On Friday, Megan and I met (after her morning school run with the children,) at ‘Schloss Schonbrunn,’ Schonbrunn Palace, an enormous yellow building rivalled only by Versailles, set within sprawling park and gardens a short train ride out of Vienna. The palace was begun in 1695 and completed by Maria Theresa’s court architect in the 1740s. The stout Maria Teresa is the main figure overlooking the palace – she has a touch of the Queen Victoria matronly severity about her.
Images of her, however, jostle with another female figure: ‘Sisi,’ or Empress Elizabeth, a troubled icon made, unfortunately, into the face of Vienna: tea towels, barbie dolls, etc. Why anyone would want their daughter to look up to an anorexic, nervous, depressed woman who felt trapped within an arranged marriage and was assassinated whilst travelling is beyond me. She’s a tragic figure when looked at from one perspective, and an unhappy girl who didn’t do much with the power and wealth she had to hand on the other. She was also, apparently, a poet, and I was curious about this, but wasn’t able to find her work in any extensive translation.
The tour of Schonbrunn is well-handled: guests are herded through in timed group tours with audio-guides pressed to their ears, but they don’t give too much information, so you come out of the tour of a select handful of rooms without feeling totally exhausted, having been able to actually absorb much of the history piped into your ear.
Megan and I didn’t tour the grounds or gardens of the Palace, as it was drizzling with rain and we were after higher things: schnitzel. Megan used my visit as an excuse to track down a recommended ‘locals’ schnitzel place near the Mariahilferstrasse. We decided to share a schnitzel, but were each served an enormous plate with a huge schnitzel, and a side of fries/chips. (It was pork – or was it chicken? – schnitzel, I should add: we didn’t go in for the veal.) Undaunted, we each devoured the entire delicious, pounded, succulent fried meat.
Megan had to rush off to meet the children (not a good idea to run after eating schnitzel,) but she sent me a text about the street market we’d passed on the way to the tavern: it’s only on twice a year! I decided to wander my way through the market. On leaving the restaurant, I saw a pair of bewildered tourists looking at their plates: each had two huge schnitzels on them. So we had split a dish after all!
I wandered through the market and bargained for a painted metal soldier: a little drummer man which I gave to Megan later as a gift. The market was full of antique typewriters, jewellery, bric-a-brac; local foods, high-street goods from the shops behind spilling out their sale items into the road, makeup, books…I wandered all the way back into town, browsing and window-shopping (apparently a Viennese Major Sport,) and eventually made it to Cafe Demel, another famous ‘must’ on par with Cafe Sacher.
I explored the whole cafe to see the interior decor before settling at the small bar to enjoy a pot of green tea and apfelstrudel (apple strudel). Demel sells chocolates wrapped in beautiful boxes and papers, so I bought a few of them as gifts to bring home. I whiled away the time like a good cafe-goer before meeting Megan – rushing from leaving the children – at the opera, where we made it into our standing spots just before the doors closed.
Thus followed a brilliant evening at the opera, only marred by my nagging cough, which was fortunately (in this case) backed up by the nagging cough of someone standing behind me – so when an angry Spanish or possibly Portuguese tourist turned and shouted at me to leave, I was able to say ‘it isn’t me!’ because, just by chance, that time, it wasn’t!
The Viennese will shoot glares at you over their shoulder silently (like the couple at the concert did to me the previous evening) – but this lady wasn’t having it. The thing is, she was leaning over the people next to her, filming the show with her phone! Ah, etiquette in the theatre. Or Opera. Or concert. Buoyed up by water and lots of Polo mints, I managed to get through the show without annoying anyone too much (except for the grumpy woman who left halfway through anyway).