27 February 2012

Vienna, Austria - Day 6

Our plans to walk around Vienna have been averted as it was raining today.  With a change of plans we found the Museum of Applied Arts.  An incredibly stunning interior in Florentine Renaissance style the museum was founded in 1864  for the purpose of applied arts.  Each room was designed by different artists to complement the items on display.

The permanent collections consist of furniture, textiles, glass, pottery, porcelain, metalwork and jewelry.

Surprising exhibits were the fans and gloves displays, oriental rugs, lace works and early 20th century colored glasswares.

Bohemian beaker (c1830)

Circular fan with blue and gold wheel
Florence, Italy (c14th/15th century)

Viennese porcelain in the Ceramics Exhibition Hall

Medallion Ushak Carpet, Turkey (c1600)

Cravat, Brussels (18th century)

The largest gallery room was dedicated to a presentation on architecture.  However not architecture that is unique and maintained beautifully as you might expect, but rather the opposite.  It presented innovative, unique and significant architecture that had been allowed to deteriorate, become abandoned or reduced to being used as slums after the allure of the beauty wore off.  Unfortunately photographing was prohibited and it is difficult to illustrate the exhibition in this blog.

Furniture and decorative items were in various period styles such as baroque, rococo, romanesque, gothic, renaissance and art deco/nouveau.

Walnut tabernacle cabinet with maple
engraved marquetry (c1745)

Seating Furniture Exhibition Hall
Debating the functionality of a seat vs it's place in history
as an object that is most intimately related to the
human body.  Don't ask, I didn't get it.

Whilst not in our plans to visit this museum it was worth the four hours we spent there.

With an hour to spare before closing time, we returned to the Hofburg Complex to visit the Treasury which houses a collection of secular and sacred  items.  Here we feasted on coronation robes and jewels, imperial crowns, Napoleon's son's cradle, the world's largest cut emerald and Habsburg's ecclesiastical collection revealing their piety and love of art.

Private crown of Emperor Rudolph II (c1602)

Cradle of the King of Rome,
Napoleon's son (c1811)

Emerald unction vessel (c1661)
Genuine emerald 2680 carat (this is not a typo)

Princess Trinity

Again, not a visit necessarily on our list, we were once again pleasantly surprised by the museum's holdings and the visit was well worth it.

We finished the day at our favorite Cafe Schwarzenberg, dining on potato soup deep with beef flavor, schnitzel and cakes.  The Nuus Torte was a delightful walnut and nougat cream filled sponge cake, whilst Trini indulged in her usual raspberry topped, vanilla sponge cake.

With more rain forecast for tomorrow we are now getting creative about what we are seeing.  It will be a surprise even for us.

26 February 2012

Vienna, Austria - Day 5

With so much to see in Vienna alone, we extended our stay by another 3 days.  With that in mind today we went further afield to explore the imperial family's summer residence.

Taking a 10 minute train ride we arrived at  Schoenbrunn Palace.  Built between 1744-9 on the request of Empress Maria Theresa, Schoenbrunn is all about Rococo decorations.  The main ballroom, known as the Great Gallery, is 40m long and 10m wide encased in white walls, gold gilding and three large ceiling frescoes depicting various political, military and economic scenery of the times.  Whilst every room was breathtaking the one that peaked my interest was the Porcelain Room, which consisted of 213 blue Chinese ink drawings with Chinese scenery.  The drawings were hung from floor to ceiling with garlands of flowers panelling in between to balance this small room.

Schoenbrunn Palace

Porcelain Room
Image courtesy of www.schoenbrunn.at
Great Gallery
Image courtesy of www.schoenbrunn.at
The Carriage Museum, housing the imperial court's vehicular collection, was also at Schoenbrunn. It consisted of an  impressive collection of about 60 carriages (one-tenth of the total 600 that was once in imperial ownership) dating back to the 17th century.  The highlight was the ornate yet exquisite Baroque imperial carriage in gold gilding and decorated with allegorical panels.

Two-seater ceremonial state carriage (c1790).
This carriage was built for Napoleon's son (c1811).  Napoleon was
married to an Austrian Archduchess, hence the Austrian connection.
The Prince's State Carriage used for all important state and
family celebrations.  It was drawn by 6 horses (c1735/40).
Returning to the city centre we lunched on coffee and cake at Cafe Schwarzenberg. Here John indulged on baked cheesecake with a mochaccino, Trinity had a raspberry covered vanilla cream sponge cake with hot chocolate and I devoured a type of soft meringue sponge cake with an espresso mixed with cherry schnapps and milk.

My meringue/sponge cake.  Yum.
We had two hours left and we have returned to the Hofburg Complex to view their famous Collection of Arms.  A formidable collection of suits of armor, swords, saddles and firearms, I dare say it was John's highlight of the trip so far.  I will have to do a separate photoblog on this to share more of the beautiful collection.

