Monday, November 19, 2012

Vienna Day 3: Schönbrunn, Christmas Markets and Viennese Apartments

On Sunday the One Who Speaks Russian and I rose for our all-you-can eat hostel breakfast, which included boiled eggs, salami, capsicum and cucumber as many European breakfasts seem to. We loaded up on emergency supplies of Nutella and set out to walk to Schönbrunn, the Palace of the Habsburgs outside old Vienna proper.

The mist had come in overnight and everything had a silvery white light to it, so much so that from a distance things seemed covered in a light dusting of snow. The Palace is incredibly large and stately, with mirrored staircases leading down from main doors between the two wings. You can imagine Cinderella leaving her glass slipper on these steps. They were still setting up a Christmas market in the courtyard in front of the place, but they had an enormous Christmas tree up and decorated with baubles.

We walked around the side of the palace and through the gardens with their little hedges and dozens of statues. Everything is set up along a symmetrical line leading from the centre of the palace to the Neptune Fountain, and then up the hill to the Gloriette, a beautiful airy classical building with arches. It wasn't quite symmetrical (some of the trees on one side of the gardens are taller) but pretty much everything else was. After the zigzag climb up the hill we sat in the Gloriette and drank tea and coffee, which comes with a glass of water in Austria, and marvelled at the misty view over the palace and city beyond.

Next was the tour of the palace itself. You had to buy tickets at the main gate, so The One Who Speaks Russian offered to get them while I sat on a bench and nursed my legs, which were a bit sore after all the walking. I think next time I come to Vienna, I won't break my foot in the weeks beforehand.

The Palace rooms are incredible. They're mostly done in Rococo style, with curling gold mouldings everywhere and incredible crystal chandeliers. There are paintings covering entire walls that took years to complete in one room, and then you go into the next room and there are more paintings that took years to complete, and in the next room too. You can see they had a lot of money.

Marie Antoinette was a Habsburg daughter, and there is a portrait of her as a young girl in one of the rooms. A bit further on is the room where Mozart played for the Empress when he was six years old. I had heard of this concert, and it was absolutely surreal to be in the actual room where it had occurred.

At last we went into the Great Hall, which I actually gasped on seeing. The ceiling is three incredible frescoes of the Imperial family and the Austrian Empire in general, and flickering candelabra line the walls (the flickering effect is achieved by having the electric candle bulbs in springs that bobble in the wind. Actually quite tasteful). The ceiling is high and the walls are covered in curling gold designs. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed in the palace.

We took the underground to the Christmas market outside the Rathaus, which is the most famous and the busiest. It was just on dusk, and though the crowds weren't as thick as those we saw later, it was still a mission to get through everyone and see the stalls you wanted. Most of them sold food, but there were also lots of Christmas decoration stalls and a lamp stall among other things. We decided to make for TOWSR's friend's hostel, which is actually an apartment that she has entirely to herself at the moment.

The apartment is on the first floor, and you open the main door into a cobbled entranceway, climb some marble stairs, go along a corridor with an ornate stone water basin on the wall (dating from the time of the very first piped water, I'm guessing) and into the apartment. We had a lovely evening with dinner and a movie in the warm apartment, then set off for our own hostel.


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