Thursday evening, Jana wedged herself into the tram filled by rush hour traffic. She would have walked if it hadn’t been minus degrees. Just a few stops she told herself as she pressed herself against the window to make space for a group of excited tourists.
When she spotted the Greek style columns of Austria’s Parliament, lit in a yellow glow, she pushed herself through the crowd toward the door.
“Nächster Halt Rathausplatz,” the announcement resounded softly from the speakers. “Next Stop, Rathausplatz”.
A group of five tourists poured out of the tram in front of her, clearing her path. Excitedly, they pointed at the sculpture of four candles,several meters high, representing an advent wreath. Three of whose lightbulbs were illuminated since three Advent Sundays had passed. Jana left them behind, as they stopped to take selfies with the candles, and joined the crowd.
The Rathausplatz was the square in front of Vienna’s City Hall. It often got mistaken for a church since it was built in the Neo-gothic style. Tall gothic spires adorned the brown dimension stone building. Kind of like Hogwarts, Jana thought, as she peered at the intricate details of the statues and ornamentation. No matter how often she stared at them during her visits, she always spotted new details.
Back on the square, wooden market stalls created several streets leading up to the City Hall. Jana headed a little to the left, walking up the path created by the small huts, in hopes it would be less crowded than the main one. It wasn’t. Christmas tourist season was at its height, as well as people buying last minute Christmas gifts.
She glanced at the stalls as she passed them. There were various artists, selling everything, ranging from hand-made soaps to wooden toys. More interesting to her growling stomach, however, were the food stalls as she got closer to the top of the little street where all rows of stalls merged into a little village square. Should she go for a giant pretzel or traditionally Viennese for a sausage and roll? She walked past another stall and the whiff of garlic and deep-fried pastry drifted into her nose. A stall owner had just lifted a large dough disc from the frying oil. Yes, perhaps she would get a Hungarian lángos instead.
A few more steps and she arrived in front of the towering Christmas tree which was always to be found at the centre of the market, right in front of the City Hall. This year, the spruce tree was 27 metres tall and Jana didn’t doubt it, considering how much she had to crane her neck to see the star at the top.
She turned around to peer down the middle path of stalls, all the way to the round Neo-Baroque style Burgtheater across the street. She checked her phone. She was only five minutes early. Where was everyone?
She must have looked quite concerned, for a woman walked up to her and asked her in English if she needed help. The woman was dressed in a long white dress and wore a wig of golden locks with a halo on top. One of the people hired to pretend to be a Christkindl – the mystical being who delivers the presents in Austria on Christmas. Unlike Santa Claus or similar mythical figures, there was no strict idea of what the Christkind looked like, but blonde women with curly hair and white gowns were the favourite depiction.
“Danke, passt schon,” she said to the Christkind-actress and explained she was just waiting for her friends.
A group of tourists eyed the woman from the side and she merrily left Jana behind to take selfies with them. Finally, a minute before 6pm she saw Mona and Lena push their way through the crowds.
“Sophie is running late,” she said, after greeting them. “So, we might as well get started on the first round of punch.”
Eager to get a warm drink in their hands themselves, they didn’t object. Once they had their berry punch, elderberry punch, and chocolate punch, they attempted to find one of the tall barrels which served as tables. They soon gave up on those attempts and decided to wander into the Rathaus’ garden instead. They followed the path with trees on either side. Rather than the bright Christkindlmarkt, the park was a little less lit to empathize the light sculptures in the trees. They stopped underneath one of the trees. It was decorated with light sculptures which cast a glow in all the colours of the rainbow. To outsiders, it may have seemed cheesy but to those who were (newly) in love, it was a popular meeting spot.
Jana remembered how this very spot had been at the centre of one of her first dates with Sophie. They had retreated to this very bench with punch and a big pretzel to share. Time had passed so quickly while they had been caught up in their conversation. When they realized how frozen they were, the Christkindlmarkt was eerily empty as people tried to order one last punch before the stalls were shut for the evening. To help them warm up, Sophie gallantly offered they go back to her flat, since it was closer. That night they both had made very sure the other one stayed warm as they immersed themselves into getting to know each other until the early morning hours.
“Already in the Christmas food coma haze, are you, Jana?”
She looked up to find Mona and Lena looking at her.
“I don’t blame her,” Mona said. “I’m only here for like two weeks, so I intend on stocking up on Austrian pastries and punch as much as I can.”
“Perhaps we should send you that care package we were joking about.”
“I have no objections to that.”
“Back to our Sleeping Beauty,” Lena said. “I was asking what your plans for New Year’s Eve are. If I don’t find a cool party to go to, Marie may threaten me with more time in the country side.”
“Well, actually,” Jana took a deep breath. “I have big plans but I’m not sure how to accomplish them yet.”
“Well, we got eleven more days,” Mona said.
“Shush,” Lena elbowed her in the side. “I want to hear Jana’s big secret plans.”
Jana is planning to propose on New Year’s Eve. But so is her girlfriend. Their friends have eleven days to plan two perfect surprise proposals in secret. What could possibly go wrong? A feel-good rom-com set in picturesque Vienna.
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