Vienna, Austria Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Vienna, Austria

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What springs to mind when you think of Vienna? Is it operas? Christmas markets in the snow? Famous composers, perhaps?

Not if you're English and you grew up in the '80s. The usual reaction to the name 'Vienna' from the children of Thatcherism is: 'This means nothing to me... Oh, Vienna!', the completely meaningless chorus from Ultravox's 1981 hit 'Vienna'. You wouldn't believe how distracting this can be when you finally visit Vienna and discover that - just like in the video - people there do indeed wear long coats, their breath always clouds in the cold air and there's heaps of romanticism in the air. It might not be New Romanticism, but it's still wonderfully nostalgic.

Vienna is a lovely city that hasn't changed a bit since the fairytale days of its old empire. If you can, consider going in November or December for the nearest thing to a classic Christmas. There's a giant Christmas market which makes your usual craft fair/street illumination effort look really cheap and tacky. Not only is there loads of great stuff to buy, but there's shed-loads of food and hot punch stalls, or gluwein, as it's called, if your constitution will stand it. What's great is that none of this is for the benefit of tourists - the Viennese throng to the place as well, and they're just as likely to be found round the hot drinks stalls as you are.

The Viennese love Christmas and put lots of effort into it. You won't find a pub with a few bits of ten-year-old tinsel draped over the fruit machine and a plastic Santa Claus face pinned above the bar, oh no. In Vienna it's proper fir trees, real candles and home made decorations. Even the small shops have lovely window displays. Make sure you wear lots of clothes - maybe not of the kind worn by Tyrollean matrons, you know, those huge fur coats, complete with the pheasant feathers sticking out of them - and stop every hour or so for coffee and unfeasibly calorific cake, or even something hot and alcoholic. A lot of the pubs will have good strong treacly Christmas ales on tap as well, which go down a treat with a giant plate of steak or similar. It's probably not a very handy place for vegetarians though.

'This means nothing to me?' Pah.


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