Friday, June 21, 2013

(Europe trip, post 3 of 14) Sisi Day! Vienna

Some of you know how this whole trip came to be.  For posterity's sake let me explain...

My husband knows how much I love, love, love the musical Elisabeth.
I bought the CD when I was living in Germany (on my mission) and I fell in love with the music, dramatically embellished storyline based on the life of Empress Elisabeth, and the idea of seeing it performed someday.  So for the last 13 years this has been a solid bucket list item for me.  An I-must-do-this-in-my-lifetime kind of thing.  The problem is that it's not a continuously running production, and when it is running it is only in various places in Europe, Japan, or Korea.  It just so turned out that in order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the musical it was brought back to the city of its birth to be performed (in German, naturally) - in Vienna!  When I found this out toward the end of last year I immediately got online and looked at the cast and told Mark how much I wished that I could transport us there to see it.

Well, for my birthday Mark gave me a folder.  He had taken the time to print out information about the musical production, print fake tickets, and print out information on the Raimund Theater where the production was to be held and put everything in plastic sleeves.
In the first plastic sleeve he had written on the paper, "Let's make it happen!"  He said that he hadn't gone ahead and purchased the tickets because he knew I'd want to have a say in that process, but that he was serious about us going and seeing it while it is in Vienna.  Honestly, just the gesture was enough of a birthday present for me at the time...I didn't think that we could really possibly pull off making it happen.  In fact, I didn't even tell anyone about it for a while because I wasn't sure if we could do it.

Then!  We started talking about combining this trip with our postponed Italy trip that we never did take (more info on that in a minute).  After talking things over and realizing that we had a hefty tax return coming that we could use to finance our whole trip we decided to do it!  For documentation's sake, the background on the Italy portion of things...I have always wanted to go to Italy.  Back in 2003 we had a 26 day trip through Italy planned and booked.  We were going to go right after we both graduated with our bachelors degrees.  The plan was for Mark to hopefully get accepted somewhere for medical school and then to defer his acceptance for a year while we just worked, saved money, and had a baby (because it's that simple, right?).  Anyway, when Mark returned from some of his interviews he told me that he was really feeling like we should cancel the trip and have him start school right away.  I was really sad.  Hotels and flights were booked.  A hot air balloon ride in Siena was planned on our anniversary.  A room with a balcony/view in the Cinque Terre was arranged in an old Italian woman's home.  We had cooking classes booked in Tuscany, a trullo home booked to stay in in southern Italy, and on and on...I worried that since we were ready to start having kids that we would never take the trip if we put it off.  We committed to take a more condensed version of the trip for our 10th anniversary, but as timing would have it - a few days before our 10th anniversary we were blessed with something even better - baby Max.

With a better understanding of how difficult it is to get away (money, time, child care) - we realized that if we were going to take this Italy trip before our retirement that we should probably combine it with the trip to Austria to see the musical.  And that is how this fantastic 2 week trip was born!  And it gives you some idea of how important this day of the trip was for me (the day we saw the musical)!

I titled this day of our trip "Sisi Day" because Sisi was Emperess Elisabeth's nickname.
The plan was to visit both palaces that she resided in as the empress (Schönbrunn and Hofburg), and then cap off the day with the musical and dinner.  We ended up using up most of the day at the first palace - Schloss Schönbrunn (the royal family's summer home), so we bumped Hofburg to the following day.  So here is a summary of our day...

To kick off Sisi day we started with a delicious breakfast in the breakfast room (on the same floor as our room).
We enjoyed delicious breads, cheeses, veggies, yogurt (so much better than ours in the states), juice and hot cocoa.  I'm tellin' you I could get used to having hot cocoa with breakfast!

Then we jumped on the metro and headed to the palace!  It was easy to get to, and although there wasn't really a line (the rain likely scared people away from a site you want to spent a lot of time outdoors) - we had already purchased the 'Sisi Ticket' allowing us to skip the line.  If we had been there on a sunny day in high tourist season that would have been a commodity, for us it was just a convenience.  Here are the entry gates to the palace.

The palace boasting its "Vienna yellow" or "Maria Theresa yellow".

And one with Mark in it...

