Today was a good day! For starters, I had the whole 8 bed hostel room to myself last night so I got the best night's sleep and then this morning awoke to a simply stunning day. The sky was blue and it was not nearly as cold as it has been the past few days. So, despite my original plans to have a quiet one - I ventured out!
Today I spent the day at the Imperial Palace of the Hapsburgs of the Austrian empire. The history of the Hapsburgs was not one that I was familiar with before coming to Europe but it really is a fascinating one, full of interesting people.
The palace complex is very large - I've learnt in the past few weeks the palaces were not just castles, but really more like mini-towns. In Vienna, the huge Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum are part of this complex that also has many squares and platzes. Today was a perfect day to explore it, as I could actually see into the distance, rather then there being a snowy haze!! Plus it was far easier to stand being outside than the last few days.
The ticket that I bought allowed me access to the museum that houses the collections of many of the objects used in banquets - table settings, cultery, crockery and linen. That doesn't really sound very interesting but then, this is no ordinary dinnerware. The size of all the different collections and their sheer opulence is mind-blowing. Sometimes certain sets couldn't even be used for their purpose beacuse they were too precious or fragile. However, most of the sometimes seventeen courses at dinner were served on silver or gold plates. Everything had the stamp of the official royal coat of arms.
I also saw the Imperial Quarters of Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph I. These were also incredible, though it was touching to see the personal effects they put on their quarters - for instance, the Emperor, surrounded by such splendor, actually kept quite modest quarters and had few indulgences. Of such indulgence was to decorate his private office where he did most of his work with large paintings of his wife and children. And when I say large I mean huge - and right in front of his desk! He loved his wife dearly and was heartbroken when she was assasinated in 1898.
The third place I got to see and the one that struck me the most was a museum set up in honour of Empress Elisabeth. She was a most intriguing woman who, sadly, never warmed to her title as Empress and seems to have been, personality-wise, very much unsuited to such a public office. If you have a chance, I thoroughly recommend reading something on her life - it was actually quite tragic. She had a happy and blessed childhood with her family in Bavaria, away from the pomp of the imperial courts, but was betrothed to her cousin Franz Joseph at the age of 15 after going with her mother and sister to Vienna. Her older sister was actually intended for Franz Joseph but he fell in love with Elisabeth instead.
When told of his intention to marry her, she apparently burst into tears and as the time came for her to leave her town and enter the society in Vienna, she grew more melancholy. Perhaps today's doctors would diagnose her with depression; I don't know. But she certainly, in her writing and increasing withdrawal from public life, gave much attention to her own unhappy circumstance, as she saw it. She is also said to have suffered from anorexia (though it was not recognised as such in her day) and gave much attention to her own physical appearance. She took to travelling a lot, away from her family and Vienna to try and find her elusive freedom and wrote bitterly in her diaries of the life that had been thrust upon her.
She was assasinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist in Geneva when she was taking a trip there - her assasin had been planning to kill another aristocrat in Geneve, but when he changed his plans at the last moment and Elisabeth was reported to be in Geneva, he took his chance and stabbed her in public with a small blade to the heart and knocking her to the ground. Apparently she did not realise she had been stabbed and got up and went to her hotel, where she collapsed and died.
It was quite sad to learn about this woman and see her personal belongings - they really were stunning she herself was beautiful, but her inner struggle with her freedom that she saw was taken away from her in becoming Empress and her sadness also with the death of her oldest child at the age of 2 and suicide of her only son at 30, made it a tough history lesson. I felt, as I was coming out of the museum, like I did when I finished Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.
I spent more time at the palaces than I usually do at museums and was surprised - I usually have a tolerance of a few hours before I find myself either overawed or tired out by what is around me. However, this time I felt, more than any other, that the palace came to life as I learned about his history. I could almost hear the music as I walked into the grand hall that was for dance parties and the chink of knives against plates at the dinner parties. And as I walked outside, through all the royal streets, the clatter of horses could be heard (for real) as there are many horse-drawn carriages giving rides to tourists. It really was like stepping back through time.
Unfortunately I don't have many photos of today - cameras weren't allowed inside the palace. I have put a few professional ones in of the palace to show what it is like.
This afternoon, being a Monday, the town centre was much less busy so I was able to get around with much more ease than the past few days - it made it infintely more enjoyable also!
This evening I spent some time with some American girls who are from Chicago and studying in Italy and Spain (everyone I meet seem to have such exotic lives!) It's really nice being able to chat to easily to people you just meet - they have a big night planned with some friends in Vienna so there was much talk of 'how will I most easily and least expensively get drunk?' Hmmm, some things are the same wherever you go!