Today the plan was to visit a few more churches, the Hofburg palace complex and some shops. First things first, however, and I headed up one floor to breakfast. The staff here at Nossek was very friendly and immediately brought me coffee, which rated them high marks in my book. Breakfast was good and very familiar, consisting of meats, cheeses, muesli and other cereals, fruit, yogurt and bread.
My first stop this morning was St. Michael’s Church (Michaelskirch), near the Hofburg complex. I really liked this church – it was friendly and beautiful and had some amazing frescoes. The church is Romanesque and dates back to the 13th century. Many years ago, it was the parish church of the Imperial Court – and very convenient, since it sits right next to the Hofburg Palace.
And speaking of the palace, it was next on my list. I headed on in and bought my ticket to see the Imperial Apartments, Sisi’s collection (the last reigning empress of the Austrian dynasty – she was assassinated in the late 1800′s), and the Imperial Silver Collection. Winding my way around the various tour groups, I started off in the area that showed the various household items that were used to sustain a royal household. Room after room showed vast arrays of silver, porcelain and copper dinnerware and kitchen items, not to mention the decorative items that every palace should have.
Even when a meal included just the immediate family, there was certain protocol to be followed, which included fine place settings, floral displays and a table that could seat twenty or more.
Next was Sisi’s area. The audioguides discussed her life, which sounded somewhat tragic. There were several movies made about her, including Sissi, starring Romy Schneider in 1955 (the movie Americanized her nickname). Her son, Rudolf, committed suicide and she was unhappy as a monarch. She was also somewhat vain and refused to have any portraits painted after a certain age, so that she would not be seen as any older. The collection included several gowns, paintings, jewelry, and her rooms. Sisi’s hair was waist length and shampooing it took several maids and a whole day (the shampoo used was a blend of eggs and cognac).
The tour concluded with a walk through some of the other palace rooms and ended up (as every tour does) in the gift shop. After I left the courtyard, I headed out and took a quiet relaxing walk through the Volksgarten, which lies between the Hofburg palace and the museums. Somewhere along the way, I stopped to pick up some gelato. There is gelato all over Vienna and it’s as tasty as Italy’s.
There was only one museum I especially wanted to see – the MAK – and that was for another day, but I did wander through the museum area. The Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History museum) was closed but the others were open and booming with tourists. Interestingly, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the Museum of Fine Arts) had an identical exterior to the Natural History Museum. They both face each other across the square. The gardens in front contained large rounded topiary.
Spittelburg was next on my walking tour. This neighborhood, which consists of about six streets near the Museum Quarter, is much sought after by upper class Viennese. The area was charming, with cobblestone streets and leafy green trees adding shady relief through the narrow streets. As much as I enjoy the magnificent architecture of Vienna, it was a nice change of pace.
After grabbing a quick snack at a local cafe (most offer pastries and cappuccino to go), I was ready for my next stop – the Kapuzinergruft, a crypt that contains the tombs of most of the Austrian royal family. The crypt was in the basement of the Kapuzinerkirche, and contained tomb after tomb of royal names. Some were fairly plain, but many were very ornate. The coffin of Elizabeth of Bavaria (Sisi) was towards the end. She lay on one side of her husband, Franz Joseph, and their son, Rudolf, who committed suicide, lay on the other.
The Naschtmarkt was my next stop. This is a huge open-air market that contains not only fruits and vegetables, but a wide variety of ethnic goods, restaurants, fresh fish and other odds and ends. I bought some peppers and olives for later, and some spices to take home. The market was packed with hundreds of locals and tourists and filled with heavenly aromas.
Karlskirch (St. Karl’s Church) was nearby. I was starting to get a little “churched-out,” but hated to miss it, since it was so close and is one of the most ornate Baroque churches in Vienna. And it was definitely ornate – the paintings and frescos alone were absolutely beautiful, along with the brilliant gold statuary. I visited here for a while, looking at its beauty (and also the coffins – this church was another recipient of the cardinal’s skeleton collection).
After that, I was beat – no more sightseeing for the day. Besides, it was close to dinnertime, so I wandered up towards Figlmüller – a restaurant that is renowned world-wide (well, the New York Times wrote about it) for its wiener schnitzel. If I was going to have wiener schnitzel (and I had to have wiener schnitzel in Vienna), I might as well go for the gusto. I was a little worried about getting a seat, since most guidebooks recommended reservations, but I was in luck. One of the staff told me that if I could wait a few minutes, I could share a table.
This is fairly common practice in Europe and I don’t mind – in fact, it’s a great way to meet other people. The young man and woman who I wound up sharing the table with were native Israelians, and were in Vienna on business (they both worked for a small Israeli computer company). They were very impressed by my German (I loved the compliment but felt the need to explain that my German only covered food, drink and directions). At any rate, we all ordered the schnitzel, a salad and wine.
The schnitzel was delicious and huge – it covered the entire plate and then some. It was served with some jam, which is used as a garnish. The jam (which looked like lingonberries, but I later found out were tiny cranberries) was delicious with the schnitzel, giving it a wonderful salty/sweet flavor. The salad was also good and consisted of warm potato salad topped with fresh greens.
The Israelis and I (I never did find out their names) spent the meal talking about their country and mine. They have both traveled a bit, and the man told me that his best day ever was the day he stood on Times Square in New York. I laughed, but he was serious. New York is a big thing to a lot of people. They were both born in Israel, but interestingly, the woman sounded almost American, whereas the guy had a definite accent. I asked them about this, and neither of them knew why their accents were so different.
After dinner, we left at the same time and walked back together chatting until we split up and headed to our respective hotels…
Tomorrow – out to the countryside for a Danube river cruise!