On Wednesday morning, we set out for Schönbrunn Palace, the exquisite summer residence of the Hapsburgs. Unfortunately, we were halfway to the Westbahnhof before I realized I’d forgotten my camera. The day was cold and blustery, and Jesse had a nasty cold, so we decided not to go back.
So far on the trip, we had been to the Primate’s Palace in Bratislava and the Belvedere in Vienna. Schönbrunn made the Primate’s Palace look like a shack and the Belvedere like a quaint cottage. I had never before witnessed such obscene grandeur.
The palace was decorated as it would have looked in 1916 when Emperor Franz Joseph died. The walls were covered in lavish fabrics and moldings. Many surfaces glittered with gold. Portraits of Hapsburg relations hung in every room. And the rooms just kept going and going. We began in the private family wing and moved through countless galleries and audience chambers.
This is the palace where young Marie Antoinette played as a child. I guess I can see how her worldview was a little narrow after such an upbringing. Such a sheltered, lavish existence (although probably lacking love and affection) wouldn’t give you an ability to empathize with impoverished French peasants.
After Schönbrunn, we headed back towards the center of Vienna and visited the Albertina, an art museum in yet another imperial palace. The palace housed various other attractions, including the:
(As you can probably guess, Schmetterling means “butterfly” in German and it is perhaps my favorite German word.)
The grounds of the palace were beautifully decked out in Autumn colors.
We passed a huge statue of Maria Theresa (Marie Antoinette’s mom) on the way to the Albertina. There were countless statues, busts, and portraits of her throughout the city.
From the Albertina, we had a good view of the Opera House (at least I think that’s what that is):
My favorite piece from the Albertina was Albrecht Dürer’s Hare. It’s not the most esoteric of paintings–just a very detailed bunny, but I thought it was charming. It was hung in a furnished part of the palace, and I didn’t feel that tucking such a wonderful rabbit in amongst furniture and vases really invited people to stop and notice him. I saw one guy breeze right past it with barely a glance, and I wanted to shout, “Wait! Stop! Look at the rabbit!”
In an equally distracting room adjoining the rabbit, there were sketches by Raphael and Michelangelo. I had a hard time appreciating the beauty of the sketches because the red wall coverings and ornate furniture were so overwhelming. The sketches were rather small, and they were hung kind of like framed prints in someone’s grandma’s house. As if they were just taking up wall space and not the true showpieces of the room.
Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the Albertina. I remember learning about Dürer’s Hare when I was an elementary school student, and my mom reminded me that she had taught my class about the painting when she volunteered as the “Art Lady” at my school. Seeing it in person really thrilled me.
After the museum, we were ready for a snack. Our guide book recommended going to Demel for traditional Austrian pastry, so that’s where we headed. Jesse and I both ordered specialty coffee drinks. (They cost about €8–the prices in Vienna really shocked us after going on several reasonably priced trips within Hungary.)
I quickly polished mine off and was ready for a pastry.
However, I couldn’t figure out how to obtain a pastry. Our waitress had mentioned going to the display case in the other room and picking one out, which seemed pretty easy. I went over and gazed at the delicious desserts. I wanted them all, of course. For several minutes, waitresses zipped back and forth by me, but no one took my order. I stared some more, then sat down, dejected.
Finally, Jesse noticed that the man next to us handed the waitress a green ticket and was promptly brought a piece of cake. Determined to get my sugar fix, I went back to the display case. This time, there was a waitress standing there. I pointed at a pastry and said, “I would like that one.” (No garbled German necessary on my part–everyone we encountered in Vienna spoke English.) She scribbled “vanilla cream” on a green ticket and handed it to me.
I was very disappointed that she didn’t just hand me my dessert. There seemed to be some taboo against diners carrying their own pastries to their tables. I sat down and prominently displayed my ticket in front of me. Our waitress dashed by several times before grabbing my ticket. At last, she arrived with a vanilla cream pastry. It was delicious, but the process of ordering was one of those frustrating travel moments when I thought, “Okay, I am trying to do something that should be really simple and it’s not.”
On Thursday morning, Jesse and I had to be at the train station around 11:00 AM, so we didn’t have much time for sight-seeing. We went back to St. Stephen’s to see it in daylight, and then we went to a café for a small Viennese breakfast (a soft boiled egg, two rolls, homemade marmalade, and coffee). Sitting at a café and sipping coffee is probably the best way to enjoy Vienna.
This Papa Smurf statue was chained outside a store near the café. The Smurfs seem to be very popular in Europe right now. Sadly, the chains made Papa Smurf look like a convict
All too soon, we had to leave Vienna. Because it was cheaper to buy round-trip tickets, we went back to Bratislava, and from Bratislava to Budapest Keleti. At Keleti Station, we were perplexed when the time table said the train to Debrecen left from Platform 8, but the train cars at Platform 8 had Russian lettering on the sides and appeared to be going to Moscow. After asking a few people, we realized that only a few cars were continuing from Debrecen to Moscow, and that our cars were towards the front of the train.
Before we knew it, we were back in Debrecen (where Jesse recovered from his cold, and I promptly acquired a chin injury . . . life is never dull.)