Hanging with the Habsburgs

Yes, I always thought they were the Hapsburgs, too. But when in Vienna, go with the flow.

We are fortunate to be staying just down the street from the Hofburg (yet another variant) Palace, where Franz Josef – basically the last of the monarchs of the Austrian Empire – ruled with his eccentric empress, “Sisi.”

There is so much to see in this one building that we spent the whole day there. After drooling at the entrance and the courtyards, we saw the chapel where we will hear the famous boys’ choir sing on Sunday.

We got serious with the Hofburg Treasury tour, said to have the best jewels on the Continent. There were 21 rooms filled with state and religious ornaments, all incredible and imperial. From a plank (not a mere splinter) of the True Cross to a few items that might have been used by Charlemagne. There is also a 2,000+ carat emerald and coronation robes dating back to the 1100’s. You see the robes and then the paintings of the coronation. A bit chilling.

Most amazing was the 10th century crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, made for Otto I, the first king to claim the title of HRE. He carried the orb pictured here and the crucifix with the True cross relic in his coronation. How amazing to see them in nearby paintings of later coronations.

And then there’s the paraphernalia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, founded by one of the emperors. Evidently the resemblance to the Brooks Brothers logo is more than coincidental.

Then there are the Imperial Apartments and the Imperial Silver Collection. While the apartments don’t allow photos, just picture any royal baroque living quarters and you will get the idea. But the silver collection – which was also quite heavy on gold – was available for cameras, and would certainly fit nicely in the imperial dining room. But perhaps a bit de trop.

And then for a bit of living history. The palace is also the home of the Spanish Riding School, which we have always wanted to see. The horses are not performing this month, but we will see them exercise tomorrow. Today we took the official tour and got to see the stables. The horses are camera-shy, so no pictures of them or any touching, but we were this close to many of them. Gorgeous!!! Even the radiator covers are special.

In between all this excitement, we had lunch down the street at another famous Viennese institution – Demel’s. Known for its chocolates, pastries and cafe, we had a wonderful lunch and loved just looking at all the goodies.

Don’s Food Corner

When they tout Viennese pastry, they aren’t kidding. This is ridiculous. The whole pastry thing seems to permeate the culture. For example, today at lunch we went to what is considered the ultimate Viennese chocolate shop, Demel. Besides the candies and pastries they also serve actual food, so we didn’t feel too guilty about going in there for our main meal of the day. Little did we know that others went in there for their main meal as well, but they do it by ordering multiple pastries. Maybe they are vegetarians! We were just going to limit ourselves to the pastries for dessert. The woman sitting at the table next to us, who was Austrian, had no such reservations. We saw the goodies arrive at her table and kept looking for a companion to join her.  Oh, no.  When we saw her dig into her slice of chocolate cake after finishing her cream-filled Napoleon, we got the picture.

Since we, on the other hand, decided to have food first, Jo ordered her dream dish: wiener schnitzel.  She had it last night at the Cafe Central and thought that that version was excellent.  The approach at Demel was even better. Perfectly light, but crunchy breading on a very thin, but still tender and succulent, piece of veal. It filled the plate. On the side were small dishes of German potato salad and cucumber salad in sour cream/dill sauce. Both as perfect as you’d want. I went for the beef goulash over “dumplings,” which was really a large portion of spaetzle. The beef was perfectly tender. The sauce was nicely seasoned and not overly loaded with paprika. The spaetzle was just the right amount and texture. All was washed down with bright Austrian beer.

Then on to the pastries. After a stroll to the pastry display cases we had to make the tough decision to narrow it down to just two.  One choice was the cream-filled Napoleon we saw consumed with gusto at the next table.  The other choice was a slice of a strawberry “tart” that was also mostly cream on top of a thin and delicate crust. It all tasted so fresh and light. I fear, however, the lightness disguises some pretty hefty dose of calories. But, so what? It was worth it.

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