Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Vienna: imperial grandeur on display in Hofburg Palace apartments

It was time for us to move deeper into the Hofburg palace complex to see the main attractions — the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Silver Collection. We started out with the silver collection, with its more than 7,000 items including ceremonial and everyday tableware from the Imperial Court. At one time the royal family ate off silver plates all the time. They must have had any army of people cleaning all the silver.

Porcelain was used for desserts and soup.  Among the many treasures in this spectacular collection are fine 18th-century East Asian porcelain, the formal dinner services of Franz Joseph, a silver traveling service belonging to Empress Elisabeth Christine that went everywhere she went, and the ten-meter-long Milanese centrepiece made of gilded bronze. Other highlights include the Meissen service from 1775, the 19th-century Viennese Empire service and, perhaps the most important part of the collection, the Ruby service used for Imperial grand occasions with its settings for 140 guests. Everything was in beautiful condition. My favourites were the flowered plates that almost resembled Portmerion with the same flowers but these were definitely nicer. The black plates with flowers painted on them were stunning. The porcelain covered in gold was very interesting. The gold dishes had to be melted down for coins so porcelain dishes were covered in thin gold for important occasions. Very impressive.

We popped into the Court Kitchen for a look behind the scenes of the Imperial banquets. On display were original copper vessels, pans, and molds, along with old kettles and the warming dishes needed to feed the court's 5,000 members.

The next part of the tour was the Sisi Museum dedicated to Empress Elisabeth, known as Sisi. This offered a fascinating insight into the aristocracy of the 19th century. She was an intriguing woman who married at sixteen. Her hair reached to her ankles and it was brushed for two hours a day while she read and learned foreign languages including Ancient Greek. It took a day to wash her hair in eggs and cognac. She kept a fairly strict beauty regime using natural products, things we would use today such as rose petals but she also used cooked animal blood on her face. Her waist was twenty inches and to maintain her figure she would skip meals and workout in her rooms, where she had a set of rings hanging from her door, steps and other apparatus. She was a keen horsewoman and swimmer. It didn't seem to be a problem for her filling her time as her husband worked 16 hours a day until his death at the age of 86.

In the Hofburg's Stephan Apartments, highlights include more than 300 personal artefacts such as gloves, parasols, notes regarding her strict beauty regime, and the death mask made after her assassination. Other fascinating artefacts include a copy of the dress she wore when moving to Austria from her native Munich as a 16-year-old in 1854, a copy of her coronation gown, and a replica of part of her imperial railway carriage.

Next we entered the Imperial Apartments, specifically the Franz Joseph Apartments, most of which remain unaltered. Highlights include the Dining Room, famous for its rich décor and Flemish artwork representing the heroic deeds of Hercules, and the Circle Room with its exquisite tapestries. A fascinating model of the Hofburg and its many buildings is in the Guard Room, while in the Large Audience Chamber - the waiting room for the Emperor's weekly audiences - the Bohemian crystal candelabrum was worth seeing. In the Study is a bust of Field-Marshal Radetzky, one of a select group permitted to appear unannounced before the Emperor (his sword is also on display).

Empress Elisabeth's Apartments include her sumptuous Living Room, widely regarded as the prettiest of the Hofburg's many rooms and serving both as a living room and bedroom. This was quite unusual as the bed was right in the centre of the room. Another highlight was the Large Salon, home to a fine collection of Louis XIV furniture and a number of Sèvres porcelain vases, a collection of Romantic landscape paintings, and a marble statue of Napoleon's sister.

We made our way to the Ring Road where we found lunch then continued on to buy opera tickets for tomorrow night before walking to another huge, wide pedestrian walkway lined with some lovely shops. After many, many steps we returned to the hotel for our afternoon tea and slice of cake.

We liked Ulrich's so much that we returned for dinner. After sharing a salad I had a couple of small plates. One was shredded cabbage served with quince and a balsamic vinaigrette and the other was a fish and chips with little shoestring potatoes and a couple of thin, thin slices of carp done in a really light batter. Delicious and no greasy aftertaste. I wish all restaurants would cook like this.

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