Chillin’ with the Habsburgs

Let’s talk ANTM—America’s Next Top Model, of course.  If Prague were an ANTM contestant, she’d be the edgy girl who, when it comes to makeover time, gets feminine, wavy extensions put in over the jet-black, spiky do she came in with (how will she overcome such a drastic change of identity???).

Vienna is the classic, aristocratic beauty.  Her cheekbones cut glass, her pores are so tiny they make you want to die, and she knows how to take a good photo from the first challenge…doesn’t everybody?  Okay, moving past the way-too-specific metaphor, Vienna is gorgeous.  Had it not come after Prague on the trip, I think I would’ve liked it even more, but whaddayagonnado?

We spent the first day in the center of Vienna, starting in Stephansplatz and making our way to the Hofburg Palace (Habsburg hangout #1), where we saw more cutlery (and chamber pots) than I ever really cared to see.  The audio tour through the Imperial Silver Collection really got me in touch with my aristocratic side.  “The 30-metre Milan Centerpiece is clearly superior to its predecessor, the Old French Centerpiece, in its gold carvings and pristine mirror plateaus.”  I recently considered buying a shirt that was dry clean only.

The ticket also included admission to the Sisi Museum, a more relaxed exhibit dedicated to the myth surrounding Elisabeth, the reclusive wife of Emperor Franz Josef whose popularity rose drastically after she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist.  This was my favorite part of the visit.  Elisabeth was a weird lady.  She was completely obsessed with her looks and weighed herself every day, adhering to crazy diets in order to stay below 103 pounds (She was 5’8”.  If that’s not shocking to you, don’t talk to me, you skinny bitch).

By the end of the visit, I felt pretty bad for Franz Josef.  After the Sisi Museum, we went through the royal apartments.  Franz Josef’s study proudly displays several portraits of his wife, including a big one right in front of the desk that served as the 19th century equivalent of desktop wallpaper.  Elisabeth’s study features an exercise machine of her own invention and a set of rings mounted in the doorway.  Right in the next room is the bathtub where she periodically sat for a full day while attendants washed her knee-length hair in a mixture of cognac and egg yolk.  Something just doesn’t add up here…

We rounded out the first day with a trip to the Leopold Museum, best known for its Egon Schiele collection.  Habsburgs in the morning, tortured Austrian expressionist in the afternoon.  Instead of trying to describe Schiele’s work, how about I just let it speak for itself?


I had never even heard of Schiele before this trip, but it turns out he did some incredible work, especially considering he died in 1918.

We spent the last full day in Vienna at Schloss Schonbrunn, the Habsburgs’ summer residence.  Just think Pride & Prejudice, but multiply Darcy’s mansion by about twenty.  Many of the gardens had already been dug up for winter, but we were just in time for beautiful fall color. It was a nice last day of an exhausting vacation, which came off surprisingly well (if I do say so myself).


7 thoughts on “Chillin’ with the Habsburgs

  1. Love it, esp the desktop wallpaper comment, the “skinny bitch,” and the pics from the summer home. ANTM metaphor also well-done! hahaha

    Sounds like a fabulous trip!!

    Lurve you, Maggle.

  2. “It was built, as it turns out, by that stupendously miserable creature Elisabeth, Empress of Austria — Sisi, as everyone called her with a mixture of affection, pity and disdain. Hopelessly adrift on dreams of Homer, Sisi called her palace the Achilleon.

    “Sisi was in love with loveliness — her own mostly, to be frank, which was the talk of Europe, but also Corfu’s orange-scented beauty, aglow with drifts of golden broom when she first saw it as a young woman. But she had little eye for beauty of more cultivated kinds. In 1887, at the age of fifty, she took a perfectly nice old Venetian villa, perched idyllically on the edge of an escarpment with views across the town and the glittering straits to Albania, and turned it into this lumpish little ‘Schloss’ with classical pretensions. ‘At last I’ve come home,’ she said, and in a sense she had.

    “It was the perfect place for an unhappy empress to wait for death, gracefully, amidst olives and myrtles, and that’s why she had it built — God knows, she didn’t want to die in Vienna surrounded by all those lunatics her family swarmed with, her nagging mother-in-law and her sour Hungarian ladies-in-waiting. In the event, however, even dying proved boring and she moved disconsolately on. Out strolling on the quay in Geneva one afternoon some years later, she was knifed to death by an Italian anarchist. Just a tiny puncture with a stiletto — she hardly bled a drop.

    “As you wander through the Achilleon’s coldly vulgar rooms, you can picture the amber-eyed empress mooching about absently, vaporously, a volume of Heine in one hand (Heine’s ghost came to her in the night), a fine lace shawl across her shoulders, one of her emerald-studded belts around her tiny waist, wondering if she’d really come to rest at last after a lifetime of wandering, looking for … what, exactly? Tranquility? Solitude? Certainly not love — Sisi craved adoration, not love. I’m tempted to suggest insignificance.

    “In this white palace it was, a hundred years ago, as age crept up on her, that she bathed in warm seawater poured from gilded taps, here she lay in wet sheets impregnated with seaweed to slim her waist, here she spent hours of a morning dressing her famous auburn hair, here she lay on her leopard-skin couch to be oiled and pummelled by her masseuse … all in vain. ‘As fresh and unspoilt as a green, half-opened almond,’ she had been when she’d first met Franz Joseph in the Austrian mountains. Or so her smitten husband-to-be wrote of her. Well, in Vienna’s desiccating air she’d dried and cracked in no time at all, and by the time she took up residence here in the Achilleon it was too late for unguents and deep massages. She’d become that worst, that most unqueenly of things — spry for her age. And her only companion was an over-scented local hunchback, her tutor in Greek, Christomanos. Together this unregal pair would tramp at a furious pace up and down the hills through the olive-groves, discussing Homer and the futility of everything. The peasants round about called her ‘the locomotive.’

    “But I must say, after staring at her palace from my window for several weeks, that I’ve grown rather fond of Sisi.”

    Robert Dessaix

  3. You know, Maggie, no one really comments on a blog post quite like Chris, do they? Actually, I am glad to have learned inadvertently of the wet sheets impregnated with seaweed. Seems like the perfect preparation routine for Thanksgiving.

  4. So I love Schiele and always have. I have a self portrait of his hanging over my bed. That’s not a deterrent for potential men in anyway…Anyway! I love this post! And i’m happy you seem to be having the time of your life on the other side of the pond!!! love you lots midge! love you lots!

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