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10.06.2009

Continental Drifters - Day Five

Phew! Today was one of the whirlwind vacation days for which I have become infamous over the years. We spent the day tracing the steps of the Hapsburgs and their 600 year rule of the Holy Roman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Our first stop of the day was their sumptuous summer estate, Schönbrunn Palace, somewhat of the Hapsburg equivalent of Versailles.

The Hapsburgs were actually so fond of this color, it is now known as "Hapsburg yellow." It's all over Vienna and Budapest, the capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

We opted for the most inclusive tour package, which turned out to be for the best, because the abbreviated tour included mostly the private apartments of the Emperor and his family, and since the last Emperor, Franz Joseph, was somewhat of a stern workaholic, the decor in these spaces evinced a modicum of restraint. The public rooms were more Dad's cup of tea, rife with the rococo excesses of Maria Theresa's era, when the palace was first constructed. We also dutifully toured the elegantly manicured gardens of the palace complex, and even caught a demonstration of strudel-making, which, although included in the price of our ticket, was by far the least attended of all the sights at Schönbrunn.

Mario, the resident strudel expert at Schönbrunn, who made the entire process look way too easy.

Dad and I in the gardens of Schönbrunn. Can you tell how humid it was that day?

From there, we headed back into town to visit the Hapsburg's primary residence, Hofburg Palace. The complex was exceedingly difficult to navigate, and in our pursuit of the private apartments of the emperor, we first came across the Treasury, where we beheld the splendor of Hapsburg wealth, as manifested in a number of elaborated bejeweled crowns, beaded and embroidered official garments, and other accoutrement of office. It was a reminder of the truth of the adage, "It's good to be the king!"

The crown of the emperors of Austria.

We eventually located the apartments, which were coupled with a tour of the vast imperial dishes and table settings, and an entire museum dedicated to the cult of personality of Austria's last empress, affectionately known as "Sisy." Sure, the apartments were grandly appointed, just as the were at Schonbrunn, but at that point, I had had my fill of Baroque furnishings, and was more interested in the story of Sisy. Just imagine: at age 15 you have spent your whole life living freely and anonymously at a secluded country estate, only to discover that one of the most powerful men in the world is going to marry you. Sissy famously stated later that she did not believe in the institution of marriage, and that it is too often forced upon young girls who don't really understand what they are getting themselves into. Her life was somewhat beleaguered by tragedy, as she lost her eldest daughter to a childhood illness and her son, the heir to the throne, to suicide. She would later be assassinated by an Italian anarchist some years later. Sisy was particularly known for her beauty, a myth that she protected by allowing no photos to be taken of her after age 32.

Hofburg Palace. This particular section now houses the National Library.

After the Palace, it was time for a snack, so we stopped to sample the Sachertorte (a Viennese specialty consisting of chocolate cake with an apricot glaze and layer of chocolate ganache), and the Dobostorte (a multilayered confection of vanilla genoise, chocolate buttercream, and a hard caramel shell) at Demel, a famous patisserie. The wait to secure a table nearly dissuaded us, but because everyone who's ever been to Vienna has told us we had to go there, we persevered and were deliciously rewarded for our efforts.

Demel's famous Sachertorte.

Dobostorte, yum!

To round out the afternoon, we headed to the Stefansdom, Vienna's premiere Gothic cathedral. On the way, we stopped to admire the Peterskirche, a baroque structure that captured Dad's fancy. The Stefansdom, as per our usual luck, was under repair, but thankfully, we still got to see most of the patterned tile roof -- its crowning glory.

The Stefansdom.

Dad engaging in his beloved candle-lighting ritual.

We capped off the day with my favorite Austrian meal: Wienerschnitzel, which literally means "schnitzel in the style of Vienna." The restaurant, Figlmueller, has been in the schnitzel business since 1905, and their exemplars are supposedly the thinnest, tastiest, and largest in the city, and I would be hard-pressed to disagree. The meal was a perfect ending to a great, if exhausting, day of sightseeing and eating.

Check out the size of that schnitzel relative to the lemon wedge garnish!

1 comment:

  1. Schnitzel with a little spaetzle is my favorite!

    ReplyDelete