Friday, June 28, 2013

Wandering in Vienna

Obligatory travel book and beer shot! And yes, R wears his ring on the wrong finger
We visited Austria in September of last year for a very short trip.
From my history classes in school, I knew the country was once the center of power of the vast Austria-Hungary Empire, the pivotal role it played in the First World War and of its participation in the Second. I was also well aware of the country's invaluable contribution to music and art.
However, nothing in my history lessons would prepare me for the majesty of Vienna's palaces, the eccentricities of Sissi and the Habsburg family, the beauty of Melk Abbey and the pure joy of listening to a Viennese Opera or seeing Klimt's The Kiss in person.

We were in Vienna for only about three days in all. We had initially intended to visit Salzburg for a day but after our first evening in Vienna we realized that 3 days would barely do the city justice.
Our itinerary -
Day 1 (Travel Day): Evening Walking Tour
Day 2: Belvedere Castle, Staat Opera, Viennese Orchestra
Day 3: Hofburg Palace, Melk Abbey
Day 4 (Travel Day):  Schonbrunn, St Stephen’s Cathedral 

We arrived jet lagged and travel weary but very eager to be in Vienna; so soon after lunch we walked around the neighborhood just to orient ourselves. I loved the feel of the city - the people were very friendly, the weather was beautiful and it was so vibrant, particularly the museum quarter which transformed itself at night into a hip open air hangout.

The Hofburg Palace gardens at night
The following morning we headed to The Belvedere. At the end of this trip, we would have seen the Hofburg Palace, The Schonbrunn and the Versailles but this was our first palace and it was breathtaking! For most of 2012, the city was celebrating Klimt's 150th year anniversary so we did get a chance to see his wonderfully exhibited paintings. I have always loved Klimt's Golden phase in part because they remind me of the gold leaf paintings of Tanjore and we spent more than a few hours strolling around the Upper Belvedere. The Kiss is magnificent in person but I was transfixed by Judith I - partial severed head notwithstanding!
The Belvedere, Vienna
We then walked to the Viennese State State Opera (Staatsoper). The opera house has a history dating back to the mid 19th century. The buildings' design was extremely unpopular with the public, in part due the perceived lack of grandeur, causing one of the architects (Van der Null) to commit suicide. The second architect (Sicardsburg) had a heart attack and died two months later. Sadly as a result, neither saw the completion of the building.
The famous Vienna Opera Ball is held at the opera house and our guide explained how the entire auditorium is transformed into an enormous ballroom virtually overnight. The effort it takes is extraordinary!
The Staatsoper Balcony
I have no words (Inside the Opera House)

One of my favorite evenings in Vienna was listening to the Vienna Hofburg Orchestra performing in Redoutensaal in the Palace that night. The classical music was simply beautiful accompanied by operatic singers and some lighthearted theatrics interspersed in between sets. I would definitely recommend this evening for the beautiful music and the unparalleled venue.

The next morning, we decided to tour the Hofburg Palace. The Palace was the primary imperial residence  and until 1918, the seat of the Emperor of Austria; today it is the official seat of the Austrian federal President. It is situated in the center of the city so we had walked by it more than a couple of times and I was looking forward to the tour.

We visited the Silver Collection, the Imperial apartments and the Sissi Museum.
The silver collection is ridic impressive - sort of the most impressive crockery cabinet you'd ever see! The piece de resistance is the gilded centerpiece pictured below. It was 10 m long and awe inspiring. I can't even begin to fathom the work that might have gone into making this.
Opulence, thy name is Hofburg Palace Table Centerpiece (For a size reference, please see R and me reflected in the mirror)
We also walked through the royal apartments (For some reason I always feel so voyeuristic when I visit personal spaces in tours like this). It was interesting to see the contrast in living spaces; the emperor was clearly a very frugal royal who was very much in love with his beautiful wife while Sissi lived like you would expect an Empress to live at that time except for a pretty serious 'gym' adjoining her room, speaking (in part) to her compulsion with weight loss and beauty.
We weren't allowed to take photographs within Sissi's museum (also within the palace) but it was a fascinating journey through the life of an enigmatic queen.
Panorama of the town of Melk
Sidenote: Can I just say that I love Ochre colored buildings. I have decided if we go to a city and there is an accessible ochre building, we shall visit it!
Speaking of which, I present to you the beautiful Melk Abbey.
The view from the town

So purrrrrrrty
If you are interested in the Benedictine Monks, or actually scratch that, even if you aren't (!) I urge you to visit this Abbey and the charming town of Melk.
Founded in the 11th century the building was rebuilt in the 18th century. The monastic community at Melk is over 900 years old and still to this day there are Benedictine monks that live here. The abbey is also home to  a prestigious monastery school with 700 students.
One of the highlights of the Abbey is the magnificent Library. Its two stories tall and houses nearly 80,000 volumes of what can only be described as priceless pieces of work.
The Marble Hall
The Marble Hall was beautiful; particularly interesting is the fresco on the ceiling. If you look at the photograph above, the ceiling appears curved, but it is in fact completely flat and the artist has painted it such that it gives the illusion of being curved at the edges :)
A corridor in the Abbey
The next morning we visited Schonbrunn. We almost didn't go to but I am so glad we squeezed it in the morning of our departure. I'd be kicking myself right now if we had skipped it. I can't remember what our rationale was for potentially missing this but you can safely assume it was not a good one!
B&W Schonbrunn
The Schonbrunn Palace was the summer residence of the Hapsburg family. The palace has over 1,400 rooms and while construction began in the 16th century it continued through the 17th and 18th with monarchs adding to the palace and its gardens.
While the interiors were beautiful, having already been to the Hofburg palace, I felt a lot of the anecdotes about the family (while still interesting) were stories we had already heard. What really blew me away about this palace were the gardens, we must have wandered around for over an hour and I think we could have easily stayed a few hours longer if we didn't have a flight to catch.

The lawns and sculptures transported you to another time but what I found amusing was that I'd be walking around trying to imagine what I would be doing if I were an 18th century royal (what? doesn't everyone do that?) when I'd suddenly be jolted back to the 21st century by a jogger rounding the corner listening to his/her ipod! This is simply because the gardens are free to the public (which I think is wonderful) and a lot of people come here for their daily walks/runs. How cool is that?!
Below are some pictures of the palace and its gardens.

View of the Palace and the Great Parterre through the Sun Fountain

The Gloriette with the Sun Fountain in the foreground
More Garden

Through one of the rooms in the palace
And that's it, our brief yet wonderful sojourn of Vienna.
I can cross a third of #43 off my list!

1 comment:

Vijay Shankar said...

Lovely photographs and write up on Vienna shreya . I love reading your blog.