a wonderful, smoky, flavorful feeling to be bridging the divide. We dig in.
Regardless of the weather outside, the true pulse of the city is found some dozen meters below ground, where a series of wine-cellars-cum-taverns keep the region’s “new wine” flowing into patrons’ glasses and the legendary schnitzels flop over the edges of even the largest plates.
We stalked out the most famous of these city Heurigen, The Zwoelf Apostelkeller, or, Twelve Apostles’ Basement.
The dim, murky cave-like atmosphere at first seems dingy. But after a few glasses of the bitter, but strong wine, the lights seem to become a bit brighter and the sweet sound of the Blassmusik band floats up from some deeper chamber. You order another glass of two-euro wine and life is good.
Sated, wined and well-tred we left Vienna a touch bit more cultural but not a bit chillier. If Father Winter was really missing, we had to step up the game. And that means one thing in Austria: head for the hills…