Hello everyone out there in the blog-o-sphere. Today we come to you from Vienna…not Venice, as Kristin keeps calling it, but Vienna…as in Austria…
After dressing in all clean clothes (we did laundry last night 🙂 ) we had breakfast at the hostel. We think we actually stole breakfast from the hostel…it wasn’t until we had selected our choices from the continental spread and were halfway through eating them that someone came around asking if everyone had given her their ticket…what ticket? We think we were supposed to purchase breakfast tickets from reception…oops! We’ll have to do that tomorrow.
It was only a short metro ride to the starting location of Rick Steves’ Vienna City Walk. This handy walk links together Vienna’s three biggest sights within the city center & points out all of the interesting things along the way. Vienna has always been considered the easternmost city of the west. For 640 years, Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The city reached its peak in the 19th century and in 1900 it was the world’s fifth largest city. After starting and losing the first World War, the Empire fell and the first Austrian Republic formed. During WWII the city and the country was occupied by the Nazis. Because of this the city suffered severe bombing, leaving the city a quarter destroyed in 1945.
The first stop on our tour was the Vienna Opera House. This building is one of the planet’s premier houses of music. Dating from 1869, many classical greats have performed on this stage. It towers above you as a mass of classically carved stone with a upper level promenade and greened copper roof. It is a fine exampe of Neo-Renaissance architecture…because we are trying to learn historic architecture styles, so you might as well too 😉
The second of the big three is St. Stephens. St. Stephen’s Cathedral dominates the Vienna skyline (the south tower is 450ft tall!) and is the centre of the city. The church dates from 1300-1450 and is the third church built on this location. During the war the church almost managed to evade damage. Even when the local Nazi commander instructed his men to destroy it (having sensed their coming defeat) the soilders disobeyed and the church was unharmed. But then the inevitable day came near the end of the war: allied bombs missed the church but hit nearby, close enough for sparks to leap to the building. The roof burned and collapsed into the nave and the cathedral’s huge bell crashed to the ground.
The church is huge! The nave is more than a football field long and nine stories tall! It’s also really beautiful. I fits the mold of a gothic church really well…that’s is to say, it has a dark, detailed exterior and a bright & open interior. The multitudes of windows let light stream into the spaces. The stained glass here had an interesting theme running throughout: each window was made up of a collection of simple squares. Most were pale blue, green & purple. The original windows had been much more vibrant shades of the same colors, but the WWII fire blew them out. The war-torn area could barely afford the expense of replacing them and had to use a cheaper glass for the new version. No where near as exciting.
The final stop was the Hofburg Palace. This complex of palaces is where the Habsburg Emperors lived for 600 years. The Habsburgs spent the winter here, while summers were spent at Schönbrunn (tune in tomorrow for more information). The palace began as a 13th century medieval castle and expanded over the centuries to today’s 240,000 acre complex.
The Habsburg Empire is one of the great dynasties in European history. This family ruled, at one time, most of Eastern Europe. Empress Maria-Theresa used her 11 daughters to connect the Habsburg’s to the other royal families of Europe. Most well known of her daughters is Marie Antoinette. Franz-Joseph accended the throne with his wife Elizabeth, or ‘Sisi’ in the mid 19th century and the Austrian Empire became the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Habsburg family was well liked by the people of the Empire. Unlike many European monarchies, the Habsburg’s were never removed from the throne via revolution or protest. The Austro-Hungarian Empire can be blamed for starting WWI (it was their heir to the throne who was assassinated) and as a result, when the war was over the Empire was broken apart and the Habsburg Dynasty was over.
Our palace visit began with a visit to the Imperial Silver Collection. To put it bluntly, we saw a lot of plates…and cups…and serving dishes…and cutlery, you can’t forget the cutlery. It was kind of interesting, just a little repetitive. We learned of the progression from using purely gold & silver dishes to having porcelain for some courses and then to purely porcelain dishes (as the metal ones had to be melted down to use for ammunition in the Napoleanic Wars). One of the interesting things was to see the various centerpieces…they were often incredibly huge…to the point that there is no way you could see anyone on the other side of the table. The collection concluded with pieces of a formal porcelain dining set that was featured in an award-winning exhibit at the 1850 London’s Worlds Fair. It was so exquisite that the Queen of England bought the set and then sent some of the dishes to the Hapsburgs as a present (as the pieces where Austrian made).
