I’m not sure when my obsession with Holiday Markets began but I confess I LOVE them!
There is just something so festive and cheery about the little chalets filled with holiday treats to eat and crafts to buy. I’m pretty sure it must have started when I was a kid and my parents and I would stroll down 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue, to see all the fancy department store windows. This was an annual tradition that I loved! Sadly so many of these iconic department store windows no longer adorn the avenue since so many of them have closed over the past few years.
We’d start at B. Altman — many of you may know this today from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Altman’s as we called it, was housed in a gorgeous building close to the Empire State Building and had the most fantastic windows. We’d then take a short stroll over to Lord & Taylor which sadly closed its iconic flagship store. Lord & Taylor was always my favorite, as it windows were always stories of old New York. Then we’d peak into the store and see it all dressed up and glittering so festive! Many of the airlines would also have offices on 5th and they too would be all dressed up in their holiday finest showing off the holidays from their home country. We’d then go past the tree at Rockefeller Center and look into the windows at Saks. Then we’d wind our way over to Park Avenue and go past the Lever House Building and see the carousel which was a real carousel in the window! We’d wander over to Bloomingdales with their larger than life windows and then back over to 5th to see the Star across 57th and the greatest windows of all Bergdorf Goodman! I still try to do this tradition of walking the avenues and seeing the holiday displays but it’s not the same — Lord & Taylor, Altman’s, now Barneys all gone and so too are their windows.
What we now have in the city are amazing little Holiday Markets all through out the city. European styled chalets twinkling with lights and colored in red and white are so festive and great places to purchase or just peruse handicrafts and food. So this leads me to my newest obsession and that’s going to Europe to see the holiday markets there. A year ago I went with one of my good friends to Vienna so that I could sit in a cafe, eat strudel, drink coffee and stroll through the bounty of holiday markets in the city. It was everything I wanted it to be and had imagined it to be! Vienna during Christmas is magic. And to truly appreciate the beauty you have to walk around at night. The city is light up with holiday lights everywhere and a holiday market at every turn! Each has a different theme and size so you never get bored of seeing “another”. The one common thread in all was the most amazing hot, mulled wine called Gluhwein. The smell evokes holiday first off, cinnamon, cloves, orange and of course red wine — each vendor had its own recipe and came in a fantastic mug that you could purchase and take with you. In fact the other night it was so cold and snowy here that I made my own version. Here’s the recipe: 1 bottle red wine, 2 cinnamon sticks, peel from 1 orange plus 4-5 thin slices, 3 star anise, 3 cloves, and sugar to taste — depends on how sweet you want it. Heat this for about 20 minutes, simmering then strain out the solids and pour into mugs.
In the 3 days we were there we did as much as possible! Saw the famous Viennese Riding Academy and the Lipazzaner Stallions which as a kid I had always seen in NY at the National Horse Show, but to see a full show with these acrobatic animals dancing and gliding in the most fantastic historic arena was a dream for me! There’s something magical about hearing music in what many consider the home of music, so we went to the famed Orangery in Schoenbrunn Palace to hear Strauss and Mozart. And yes there was a holiday market in front so we got to see that too!
I think I actually ate my way through Vienna — thank goodness for all the walking. The holiday markets were filled with fantastic foods and so were the cafes. Take a look at this array of amazing foods on display at the markets, all kinds of wursts, pastries and goulashes, all so beautifully displayed you didn’t know what to eat first!
For dinners we ate traditional Austrian food with nice glasses of Gruner Veltliner or beer. This kind of food, hearty and rich really does call for a wine that has perfect acid and structure. New World styled wines with their over-abundance of fruit and tannin do not go with this type of food. Austria makes some fantastic wines and they are meant to be consumed with food! Not really a fan of boiled meat, but it is a specialty of Vienna — in fact many countries have the same like Bolito Misto in Italy. We went to the iconic Plachutta for Tafelzpitz and my mind was changed. First you start off with a soup made from the boiled meat. It is rich, and savory with egg noodles — again reminding me of grandma’s cooking and served piping hot served with hearty rye bread. Then came the meat with all the sides — sauces galore which helped cut through and enhance the richness of the meat. And oooh, the presentation was amazing — all served in copper pots table side. And dessert was actually Chestnut Pasta! Another night we went to a traditional restaurant recommended by our hotel called Poschl, and it was truly worth the hour wait! Complimentary beer made the wait a little better but once we got to the food, it was heaven! OMG, the roast pork with gravy and cabbage was amazing, just like dad and I would have at the Ideal in the Yorkville area of NYC, but better!
I made it a mission to go to a cafe a day so we had coffee and strudel every day! Cafe Sacher was a must for the famed Sacher Torte and Strudel — ok am a bit strudel obsessed my grandmother made strudel and that will be for another story! Then on to The Imperial Cafe for more strudel and a piece of Imperial Cake which I had to bring back to my “adopted” parents who had told me all about this and how their friend the former President of Slovenia would always bring them a piece. And finally to Hawelka which is where many of the famed writers hung out for guess what, more strudel!
It was all I wanted in a trip to see my first European Holiday Markets! Now off to the UK to London and Edinburgh to see more! I can’t wait to see them and write about them so you can all experience them with me. Turn on the Mozart, brew yourself a mug of Gluhwein, grill up some wurst, have a slice of strudel and transport yourself to Vienna even if you can’t be there in person.