Finishing the day with sirloin steak (again) and bernaise sauce, accompanied with a glass of red, we let this very successful day sink in and take a moment to plan tomorrow.  If the weather holds we may be hitting the pavement to view several of Vienna's famous buildings.

Waiting for the train to go to Schoenbrunn Palace.
Day's end tram ride back to the hotel.

Pesto Pasta with Olives & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I had some leftover basil pesto in a jar that according to its instructions needed to be consumed within four days of opening.  Fairly swiftly I needed to find a pesto-based recipe and came across one that needed a bit of tweaking.  We were pleasantly surprised with its simplicity and even more so with its flavour as we thought it might end up being a bit bland.  The best part about this recipe is it took all of 15 minutes to prepare & cook.

Pesto Pasta with Olives & Sun-Dried Tomatoes (Serve 4)

1 onion, chopped finely
2T basil pesto
500g pasta of your choice (I use small ones to make it easier for my daughter to eat herself)
1C pitted black olives, halved
1C sun-dried tomatoes, chopped


Cook pasta al dente and drain.

In the meantime cook the pesto, onion, olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a frying pan on low heat until the onions are soft.

In a bowl combine the pesto mixture with the pasta and serve.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and enjoy.

Bon appetit.

25 February 2012

Vienna, Austria - Day 4

We woke up to snow today and we felt like a change from the hotel breakfast.  We braved the weather and meandered down to Cafe Schwarzenberg with its lovely old world interiors and chandeliers.

From here we tackled the enormous Hofburg Complex, the former residence of the Emperor.  A conglomeration of several grand buildings and courtyards, the complex contains sights of interest such as the National Library, the Imperial Apartments, an arms collection, the renown Spanish Riding School, the Silver Chamber displaying vessels used by the monarchs, a church and a chapel, Albertina Museum and the Treaury filled with secular and sacred treasures.

Hofburg Complex map, courtesy of Wikipedia.  The legend added are of sites we visited.

With snow on the grounds, Trini lived in the moment, frolicking and running around with daddy, loving every minute.

Finding our way around was like a maze but we managed to find the first two attractions. We entered the world of silver, gold and porcelain tableware used by the imperial family called the Silver Chamber.  Following the demise of the Habsburg monarchy, post 600 years of rule, the imperial household was amalgamated and opened to the public in 1923.  Some of the highlights were the Habsburg Service consisting of 60 plates known as "Ruin Plates".  Each plate was individually painted with different views of fortresses and castles that belonged to the Habsburg Dynasty.  The Milan centerpiece commissioned for a coronation is a whopping 30m in length and my favorite was the Minton Dessert Service.  Manufactured in London and bought by Queen Victoria, this visually stunning 116 pieces set won the highest award for aesthetics.  Gifting part of it to Austria's Emperor, the service was never used as the material was too brittle for the purpose it needed to serve.

The Silver Chamber leads to Sisi's Museum and the imperial apartments.  The museum explores her personality and life.  Married to the Emperor at 16, Empress Elisabeth, affectionately known as Sisi, struggled with court life and led a reclusive life as the years passed on.  The museum displays two incredibly stunning dresses, jewelry, portraits and the diamond studded star shaped jewels she wore in her dressed ankle length hair.  A tall woman at 182 cm, Sisi weighed a mere 45kg.  Obsessive about her figure and looks, Sisi rigorously worked out much to the disapproving eyes of the court.  With all her troubled years, Sisi was however an accomplished horse rider, spoke several languages and travelled extensively.  Not afraid of death, and perhaps welcoming it to some degree to free her troubled soul, at the age of 61 Sisi was fatally stabbed by an anarchist, whilst shopping for gifts for her grandchildren. The Emperor was devastated by the news for he loved her immensely throughout their entire marriage.

The Imperial Apartments consisted of a set of 19 rooms where the Emperor conducted business, received his subjects for an audience, held splendid festive family dinners and resided with his beloved wife Sisi.  As expected all the rooms were richly decorated, with the exception of the Emperor's bedroom.  Spartan like decor, a preferred lifestyle, the Emperor slept on a single iron bed until his death.

The study, Sisi's combined living and bedroom and the red salon.
Images courtesy of www.hofburg-wien.at

As we exited the apartments, we took a break in the Hofburg Cafe with some delightful cakes, gorgeous atmosphere and reasonable coffee (forget the price it was quite expensive).

Indulging in Esterhazy Cake and Apple Strudel.

With plenty of time left, and on our way to the National Library we happened upon Augustinerkirche, a 14th century Gothic Augustinian Church, which for a time served as the imperial church and conducted several imperial weddings.  The tomb of Maria Christina, Empress Maria-Theresien's favorite daughter, rests here.  Considered an exceptional piece of work, the tomb is shaped like a pyramid with a funeral procession approaching. 

Tomb of Maria Christina.

