Nom de Plumage

February 8, 2013

An Era of Splendour and Wealth in Imperial Austria


Snow, unlike rain, does not lash the rooftops with a steady rhythmic drop. Ever so gentle, you are unaware of nature’s surprise until you awake and step out your front door, to be greeted with a thick white layer of snow. It is a surreal moment and made more so, when your feet crunch through the cold powder, leaving your footprints for just a moment in time. Unlike the city, the snow in the mountains remain pristine and beautiful, but once you enter the city, it is nothing but a grey, wet sludge.

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When you first glimpse the vast estate of the Habsburg families city residence, you quickly come to understand the wealth and splendour that the family had acquired and enjoyed over several centuries. Ornate stone walls and white stone statues, are only to tease you for what truly lies within the stone walls. I enter the massive steel gates and walk down the long driveway, trying to avoid being run-over by the many horse-drawn carriages that canter by. Only a few cities in the world still have these age-old modes of transport and although slow and somewhat hazardous (with the many kilograms of dung to assail the nostrils), it is romantic and still a beautiful way to travel. But for the budget conscious back-packer, it is but a dream. A disabled solo-violinist, stands protected from the cold, under the main arch of the museums entrance. His beautiful music invites you and his smile greets you and transports you back in time.

White Stone Magnificence

White Stone Magnificence

The Entrance

The Entrance

The Prelude to Imperialism

The Prelude to Imperialism

The Driveway

The Driveway

Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth – or affectionately known as Sissi – apartments, are converted into a museum for the ‘Imperial Silverware’. Beautiful, elegant, priceless and surreal, this incomplete collection is one of the most beautiful that I have seen thus far. The ‘piece-de-resistance’ is at the end and it is a stunning porcelain set, a gift from England‘s Queen Victoria to the Austrian Royal Family. That piece alone is worth the entrance price. The Sissi apartment was a little disappointing. The majority of the furniture and other pieces were replica’s. But her jewellery and paintings are real and they give some insight to her sad but very privileged life. During her long life, she became a recluse and avoided being seen in public. Her popularity diminished towards the end of her life and her death was at the hand of an assassin. But through the ages, her myth has become legend and it is only in death, that she has become an iconic figure. Her beauty is admired, her unhappy marriage well documented and her wish for freedom written in her own hand through her diary and poetry.

Sissi Buste

Sissi Buste (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You cannot visit Vienna and not see a performance at the famous “Spanish Riding School‘. Albeit, a very expensive performance, but a must-see nonetheless. I purchased a ‘standing-only’ ticket for tomorrow’s performance and then made my way to the very beautiful stables to see the star performers. Only a select few performers were on show as they are groomed and pampered by their master’s.

The Elegant Stables

The Elegant Stables

I am never one for missing an opportunity to visit a library and I found (much to my delight) the National Library housed further along the driveway. A beautiful Baroque ceiling fresco and wooden panels and beams, are a testament to the elegance and wonderful craftmanship of those to designed and constructed this gem. But as a lover of all things books, I am disappointed with the absence of the characteristic musty smell of old books. Oh well, cannot win them all.

Lunch was a very crowded affair. I walked for some time, looking for a traditional restaurant serving a hearty Austrian meal. I came across a little gem, hidden away from the main shopping precinct. But I was not the only person to discover this place because it was full with hungry patrons. Not to be deterred, I walked in and was happily shown to a table at the back of the restaurant. I had just ordered my meal and beer, when the waiter politely asks if I would be willing to share my table with a woman who is also on her own. I had no problem with that, in fact it looked better for us both because as a single female sitting in a restaurant on her own, is slightly uncomfortable. I know that something as trivial as dinning alone, should not deter any woman, life is meant to be enjoyed and when the circumstance arises, then just do it. It still is, something that I deal with on my travels, but slowly I just get on with it, otherwise I will miss out on all the wonderful food that each country offers.

After lunch, I searched and slowly found the wonderful Castle Belvedere. It was the residence of a man whom I have admired through the pages of history, Prince Eugene. Originally from France, he fought in many wars in France, without much recognition that was due to him and so he moved to Austria. Here, he is granted a stunning castle as reward for his heroic’s in war. A small man in stature, he made up for it in his successful campaigns. When you pass through the admission centre and walk out the back door, you immediately see the beautiful castle high above on a hill. It is a slow walk up the many stairs, enjoying the many statues and garden layout . Unfortunately, being winter, there is not much of a garden to see. The closer I got, the more excited I got to finally enter the little man’s home, that is until I got inside. It was void of anything that belonged to the Prince. It is converted into an art gallery and if you like obscure and modern art, well this place is for you. Personally, I came because of the Prince and am disappointed. There was one small consolation in the form of a painting of the Prince, that actually belonged to him. The castle is still stunning and I am grateful to have the opportunity to walk upon the same creaky wooden floors as the Prince.

The sun was slowly sun setting and it was time to make my way slowly home. I needed to think of dinner and thought I would make my way along the Ringstrasse, to one of the Christmas markets for my dinner. Well, it was not meant to be because all three markets were over-flowing with humanity. It was so crowded and uncomfortable, that I headed home and found something along the way. My flat mate was there waiting and ready for another round of politics. Great!

Castle Belvedere - first glimpse

Castle Belvedere – first glimpse

 

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Part of the garden Part of the garden

Shilling Gasthaus Vienna - 1

 

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