I am condensing these days because Covid aftereffects have slowed us down so much—me, in particular—that we didn’t do much.
On Day 23, Tom and I visited the Hofburg Palace, the imperial residence of the Habsburgs. I have said that once you’ve seen one palace, you’ve seen them all, and this is true of the Hofburg as well. It is actually a massive complex of palace buildings, but we only chose to see the Imperial Residences, which includes the silver and china collection, the Sissi Museum, and the residence of Sissi and Franz Joseph, the last rulers of the 600+ year reign of the Hapsburgs.
We entered the silver and china collection because someone directed us there, but not because we wanted to see it. It was rather like the funhouse of mirrors. We went around and around the exhibit, which was an endless collection of plates, candelabras, épèrgnes, bowls, basins, tableware, flasks, vases, etc., etc., including a monstrous gold centerpiece used for state dinners that must have been made in multiple pieces, as it went on forever. They don’t let you near that one, but you can see it through windows. We could not find our way out for the longest time, but finally emerged and entered the Sissi Museum.
Sissi was the Empress Elisabeth, known as Sissi all her life. She married her first cousin Emperor Franz Joseph when she was 16. She reminded me of Princess Diana. She was raised in a carefree atmosphere in Bavaria, but the Habsburg court was rigidly bound with traditions and rules that she found constraining in the extreme. The marriage was happy at first, and Franz Joseph seemed to adore her without ceasing, but after the birth of their last child, Sissi began spending all her time away from court. Under the excuse of ill health (some of which was caused by her poor diet and beauty regimen), she traveled widely, returning only rarely to Vienna.
The couple’s only son and heir, Crown Prince Rudolf, committed murder-suicide with his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary von Vetsera. This is referred to as the Meyerling incident as it took place at his hunting lodge in Meyerling. Apparently Rudolf shot the poor child, then sat there for several hours before offing himself.
The worst part of this was that Mary wasn’t even his first choice for this grisly double suicide. Rudolf had first asked a courtesan, who had the good sense to to turn him down. Mary, whom he had seduced and who was, at 17, emotionally vulnerable, agreed. Rudolf had syphillis, which he generously shared with his wife, Princess Stephanie, who became sterile. No doubt that explains in part his choices in life and in death. Poor Mary was disinterred several times over the years by people trying to prove various theories of what “actually” happened.
After this scandal, Sissi wore black for the rest of her life. She wrote a great deal of self-pitying poetry about how she longed for the sea, or wanted to escape on the wings of a seagull, and no one ever born could understand her. The original drama queen.
However, no one deserved to die as Sissi did. She was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva. She wasn’t even his first choice; he was in Geneva to kill the Duke of Orlėans.
As far as I could tell, Sissi spent most of her time on herself: her ankle-length hair took two to three hours to arrange and an entire day to wash. She starved and exercised to maintain her 20-inch waist and developed a horror of fat women which she passed on to her daughter, who was terrified when she met Queen Victoria—a royal not known for her wasp-waist. Sissy’s obsession with remaining a great beauty is reminiscent of some modern women I could think of. She refused to have photographs or portraits taken after the age of 30.
On the plus side, she defied the court and her in-laws in many—most—ways, maintaining her independence and doing things her way. A narcissistic woman, but strong and independent.
Franz Joseph, in contrast, was a hard-working and dutiful monarch who tried very hard to be the epitome of a good king. He was under the impression that he was abstemious, eschewing all luxury by, for instance, sleeping in a plain, iron bed. This, of course, was nonsense, as anyone touring his private apartments could see. I think he was well-meaning, though.
Anyway, when Franz Joseph died, that was the end of the Habsburg empire. Not entirely the end of the Habsburgs, though. They spread their DNA throughout Europe through intermarriage with other royal families. Queen Elizabeth II, for example, is a descendent of this vast royal family.
Once we got through this museum, Tom and I were wiped out. I had hoped to see the Imperial Treasury, but we just couldn’t do it. We stopped for lunch at the first outdoor cafe we came to, and it was absolutely delicious. Then we headed back to the Daniel Hotel for a five-hour nap, dinner, and then slept for 10.5 hours. This post-Covid thing is not to be taken lightly.
On Day 24, we walked to the botanical garden next door, where we couldn’t read the signs, then had water and ice cream at the Belvedere Palace cafe. Then back to the Daniel for more napping. I feel I missed most of Vienna, thanks to the aftermath of Covid, but we have learned not to push it. We checked out and flew to Amsterdam, where we will depart for home.
We are staying at the Linden Hotel. We checked in very late, around 11:30 pm. Exhausted, we fell into bed. I thought we would instantly be asleep, but the noise was ridiculous. We could hear every person who walked by, talking. Dogs barked, motorcycles roared, trunks rumbled by, and people kept it up until well after midnight. It sounded like they were all in our room. We finally fell asleep after all the late-night revealers went home. In the (late) morning when we got up, we discovered that all the windows in our pie-shaped corner room were wide open. We had been too exhausted to notice. We are hoping to have a better sleep our second night. It is a Sunday, too, so there should be fewer partiers out there.
On Day 25, we walked to an outdoor cafe for breakfast, then went to an apothecary to get some meds for Tom, who is still coughing. Then back to the hotel for more napping.
I think this concludes my recording of our journey. We are too exhausted to do much, and tomorrow, we fly home. I can hardly wait. My advice to anyone recovering from Covid is not to push yourself as we did at first, thinking it was just like a five-day cold. Rest. Rest. And more rest. This stuff is serious, and I am hoping I don’t experience this deep fatigue for too long. It is truly debilitating.