October 15th, 2006

Vienna day 4; Cafe Society

We had decided to make Friday a special dining day, so didn't schdedule ourselves any other major events. Instead, we had made a reservation for luncheon at the Cafe Sacher, in the posh Sacher Hotel, which is home to the famous Sachertorte. In the morning, we explored a neighborhood to the north of our regular path, in search of the Doll and Toy Museum. Vienna is a city of museums, proabley a consequence of having so much history, and there seems to be an infinite number of small specialized museums in addition to the large institutions. There is a Clock Museum, a Fire Department Museum, a Police Museum, and on and on. The smaller ones tend ot have quirky hours, so some we wanted to see, we never got to. After taking a wrong turning and going the long way around yet another massive church, we found the Doll and Toy Museum, only to find it with a rather permamanent looking "Closed" sign on the door. The expedition was not a total loss however, as it took us through more fascinating streets, and we found quite a good family run bakery shop, where we bought some sustaining snacks.

Another museum we went by but didn't get to go into was the Teutonic Order Museum, which is part of the headquarters of that order and next door to both the Order Church and the Figarohaus, which is where Mozart stayed while composing "The Marriage of Figaro." There are numerous memorial plaques and open houses for composers in Vienna, but about the most that can be said for them is "Mozart slept here" since very few artifacts associated with the great composers remain. The Teutonic Order Musueum is frustratingly open only two hours a day at varying times, and we couldn't hit it when we weren't doing something with a higher priority.

The Hotel Sacher is across an intersection from the Statsoper, and we got there a bit early to reconnoitre the Opera for entrances, etc., and noticed that guided tours were available. We decided to stop back after lunch.

There was a line for the Cafe Sacher, but our reservations got us immediate seating in the small but elegant dining room. This is just one of the eating establishments associated with the Hotel Sacher, including the Sacher Stube (or bar) and the Restaurant Anna Sacher, which is the high-end dining room. The Cafe is more for light lunches and of course, desserts, but we found pleanty to interest us on the menu, including a nicely written history of the Hotel and some of its more famous characters. We also noted that "Sacher" has become quite a brand, since besides the Sachertorte (TM) (others must say "Sacher torte"), they also have their own coffee blend and Sacher liquor on the menu. I ordered the beef gulasch with a cup of the Sacher coffee, and Georgie tried the schnitzel sampler plate. Both were very good. The gulasch had a rich red paprika sauce and was very tender and flavorful. Time for dessert, and of course a piece of the Sachertorte had to be sampled, along with a piece of the pastry of the day from the dessert tray that also looked tempting.

Now Sachertorte is one of those simple yet subtle things. It is basically a firm, but not heavy, chocolate cake in two thin layers. Apricot jam has been spread lightlty beween the layers, and the whole covered in a poured chocolate icing. We found it to be very good and not worthy of the scorn heaped on it by some guidebooks, who we think are expecting to get some kind of gooey "death-by-chocolate" concoction. Also, the city is full of knock-offs: you can buy them at just about any of the candy or pastry shops as well, which are in all probability not as good.

After lunch, we did go over and take the Opera house tour, which gave us a good look at where we would be Saturday night, as well as a talk on the history of the House, including its remarkable reconstruction after having been devastated by an Allied bombing raid in 1945. we were gnashing our teeth upon hearing that the Statsoper season is ten months long, and they mount sixty productions in a year! (By contrast, the Metropolitan Opera of New York is doing twenty-five productions this year; the Lyric Opera of Chicago, eight; and the Florentine Opera of Milwaukee, three.) Of course it heps that they have a huge government subsidy: they sell 97% of all their available tickets and still only cover 47% of the cost. It must be nice to have a government that values arts that highly. There is a considerable comittment to making the arts accessible. Unlike American houses, the Statsoper and other venues have "standing room" areas, which tickets are sold as cheaply as two and a half Euros staring eighty minutes before showtime, and frequenty sell out. Imagine seeing a major opera production for about $4.00? (The cheapest Lyric tickets are $31.00--). On the other hand, even with a rail to lean on, a standing ticket for a five-hour opera like "Die Meistersinger" is a serious commitment on the audience's part--.

Down the street from the Opera house is the Secession, an art gallery and meeting place founded during the early 1900's as a forum for alternative art and thought. Besides being an active gallery space still, it houses the "Beethoven" frieze by Gustav Klimt. Klimt has become another Vienna icon, and Klimt reproductions are very visible. This frieze, which gives a visual interpretation of the themes of Bettoven's 9th Symphony, "Ode to Joy," was intended as a temporary decoration for another artist's event, but was fortunately preserved. The freize exhibits Klimt's trademark stylization and use of gold and jewel tones and is very impressive and interesting to see in the real. i was facinated by the display of sketches for the work which showed that Klimt was a very skillful draughtsman who could have been a successful portratist had he been so inclined.

