A Viennese New Years

Monday, January 1, 2007

Train through Slovenia (Zagreb to Vienna)We arrived in Vienna on Friday, after an early morning train ride from Osijek to Zagreb, a stop-over of a few hours spent with friends in Zagreb, then a longer ride from Zagreb through the beautiful countryside of Slovenia and on into Austria.

We figured that we’d scout around and find a party to go to on the big night, so Saturday we strolled around Graben and Stephensplatz, and picked up a program for the city’s Silvester (New Years) celebrations. Reviewing it made us realize that the party was going to be the entire central core of Vienna: 11 separate stages spread throughout the core, ranging from the formally-dressed orchestra playing waltzes at Rathausplatz (city hall square) to a variety of live classical music at Graben to a rock-and-roll DJ at Kärntnerstrasse. Events kicked off at 2pm on Sunday with waltz lessons at Rathausplatz and kids programs at some of the other stages, meaning that our biggest problem was not going to be finding a party, but deciding which party to be at during which parts of the celebrations.

I started dropping the suggestion that we should go to the waltz lessons in the afternoon so that we could dance our way into the new year later, but Damir seemed immune to the suggestion. Considering that I’ve never seen him dance in our 4+ years together, I figured that I just needed to increase the pressure a bit. Finally, a bit exasperated, he said “but I already know how to waltz!”, a phrase that I would have never expected could come out of his mouth. Apparently, if you grow up in part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, you learn to waltz (several times) in grade school — who knew?

New Years gluwein mugsNew Year’s Eve day arrived, and we headed out in the afternoon through the centre of the city towards Rathausplatz for a bit of a waltz refresher. People had obviously been out on the street for some time, eating and drinking at the many booths selling bratwurst and Glühwein. We had a bit of a dance lesson, ate and drank around town, then headed back to our hotel around 6 for a Wiener-schnooze before the real party started. Looking out our hotel window to the northeast, we could see fireworks going off all over the city.

After 10pm, we were back out on the streets of Vienna, and it was incredible — definitely the biggest street party that I have ever seen. Not for those who dislike crowds: we had to push our way between people wherever we went, through Stephensplatz, all the way down Graben, past Am Hof and over to Rathausplatz. We stopped to watch stage performances several times along the way, including Rondo Vienna, an amazing group of young women playing violin, cello and keyboards in a most energetic fashion, and the Ensemble des Wiener Operettensommers.

Lights on GrabenAbove every street were amazing light creations, the ones on the Graben replicas of the chandeliers at the Opera House. Rathausplatz, filled with thousands of people, is too open for overhead light sculpture, but the Rathaus itself was lit from within and without, and people were sending up fireworks from the adjacent open areas. The orchestra played, and finally the countdown began. At midnight, fireworks went off, people kissed, the crowd cheered, and the orchestra struck up the Blue Danube waltz. With 10,00 other danceres and probably 100,000 onlookers, we waltzed our way into the new year.

Walking back to our hotel after 1am, the party showed little sign of abating. Many of the stages were playing until 2am, the food and drink stalls were open, and everyone was having a great time. I’m sure that many were out all night, but we managed to tuck in sometime after 2.

In the morning, the original reason for our choice of Vienna as a New Year’s spot: the Wiener Philharmoniker famous New Year’s Day concert. We never did manage to get tickets, although I bid on a pair on eBay until the price went above 400 Euro, but we made tea in our hotel room and snuggled back under the duvet to watch the live broadcast on TV. Another year, we’ll try for the tickets when they sell by lottery in January, and go back for the big Silversterpfad in Vienna.

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