I will start the second post on Vienna with a few tips about Austria that I’ve learned so far. The first is that Google Maps is useless for public transit. For some reason, it isn’t properly linked in with Austrian transit and gave no info for Vienna (and incorrect info for Salzburg). You’re better off using the local sites directly (which have an English option); for Vienna it’s Wiener Lienen (click link to go directly to the site).
My second tip is to ALWAYS check transit passes or city passes. For Vienna, I arrived late, so bought a 48 hour pass and thought one or two additional tickets my last day would be cheaper. As it turns out, I should have just bought the 72 hour pass still – a day pass was cheaper than 2 tickets and the 72 hour pass would have still saved me a couple Euro! I find that the transit passes are nearly always worth the money, but the city passes vary – some provide discounts only and some offer free entry to virtually everything, so check to see if you’ll get your money’s worth (I didn’t buy one for Vienna). The Schloss was the only paid site I ended up visiting and you receive a timed ticket.
Schloss Schönbrunn is a former summer palace of the Habsburg monarchy. It started in 1548 as Katterburg and was purchased by the “Holy Roman Emperor” Maximillian II, which is when it joined the royal family. It didn’t take on its current appearance until Maria Theresa, who is mentioned frequently in the tour, received it as a wedding gift and changed it in the 1740-50s. She was also the only female Empress of Austria. It doesn’t look much like a French palace, but does resemble the Prussian and Swabian palaces that I saw, probably because all three areas belonged to the “Holy Roman Empire” in the past.
When I went through, I knew nothing of the history and the tour wasn’t very helpful with that. I think this is true of many tourist sites though – they assume you have a base level knowledge of the history, which I clearly don’t. My American education didn’t include a lot of detail on European history, outside of those pesky wars they got into (and we saved them from) and the evil English monarchy, who we overthrew.
The tour talked a lot about Maria Theresa and “Sisi,” but it wasn’t clear to me who they were or who was alive first. Now, I’ve learned that Maria Theresa was alive first because I looked up more myself online. She was also the mother of Marie Antoinette! Since you cannot take photos inside, here is a stock photo from wikipedia:
It was interesting to visit and the hour-long tour (there’s a short option too) gives a lot of details about the rooms and, interestingly, paints a rather unflattering picture of royal marriage. Of Maria Theresa’s 11 children who survived to adulthood, only her favorite daughter was allowed to marry for love. Maria Theresa herself had been very in love with her husband, but I also learned online that he was perhaps not as enthusiastic and had many affairs. In addition to updating the palace to it’s look today, Maria Theresa also had the Gloriana built, which can be seen on the hill below:
The other famous ruler mentioned often was Franz Joseph I, who married Elisabeth “Sisi” when she was 16. He loved her very much, but she was quoted as saying some rather unflattering things about marriage. Apparently, she was shy and introverted by nature, so court life didn’t suit her and her mother-in-law was unpleasant to deal with. Her husband was also king of Hungary and Sisi found she liked Hungary better, so after the suicide of her only son, she spent a great deal of time alone there. Sisi had a rather tragic life since her 3 oldest children were removed from her care by her mother-in-law, her oldest daughter died as a toddler and, about 10 years after her son’s death, she was assassinated herself.
One of the advantages of spending time with friends is the possibility of a full picture (no selfie)! While hard to tell in a winter coat, all of the healthy food options in France have resulted in losing 12 lbs in less than 3 months. It’s crazy to really try and struggle in the US, but eat whatever sounds good in France and lose easily.
As for the family who started World War I, it turns out that the Austrian assassination that triggered the war was the nephew of Franz Joseph I, who became his heir when his son died. Franz Joseph I was actually relieved that his nephew, who he disliked, was no longer his heir; however, Austria now had an excuse to declare war on Serbia and try to get part of the Balkans back. Nobody expected all of the various allies to jump into the fray, but they did! Hard to believe that something so tragic started that way.
While the palace tour was good, it was really the grounds that I liked the best. In fact, I returned with my camera to see if I could get a few good photos. The weather really cooperated with me and there was a lovely golden glow when I was there, which faded just as I was leaving. Photography really is about being in the right place at the right time . . . of course, that’s tough at tourist sites that are crawling with people!
It was great to spend some time with Jen and her family, although Michael joked that he didn’t understand why I did it during one chaotic moment. I come from a big family though, so I’m used to kid chaos! It’s a small trade-off to share moments with people, which can be a nice break from solo travel.
And there will actually be a part 3 for Vienna! When traveling, it’s a challenge to share the differences in culture, food and the historical “people context,” which is what I find really fascinating in history, and still keep things short. A few of my regular readers have told me they really enjoy the historical background, so I’ll keep providing it! For me, I enjoy when I learn enough to make me curious, then I start putting all of the pieces together – “oh, that’s the assassination that triggered the war . . . wait, but nobody liked him? How on earth did WWI start over a guy that nobody liked?!?!?”