May 15 – Vienna
The day dawned very cold and drizzly and I once again took a trot around the Augarten, for a quick, short early morning run, passing some familiar faces from yesterday and greeting some new ones. A chilly but top start to the day.
The weather decided to crack up even further today, single digit temperature, rain, wind and just plain freezing cold. With those conditions upon us we decided to spend some time inside so we took ourselves off to the U and rode the underground out to Schönbrunn Palace. This was the summer palace for the Habsburg monarchy, they of the centuries long rule, and was constructed in the time of Maria Theresa, she of the sixteen children, and her husband Franz Stephan.
We joined the masses to walk through the various rooms and apartments of the former Emperors and Empresses and I had to smile at the sight of us all. With the crowds of other tourists, we collected our audio guide at the entrance, which was just a hand held device the look and size of a TV remote control, that we held to our ear. So there we were, hundreds of multinational sheep, herding ourselves en masse through the rooms, in complete silence with each of us walking around with a TV remote glued to our ear, heads going left, right, up and down in almost synchronised unison as we followed the voice in our ear telling us what to look at. It was almost comical to have so many people and no voices, no noise, just silent self-herding, holding our “TV remote” to our heads, trying not to trip over the heels in front of us, while we turned to look at that painting, or raise our heads to gaze at that chandelier, following the voice to the suggested items of interest. Synchronised silent tourist herding, a new Olympic sport? No photography or filming of any sort, with any device, even for personal reasons was allowed inside the palace, so we could take no photos of what we were seeing and everyone was very well behaved. I didn’t spot a single covert smartphone snap from anyone. We were allowed to take photos outside in the gardens though, so more on that in a minute.
This palace was built by the Habsburg’s to deliberately try and outdo the Palace of Versailles, since France were their sworn enemies (until Maria Theresa started marrying off all her kids of course)! You had to give them points for effort because they certainly went all out on the opulence, tapestries, gold details, paintings and chandeliers. Every room had something dangling or glinting or making a “look at us, aren’t we terribly rich and important and grand” statement. I actually thought one of the highlights were the cleaners. As we walked through the rooms, the cleaners were at work, wiping and dusting and mopping particular rooms and spaces. I saw one lady dusting and wiping down things in the room that was Franz Joseph’s bedchamber (he of the family members who died, or were killed). It was that particular room in which he died and there was a painting of him on his death bed sitting on an easel on display. The lady who was cleaning began to wipe around the painting of him and…doink!…she bumped the painting so it dropped slightly askew. With nothing more than a cursory flick, she nudged it back and continued her wiping, but that oh so special portrait of that oh so regal former Emperor, stayed wonky on his display easel. That lady had a job to do and it was to get on and clean and wipe and dust, all of which she was doing spectacularly thoroughly and she showed no a wit of interest or deference to significant objects of history. They were just things to clean, so wonky or not, didn’t matter to her, she just wanted to get on! Franz Joseph remain slightly sideways as I passed by. It was a lovely moment of modern day reality amongst the trappings of historic ostentation.
It was interesting listening to the audio guide and learning a little more about the dynasty that summered within those walls and grounds over the centuries. I still have not a clue how they’re all connected though, it’s a family tree that just goes on and on and on and seems more a family vine than a tree, with cousins marrying cousins and aunties being mothers-in-law at the same time and everyone being connected to everyone in various other countries. It’s a very convoluted family! Some snippets I do recall, if you would like in on some of the stories and gossip from an Austrian dynasty are:
Franz Joseph married his wife Elisabeth (known affectionally as Sisi), who was also his cousin. He was supposed to marry her older sister, but took a shine to the younger, fifteen year old Elisabeth and decided to marry her instead, when she was sixteen. Apparently he absolutely worshipped Sisi but it’s said the feeling was not mutual on her part. In a letter, she once wrote, “Marriage is an absurd institution, one is sold as a fifteen year old child and makes a vow one does not understand and then regrets for thirty years or longer but cannot undo.” Sisi did not fit in at court at all and hated being there. She was scrutinised incessantly by her mother-in-law and so would travel widely as a way of escaping, lived an independent life and was rarely seen in Vienna. Despite this, the people loved her and she is still remembered fondly and with an air of mystique surrounding her. She was also said to be very vain, contrary and somewhat difficult. She insisted a residence be built in Greece, so she could escape from palace life to there, however when it was complete, she said she wouldn’t go there after all. She was said to be very beautiful but was also very vain, was obsessed with her looks and spent most of the day on her beauty regime and caring for her ankle-length hair. She ate very little, wanting to preserve her figure and made use of a meat press, choosing to consume“meat juice” and rarely attended family meals. As she aged, she was rarely seen in public because she didn’t want to be seen to grow old and when she did have to venture out, she covered her face with a fan. When she was assassinated by being stabbed at the age of 61, by an Italian anarchist, her attendants didn’t know immediately that she’d been stabbed. She continued walking, boarded the steamer she was catching on Lake Geneva and eventually collapsed. Her corsets were so tight, they stemmed the flow of blood from the stabbing and it was only when she felt faint and her attendants loosened the corsets to allow her to breathe more easily that the injury was seen. By then it was too late for Sisi.