We enjoyed the audio-guided tour through the palace explaining the royal apartments.  With our ticket we were able to view all 40 of the rooms on display (there are 1,441 rooms total at the palace).  Having spent some time reading up on the Habsburg empire, I think being there really came to life for me.  Ironically, I went there with my dad 13 years ago too and I loved it, but didn't really know what I was looking at or who the royalty were that had lived there.  I have to say that as we learned about all that Maria Theresa did to implement her style on the palace I had to imagine what it would be like to rule such an empire (for 40 years!) while also bearing a whopping 16 children and overseeing major redecorating of a "home" that size!  Yes, I realize there were servants, but she still carried and bore those children whilst the weight of an empire rested on her shoulders.  As a side-note: one those 16 children was Marie Antoinette (yes, the one who lost her head in France), and two others became Holy Roman emperors.

To give some very basic background - in 1278 the Habsburg family came to rule in Austria (they actually stem from Switzerland).  They became more prominent in Europe over years and expanded their rule through marriages and treaties (better than wars and destruction, I say).  They ruled what we now call the Austrian monarchy, followed by Austrian Empire, and then the Astro-Hungarian Empire.  I didn't realize until recently how far reaching their empire was.  I find myself fascinated with learning about this royal family and (perhaps being a woman myself) how their politics were strengthened by marrying off their daughters.  Here is a photo of Sisi and Franz Joseph, just because I think it's cool to see actual photos.
Sisi was thought to be one of the very most beautiful women of her time.  She maintained a lengthy beauty regimen and spent hours each day on her ankle length hair - she once called herself a "slave to my hair".  Through diet and exercise (and corset of course) maintained her tiny 19 inch waist.  In her dressing room in Schönbrunn we saw the exercise bars she had installed and used daily, much to the disdain of other court members.  She also rode horses and hiked vigorously.  Sisi used her beauty for influence (especially over her adoring husband), and also took an intensely personal interest in Hungary for which she advocated - much to the chagrin of her mother in law.  After the Astro-Hungarian compromise, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph were crowned queen and king of Hungary.  Here is a photo of Elisabeth in her coronation gown:

So, Schloss Schönbrunn became the place where these royals spent their summers.  Besides the huge, lavish Rococo palace (the only palace in Europe that can rival Versailles, as was its goal) it also has huge expanses of gardens.  We were lucky enough to enjoy a break in the rain while we explored just a portion of the outdoor space at Schönbrunn.  While you pay for a tour of the palace, the gardens are free and open to the public - they have been since 1779 as part of Maria Theresa's reform policy.  My pictures don't do it justice, but here are a few anyway.

A garden view with the palace behind us.  At the top of the hill is the Gloriette - a decorative monument glorifying some Austrian military victory.

The Neptune Fountain was completed in 1780 just before the death of Empress Maria Theresa.

Mark and I walked up the zigzag path to the Gloriette at the top of the hill.
A close-up of the top of the Gloriette.

Here we are with a view of the palace in the background.

From all the way up on the Gloriette.  I should mention that there are still acres of grounds on the other side beyond that monument as well.

I specifically remembered this fountain with it's lily pads from my previous visit with my dad.  We sought it out and found it, and that was a lot of fun for me to see it again.

It was interesting to watch workers cut the foliage to it's destined shape.

One last photo as we left the palace...

We fell back on our Rick Steve's book for a lunch suggestion, and we went with Zu den Drei Hacken.  We had been spoiled with how affordable the previous night's meal was, and so we were a bit disappointed that this one was a little bit more expensive (especially for lunch), but it turned out pretty well.  Here was the view out the window from our table.

I don't remember what it was that I ordered, but it had grilled potato, meat, and onion (topped with an egg obviously) and was served with cold kraut.

Mark ordered a Lammwurst with potato salad and kraut.  We got a giggle out of the name of the mustard.  Yes, we realize that estrogen has an 'e' toward the end of the word, not an 'o'...but it still seemed like a strange name for a condiment.

After lunch we headed back at the hotel to shower and primp getting ready for our big night at the theater!  Here are Mark and I with our tickets as we left our hotel.  We took the metro and walked.

We made it to Raimund Theater!

We couldn't take pictures inside, so here is one just as we headed in the doors!

Regarding the musical Elisabeth (the most successful German-language musical of all time I must add)...the main protagonists are Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Elisabeth.  Other main characters include Sophie who is Franz Joseph's domineering mother (described as "the only man in the court"), Rudolf (Franz Joseph and Elisabeth's son), and Luigi Lucheni - Elisabeth's assassin.  In the musical there is also a central figure 'Der Tod' (death) that falls in love with Elisabeth and lures and temps.

