Wednesday, December 22nd – Vienna

After another delicious breakfast, we headed out to the Habsburg Treasury….with a stop to look at the treasures in Julius Meinl (an upscale grocery store)…..wines, cheeses, fresh baked breads and treats from around the world….including Oreos, that well-known American delicacy! 

From there it was a quick walk down Kohlmarkt …. checking out the winter wonderland window at Chanel and the sumptious holiday feast displayed at Dolce & Gabbana.  

The entry to the Treasury is inconspicuous and unassuming……a far cry from what lies within.  The treasures begin with a recreation of the simple crown of Rudolf IV, the founder of the Habsburg dynasty….

followed by the very majestic crown of Rudolf II, combining elements of a bishop’s miter, a Roman helmet and a medieval crown to form the perfect headpiece for the Holy Roman Emperor.  This crown became the Imperial Crown of Austria. 

Rooms of exquisite coronation robes and vestments followed (it’s good to be king).

Then came a surprise….the cradle given to Napoleon and Marie Louise (a Habsburg daughter) after the birth of their son.  It’s silver gilt and decorated with gold and mother of pearl…..with a majestic eagle at its foot.

Babies meant baptisms…..with nothing but the best for the Hapsburg court….they used a special gold basin and pitcher for their family’s baptisms.

Next were rooms of jewels and jewelry…..the most valuable is a 2680 karat roughly cut emerald unguentarium (yeah, I had to look it up, too….it’s a vessel that contains balms or unguents).

The Habsburgs, however, thought the most valuable items in their collection were a large unicorn horn, thought to possess magical powers (now known to be a narwhal horn) and an agate bowl believed to be the “holy grail”…..these were the “inalienable treasure of the House of Austria.”  In 1564, brothers Charles II, Maximilian II and Ferdinand of Tyrol  decided that these objects would never be separated and would be kept by the head of the family ‘for all time’.  

We passed through room after room of religious artifacts until we came to the rooms housing artifacts of the Holy Roman Emperors including the 900 year old red and gold mantle and the crown worn at their coronations.

Emperor’s were only as good as their relics and the HRE’s had some great ones….a sliver of wood from Jesus’ manger, a piece of Jesus’ loincloth, a scrap of cloth from the tablecloth used at the last supper, a splinter from Jesus’ cross… they would have bought the Brooklyn Bridge, too.

When Maximillan married Mary of Burgundy, the Habsburg’s inherited the Burgundian fortunes including the treasures of the Order of the Golden Fleece, an order of chivalry founded in 1430.

The last room showcased the most brillant vestments in the collection… bright you felt they could have been sewn by angels with threads from the sun and stars.  

Next on my “bucket list” for Vienna was a ride around the Ringstrasse on their funky, old-fashioned trams.  The Ringstrasse, the street circling the old city, was built on the site of the old city wall after it was taken down.  The ride gave us one last look at the sights that have become so familar these past few days.

We exited the tram at the Christmas Market …..we wanted to try a deep-fried, garlicky bread called “langos” that our fellow passengers on the Amadeus Royal had raved about… was greasy and warm and very garlicky, but we were hungry and it was good. 

We walked a few blocks over to Kunsthistorisches Museum, built by Franz Joseph in 1888 to give the general public access to the Habsburg art collection.  

Needing a break, we began our tour in the café under the rotunda.  “Elegant” doesn’t begin to describe this space….marble pillars leading up, up, up to the lustrous rotunda…..making us feel like royalty while we sat sipping our white Austrian wine.

“Theseus Clubbing the Centaur” greets you as you enter the museum’s rooms….which start with the religious Italian Renaissance and then move on to the more secular Northern Renaissance and its celebration of everyday life.  Paintings that captured our attention:

Titian’s “The Gypsy Madonna”….so named because of Mary’s dark hair…unusual since most artists painted Mary as a blond.  A sense of serenity permeates this work.

