The breakfast buffet at Pension Pertschy was fabulous…..definitely the best we’ve had in Europe…..thinly sliced lunchmeats and cheeses, soft-boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, sausages, hearty breads for egg and cheese spreads, mild breads for toasting, cereals, fresh fruits, yogurt poured from a pitcher, three types of honey, five flavors of jam and sweet treats for dessert….be still, my beating heart.
After this smorgasbord of culinary bliss, we headed out to tour the city on our own…..stopping to get tickets for tonight’s touristy performance of Strauss and Mozart.
Mid-way down the Graben (pedestrian walkway) is a monument erected in 1693 by Emperor Leopold to thank God for answering his prayers and ending the plague that killed so many Viennese. The Pestsäule (Plague Column), with angels and cherubs, a praying Leopold and a gilded Holy Trinity, is stunningly, dazzlingly, unapologetically Baroque.
Walking through the small streets, heading toward the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg, we spied one of Vienna’s oldest coffee houses, Café Tirolerhof. We walked in through slim, double doors and felt like we had gone back in time. The large room, warm and welcoming with walls amber from age and smoke, felt more like a parlor than a café. People were sitting comfortably in chairs and sofas around small tables, reading newspapers or chatting amiably.
We found an empty table and a tuxedoed waiter took our order….which arrived on a shiny tray with the ubiquitous glass of water. While sipping our coffee and watching the locals go about their business, we compared this comfortable atmosphere to the coffee houses back home…..Starbuck’s and Peet’s are cold and impersonal but Panama Red, Craig’s favorite haunt, has this same ambiance.
Fully caffeine-fortified, we continued on to tour the Imperial Apartments of the Habsburg’s. The tour starts with room after room of the copper kitchenware, linens, silver and china that were part and parcel of everyday Hapsburg life…..sounds like it would be boring but the listening to the audioguide’s stories about these everyday items helped bring them to life. My favorite was the “official” napkin fold…..which formed a hollow to enclose a small bread roll. The “Imperial Fold” was only used at court dinners when the emperor was present. The technique was (and still is) a closely guarded secret that was handed down by word of mouth to select individuals…..today, only two people know the “secret.” The “Imperial Fold” is still used today….for state visits by crowned heads and presidents.
She was assassinated, at age 60, in Italy in 1898. Sisi, criticized during her lifetime, instantly became a iconic heroine. We toured rooms showing her happy, carefree childhood in Bavaria….her early marriage (at age 16) to her cousin Franz Joseph….her obsession with youth and beauty (5’8″ and 100 pounds)….her resentment over the loss of freedom caused by her life at court….her depression after the suicide of her 30 year-old son….and finally her death and the new-found adoration that resulted.
From here, we toured the apartments of Franz Joseph and Sisi…..functional, working rooms for everyday people who happened to rule a country or two.
After absorbing all the opulence of the Habsburgs, we decided to splurge and have lunch at the Café Sacher at the Sacher Hotel.
We rounded a corner with a temporary covered walkway (more construction going on here) and saw a sign reading “Café Sacher/Sacher Stube” with an arrow pointing left. We walked into a very small restaurant with marble top tables, plush red banquettes and chairs…..their desserts, including the Sacher Torte, showcased in a glass case.
Both were tasty but not so filling that there wasn’t room for dessert…..Sacher Torte and Gugelhupf. The Sacher Torte was delicious…..we had read that it’s not as good as it used to be (too dry, not chocolate enough), but we found it was perfect…..a nice balance of a mild chocolate cake, a succulent apricot jam filling and a rich dark chocolate icing. The Gugelhupf, a tall bundt cake with candied citron and Kirschwasser cherry brandy, was equally delicious.
After lunch, as we continued our walk, we passed the Café Sacher! We didn’t realize it, but the Café Sacher and the Sacher Stube are actually two different restaurants…..the Café Sacher catering more to tourists and the Sacher Stube having a more local clientele. We chose wisely….inadvertently, but wisely.
We had hoped to explore the interior of St Stephan’s Cathedral but just as we arrived, areas were being cordoned off and visitors were starting to leave. We were only able to see the beautifully carved, sandstone pulpit before feeling that we should leave.
We went back to the hotel, dressed for tonight’s concert (tie optional this time) and started the twenty minute walk through the pedestrian boulevards to the Kursalon….originally intended as a spa when it was built in 1867, it soon became a concert hall where Johann, Joseph and Eduard Strauss often conducted their concerts.
The streets became smaller and darker as we walked on….Craig checked the map repeatedly and assured me we were taking the most direct route. Finally, we saw it in the distance, shining like a beacon in the night.
We took the elevator up to the top floor and were escorted into a wedding-cake of a room….soft pastels, creamy whites and glistening chandeliers. The concert was a fun-filled mix of Mozart and Strauss, the orchestra sometimes accompanied by sprightly dancers or melodious opera singers.
The evening ended too soon so, hoping to continue it, we headed to the American Bar after the concert. The American Bar, another Loos building, seems rather ornate but still maintains the simple lines and structure that Loos was known for. Sadly for us, the small bar was filled to capacity and we didn’t want to wait for a table….so a Manhatten in Vienna will have to wait ’til next time.