Vienna, the seat of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the centre of culture! Salzburg, nestled against the Bavarian alps where the hills are alive! (…with the sound of muuuusic…).
J and I had a whirlwind trip that only whetted my appetite to go back someday, and I really might if I have the opportunity. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to do, see and eat. We still got to experience lots, considering, but I think we needed at least another day to really soak it in.
I was especially excited to visit Vienna after my trip to Prague, which I called “Vienna lite.” Not in a pejorative way; Prague was beautiful, but light on substance because its time as a major seat of power politically and religiously was centuries ago. In fact, the Hradcany Castle, beautiful and magical as it is when lit up on the hilltop at night, has barely anything to see inside. The rooms are bare, with an occasional chair here and wardrobe there. I mean, Charles lived there in, what, the 13th century? Prague’s glory days, geopolitically speaking, are in the distant past, though it remains a major tourist attraction thanks to its well-preserved charm and well-stocked breweries. Maria Theresia, who ruled in the mid-1700s, was the most recent of the Habsburg monarchy to spend a significant amount of time in Prague, though she herself was born at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
Visiting Vienna picked up nicely from where I left off in Prague. The exhibit at the Hofburg Palace begins with Maria Theresia but focuses mostly on the time of Franz Josef, under whom the Habsburg line and monarchical rule entirely came to an end with World War I.
We stayed at a beautiful apartment near Karlsplatz station, which was designed by Otto Wagner. We set out early in the morning because we only had one full day in Vienna, since we arrived Thursday evening and would head to Salzburg on Saturday morning. That meant that we had to breeze by lots of sights, such as the Spanish Riding School, which I would have loved to see, and the Albertina Museum as well… The Klimts! The masters! Well, there will be other cities.
We spent half a day touring the Hofburg Palace, where we saw three attractions: the silver collection, the Empress Sissi exhibit and the royal apartments.
There were lots of shiny things, often somewhat haphazardly displayed. I guess if I had that much gold and silver and fine china lying around, I wouldn’t really know how to display my 5000 silver place settings either. And yes, in the first photo, those are all cake moulds. The Habsburgs really liked sweets.
We weren’t allowed to take photos in the Empress Sissi exhibit, so I’ll just tell you now, she was one strange and fascinating lady. She was very beautiful, beloved by her husband but not by the people because she became increasingly depressed and withdrawn and found an outlet in wanderlust. Above is a suitcase filled with her traveling silverware to accompany on her many travels. Apparently, whenever she took sea voyages (which she preferred), during storms she would tie herself to the ship deck like Ulysses to go down with this ship, if it ever should. It didn’t, but she did meet a tragic early end. Though the public didn’t pay her much attention while she lived in solitude, her assassination made her a memorialized public figure.
Franz Josef also got to take his silver with him, with a special case made for his hunting tumblers.
This was mildly amusing—the audioguide informed me that only two living people know the secret of napkin folding in the imperial way, with the fan shapes and the mini bread rolls tucked in the two sides. Seems like it wouldn’t be that hard to figure out, just annoying to replicate…
… but I will give credence to their claim that napkin-folding is a lost art. The napkins used to fold these creatures are several meters long, and the intricate folds used to make rounded body shapes was very impressive.
I’ll be honest though, the real reason I took so many pictures of the silver and china displays was because of how beautiful and fascinating everything was. I’m planning out my future kitchen wares.
And when I do have my silver collection all prepared with traveling trunks to match, I will make sure I have all the proper wine glasses to go with my nine kinds of wine. Yep.
This collection, I think I could do without. The neo-rococo style, maybe because it’s all scrunched together on too small a table, actually seems quite garish here. It reminds me of the Schloss Sanssouci, which had golden vines strewn up and down the walls and ceilings of the palace rooms. The Hofburg Palace rooms were more toned down, and the displays were very well done. Circumstances weren’t in his favor, but Franz Josef seems to really have been a thoughtful, well-intentioned ruler and an upstanding man. Respect.
(C, if you’re reading this, remember the audioguide narrator from Schloss Sanssouci, and how he would pretentiously pause before pronouncing French and German words in an exaggerated accent? Well, I thought the audioguide narrator at this palace sound familiar… and then… again with the pretentious pauses!!! Totally the same guy.)
Hundezone! Translation: Happy puppy land :]
Next stop: the beautiful Vienna State Opera for a guided tour. With a fusion of neo-gothic, neo-renaissance, neo-what-have-you styles, the opera house was at first decried by the public when opened in 1869, leading the architect to commit suicide. Eep, feel sorry for him. He should have waited a bit longer, because it wasn’t all that bad; Don Giovanni premiered when the opera house opened, with Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Sissi in attendance.
That evening was the opening night of Carmen, so we waited in line for standing tickets to see the production. They only cost 4 euros, but there is really no space to sit or squat in between those railings (above, people are relaxing during intermission, but during the show there are twice as many people, so it’s literally standing-room only). And it was hot and sweaty and started to get smelly and my back was killing me. Thankfully though, the numbers dwindled after every act, so by the third act it got comfortably spacious.
