Beautiful Belvedere, Stunning Schoenbrunn and the Incredible Imperial Apartments!
I’ve run out of superlatives to describe this awesome city. I love it so much, I’m thinking of relocating! (Joke!)
Belvedere Palace is where the Gustave Klimt collection is housed. Some of you might remember the movie ‘A Woman in Gold’ starring Helen Mirren was released. It tells the story of the of an elderly Jewish woman who attempts to reclaim her aunt’s portrait painted by Klimt which the Nazi’s stole in 1941. It’s based on a true story, and it features her long legal battle with the museum.I learnt from a bored assistant at a museum, there have been quite a few legal battles with various museums in Vienna over who owns the pictures, furniture or antiques. The Austrian government make the process of retrieving your relative’s possessions very difficult.
The gold on Klimt’s paintings close up is incredible, and I think one of the high lights of my trip so far. Early starts did pay here, as we visited when it opened, and avoided the crowds who arrived around 10am. The audio guide gave tips on what to admire in the paintings, and worth the extra few euro. Although you’re not supposed to take photos, I did cheat and take a couple. They didn’t come out well, probably due to the lightning in the room. So, cheating didn’t pay.
The Schoenbrunn Palace is where the Austrian Royal Family, the Hapsburgs lived in the summer. There are over 1,440 rooms in the palace, if you take the Imperial Tour you get to see 40! The grounds are the size of Monaco so you can get some idea of the vastness of the place. As it was a hot day, I took advantage of the 5 Euro miniature train which took just under an hour to circle the estate.
The guided tour walks you through the rooms where the Emperor and his Empress Sisi lived. Franz Joseph died in 1916, so it’s not that long ago. The rooms are preserved so it feels as if the Imperial family stepped out of them. Franz Joseph reigned for nearly 68 years. During this time, his only son and heir, Crown Prince Rudolf killed himself in a bizarre suicide pact with his young mistress. His brother Maximilian, who was crowned Emperor of Mexico was captured by rebels and murdered. The worst tragedy which befell him was the death of his beloved wife Sisi. She was assassinated in Geneva by an Italian anarchist.
There is a Sisi cult in Austria and I can understand why. She’s an incredibly interesting character. At the age of 16 years old she married Franz Joseph. She had led a sheltered, informal life in Bavaria before she was thrust into the rigid and structured Austrian court. She was at loggerheads with her mother-in-law from day one, and didn’t produce an heir until her third child. By nature,Sisi was introverted and prone I think, to depression. When her eldest daughter died, it became worse. She began to show symptoms of an eating disorder, and became obsessed with her weight. Franz Joseph was passionately in love with Sisi but she withdrew from him, and she began to travel excessively. Partly to escape the stifling formality of court life, and because of her health, which had suffered having three children in quick succession.Sisi loved the sea, and in rough weather she’d ask the sailors of the Imperial yacht to bind her to a chair so she could experience the thrill of the storm.
She was incredibly beautiful. Her long hair reached her feet. She spent hours on beauty routines and exercising. She was an accomplished horsewoman, fencer and spoke six languages including ancient Greek!
In the last years of her life, she spent most of her time with women and spent very little time in Vienna. She wrote ‘I am destined to leave this earth, without finding a soul mate.’
Yes, I learnt all about Sisi when I visited the Imperial Apartments and the museum dedicated to her. Again, an audio guide helped me retain this knowledge and I arrived at 9am before the swarm of German tourists arrived.
Another must see is the Jesuit Church. It’s a splendid example of early Baroque and is, in one word – stunning.
I nearly forgot to mention, I donated 120 euros to the Austrian post office. At Schoenbrunn I found a beautiful coffee table book. A bargain price for only 10 euro! I bought it despite warnings from my cousin and an American tourist because it was heavy. Yes, over 2kg. When visiting the Imperial Apartments, I bought another heavy weight about Maria Theresa. Yes, you guessed right another 2kg.
Ten days ago, I went to the Austrian lakes to have a break from cities and get creative. Apart from the blog I’ve not written anything, well, for a long time. Podersford Am Zee can be described as an Austrian Snells Beach. It’s extremely windy, probably worse than Wellington, kite and wind surfers holiday love it. It took me less than 2 hours to get there, and I had to rely on my poor German for all communication. Nobody spoke English, but I survived. On day two I went for lunch, but all the cafes close for a rest day. Day one of the diet – a packet of Tuc biscuits. The hotel looked over the lake, so I sat rugged up on the balcony hammering out words. I finished a short story in three days! Awesome!The diet was over on day two, when I tucked into a large plate of Apfel strudel with vanilla custard!