Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Vienna - Day 6

Tuesday, September 9
We were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day as we took a 20- minute motor coach ride from the dock to our first stop of the day, Schonbrunn Palace, on the outskirts of the city.
This was the summer palace of the Habsburgs, originally built in the 1600's but greatly renovated in the opulent rococo style by Maria Theresa when she became empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1740. The Palace has 1400 rooms, and today 160 people live there, many of them staff.
One of the first rooms we saw was a huge hall that was about 4,000 sq. ft. and illuminated by ceiling chandeliers and wall sconces. Originally, these were all candles. When the candles burned out, it meant it was time for the guests to go home. In 1900 Edison developed the plan to wire the room for electricity, greatly eliminating the risk of fire, but extending the party. The room, like many, was painted white and embellished with carvings painted with gold leaf.
Fortunately, the Palace survived WWII in tact. Although there were  269 bombs dropped on Vienna, only one hit the palace and it was a dud. It only damaged a fresco. The only work that has been done is cleaning and all the furnishings are original, along with  the beautiful inlaid wood floors.
We were struck by the size and majesty of the building as we walked through rooms with portraits of monarchs and elaborate tapestries that took years to complete. Finally we came to Maria-Theresa's "official" bedroom where she held the viewings of each of her 16 newborn babies. 13 lived to adulthood, a remarkable feat in those days, and she lived to be 63, likewise unusual.
Then we went to the garden area which greatly resembled Versailles with fountains, manicured hedges and lots of flowers.
Following the tour we went to the old city center to walk and have lunch. Ed and I ate at Demel's Cafe, famous for its sweets, and had sandwiches and apple strudel. I was impressed by the line up of desserts as well as this pastry artist making figurines of marzipan while talking on the phone.
Then we strolled along the streets and past St. Michael's Cathedral. I noticed the 3 different architectural styles that seemed to converge on this square.
Tonight Tauck treated us to an evening at Palais Pallavicini Wien, one of only 4 privately owned palaces in Vienna. The palace dates to the 1700's and was a one-time convent. It was acquired by the Pallavicini family in the 1840's and one of the descendants personally welcomed us to his "home."  Our meal was delicious but the highlight of the evening was the entertainment. Tauck had arranged for a 6-piece ensemble which included one of the finest violinists in the country, a young woman who played the instrument with true passion. They accompanied a tenor and soprano who sang arias and duos and also two dancers who did both folk dancing and ballet. We were impressed.
The furnishing were elaborate, as evidenced in this photo, but it all made for a special evening.

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