Alpine Adventure- part VII
Fri. July 22, 2016- Vienna (Wien) Austria
We were up and rolling by 7:30 A.M. for our visit to the Hapsburg Summer Palace at Schonbroen. Gabby, a local tour guide accompanied us.
Set in a grand entry plaza, the three-story center building of the palace was daubed a pale yellow and looked somewhat Georgian in appearance. Symmetrical wings, for servants and guests, stretched out on either side of the grand dual staircase. The palaces has over 1400 rooms but only 40 are open for public viewing.W.W.II bomb damage had been slight and quickly repaired.
We lined up for the inside tour and were suitably impressed. This wasn’t one dreamer’s attempt to replicate Versailles. This was Versailles on steroids, the Imperial seat of the Hapsburgs Dynasty. Wooden parquet floors stretched throughout and were framed by the flocked and gilded wallpaper, accentuated by grand crystal chandeliers throughout. In nearly every room stood a seven-foot porcelain and hand painted furnace, though none were ever used here in summer. !8th century portraits of all the Hapsburgs smiled down on us in rubenesque fashion. Marie Antoinette looked well dresses and fashionable, like her relatives. You couldn’t yet imagine her stretched out over the guillotine waiting to be beheaded.
Blue velvet drapes adorned the master bedroom. In spite of all the grandeur, the place looked comfortable to live in, Padded divans, sofas and chairs were set near card tables and fire places, like the residents would return soon to take up their lives. The grand ballroom was meant to impress. Vast ceiling murals, crystal chandeliers above a marble floor and bedecked with oil portraits of various royals, gave utterance to who lived here. Khrushchev and Kennedy had met here in the 1960’s discussing various international matters, as had other European leaders. The palace had been in the spotlight of history for generations. The Hapsburg dynasty is a complicated mishmash of Spanish, German, Austrian and other royal ties, all intermarried. World war I, as in most of Europe, was more of a family feud that sectarian warfare.
At the rear of the palace, vast formal gardens stretched several hundred yards to a hillside. At the center and crest of the hill is seated a victory arch celebrating a defeat over Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the many wars that raged here over the last few centuries. We enjoyed strolling through the grounds and admiring the castle in the brilliant sunshine of an 85 degrees Austrian day. By 10 A.M, the enormous forecourt, of the palace, was jammed with thousands of tourist waiting for their timed tours. Some three million souls a year visit here. Achonbroen is like the Vatican. Get here early. After reveling in the imperial elegance of the palace, we drove out of Wien, headed south and west.
The scenery in SW Austria is gentle and bucolic. Rolling green hills, with patches of cultivated farmland, are crossed by small streams and dotted with Alpine A-Frames of very old farms. Off in the distance, the Alps always loomed in an ominous presence. We passed by the famous “Baden Spa” on the Schweikert (stinky) River. The area is laced with sulfur deposits that make the spa famous and the water malodorous. High on a far hillside we saw the Lichtenstein castle, owned by the principality that lies some distance from here on the Swiss border. It reminds you always that the currents of history swirl around you in these regions.
We were headed to PIBER, home of an ancient monastery, a Schloss (castle) and most importantly, the home of the famed Lippanzer Horses. The actual Spanish Riding School is located in Vienna, but the stud farm is here in Piber. A local celebration had commandeered the castle, so we ambled around the horse farm. A young trainer, with perfect English, informed us of the school and the horses. Some 240 selected mares are bred to stallions here in a carefully monitored genetic program. Forty of the pure-bred Lippanzers are born yearly. Their coats are all coal black at birth. Their coats turn white after age three to four years. After a three year stay here, the horses are sent to the riding school for several years of training in dressage and wagon pulling. At about age twelve years, they start performing and do so for another 12 years before they are retired to the farm. Some horses live into their late thirties. The farm had originated in the 1800’s as a stud farm for the Austrian cavalry regiments.
Late afternoon founds us cruising through the Austrian countryside, towards the picturesque town of Villach, founded some 700 years ago. It was here that we started hearing about the mass shootings in Munich which we had just left two days before. I am always mindful, in situations like this, of the classic novel by Thornton Wilder, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” When your number is up, it's up! Fate plays no favorites.
We arrived in Villach and checked into the Holiday Inn on Europlaz. It was early yet, so I wrote up my notes, had a decent glass of cabernet and we readied for dinner. We were dining at the hotel tonight. It was a decent buffet and we continued to sit with differing people and enjoy the exchange.
After dinner we walked through town to the river bridge and enjoyed the warm evening in the Austrian countryside. Later, we packed up our gear, finished reading our books and readied for an early departure the following morning.
Joseph Xavier Martin