Friday, September 29: On our second day in Vienna, we stroll past fragrant flower shops and bushels of gourds, pick up coffees to go, and study the baffling foreign headlines in a newsstand, somehow keeping aloof from the world at large.
We feel dwarfed by the lavish Hofburg Imperial Palace, where Emperor Franz Joseph and the reclusive and eccentric empress “Sisi,” ruled their sprawling empire.
Among roses at the Volksgarten, we encounter Greek gods and nymphs spitting water, and temples to mythical kings.
We are greeted by fine specimens of sculpted muscular men at the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, and we dream of being escorted like royalty through Vienna’s streets by horse and carriage.
As we wander through the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection at the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, we imagine we are attendees at huge elaborate dinner parties with painterly plates, fragrant flower arrangements, floral and gold-leaf soup tureens, crystal goblets, and napkins folded in the shape of swans or flounder. The tableware collection is opulent and overwhelming all at once. The royals apparently entertained up to 800 guests at a time. If we had attended, we would have undoubtedly been overlooked. The collection we see is intact, as this area was never bombed during WWII.
Oh, the excesses of the royal Habsburgs.
Click on any of the images below for a full-sized slide show.
We walk through the Sisi Museum, where we see paintings of the narcissistic and mysterious Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Josef, as well as her jewels and gowns. Sisi was reclusive, a child of the Bavarian countryside, and she loved writing poetry and riding horses. She also spent much time maintaining her beauty, obsessively dieting and applying potions to her skin. She loved the Hungarians and traveled extensively: to Britain, Eastern Europe, and Greece. In 1889, Franz Josef and Sisi’s son, Prince Rudolf, after venturing into drugs and sex, apparently killed his lover and himself in a suicide pact; this tragedy, known as the “Mayerling Affair,” caused Sisi to withdraw further from public life. Nine years later she was assassinated in Geneva by an Italian anarchist who hated royal oppressors and craved notoriety. She was the longest-serving Empress of Austria at 44 years.
Sadly, no photography is permitted in the Sisi Museum or the Hofburg Imperial Apartments.
We then walk through the Hofburg Imperial Apartments: the Audience Room, where citizens could meet privately with the emperor, and the attached Waiting Room, where the commoners waited. We pass through a Conference Room, where the emperor discussed policy, and his Bedroom, where he apparently had mistresses, while photos of his wife Sisi watched over his shenanigans. We enter a Large Salon for royal family gatherings and a Small Salon, created in memory of the emperor’s brother, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, who was overthrown and executed in 1867; this salon was used as a smoking room. We continue our walk through the Empress’ Bedroom and Drawing Room, and her Dressing Room/Exercise Room, where servants worked on her famously long hair for hours each day while she studied Hungarian. She also exercised and got massages in this room. We see Sisi’s copper tub and towel-warmer in the Lavatory. Next, we go through the servants’ rooms, and then get a parting shot of the Empress’ Large Salon, painted with Mediterranean landscapes. The Small Salon shows Crown Prince Rudolf, mentioned above, the royal couple’s only son (Rick Steves: Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol).
We take a tram and long walk to visit Naschmarkt, and on the way, we find the Third Man Tour stop, surrounded by ornamental grasses.
At one end of Naschmarkt, we find the Secession Building, an exhibition hall built in 1897 as the architectural headquarters of the Secession movement. Secession artists explored art outside the confines of academic tradition. They hoped to create a new style that owed nothing to historical influence. Rebel artists, in effect, seceded from the long-established fine art institution. The motto of the movement, inscribed in German, is “To every age its art, to every art its freedom.” The building is apparently nicknamed the “golden cabbage” for its gilded rooftop of laurel leaves.
Naschmarkt is a food market and flea market. Walking down the length of it, we find Turkish butchers and spice vendors next to Polish sweet shops. Austrian and other foods can be found here in abundance: regional wines, honey products, aromatic oils and vinegar, chocolate, cheeses, breads, and paprika stuffed with cream cheese.
We are enticed here by dried fruits, fresh fruits, flowers and vintage goods such as handbags, glassware, silverware, linen, and decorative items.
Mediterranean and Asian restaurants and snack bars are interspersed with Viennese cafés. After we walk up and down quickly, we stop for lunch at an Asian restaurant.
Hot and sour soup and mushroom soup warm us up, accompanied by mango juice and hot tea.
After lunch, we explore Naschmarkt at a more leisurely pace, finding baklava and other desserts, as well as warm winter hats.
Stuffed dates, grape leaves, and stuffed peppers, called paprika here, entice us. We even buy a sample of some of them which we take with us on the tram, along with the dried mango that we bought before lunch.
Before long, we’re at the Vienna Opera, where we get on another tram toward Schloss Belvedere.
Schloss Belvedere includes two Baroque palaces (Upper and Lower Palaces) the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a Baroque garden landscape. The grounds are set on a gentle slope and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Though the prince was short and unattractive, he was well-loved for his successful battles against the Ottoman Empire.
The Upper Palace is now a museum that houses an impressive collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present. At the heart of the displays of “art around 1900” is the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection. Sadly, we don’t take the time to stop in; I regret we didn’t have time for this. This is our last day in Vienna proper, and we use our time to walk around the grounds, quite expansive, instead. Luckily, we have a beautiful day today.
The Upper Palace and the reflecting pool is quite impressive.
An elaborate gate leads us to the Alpengarten, or Alpine Garden.
We make our way down the slope and past the Baroque fountains, heading for the Lower Palace and the exit.
The Lower Palace leads to the exit, where we’ll catch a tram back to The Opera.
When we get off the tram, we walk past the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and Maria Theresa Square.
Maria-Theresien-Platz is a large public square in the Museum District. Facing each other from the sides of the square are two near identical buildings, the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum). Sadly, we don’t have time to visit either one.
We want to take a little break, so we stop for beers in the old world Cafe Eiles.
We are going out to a Mozart and Strauss Concert at Palais Palffy tonight, so we mosey on back to our hotel, check in, and relax for a short bit before going out to dinner at Fromme Helene.
At Fromme Helene, we enjoy wine with our dinner. I have Homemade Pierogi (filled with spinach and feta cheese) with melted garlic butter. It’s no wonder, with all the gnocchi, spaetzle, pierogi, and other pasta I’ve been eating on this trip, that I manage to gain back a few of the pounds I lost in Japan.
As we walk down our street, we see the city as the lights come on.
We take a tram to the Opera, where we get off and walk to Palais Palffy.
We have a little time to kill before the concert, so we stop for dessert at the Guesthouse Brassiere.
We take our seats inside the small and overly heated Figaro Hall in the 14th century Palais Palffy, where, in 1762, Mozart gave a concert at age six with his sister. Later, in 1786, Mozart performed his opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” to a private audience here.
We sit in very uncomfortable chairs and watch and listen to the Mozart & Strauss Konzerte. Each concert consists of two parts: First Mozart in historical Baroque costumes, then Johann Strauss in historical Biedermeier costumes.
This is most definitely a tourist-only venue, and the performance is fairly cheesy. The real Vienna citizens I’m sure are at the Opera or some other fancy venue.
We do get to enjoy a beverage midway through the concert.
On our way home, we admire the steps of the Albertina Museum.
Tomorrow, we have an early start for our bicycle wine tour of the Wachau Valley. This turns out to be one of our favorite days on our trip. 🙂
Steps today: 16,419 (6.96 miles)