Nearby the church is the most spectacular and ornate interiors I have ever experienced for a library.  The State Hall is a historical library and part of the greater National Library.  Commissioned by Emperor Charles VI as his court library it was completed in 1726.  The interior decoration adorned with Baroque frescoes, marble statues, nutwood bookcases lining the walls and four magnificent globes is absolutely breathtaking.

Interior of the National Library
The beautiful nutwood bookcases.
Ceiling frescoes were completed in 1730 by the court painter Daniel Gran.
The centre of library showcasing marble statues,
globes and the grandeur of the Baroque era.
Celestial globe by Vincenzo Coronelli, 1693.
It is one of four globes located in the centre of the State Hall.

During our visit, the Library was hosting a special exhibition presenting 16th & 17th centuries' illustrations of indigenous and exotic animals, demonic skeletons and creatures.  It was the first public showing after extensive conservation and restoration.

Giorgio Liberale, a famous illustrator of the 16th century
commissioned to depict the fauna of the Adriatic Sea.
The National Library owns some 7.8 million items, several major collections such as the Globe Museum, Papyrus Museum and Esperanto Museum.  The Library is currently undertaking one of its biggest and most ambitious projects to digitise something like 600,000 historical books from the 16th-19th century.  A collaborative effort with Google Books, the Library will provide the digitised books freely to interested readers online.  This effort will in turn protect and preserve the delicacy of the original books for future generations.

On a whim and with an hour left we visited the Albertina Museum.  Once an imperial palace, the Albertina was converted into an art museum housing photographs, graphics, watercolours and drawings along with the Neo-Classical Historical State Rooms.  At the time of our visit the museum was displaying 150 works of Rene Margritte, describing the exhibition as "examining the connection between the artist’s paintings and his work for the advertising industry as well as the influence of pop culture".

Whilst the majority of the artwork was not to our taste, I was particularly fond of Paul Signac, his use of pastel colours (somewhat unusual for me since I much more prefer strong colours) and his pointillistic (tiny dots) brushstrokes which blend in the viewer's eye.

Venice, The Pink Cloud by Paul Signac, 1909.
Image courtesy of WikiPaintings
Antibes, The Towers by Paul Signac, 1911.
Image courtesy of WikiPaintings
We wrapped up the day by collecting my boots and headed back to the hotel for a divine and perfectly cooked sirloin steak and a glass of red.

Chasing birds with daddy.
100% trust that Daddy will catch her.

24 February 2012

Vienna, Austria - Day 3

So it's another 5.30am wake up but today we are being a little more leisurely and taking in Vienna from the outside.

Our first stop is Vienna's 'soul of the city', St Stephen's Cathedral. Known as Stephansdom, the cathedral was restored after it's destruction in WWII. An enormous cathedral of the late-Gothic style it has a spire 137m high and considered the symbol of the cathedral and of Vienna.

Incredibly difficult to photograph from the ground,
this image is courtesy of a postcard by Verlag C Bauer
Austrian Empire's Coat of Arms atop the cathedral's roof.
Pulpit of John Capistrano, who preached a crusade
in 1454 to hold back Muslim invasion.
Entrance to the Cathedral
Wiener Neust├Ądter Altar depicting events in the life of the Virgin Mary.

We moved onto Graben, a fully pedestrianized street running through the centre of the city.  Here a shopper will find several high end retail stores and plenty of cafes/restaurants for refreshment. In the centre is a baroque column which was erected after the end of the plague that decimated the town in late 17th century.  Commissioned by Emperor Leopold depicting the Holy Trinity, the sculpture is a tower of saints, angels and clouds along with a statue of him praying.

Baroque plague column in the centre of Graben

Statue of Emperor Leopold praying.
Hungary's Coat of Arms.
Between 1985-90 the very modern Haas House made of glass and aluminum was built. A controversial building even today due to it's modern design amidst so much history, the building's windows beautifully reflect Stephansdom's towers.

Haas House
Moving right along we happen across St Peter's church with its striking patina covered copper dome and an interior that is even more striking.  Built in the early 1700s, the design was inspired by Rome's St Peter's Basilica.

Entrance to St Peter's Church.
The gilded pulpit with the Holy Trinity
on top of the canopy.
Martyrdom of St. John of Nepomuk and on top
is the Mother of God statue.
The church's cupola depicting the Coronation of Our Lady.
Baroque interior.
From here we embarked on some shopping.  Hat and mitts for Trini, boots encased with wool for John, a scarf for me and collecting my own groovy winter boots tomorrow when my size is delivered to the store.

Following lunch we head for Starbucks to use their free wi-fi as the Internet at our hotel was expensive and so was the Internet cafe. Time to sort out the next leg of our trip when we depart Vienna in three days. Although we've come to no conclusions yet, we at least have some clue. Stay tuned.
Our munchkin was running around doing this sumo stance all over Austria.
We thought we'd better follow suit.