Habsburgs, Lippinzaner, Jugedstil...oh my!

Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
Trip End Nov 24, 2009

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Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just so everyone knows about the title, Jugedstil is the Viennese version of Art Nouveau. And if it was catchy I would throw "chocolate goodies" into the title, but that just wouldn't work out. Enjoy Michi’s writing everyone! -Andre

We are at the train station in Vienna right now, waiting for our train to Ljubljana, Slovenia. We spent 4 good (but sometimes cold, windy, and rainy) days in Vienna. We had a good mixture of exploring/sightseeing and relaxing. Vienna is kind of in the middle of being considered Western vs. Eastern Europe. It definitely feels more “Western” to me though. Everything is spoken or written in German so I guess it kind of feels like Germany. People don’t seem as reserved as in Germany though. And almost everyone speaks English, which is really helpful.

There are such gorgeous buildings in Vienna. Around “The Ring” where the old city walls used to be are all the big buildings and sites. We took a tram ride around The Ring on the first day. The tram line went by all the major sites. So before we went around on foot to explore the town, we got a preview of it.

The Hapsburg Dynasty (The Hapsburgs are a family that ruled this area for over 600 years, ending when WWI started) has left gorgeous buildings everywhere. Their old residence, now called The Hapsburg Apartments, was a really neat place to explore. Most of their original furniture and knickknacks are still there so we could see what their royal lifestyle was like. We saw the bedrooms and living quarters of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elizabeth (Sisi), who were the last popular Hapsburgs to live there. We saw their ballroom, the dining room, and all sorts of various rooms. I love that kind of stuff. It really allows me to imagine that time period and what their lives were like. There was even a separate museum dedicated to Sisi who was a celebrity at the time. She was married to Franz Josef at around  age 16 and became a beauty icon. She had a famous 20” waistline and long, wavy brown hair down to her ankles. Her life became a tragic story though because her first child died at the age of 2 and then when her son was 30 he committed suicide. All in between she was miserable because she was such a public spectacle and felt she had no freedom. She wrote poetry that expressed how she felt, some we got to read. She was also obsessed with her looks. There were many paintings of her up until the age of 30. After that, she didn’t allow anymore paintings of herself because she didn’t want to be shown looking old. When she was in her 60’s she was in stabbed in the chest with a file by an Italian anarchist as she was about to board a boat. She didn’t really know she was mortally wounded until she died a few hours later. We got to see the murder weapon in a display case. It looks like a blunt knife but is (I think) a file that people use to open envelopes. The Sisi museum basically just showed her life, with replicas of gowns she wore and actual articles of clothing and personal items.

The Hapsburgs also collected a lot of art, mostly paintings, from Raphael to Rembrandt to various other famous artists. We got to see the museum where most of these famous paintings are kept. 

When the Hapsburgs weren’t at their mansion in the city center of Vienna, they were at their summer palace, called the Schonbrunn Palace, a few miles away. We got to visit this huge palace (that apparently rivals Versailles in Paris) and it was full of so many elaborately decorated rooms and furniture. Those rooms (living rooms, bedrooms, dining rooms, ballrooms, etc) were decorated from floor to ceiling in all sorts of Art Nouveau, Rococo, Oriental, and other styles. There were a few rooms that are not open to the public (but you can see them behind the ropes) because they are so fancy and need to be well preserved.

Another cool thing to do in Vienna is go to the world famous Opera house. We bought standing room tickets and saw part of an opera one night. The opera house was beautiful so it was worth the 3 euro ticket to be allowed access even though we couldn’t see the stage.

I think my favorite thing we did in Vienna was go to the “morning exercise” of the Lipizzaner stallions. The Lipizzaner are famous horses that originated from Spain and have always been privately owned by royalty. They are all purebred horses (of Spanish, Italian, and Oriental blood) and have remained purebred since they are only in contact with other Lipizzaner horses. These horses even have surnames and family trees. They are famous for their high level of training. Riders can make these horses do things I didn’t know horses could do. This morning we got to see a practice session where the riders had them doing really fancy footwork and all sorts of things. In the expensive performances, the riders make the horses rear up, sometimes without their back feet even touching the ground. The best trained Lipizzaner stallions can even do tricks without riders even on their backs. Instead the riders will be standing next to them and commanding them from the ground. It’s amazing. All the Lipizzaner are white too. They are born dark, either brown or black and eventually evolve into white. Some of the younger stallions we saw today were an Appaloosa color (white with dark spots underneath).

I don’t know if anyone has heard of a Sacher Torte (I hadn’t) but it’s a famous Austrian chocolate torte and has been made by a certain hotel for 175 years. We had the original Sacher Torte one night in the hotel restaurant. It was really good and really different than you’d imagine. It was much drier than a regular chocolate slice of cake but it had all these different flavors to it. I think the only distinct flavor we could pick up on was raspberry. The rest is a mystery. I don’t think anyone could ever recreate that torte. We read that the recipe is locked away and only a handful of people have ever even seen it.

We stayed in a hostel that apparently was big with the European school groups. Every day a new batch of 20+ high school kids would arrive and havoc would break out. They would run around the stairwells, pressing the up and down buttons for all the elevator floors. So either you have to walk up and down the stairs to get to your room or you wait over 15 minutes for the elevator to finally get to your floor. Last night in particular was the worst. A group arrived and immediately set up camp in the lounge area. They started singing karaoke on the machine. They were all singing American songs in weird Austrian accents. Imagine an American pop song being sung karaoke style (bad), with an accent (worse), by an annoying high school student (terrible). The only place to get internet access was in the lounge so I had to be subjected to that last night. It was funny though because right while this was going on, Andre was in the kitchen downstairs trying to turn the ghetto hot pot stove on and a fuse blew which shut off electricity to the whole building and had the fire alarm going off downstairs. The second the power went off (and amongst the screaming Austrian high schoolers) I knew Andre had something to do with it because he had told me he was having trouble getting the burners to work. The whole fiasco was pretty funny.  

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