Christmas is referred to as the silent time of the year. But as I mentioned in previous posts, I think a lot of us forget about this important message in December. I love what we call “Advent” in Austria – the four weeks leading up to Christmas. But in recent years, Vienna has become busier and busier. There are thousands of people waltzing through the city centre. Tour groups and shoppers make crossing the street a challenge, restaurants and cafés are notoriously full and I find it hard not to get stressed out by the hectic atmosphere. Hence, I avoid the major tourist areas in December.
Even though December is supposed to be a quiet time to take a break, introspect and enjoy, the days after New Year are usually the really quiet ones. Gone are the masses of tourists, the shops are empty again and finally I can get a spot in my favourite cafés without queuing up or booking a table.
If you go to the country side, this quiet time of the year is even more visible. I went to Lake Neusiedl yesterday, which is popular in the warmer months but also in November and December because of the Christmas markets. Last year, I went to Rust shortly before Christmas. Rarely had I seen the small town as busy. Yesterday my friend and I planned to spend the day by the lake, go for a walk and enjoy a nice cup of coffee.
When we arrived, the popular tourist town looked less busy as expected. We were happy about that quickly headed towards the lake. After a walk in the sun (paired with the lake’s famous (cold) wind), we thought we had earned a coffee and moved toward the centre. But when we arrived, almost everything was closed. Most of the restaurants, cafés and wineries were on their winter break. “Open again in April”, was the sign greeting us at every door expect one: a tiny bar near the church where every visitor seemed to seek refuge from the chilly and windy lakeside.
When I come back to Austria, it sometimes takes me a while to get used to the pace – restaurants shutting for a break of three months is nothing I ever see in Asia. Furthermore, I always end up in front of closed doors on Saturday afternoons – in some districts of Vienna and in the countryside, shops are closed from Saturday lunchtime until Monday morning. This means, Austrians have become planning masters and try to get everything done before Saturday afternoon.
My mother calls this a “luxury”. It forces us to take a break and take it slow. I do find it annoying at times – if you have a full-time job with long hours, the only day to go to shop for groceries is on Saturday morning – gone is your chance to sleep longer. And you will fight at the cashier with hundreds of other people. On Sundays, literally nothing is open – not even small grocery stores. The only exception is train or gas stations where you pay a premium. And this break is not limited to shopping: in Vienna many restaurants are shut on Sundays. (I still do not understand why. Maybe because most of the locals get out of the city on the weekends.)
However, living in Asia, where everything is always available, I have started to appreciate this approach. I still do think that at least one supermarket should be open in the area on the weekend. But I do not think that department stores, malls and shops should be open. I think we all deserve a weekend and at least one day to mellow out – also the people working in these places. Even though it requires some planning, it sometimes does feel like a rare luxury to be forced to take a break.
I am currently enjoying this quiet time of the year before I head back into bustling Bangkok. And I hope that you can also make time for a break and to take it slow.