The tour through the palace featured a museum dedicated to Sisi, the wife of Franz Joseph. Sisi was 16 when she was married and although she did care for her husband she never enjoyed the public court life she was now destined for. After having a few children and playing the role as Empress, Sisi retreated from public life and travelled. It was on one of these trips where she was assassinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist when she was 61. Now Sisi is the most famous Habsburg. She can be found everywhere in Vienna: on cups, Kleenex, books, plates and playing cards. She is one of those people who becomes more famous after their death. The image of the relucatant and shy Empress, so beloved by the King but assassinated before her time, is one of those fairytales with a tragic ending. The museum did a great job telling Sisi’s story in an exciting & modern way. There were pictures & multimedia, display cases with her things & clothes, and an effective use of backgrounds & lighting to create the appropriate mood. By the end you felt most attatched to and very bad for both poor Sisi and Franz Joseph, who really was desperately in love with her.
The imperial apartments were similar to the apartments we saw in France and England (with white paneling & gold imbellishments and a variety of colors of wall coverings). Because the monarch was dissolved shortly after the death of Franz Joseph in 1916, the rooms are still decorated as they were when his family lived there. Franz Joseph’s study was where he spent everyday. He would be up by 3:30am everyday (except when he was out late at a function the night before…then he slept in until 4:30) and would work until family supper time. The room was decorated with pictures of his children and many large portraits of Sisi. He adored his wife and it was obvious how much while in this room. We also saw the room where Sisi would exercise (she had to maintain her super slim figure…she was 5’8″ and weighted only 100lbs) and have her hair done every morning (it took three hours to deal with her ankle length hair).
Next stop was the Habsburg treasury. Rick Steves called this the best collection of jewels on the continent so we were excited! It did not disappoint. There were so many shiny things that sometimes you didn’t know which was to look. Two of the coolest & shiniest things were these beauties:
First, the personal crown of Rudolph II has survived since 1602. It was the adopted crown for the Austrian Empire after the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved. The second crown dates from 960 and is the crown of Otto I, the first king to call himself Holy Roman Emperor. It wasn’t just crowns though (although those were some of the best parts). We also saw cloaks, spetars, jewels, cradles, and soe ho,y relics…including tiny bones of many waits, the tooth of St John and a piece of Christ’s loincloth. Oh and also a narwhals horn!
The final stop on the Habsburg tour for the day was the Kaisergruft. Located in this Capuchin Church is the imperial crypt of the family. The idea of going into their crypt was a little creepy, but well worth a visit! There are a lot of coffins down there and each one is grander than the last! But after seeing where they lived & what they ate off of, we don’t know how we had expected any less. There were definitely a couple of highlights once we were underground: Empress Maria-Theresa is in a double coffin with her husband Franz I. And it is quite the coffin. (the third photo below). Those figures you see on there are life-sized…and creepily realistic… A couple of the tombs always have flowers nearby. The most popular tomb for flowers is Sisi. She lays beside her husband Franz Joseph, who is also next to their son, an archduke who committed suicide. Finally, the two most recent Habsburg’s have been layed to rest here. The last monarchs, who only ruled for two years before the Empire was dissolved, have been layed here since their recent deaths.
We had an early supper as we had evening plans. The restaurant we went to was nice and we bravely ordered off the German menu without any consultation with the waiter. It’s impressive how good we are getting at recognizing German food. The only real surprises about our meals were that they each had two courses. Kristin’s started with an orange soup (apple, carrot & curry we believe) and Justine’s finished with a dessert (some kind of loafy-cake thing with a meringue top). For the main courses, Justine’s turned out to be a piece of unbreaded schnitzel with pureéd potatoes and Kristin’s was spinach & cheese ravioli with a sweet beet sauce.
This morning, as we were walking around admiring the Opera House, a man in a old fashion red jacket walked up to us. You see these guys everywhere in Vienna and they are all selling tickets to random performances. We listened to our guy’s shpeal and decided that Vienna seemed like a very appropriate place to take part in a cultured event. Our show ended up being in the 14th century Palais Palfry in Figaro Hall, where Mozart gave concerts in 1792 with his sister. It was a relatively small hall (think larger room not concert hall) which gave everything a much more relaxed, intimate feel. There were 3 violins, a cello and a pianist and they played for an hour and a half. The first half of the show they were in period dress and performed Mozart. At intermission they changed into dressy black clothes and performed Strauss in the second half…Strauss is actually from Vienna! A really cool thing about the show was that at several different points other people came in to join the performance. There was a woman who sang opera for 4 different songs…she was incredible! We don’t know how a person can make their voice do what her’s does (and still make it sound good!). There was also a ballerina & male ballet dancer (ballerono?) who performed both solo and together. It wasn’t a fancy opera or anything but thanks to skating we know our classical music and were really able to enjoy the pieces they performed. But, being as we are not extremely classy folk, we liked that the show was more relaxed. All in all it was a great show, well worth the cheap price we paid for the tickets!
Highlights of the Day:
– Learning about the Habsburgs. Justine was so happy as this was on her to do list for when she got home…but Kristin actually really enjoyed it as well.
– Acting classy in this classy town!
Love, Luck & Leopold…he was a Hapsburg you know!