empress for a day

Want to walk a kilometer in my slippers? Well, you’re in luck! The Schoenbrunn Orangery offers a splendid tour called “Sisi’s Treasures,” where you may experience imperial Vienna through the eyes of the legendary Empress Elisabeth, aka, me.

For a mere 150 Euros you get the essence of life as, well, if not me, at least one of my servants.

Your tour begins at one of my castles (Schoenbrunn or the Hofburg), where you can marvel at my exercise equipment, ridiculously uncomfortable chairs, spectacularly formal silverware, and the minutia of my everyday life: hairbrushes, chamber pots, pen nibs. After all of that touring, you’ll be treated to a 3-course dinner at the Café-Restaurant Residenz (bring a sweetheart–there’s candles and ambience. Alcohol in abundance for an extra charge), and then, to top off your evening, you’ll attend a concert at the Orangery, performed by the Schoenbrunn Orchestra. It’s an explosion of all things Viennese!

What is an Orangery you ask? Fair question. It’s a fancy greenhouse, originally used to grow citrus trees in winter, so we royals were spared nasty diseases like scurvy and rickets. Here’s a sketch of Nicola Picassi’s Orangery, built in the mid-1700’s, it remains one of two noted, enormous Baroque Orangeries in the world (the other is in Versailles, of course–those French, always competing!)

If the above has you thinking: enough already with the Empress for a Day stuff you can always opt for the Mammals and Melodies Tour–in lieu of my castles, silver and underwear, you get a trip to the Vienna zoo as well as a beef in aspic dinner (that includes a shot of Swiss Pine schnapps!) and the Orangery concert described above.

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5 Castle Series: Lower Belvedere

Prince Eugene of Savoy

Eugene of Savoy, the grandiose fop who put Austria on the map

One cannot consider the Lower Belvedere without immediately conjuring Prince Eugene of Savoy, he of minimal stature and ginormous ego.

marble hall of the lower belvedere

Marble, marble everywhere: the Lower Belvedere

In the late 17th century, Eugene fled France (where he was rejected by the Army due to his height) to Austria and began slicing and dicing his way to fame and fortune: slashing Turks, igniting the Spanish Succession, and leading charges up and down the continent. Eugene made up for his shortness with the size of his balls, and goes down in history as the fiercest fighter ever for the Austrian Army.

Lower Belvy’s ostentatious gold and marble rooms are a direct reflection of the Prince’s, um, short comings. Most importantly, his zealous drive to win made way for the success of the Habsburg dynasty, and, more concretely, this ridiculously fancy castle, bought by Maria Teresa in 1752 out of pride (NOBODY looks down on the Hof, and the Upper and Lower castles were an affront to MT–though legend has it that she never even set foot in the place) remains one of Vienna’s hottest properties on the tourism circuit.

hall of grotesques belvedere

Vienna loves its freaks almost as much as ice cafe!

The baroque summer castle is famous for such attractions as the Marble Hall, adorned with art by Martino Altomonte, the state bedroom where Eugene committed all matter of hijinks, the orangery, which is currently jammed with Medieval Art, the palace stables, and my personal favorite, the Hall of Grotesques. The so-called Groteskensaal represents Austria’s ongoing fascination and repulsion for all things freakish. Here you’ll see nightmarish gargoyles and bizarre paintings inspired by Roman frescoes.

As decorative as it is dark, The Lower Belvedere gets my vote for perfect Viennese metaphor.

5 castles series: Schönbrunn Palace

The baroque centerpiece of Vienna

I have decided to bow to expectation (and if you know me, you know how hard this is for me), and unveil some of the lesser known aspects of the ever-popular castles of Vienna. There are five of renown: Schönbrunn Palace, Hofburg Palace, Lower Belvedere, Upper Belvedere, and Schloss Wilhelminenberg.

Today we will tour Schönbrunn. Opulent homage to Maria Theresa, but originally built for Emperor Leopold I, this is where we spent much of our summers. How many rooms do you think in this Imperial cottage? Go ahead, take a guess. Nope, not even close.

1400 you say? Ding, ding, ding!

Schönbrunn is the well-known mother ship of the famous Palace Theater where Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played. Remember the movie Amadeus? The Palace Theater is where Mozart lost a contest for composers to his arch rival  Salieri.

i pledged my heart to the emperor in this very place. fitting, given that St. Augustine's is also called the habsburg heart crypt.

I married the Emperor in St. Augustine’s Church, another Schönbrunn feature. Perhaps my ambivalence on my wedding day has something to do with the fact that this church is also home to the exhumed Habsburg’s hearts? I don’t know. Just a thought.

Now we come to the most over-the-top aspects of Schönbrunn: the gardens and the zoo. The grounds, as you may glimpse below, continue to be manicured with characteristic Viennese attention to detail.  (Okay, let us call a spade a spade. Insufferable anal retention.)

As for the zoo, that is a sad memory for me. I bought a little macaque to entertain my daughter Valerie, but the ladies-in-waiting became quickly aghast due to its, um, indecorous obsession with its private parts, and it was then banished to the zoo. I could never bear to see animals behind bars, so, like a PETA member of yore, I boycotted the very institution.

That said, I should admit that I do have a prickly fondness for Schönbrunn on the whole. If for no other reason than, with 1400 rooms, I had ample space to hide from certain members of my family. All in all, if you have funds for one castle tour only, I suggest Schönbrunn without reservation. I mean with all those rooms embellished with gold leaf, the gardens, even the blasted zoo,  you are getting quite a hit of Vienna!

Fancy, yes?