We had the great honor and blessing to be hosted by our good friend, Archdeacon Athanasios at the guest quarters of the Metropolis of Vienna (Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarch). Dn. Athanasios met us at the Main Train-station on the evening of the 27th and we took the metro to the guest flat on Nestroyplatz, which is about 10 minutes from the center on foot. After setting down our stuff, he took us on a walk all around the historical center and pointed out some of his favorite buildings in the city with a brief history about them.
It was cold, but the city was full of life with the spirit of Christmas. The thousands of Christmas lights in the center come alive at night, and Euphrosini couldn’t stop smiling.
It was then that we had our first of many Viennese street food experiences: Brats and Leberkase, a meat specialty with cheese inside.
Athanasios had work to do at the Metropolis offices, so each morning and afternoon we walked 10-15 kilometers all around the city. The historical center itself is not very big, and a ring-road has replaced the area where the city-walls used to be. At the heart of the center is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a huge Gothic church remarkable for its colourful tiled roof. It seemed like you couldn’t turn a corner without running into a former palace. It truly expressed the grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and what the Habsburgs did with Central-European civilization. We tried to spend each of our 5 days there exploring different parts and sites of the city, but even after 5 days there was still much left to see.
One of our favourite films is Before Sunrise (1996) by Richard Linklater, which takes place in Vienna and opens on a train from Budapest to Vienna. So, probably the biggest thing we were excited for was retracing the steps of the two star-crossed lovers of the story, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), which we spent 2 days doing. Two of the biggest highlights of the trip were having a coffee (in Vienna they drink Melange, which is a type of latte) in Cafe Sperl, and seeing Van Gogh’s paintings and DaVinci’s drawings in the Albertina Museum. Unfortunately, we did not manage to talk a disco-bar owner into giving us a bottle of red wine as it would have been far too cold to spend the night at the park.
Another great blessing was to meet His Eminence, Metropolitan Arsenios of Austria and Hungary. One evening, he invited us over for dinner at his apartment where we were joined by Fr. Ioannis, his Presvytera, and Fr. Paisius. He was very warm and hospitable to us and very patient with our Greek. He’s got a lot of energy and has already done a lot of good work in his exarchate.
At the end of our stay, we went to Great Vespers for St. Basil and the New Year at the Holy Trinity Cathedral where His Eminence presided. The cathedral building stands out with its red-brick interspersed with gold and it’s worth noting that its architect went on to design Vienna’s impressive Neo-Classical Parliament building. Afterwards, the bishop cut the Vasilopita (more on the significance of this later) for his flock in the reception room upstairs.
That evening, Dn. Athanasios and we had New Year’s Eve dinner at the guest house and walked out towards thePrater Amusement Park to watch the fireworks. Even before the clock struck midnight, there were so many people setting off their own fireworks all along the Prater Strasse, that it felt like a warzone. We enjoyed the Prater fireworks from the other side of the tram-station where there was a small crowd of people who, like us, wanted to avoid the masses at the Prater itself.
The next morning we celebrated liturgy at St. George Church, just next door to the cathedral. We met a nice altar-server, named David, who was quite interested to talk to us and was himself interested in studying theology and becoming a priest one day.
The bishop cut a second Vasilopita after communion, and after saying goodbye to all the wonderful people we met, and Dn. Athanasios took us to the train station.