*The trick if you want to snag cheap tickets to the opera is that you have to stand in line early on the night of the performance you want to attend. You can start lining up three hours before the show, and people do. The ticket window opens 80 minutes before curtain, and then you have to line up and wait, line up and wait, and then you run to the railings and tie a scarf to it to claim your spot. The great thing about the State Opera is that they have a different show every night, so if you stay a few nights in Vienna you could do this every night!
The bottom-middle section (called the parterre) in the above left photo is where we were standing–not too shabby a view. My neighbor was kind enough to let me use her binoculars from time to time too.
What I appreciated about the opera in Vienna is the elaborate curtain calls. People toss bouquets onto the stage (although they often fall short and end up in the orchestra pit instead). The cast come out repeatedly, as an ensemble, then one by one, then again, and again, whilst the audience continues to clap. Our tour guide had told us that the longest-running ovation lasted over an hour, with more than 100 curtain calls. Can you imagine? Every performance I’ve been to at Lincoln Center has saddened me because people immediately gather their things and leave as soon as the last note sounds. No matter how many people stay and clap, it’s still rude if 10% of the audience streams out while you’re taking your first bow.
Oh my! I can’t believe I started off by saying we didn’t get to do enough while in Austria, and already this entry is getting way too long. A few photos and we’re on to Salzburg, then!
We took a quick tram tour around the city, where the National Theatre, Parliament and numerous other incredibly imposing and beautiful buildings passed us by. We stopped for sausages (of course) and a quick stroll through Nachsmarkt to pick up lunch. Mmm, was it good. It felt so quintessentially European to be in a rail car, traversing the Austrian countryside, whilst eating hearty bread, delicious camembert and the most scrumptious strawberries I’ve tasted yet. And chocolate, obviously.
Salzburg at last! We hustled to make it in time for the Sound of Music tour, with a tour guide who looked a lot like Ewan McGregor. We drove past numerous sites, including the hotel where the cast stayed, the house where Mozart grew up, and various filming locations for the movie. The tour lasted about four hours and included a longish drive into the Bavarian Alps, which was SO AWESOME. The lakes, the palaces, the movie memories! With the soundtrack playing in the van from place to place. So magical.
Pictured above, our first stop was the place where they filmed the Salzburg Music Festival scene, when they’re planning their escape from the Nazis mid-performance. We couldn’t go inside because it’s closed during the winter, but it was impressive to see the massive rock walls from the outside all the same.
Leopoldskron Palace, and the lake where the boating scenes from the movie were filmed. The view here was incredible. The tour was light on history, so I don’t know much about who lived here, but I’ve been getting the basics from Wikipedia—some Archdukebishopric guy had it built in the rococo style. Yeah.
Blue-tinted shots taken out the van window—the 11th-century Hohensalzburg fortress against a mountainous backdrop.
The pavilion used in the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” number is now at Schloss Hellbrunn, where J and I took really goofy pictures. What can I say? J made me watch Blades of Glory, and without even realizing it, I channeled some cheesy figure skating moves to pose for this picture. Hahaha.
The wedding scene in the film was not filmed in Salzburg, but in nearby Mondsee, at this abbey. Oh man. This church does not bother with its heating system—it was honestly colder inside the church than it was outside.
In honor of the city in which Mozart was born and raised (his birth house is pictured above), I tried a Mozart chocolate ball, apparently one of his faves. It’s got a lot of rings of different flavors encased in dark chocolate: a marzipan center, nougat, and some other things.
In the evening we made our way back to the Yoho International Youth Hostel, my first hostel experience. It was actually quite comfortable and no boys peeked over my bathroom stall, thankfully. It was basically about the level of staying at an overnight retreat center, but the beds were comfy and the receptionist gave us the BEST dinner recommendation ever. We went to Die Weisse, where we ordered a pork dish that honestly made it right up to the top-three pork experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The only real competitors I can think of are my mom’s daeji bulgogi, and samgyupsal. This pork was like prime rib au jus, but with tender fatty pork. Mmmmmmmmm.
*Tip: if you’re in Salzburg, go here. EVERY NIGHT. But make a reservation—it was fully booked up, and we begged our way to two seats at the bar. And good thing we did, because this was amazing.
Our last morning in Salzburg, we again woke up early to make the most of our remaining time and walked around the city. We stopped by the Mirabell Palace and Garden, which has some surprisingly cute and goofy animal statues. Pegasus with his mouth hanging open (from the front, he really looked more like Donkey from Shrek), and two lackadaisical lions just staring off into space and minding their own business.
We’d driven by the horse wash in a flash the night before, and I really wanted to go back for a closer look.
Swans on the Salzach River.
So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen adieu…
*Special thanks to J for providing some of the photos used in this entry, and for planning a jam-packed itinerary to make the most of our short days in Austria!