High Living: Wealthy Aristocrats, Classical Music,

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July 13th 2009
Published: June 22nd 2017
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Geo: 48.2085, 16.3721

For the first time since we arrived across the Atlantic, we had breakfast that didn't include a hard roll. Surprisingly, this was a disappointment. What originally seemed strange had grown on us. Oh well.

After breakfast we headed across town to the Hofburg, the winter palace of the Hapsburgs. It was even bigger and more elaborate than their summer palace. We think it gave Versailles a run for its money. It was big. (Rich: Huge-o-scrooge-o!).

Our first visit was to the Imperial Apartments. We learned quite a bit about the opulence of serving food. Later, we walked through an exhibit that featured the life of Elizabeth, wife of Franz Joseph. She led a unique and tragic life. After being married at a young age she didn't really like the royal lifestyle. Her eccentric behaviors (for the time) included daily aerobic exercise, gymnastics, dieting, and world travel. She maintained a waist size of 21 inches despite a height of 5 foot 8 inches and a weight of 90-100 pounds. She was said to be one of the most beautiful women of her time.

After the suicide death of her son, she went into a state of mourning that lasted the rest of her life. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she was murdered by an Italian anarchist, and from that point forward, cast into legend. We saw similarities with her story and that of Princess Diana.

The Hofburg was the most opulent place… a whole lot of dishes. Franz Joseph, in his personal life, claimed to live a "Spartan" lifestyle. A few rooms beyond, however, a table was set for dining that included 8 different wine glasses for the various courses. The tour claimed that Franz Joseph was actually a “man of the people.” These were clearly different times from our own.

Rich and Barb then went on to visit the Treasury exhibit, which featured the crown jewels of Austria. They were quite varied compared to the English crown jewels because they represented so many different areas that were once controlled by Austria. In addition, there were a number of relics designed to show how God had sanctioned Hapsburg rule. Every year, these items were shown publicly to demonstrate their legitimacy. Sample “relics” included a piece of the manger, a piece of Jesus' loin cloth, and a piece of the table cloth from the Last Supper. Because these were gifts from the Pope, they were “proof” that they were both Holy and Roman (Rick Steves).

After checking our GPS—a pocket map—we headed toward the famous Vienna Opera House. Originally built in 1869, much of the facility was destroyed by bombs during WWII, rebuilt, and reopened in 1955. Our tour guide took us through the main auditorium, backstage, and into several intermission galleries. We were grateful to learn about Gustav Mähler, who invented the idea of actually paying attention to the opera. Maybe he should work crowd control at T.F. South football games. Prior to his directorship of the Vienna Opera, people went there to be seen and to network with the “right” people. They used to wander in and out before the performance, so he pioneered the idea of turning out the house lights and having formal intermissions rather than having people wandering all over the place. After Mähler, people probably had an idea what the story of the opera was about. Today, however, there is still “status” conveyed by having the best seats, some of which are obstructed-view!

We ate lunch at Bermuda Brau: chicken baked potatoes for the ladies and goulash and potatoes for the gentlemen. It was real good… and the first time we had seen beef in a long time.

Barb and Jeannette started to feel a cold coming on, so Jeannette offered to make “Mama's Potion” consisting of dark vinegar and honey. Where, in the middle of Vienna, does one go for ingredients? Aldi, of course. Well, the Austrian version, named Hofer. Rich and Jake decided to gamble 94 cents on two Berg König Märzen cans. They lost, but it was cheaper than a lottery ticket.

We all took a nice long nap before our evening adventures. It was off to the Konzerthaus for a night of Mozart. We heard excellent examples of Mozart works as well as Haydn and Strauss, all of whom once called Vienna home. Barb enjoyed the expressiveness of the opera singers. Even though we didn't know what they were saying, they did an excellent job of conveying meaning through their facial expressions. The entire orchestra was decked out in period costume, including powdered wigs.

After a 30 minute walk back to our hotel, we checked our watches and saw that it was 10:40 p.m. That being the case, we decided to call it a night and be ready for breakfast at 7:30 with our suitcases packed for Prague.


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