Raphael’s “Madonna of the Meadow”….a colorful, balanced composition showing Mary holding Jesus up as he reaches for a cross held by John….a charming scene until you realize that the portrait foreshadows their future.

Bruegel’s “The Peasant Wedding”….. just because it’s a colorful, happy portrayal of everyday life…..and the “Tower of Babel”…..his depiction of the crumbling tower reminded us of Dali and Escher

Durer’s “The Adoration of the Trinity”….the colorful vibrancy of this altarpiece drew us in…..the artist’s self-portrait in the bottom right corner (that includes his name and the year he painted this) made us laugh.

Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting”…..we’re drawn to Vermeer’s attention to detail and his use of color and light….the detail on the drape and the map on the wall is remarkable.  

Rembrandt’s “Large Self Portrait”…..cocky, defiant, self-confident….need we say more? 

I’ve had an affinity for hippos ever since my first viewing of “William” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1977 so, although the museum was closing, after we ended our tour of these art masterpieces, we sneaked into the Egyptian wing for a quick viewing of their green-tinged faience hippopotamus.    

We started the walk home….passing through Heldenplatz , with Neue Berg beautifully framed by its nighttime lights, and the Rathaus shining in the distance beyond the waiting horse-drawn carriages.

We should have taken one of those carriages back to the hotel because my feet went on strike while walking back through the Kohlmarkt near Demel, the “Imperial and Royal Court Confectionary and Bakery” that supplied Sisi and the other Habsburgs with candies and cakes.  Hmmm….perhaps my feet were telling us that it was time to take a break.

We entered the crowded store, walking past a sparkling case of cakes, and found a table near the rear….next to windows overlooking their kitchen.  While we indulged on apple strudel and chocolate cake, we watched their chefs roll out strudel dough and carefully ice their version of the Sacher torte.    

Rested and fortified, we walked the last few blocks back to the hotel… rest a little longer before leaving for dinner.  We had hoped to try the Cafe Braunerhof, an old-style coffee house that serves meals, but they were just closing as we entered.  We walked a few blocks over to the Cafe Hawelka, another old-style coffee house, but it didn’t serve meals so, once again, we found ourselves at Reinthaler’s Beisl…..just as bustling and vibrant as it was our first night in town.

We were seated with an musician from Rome who had been invited to Vienna to play the harpsicord for a concert celebrating another musician’s birthday.  He spoke eloquently of southern Italy, encouraging us to spend time there. 

Craig and I ordered Tafelspitz (boiled beef), which arrived promptly…..served in steaming pots with a plate of vegetables and two sauces (applesauce with grated horseradish and a mild sauce with chives).  We were happily eating it fondue-style….taking the succulent meat out of the pot and dipping it in the sauces….until the waitress came over and showed us that we should first put the meat on the plate and then eat the savory vegetable broth in the pot…..all in all, a much more satisfactory solution. 

Our Roman tablemate left after dinner, but we stayed and ordered Kaiserschmarrn (akin to a sweet cheese or fruit filled crepe).  As soon as his place was cleared, we were joined by a Milanese businessman.  We chatted about our home countries…..he’d been to San Francisco and loved it…..we haven’t been to Milan but he urged us to visit his beautiful city.  Every European we’ve met speaks passionately and lovingly of their home.  I can’t say the same for Americans…..we love our country but don’t seem to really care for our hometowns.  

After a delicious meal with interesting dinner companions, we headed back to the hotel to pack….our time in this marvelous city has come to an end.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night
I hate to go and leave this pretty sight……


About Languedoc Lady

I'm a newly retired woman from California getting ready to spend a year (or more) with my husband living the good life in Languedoc in the southwest of France.
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One Response to Wednesday, December 22nd – Vienna

  1. Sandy Dittmer says:

    I was very surprised to see people painting the “paintings” – I assume that they are just artists who come in to do it, or are they commissioned by someone or an organization to do so?

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