Since the first time I came to live in Vienna during college in 1984, it has held a kind of magic for me. It was not my first experience living overseas, but it was the first place I saw opera in an opera house, where I attended the Vienna Philharmonic Ball and waltzed all night, and, essentially, where I first discovered a gay life. It's a grand city that back in 1984 had a certain charm of a majestic city lost in time [I felt the same about Prague in 1984] I seem to truly appreciate. It still has that lost-in-time charm.

It is also a city of contrasts. Initially people can seem a bit aloof or cold, but get past a stiff Grüß Gott and the people are quite warm and friendly. Winter can be bleak but spring is glorious. Back in the 80's the Viennese accepted social norms that most societies would have found extremely progressive. Also during the 80's, I distinctly remember all the little old ladies waiting to board the U-Bahn with tiny dogs in baskets. No old men waiting to board because they died in the war. It was a place where young people went to university then left to work somewhere else. The generation gap closed a while ago.

I've been back to Vienna many times since that first time and what strikes me today is how Vienna seems to progress while still retaining its charm. New train stations and entire blocks of glass buildings have been erected across from Schloss Belvedere but the palace still feels the same.  At the same time, Austria has one of the highest smoking rates in Western Europe and some of the least progressive laws about smoking in public places. You can still smoke in the workplace in Austria if no employee objects.

What hasn't changed, fortunately, is the grand architecture and the culture. The turn of the century coffee shops I visited in the 80's still provide a glorious spot to relax [although they are far more touristy now]. The many museums lining the ring and the stores along Kärntner Straße still provide endless hours of viewing pleasure.

Finally, Vienna at Christmas is a magical place. Christmas markets are scattered across the city, the ornament selection is one of the best in Europe, streets are lined with Christmas lights, and the Rathausplatz becomes a holiday wonderland. Vienna is a beguiling, majestic place that will never lose it's charm.

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