Schloss Schonbrunn, a huge (there are 1,441 rooms!) 17th Century palace.
See, I wasn’t kidding – even standing at the grounds entrance gate a good distance away from the castle, I still couldn’t get it all in! Thus, I turn to Google Images to do so instead:
Inside, you can’t take photographs (which is a shame, but understandable), but you can pick up an audio guide...or a booklet. No prizes for guessing which one I opted for! But just as my experience with the Mona Lisa in Paris (see my moan here – http://debspenpot.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/paris-post-une-moan-lisa-and-thats-not.html ), today’s preference for technology left me cold. During my visit, I only spotted one other person with the booklet – everyone else was using the (to be fair, quiet and non-static) audio guides.
While I appreciate the technological advances society has made, over-reliance on technology is, to me, prescriptive and prohibitive to real, actual experience. You can’t take the audio guide home as a souvenir, as I have the booklet. You listen to someone else telling you the history before you even take in each room and its contents (because, as soon as you see the number relevant to that part of the tour, you press the keys on the guide), rather than discover and react to your own first impressions, then read up on it after. You are a sheep following a well-trodden path as you listen to pre-recorded directions and look at what you’re told to look at, oblivious to the other sheep and the potential of non-sheep (like me!) standing around you as you bump into them without excusing yourself, rather than being an individual (definitely me!), spotting what interests you, sourcing your own intrigue...and your physical space!
Am I a relic, then, wanting to be present and to actively engage in my experiences, rather than to hold a device which assimilates this for me?!
Anyhoo, I’m getting away from my experience of Schonbrunn...!
So, rant aside (sorry!), there I am, wandering around this amazing stately palace, taking in the sights and noting thoughts and reactions on my (free!) booklet (and yes, I realise that I’m a special case – non-writers wouldn’t be doing this!). What struck me the most, then? Well, the splendour and sumptuousness of the interior, without doubt – royalty really is another world! I’ve googled the interior and copy a couple of the images here, so you can see what I mean:
This is a ceramic heater - much more elaborate yet less cosy than one of our fireplaces! - in the Porcelain Room, which is decorated with "213 pen-and-ink drawings which were executed by Franz Stephan and some of his children." Talented family!
On a people-level, I was impressed with the character of the Empress Elisabeth, who born on 24th December 1837. At 16 years old she married Emperor Franz Joseph, and was known to her family as ‘Sisi’.
Sisi was, so the guide booklet says, “...a self-confident woman. She led an independent life, travelling extensively...she kept up her extensive correspondence and wrote her diaries and her poetry...” She seems to have been a bit of a feminist and certainly an individual, and I regret now that I didn’t pick up the book about her in the gift shop, as I’d like to know more about her and her writings. Ah, well, another visit sometime beckons!
The room which made the most impact was the one in which I felt, like a shiver over my skin, the stately and poignant atmosphere – and this was the Vieux-Laque Room. Remodelled in 1765 (so before Sisi’s reign) at Maria Theresa’s instruction, it forms a memorial to her beloved late husband, Franz Stephan.
The guide booklet says, “Black lacquer panels from Peking were set into the walnut wainscoting and embellished with gold frames.” I found the decor to be truly moving; not overly melancholic but suitably sober, with lavish embellishment to mark the greatness of the man she lost. After her own death, a note she’d written was found in her prayer book. In it, Maria Theresa “...had noted the length of her happy marriage, right down to the precise number of hours.”
Moving outside, then, the grounds of Schonbrunn are vast, incorporating gardens, an orangery, Roman ruins, and even...a zoo! Unfortunately, during my tour of the palace interior, it began to rain heavily and, though I waited almost an hour, it refused let up, so I didn’t get to see the gardens or the zoo (which I was really looking forward to!).
Other things that I didn’t have time to do in Vienna include seeing an opera, riding in a horse-drawn carriage, or heading outside the city into the mountains...
...all of which means I shall just have to go back, of course! I’d better get saving those pennies...!