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Times and Places: Viennese delights

October, 2010

click here to view a slideshow of images from Vienna

Despite the fact that they were three of the hottest days in July, they were three of my most beautiful days in Austria.

I love travelling to experience different cultures, and I graciously welcomed the opulent, affluent, comfortable culture I found in Vienna.

Vienna, aka Wien in German, is the capital city of Austria. With a population of about 1.7 million, it is also Austria’s largest city. I had only three days to discover a city that could take a lifetime to explore.

Vienna is home to three luxurious and prodigious palaces, all only a few miles apart.

I arrived at the Belvedere Palace at 9am ready to roll, only to find out that it opened at 10am. I strolled through the gardens and walked under the sprinklers to cool off. The Belvedere is actually composed of two Baroque Palaces separated by gardens – a sprawling 17th century French-style parterre outfitted with tiered fountains, sculptures and majestic iron gates. Built between 1714 and 1722, it was originally the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, then the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It is now a magnificent art museum displaying 19th and early 20th century Austrian paintings. The Belvedere’s crown jewel is Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece “The Kiss,” which has gained somewhat of a celebrity status around Vienna, appearing on everything from key chains and mugs to umbrellas in souvenir shops. “The Kiss” was much larger than I expected, and though it is usually depicted as a rectangle, it is actually a square.

I must have looked quite disoriented in the splendidly grand streets on my way to the next palace – the infamous Hofburg, since friendly locals approached me to offer directions. I walked by the beautiful opera house, and then came across the Albertina art museum at the south end of the Hofburg complex. Situated in the heart of the city, The Hofburg Imperial Palace was home to the Habsburgs, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. The oldest segment of the building dates from the 13th century. It is a massive complex with a collection of museums, the Imperial Library, the National Theatre, the famous Winter Riding School, a Butterfly sanctuary, along with old Viennese shops. The offices of the president are also within the Hofburg. I walked through the Burggarten, a small park within the Hofburg and admired the statue of Mozart, Austria’s beloved musician.

The Butterfly sanctuary was an unexpected delight. I walked in to a little world of tropical trees and waterfalls… wondering where all the butterflies were. And just as I was pondering a giant blue butterfly fluttered around me and landed on my toes. All of a sudden like magic they all woke up. Over 150 species fluttering around in dazzling costumes.

Walking through the passageway lined with shops in the Hofburg I came across a store front window that caught my eye. It was Maria Stransky’s Petit Point. www.maria-stransky.at. In the window was intricate needlework jewelry, pictures and purses. This “Petit Point” embroidery method was made popular by Empress Maria Theresa during her reign. My birthday was coming up, so I justified my splurge and bought the most delicate gold necklace with a hand stitched rose. Heldenplatz is the large plaza at the main entrance to the Hofburg. It was eerily recognizable as the scene of Adolf Hitler’s announcement of the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich in 1938.

Hidden within the sidestreets in the heart of Vienna I found one of the Judenplatz (Jewish Place) museums. Next to the museum is a concrete cube whose walls are marked with casts of library shelves, signifying the Jewish love of learning. The museum, which is in what was once the old Jewish ghetto, displays artifacts of medieval Jewish life along side the remains of a 13th century synagogue.

My last stop of the day was the charming little Uhrenmuseum (Clock museum), also hidden deep within the side streets. The museum displays over 3000 clocks from the 15th century to the present. The old cuckoo clocks were my favorite and the plethora of chimes at the turn of the hour was quite enchanting.

I was so content with my day I returned to my little hostel, which unbeknownst to me was in the red light district, and fell asleep peacefully in the almost intolerable heat while the six other girls in my dorm fought over the direction to point the fan.

I dedicated my entire second day to the Habsburg summer residence – Schönbrunn Palace. This giant yellow schloss (palace) has 1441 rooms, of which only 40 are open to the public. My expectations were quite high, after touring Versailles just a few weeks before. Schönbrunn did not disappoint. I quite enjoyed the splendid display of opulence and glory. I loved the old paintings of Empress Elizabeth, and of Maria Theresa and her six children.

The gardens were pomp as well. I walked across the gardens to the glorious Gloriette for a beautiful view of the city. It was apparently one of Maria Theresa’s favorite spots, though towards the end of her life she grew so obese it took six men to carry her in her palanquin.

By the time I got to the Gloriette I was so hot and tired it would have been nice to have six men carry me down in a palanquin. I felt so at home at this palace I’m convinced that in a past life I was once a member of the Habsburg royal family.

Coincidentally, I was forced to move to a new hostel that evening. It was the Palace Hostel, located atop a hill next to the Palace Hotel.

I spent my third and final day in Vienna, which happened to be my birthday, at the Hofburg browsing through the Imperial Silver Collection, the Sisi Museum (dedicated to Empress Elizabeth whose beauty and mystique captivated the country), and the Imperial Apartments where Elizabeth and Franz Josef lived.

I walked around town in search of Sigmund Freud’s apartment to no avail. Freud left Vienna in 1938 due to the German occupation.

I had to visit one last site to complete my tour of Vienna and satiate my palate. The Hotel Sacher (www.sacher.com) is one of Vienna’s most famous attractions, namely for its legendary Sacher-Torte. Steps from the Hofburg, the Hotel Sacher was elegant, chic, and air-conditioned! The Sacher Café is the pinnacle of Viennese coffee culture. The waitress escorted me to a small table next to the window. I ordered the Sacher-Torte and a tall glass of ice water. The Sacher-Torte is one of Vienna’s defining desserts. Legend has it that it was created by a 16-year old sous-chef, Franz Sacher, who was challenged by Prince von Metternich, a known chocoholic, to prepare a dessert for several special guests. The simple cake was a success. It is composed of two layers of chocolate cake separated by a thin layer of apricot jam and covered with a thick layer of dense chocolate icing. It is served with unsweetened whipped cream. I ate slowly, savoring every bit while enjoying the luxurious Viennese setting. I hope to one day return to Vienna to stay at this hotel.

I returned to the Palace Hostel to have a birthday dinner with my new friends from the hostel. We were all very thankful for the evening thunderstorm.

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1 Comments:

At December 6, 2010 at 2:48 PM , Blogger Joanna said...

Hostel is a great low-cost way to sample local ingredients and specialties, and avoid the inevitable turn to fast food for cheap meals.

Hostels in Buenos Aires

 

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