Vienna, day 4, evening, Mozart drank here--.

Getting back into our hotel neighborhood, we determined to try the Greischenbeisl for evening meal, since they had leberknodelsuppe on the menu, and we just wanted something light, having had the main meal of the day at noon. Georgie had a craving to try the local liver dumpling soup, which she likes, despite the fact that she doesn't care for liver in any other form--. Being Friday night the "beisl" was busy, and had a large group coming in late, but agreed to seat us if we would be in and out in an hour, which we easily agreed to.

The Greichenbeisel (The Greek Tavern) is arguably one of the most historic spots in Vienna, and is just across Fleischmarket from our alley. The structure is said to incorporate the last standing portion of the ancient city walls that weathered at least two Turkish sieges. The foundations are Roman. The name comes from Greek traders who came up the Danube from the Black Sea to buy wool and hides (Wool Seller Street is nearby) and stopped over there. One of the upper rooms, now known as the "Mark Twain room" has autographs on the wall by many famous individuals including Mozart and mark Twain. (Evidently, they call ithe the Twain room since many places in Vienna have associations with Mozart and other composers, but only one documentably with Mark Twain--.) Also, the palce claims to have been the location where the architypal Germanic song tune "Ach, du leiber Augustine" was composed and/or first performed, and "Augustine" the supposed wandering minstrel is the establishement mascot.

Despite the fact that we had agreed to be in and out quickly, the staff was a bit nonplussed that we only ordered soup, Georgie the leberknodelsuppe, and me the "frittatensuppe", a local specialty wherein noodlea are replaced by a crepe cut into strips in the clear savory broth. Georgie's bowl had a simialrly succulent broth surrounding a single liver dumpling about the size of a billard ball, which was very rich and good. We had time to order some desserts, trying their renditions of strudel and palatschinken and finding them very good as well. After dinner, we took a short turn around the streets for the air, and tehn back to the hotel to rest and plan the coming day.

Vienna Day 5, The Belvidere

Our first goal on Saturday morning was the Belvidere, the palatial home of Price Eugene of Savoy. Pricne Eugene is a very intersting character, and we will be looking up more about him. François-Eugène, Prince of Savoy-Carignan (October 18, 1663 – April 24, 1736), known as Prinz Eugen von Savoyen in German, was arguably the greatest general to serve the Habsburgs. He was the fifth son of Prince Eugène-Maurice of Savoy-Carignano, Comte de Soissons, grandson to Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, and Olympia Mancini, niece to the powerful Cardinal Mazarin. Eugene, as he was none, sought a comission in the French Army under Louis the 14th, but was not offered a command commensurate with his rank, and so went into the service of the Austrains under Emperor Leopold I, who were heavily engarged against the Turks. Eugene went on to distingush himself agains the Turks, against the French in the War of the Spanish Succession, and again against the Turks. A Field Marshal by the time he was twenty-five, he built his permamant residence, the Belvidere in Vienna's Third District, suburban at the time.

The Belvider consists of two palaces, the Lower Belvidere, and the Upper Belvidere, which is separated by the Lower by about half a mile of formal gardens. The Prince built the Lower first as a residence and then the Upper, which he used primarily for entertaining. While the Upper Belvidere has a splendid main hall, unusually decorated with mural so an ostrich and a hyena, most of the eamining rooms are very stark. By contrast, the Lower Belvedere is much more intereting, intimate, and cozy if a palace can be said to be cozy. The tromp-le-oeil ceilings, fantasy paintwork and intricate stonework make ti the architectual gem of the two, although it is outwardly less imposing.

like most of the publicly open palaces, the Belvedere also houses a n=musum collection, in this case consisting of Medieval ("Gothic") and Baroque art in the Lower and "Modern" Art in Upper. I found the Belvedie's collection the most enjoyable and lively of any of the art galleries we visited. The Baroque collection has numerous fine portraits, including the David "Napoleon" revioulsy mentioned, and is enlivened by a collection of grotesque and humorus busts by sculptor Franz Xavier Messerschmit. The Upper collection includes a great number of "Biedermeyer" period pieces by Waldmueller and others, which I like for their naturalism and realism, showing the people and places of the country as they then were. Upper Belvedere also has one of the better Klimt collections, including "The Kiss", possibly his best known work, and several others, plus works by Egon Schiele, and sculptures by Rodin, among many others.