Of Maria Theresa’s sixteen children, eleven were daughters and those that survived into adulthood were married off for political reasons. Marie Antonia was the youngest and only 15 when she was married off to the heir to the French throne. Maria Theresa’s favourite daughter was Maria Christina and she was the only one allowed to marry for love, marrying Albert of Saxony-Teschen. What a life eh…being palmed off as children to be married to this fella and that fella all because your mum’s playing politics. Also, if you were one of the daughters, you’d have to think perhaps your mum is a little obsessed with herself, so much so that you keep having sisters with the same name as yourself or your mum. Really! You’d have to ask the question…C’mon mum, I know you’re Maria, but isn’t one daughter called Marie or Maria enough!? Maria Theresa’s eleven daughters were Marie Antonia (Antoinette), Marie Karolina, Maria Christina, Maria Amalie, Maria Elisabeth, Maria Anna, Maria Josepha, Maria Johanna and Maria Karoline. Just imagine the shenanigans in the nursery…”Muuuuuuummm, Maria bit me!” “It wasn’t me it was Maria.” “Don’t blame me, I didn’t do it, it was Maria!” “I did not, it was Maria!”….
In the Mirrors Room (absolutely nothing like the Hall of Mirrors at Versaille I might add), Maria Theresa enjoyed hosting small concerts and it was in that room that a young, six year old Mozart gave his first concert.
One of the rooms, the Great Gallery, was the setting for the historic encounter between President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev.
I also read about poor Agnes, who was married to Leopold III. I’m declaring Agnes a superhero for the day, because she’s an absolute superwoman. It was a mighty tough life for a woman back then and if you weren’t being married off when you should have still been enjoying cheeky childhood, you had a life of almost permanent child bearing, but Agnes wins the prize for resilience in that department. When she married Leo she was a widow with eleven children, yep, she already had eleven kids that she took into that marriage and then…and THEN…she and Leo had another eighteen themselves. EIGHTEEN! That poor woman gave birth to twenty-nine, count ‘em TWENTY-NINE children! Oh Agnes. I don’t know whether to applaud you or cry for you. Give that woman a monument somewhere please!
It was a very grand palace, but the verdict is… not a patch on Versailles, so they didn’t quite beat the French in that contest. After walking through the sumptuous rooms and hearing some stories and learning some history, we had a cuppa and a drink for elevenses in the cafe, braced ourselves for the freezing cold and took a turn around the grounds.
They were spectacular, a huge park and splendid gardens spanning acres and acres.
Having spent our time with the rich and aristocratic, it was time for lunch, so back to the U we went. We found another vegan cafe, which was convenient, but I am well over cafe eating now. It’s nice for the novelty and as a treat, because we just don’t have that choice of vegan eateries at home at all, but in some of the places we’ve been, the food may be vegan but it sure ‘aint healthy! I had a wrap but I’m ready to get back to my whole-food way of eating all day and have a break from what is essentially just “vegan junk food”. Steve thoroughly enjoyed his veggie Schnitzel burger and sweet potato waffle fries though!
A few errands for supplies and to find some wash treatment for the tent and we were done for the day. We really hope we can camp tomorrow and want to have the tent good to go. We were really disappointed to find it had grown mould. When we camped way back in Croatia, we had to pack it up wet after it rained over night (surprise, surprise) and that same day, at elevenses, we laid it out in the sun to dry it, but it was obviously still damp, because when we took it out again a week ago, to lay it in the sun again and air it out, ready for use (thinking optimistically) we saw that it had most definitely grown some mould. So, we’ll need to wash and treat it before we can sleep in it. We’re hoping we can camp tomorrow so we can pitch it and clean it and get it operational again. That’s the plan anyway, we just need this darn weather to stop having a party at our expense!
So it was a good final day in Vienna, learning some more about this city and its history and hearing some stories. Another enjoyable run in a lovely place and leisurely roaming to finish off the day. Tomorrow we ride on to places new, following the Danube River as we continue our pedalling in Austria. Bonza!
Oh, and we checked the weather for the places we would have been riding through if we hadn’t caught the train to leapfrog the snow and the weather has been “-3C feels like -13C” Yep, that’s a minus sign there folks! I think we made the right call to skip riding in weather that “feels like minus thirteen”!
I’ll finish off with the recipient of the prize for the comment of the day, awarded to Steve. As we were leaving Schönbrunn Palace, I asked, “Did you enjoy the tour?”
“Yeah, it’s interesting learning about all the people, but it’s still just lookin’ at old stuff.”
Smile. Yes, I suppose it is really.
Distance ridden: 0 km
Distance run: 6 km
Distance roamed: 12.1 km
Weather: cold, windy, rain, “8C feels like 3C”