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!
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.
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.
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…..bet they would have bought the Brooklyn Bridge, too.
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…..it was greasy and warm and very garlicky, but we were hungry and it was good.
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:
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.
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.
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 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…..to 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……