Paris and Vienna for Christmas

Paris

As Katherine and I didn’t plan to go home to the US this past Christmas, we thought Paris would be a great choice, and, as Katherine had never been to the City of Lights, that made it an even easier decision.  Etihad has direct service (leaving at 2:30 am) and as always flying with them was a very good experience, getting us to Paris early morning on December 21st

The first good thing about our wonderful visit was the choice of hotel, The Westin Paris Vendome.  The location right across from the Tuileries Garden was ideal and the hotel was a good as one could expect.  The Westin offered a comfortable large room (not common in Paris), excellent service and a friendly staff.  One of the Concierges was especially helpful and his restaurant choices were just what we were looking for and usually within walking distance.

Of course, Paris is a remarkable city, so absolutely full of grandeur, history and aged beauty.  Paris in the winter has some great advantages as well.  It is colder and not very green, but there aren’t any significant crowds, anywhere.  We walked to many of the must-see sights and had time to enjoy them all without being so crowded.  The Louvre, Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower were on the itinerary of course and many other churches and museums as well.  One very good one was the Musee d’Orsay.  This museum is a renovated train station and very open and full of light with impressionist paintings and superb sculptures.   It was actually easier to enjoy the priceless art there in some ways then the famous Louvre, which can be a little overwhelming.  We got our one truly sunny morning the day we went to the top of the Eifel Tower, so though cold and very windy, got the great views and photo ops we were hoping for. 

Christmas day in Paris was quiet and meaningful, as we walked to the Saint Roch Church (1653) for the Christmas service.  The catholic service and choir in French in this beautiful church made for a special and different Christmas.

It is so true what everyone says about Paris, every walk is interesting, and you can not find a bad meal, anywhere.  A walk down the entire Champs Elysees with all the lights and the Christmas markets full of people, good food and Gluhwein to keep you warm was one of the best walks among many that we took in our 5 days in the city.  Our last day was spent walking through Montmartre and a visit to the best church in the city, the Basilica Sacre-coure.  Montmartre has been the center of the artist community for centuries and is truly a walk back through time, especially if you walk through the cemetery.  As Montmartre is on a hill, it also offers the best views of Paris. 

There is no way I can write here all the beautiful sights we saw in our short visit to Paris so I will leave it to the Photo Album for you to enjoy. 

Vienna

On the way back from Paris to Abu Dhabi Katherine and I visited Vienna on December 26 to 29.  In my trips to Europe over the years I had always missed a trip to one of the most beautiful of cities.  It was easy to put that in our Christmas vacation itinerary and we are glad we did. 

Vienna is also a great walking city and we certainly added a quite a few more kilometers on great walks through the curved and especially clean streets and alleyways.  Our hotel, The Steigenberger, is close to the Hofburg Palace in city center.  As in Paris, we made a very good hotel choice.  Our nice corner room was on the top floor (the 4th) with dormer windows looking over the rooftops towards the famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  Our first tour was the Hofburg Palace (home to the later part of the Hapsburg dynasty which started in 1531).  The restoration there is excellent and a true walk back into the glory days of the kings and emperors of Europe. 

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, started in 1359, was next and it took several hours just to walk through all of it, including a trip up to the tower for a very cold and windy view of the city (like the Eiffel Tower visit except not as high).  That evening we attended a classical music concert at the very small baroque Salvador Hall (1684).  What would a visit to Vienna be without Mozart, Strauss, Haydn and Vivaldi? 

Our second day was spent at the Natural History and National Art Museums, both together at the Maria Theresa Plaza (named for the only woman ruler of the Hapsburg Empire).   The exhibits in the Natural History museum rival those in the Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, while the art collection in the National Art Museum was much more extensive than I thought, especially the Egyptian rooms.   

We left Vienna the next day for a late morning flight back to the warm weather, happy to have spent at least a few days in one of the great tourist locations in Europe.  Please view the Vienna photo album.