Tugging my winter hat over my ears, I reached for my puff coat and slipped my arms in. The Florida sunshine giggled at me as it beamed through the curtains of my bedroom, and I shook my head. Christmas and December meant snow. And cold. And if I couldn’t be where it was, I’d imagine myself there.
And nothing helps imagination more than reality. I zipped up my coat and tapped my booted heels together. Blink, blink, squeeeeeze tight.
Cool air brushed across my nose. And the murmur of voices with sharp edges and deep throat sounds sprinkled my ears. Was that German? I breathed deep, wishing the sounds and temperature were true, and spices tickled my nose. My eyes popped open.
The Florida sun had disappeared completely. Where was I?
Snowflakes, stark against a night sky, somersaulted through chill winds that circled a huge cathedral. People bundled in winter clothes shuffled across the cobblestones, moving from one booth to another. The booths glowed bright and golden.
The air tinged with the smell of cold while snowflakes swirled. It smelled crisp and smokey all at once but without the smoke. But what was that sweet yet spicy scent?
Wrapping my hands around my elbows, I tucked my chin into the collar of my coat. Why hadn’t I thought to grab a scarf when I’d shut my eyes?
Through snow crystal-encrusted eyelashes, I peered at the others in the square. A few people clung to mugs of steaming liquid. I stepped close to one group and breathed deep. Cinnamon and cloves. Mmmmm.
Just the scent warmed me from the inside out.
I spun in a slow circle taking in the view. City buildings on all sides of me cut away at the night sky but the walkways were trimmed with festive lights. Giant chandeliers suspended over every sidewalk and storefronts boasted silvers, reds, and greens. But the dark cathedral in front of me dominated the square even without twinkle lights.
The centerpiece of many postcards and events in Vienna: St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
My feet carried me over the rough cobblestones, and I neared the base of the huge church. Snow flew thicker, and my fingers tingled cold. But I couldn’t shake the wonder. So many Christmases had come and gone in this square, and today, I was here too. How many other people had stood in this same place throughout the years?
My chin flew up, and a woman smiled at me as she walked by. I watched her enter the side door of a nearby booth. The booth brimmed with orbs upon orbs of sparkling ornaments, like a treasure box spilling out with pearls. Keeping a careful distance between myself and the booths, I walked through, gazing at all the wares. Chocolates, ornaments, candles, gingerbread, doughnuts, and foods I didn’t recognize but that looked delicious.
One booth had a crowd, and those who came away carried green mugs perfuming the air with cinnamon. I stepped closer. Mulled wine.
“Bitte schön.” A woman behind the counter looked at me.
I bit my lips and my eyes widened. What did I say? What kind of money did they use here? I blinked at her.
“Uh…um.” I pointed towards the pine green mug of another person beside me. “I want that?”
A moment later, the same woman pushed a mug full of steaming liquid towards me. “Fünf und zwanzig.”
What? My heart rate sped up, and I tried not to panic. I didn’t know German. I barely knew Spanish. Sometimes I couldn’t even speak English. It really depended on the day.
I shoved my hand in my pocket.
My fingers collide with a coarse paper that hadn’t been there before and a few cool pieces of metal. I jerked my hand out, holding the items. Money. I looked around. No one was near enough that they could have put the money in my pocket. Placing the money on the counter, I picked up my green mug.
“Danke.” The woman called as she turned to the next customer.
I winced. What did I say to be polite? No idea. I shrugged. Sometimes, you just had to hope people sensed the good cheer.
A man dressed in a costume, holding pamphlets, approached a group of people across from me. Clad in a bright red jacket with shiny gold buttons and a three-point hat, the man seemed to have walked out of another time. He glanced my way, and our eyes caught. I dipped my gaze toward my drink, hoping he wouldn’t come over.
Apparently, that wish hadn’t come true. I jerked my head up. The tall, dark, and handsome (even in costume) man stood in front of me. I tried to repeat the words back to him. “Grease Got.”
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” His swarthy skin made his teeth flash whiter as he smiled at me.
I pressed my lips together into a smile, shaking my head while trying to suppress wild and romantic imaginings centered around this European.
“Do you speak English? French?” The Christmas lights reflected in his dark eyes, and snowflakes glistened on the corners of his hat.
“Oh, yes, I speak English.” Hearing my own language made me breathe easier. The beauty of the square enchanted, and I even liked the sounds of German all around me. But, I couldn’t understand the words. Speaking in English filled the place in me that wanted to share this moment with someone.
“Want to see show tonight?” He brandished his pamphlets and lifted a portfolio from under his arm. “We have many.”
“Oh…” I didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t a date because I’d seen him ask the other group before me. Lifting my mug of mulled wine to my lips, I sipped and swallowed. “This is enough of a show for me tonight. Thank you.”
The man flashed a grin at me, looking me up and down. “Are you here long?”
“No, just for a short visit.” His employer had hired him for his looks and charms. I could tell. Maybe I should flirt with him?
“Merry Christmas.” He walked towards another group, holding mugs and shopping bags.
Guess no more flirting for me. Apparently with no chance of a sale, his interest was over.
Holding my mug close to my heart, I filled my lungs with the scent of cinnamon and cold. A child giggled and scurried away from some adults. A couple held hands and walked towards the nearest suspended chandelier. When they were directly under it, they kissed. I sighed into my mug. Could this evening become anymore beautiful?
I squeezed my eyes shut, wishing I could stay here forever. Prickles started at my nose and burned across my cheeks. Light glowed through my eyelids. I cracked my eyelids open. Sunlight spilled all around me, and I was warm…way too warm to be wearing a coat.
Stripping my coat off my arms, I yanked my hat off. Had all of that been in my imagination? It sure felt like it now. But how could I make up somewhere that I had never been?
I sighed. Something glinted green by my feet.