Sisi was a free spirited child born and raised in Bavaria.  She loved writing poetry, riding horses, and was quite introverted, though viewed as charming.  She was married at 16 years old and didn't adapt well to the rigors of court etiquette and the strong hand of her mother in law (who went as far as to take her children from her after birth to raise them).  Elisabeth becomes depressed after the death of her first daughter and despondent after her son commits suicide.  For the rest of Sisi's life she wears only black.  Black pearls, lace, fan and all.
These events (in addition to her murder) combined with her already interesting personality come together to present a historical figure who is perfect for molding into a character in the musical that is passionate and intriguing.  I find myself empathizing with and relating to her, disdaining her, and wishing to re-write her tragic life story all within the duration of the musical.  I loved seeing the choreography, costumes, and stage-work.  Plus seeing the full musical filled in some of the gaps left open by just listening to it. I thought this cast did a fantastic job and I found myself like a groupie waiting outside after everyone left hoping that I might get a peek at one of them and maybe get an autograph is I was lucky (I wasn't).

After I agreed that we really were done at the theater we walked to a restaurant where I'd made reservations.  This was a place I came across on my own by searching proximity on google maps and then pulling up menus.  I knew it was a shot in the dark, but it turned out great!  It was called The Mill.

Excellent!  I would absolutely go back again.  The place had a fun, young vibe about it.  The servers were all friendly, young, and laid back.  The air in the restaurant was not at all pretentious, yet the food was awesome.  The power even went out and the servers just joked around and assured us that it would be fine (and it was - the power came back on), in the meantime we enjoyed the candle-lit ambiance.  I had been hoping for a warm summer night so we could enjoy their garden, but it obviously wasn't that - so if we are ever in Vienna in the summertime that will be on my list of things to do.

One random thing that was weird was the bathroom.  Mark used it and it had a full length, clear glass window right by the toilet (with no window covering) that faced an ally.  Also the door to the toilet didn't lock.  The lack of privacy was a bit unnerving, but we got a good chuckle out of it.  Oh, and no menus in English and only one server that spoke some English - this wasn't a problem for us, but with it having a menu with such gourmet descriptions we did need some help with some of the words I wasn't familiar with.  I thought that was kind of fun though.

Mark ordered one of their steaks with a strawberry glaze, and requested a side of fresh horseradish which they were happy to oblige.

They had a pretty extensive "foodie" sounding menu that included lots of non-meat dishes, so I opted to try one of those and went with a sweet potato with asparagus.  I don't remember what else it had on it, but I remember that it sounded fancy and tasted delicious.

For dessert we got their sampler plate and it was divine.  Honestly.  It included an apricot dumpling, vanilla tart, mousse, and a sweet pancake.  I would go back just for that dessert plate...and not get it to share next time!

Dinner was the perfect ending to a perfect evening...which capped off a fabulous day!  And what made it so much better was that Mark actually really enjoyed it all too.  He told me that he was originally happy to accompany me to the musical because he knew that would be important to me, but that he was surprised that he ended up really enjoying it himself.  And he was as delighted with the dinner as I was also.   We enjoyed talking about the musical by candle light over this tasty dinner together, and I felt so grateful to have a husband that made a dream like this of mine come true for me.


Rob Lloyd said...

Wow, Holly and Mark, you make me "pine" for Austria. Nice sharing of details. As we were there thirteen years ago, we covered so much so fast, I am glad you could coordinate with Elizabeth, in town. It actually came 40 years ago while I was in Vienna, but due to difficulty getting tickets and drop in Schilling from 26 to 18 per dollar, we couldn't afford it. Glad you two pulled it off. Thanks for sharing. In many ways Schloss Schoennbrunn looks the same but the large 20 foot manicured hedges have become mammoth green foilage, caretaking would be very extensive and expensive to have them as I remember. The view from the Gloriette is wonderful and memory filled as we frequently traveled from center of town, the Ring and second district where we served and lived on preparation day. Wonderful favorites, Vienna and Salzburg. Thanks again,

Michelle R said...

What a fantastic adventure! Thanks for posting your fun pictures and telling the story of your travels and how they came to be. :D