Saturday, January 24, 2015

150 Years of Vienna's Ringstrasse: Important Palaces

So, 2014 has ended and with it, all of The Great War exhibits that I so enjoyed. This year brings the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, one of Austria's least favorite movies (though they love the tourism dollars); Vienna serving as host for Eurovision; and the 150th anniversary of the Ringstrasse.

Vienna's Ringstrasse (Ring Road) stretches for approximately 5 kilometers around the historic center of the city. When commissioned by Emperor Franz Josef in 1865, it was the largest municipal project of its time. In between the important buildings constructed, the subject of a later post, the wealthy built their palaces. There are more than 800 buildings lining the Ringstrasse, but do not fear: most are just your run-of-the-mill Baroque and Renaissance structures that didn't make the "most important" cut.

This is the entrance to the Vienna Economic Chambers. It is neither an "important building" nor a "beautiful palace," but I admired both the entrance and the main staircase and thought to share them with you.

Palais Epstein. It was built for the wealthy industrialist Gustav Ritter von Epstein, and over history served an administrative function for the Third Reich and the Soviet headquarters between 1945 and 1955. It lies adjacent to Parliament and now serves an as auxiliary building.
The Palais Dumba, home to another wealthy industrialist, once held a grand library that was destroyed during WWII.
The stunning Palais of Archduke Wilhelm Franz, who was at the time the Grand Deutschmeister of the Teutonic Knights. The palais served as the seat of the Viennese SS from 1938-1945, and is now home to the OPEC Fund for International Development. I took a peek inside, but there is not much to see from the security gate. Tours of the interior are available for groups, so I am rounding up friends for a future visit.

Another diversion. Vienna was once a walled city, and a remnant remains in the foreground of Palais Coburg, now a luxury hotel once nicknamed Spargelburg because the columns resemble stalks of asparagus. Oh, those wacky neoclassicists.
Some of the palaces have been converted to luxury hotels.

This is the former palace of the Archduke Ludwig Viktor, Kaiser Franz Josef's little brother, apparently quite the troublemaker in his time. Eventually the Kaiser banished Ludwig to the countryside because of a "mysterious escapade."
This is Ludwig. He's quite the hooligan.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The Palais Todesco sits adjacent to the Vienna State Opera, and was built for the Baroness Sophie von Todesco, who established a prominent salon for the arts in her little home.
Lastly, this pretty pink palais housed the Salon of Berta Zuckerhandl for intellectuals and artists. It is now home to Cafe Landtmann, a longstanding Viennese cafe so full of itself that it charges visitors for tap water. 

Swine Dining in a Slovakian Dacha

Well no, not quite, because the Russian dacha culture is as unique as the Austrian's Gem├╝tlichkeit, but being in the foothills of the Little Carpathian Mountains, and with the snow falling, made us feel as if we were on a holiday. And after a week of highs and lows on both home fronts, this food holiday was just what I needed.

The occasion was a Pig Feast. No, not Pig Fest, but Pig Feast. We arrived a little before midday; by this time the other half of this lovely, lovely, piggie was being prepped for lunch.
We were not alone in our enthusiasm for swine dining.
 The brave opted for fresh roast pork outside.

We, not so much. At a reserved table and delivered by white-gloved waitstaff, the first course: an aspic of roast pork and onions with homemade vinegar. Oh. My. Growing up, this dish was very casually prepared in a square pan, with wedges cut like brownies. This was much prettier.
The main? Roast pork with potatoes and sauerkraut, of course. We have never been served a meal by white-gloved wait staff, and nor have we ever, ever had roast anything that tasted as good as this roast. Ever. After lunch we wandered a bit outdoors to walk off our meal, catching snowflakes on our tongues, smelling the pine trees, and otherwise savoring the experience.
Because meat grinders and red wine pair well. 

The rosy glow was from the gusty wintry weather, and not at all from the glasses of Frankovka Modra we enjoyed with lunch.
 We explored the little village below the dacha before heading home, too. An unremarkable rural and slightly shabby Central European village with the requisite town gate, and three churches.

By good fortune we missed a turn heading home and spotted a small store selling Majolika pottery. I am not a big fan of the patterned pottery, and the kindly shopkeeper spoke only Slovak and Russian, so we resorted to the other universal language of "Euros and Pointing" so that I could bring this gorgeous tall water pitcher home instead.
Is that not a beautiful color combination?
To end, a bunker along the way home that I had not spotted on previous border crossings. And just when I thought my day could not get any better.