Vienna, Austria

Our second day in Vienna began slightly earlier to maximize the opportunity to see as much as possible of this magnificent European city. We began by driving to the outskirts of the city for a visit to the Schönbrunn Palace. This large palace, formerly the Emperor’s summer residence, lies on the southern bank of the River Wien, its beautiful park extending up the hill to the light and elegant Gloriette. The palace and its park, covering an area just under one square mile, were in open country until engulfed by the advancing city streets in the 19th century.

Emperor Ferdinand acquired the original house in 1569. In 1694 J. B. Fischer von Erlach the Elder designed a new palace, which would have surpassed Versailles in magnificence. His more modest alternative plan, however, was adopted, with work beginning in 1695 and the palace was habitable by 1700, though still unfinished. Between the years 1744 and 1749 it was altered and decorated for Maria Theresa by Nicolo Paccassi, who toned down the monumental dignity of the earlier plan. Thereafter the palace became one of the Empress’s favorite residences. In 1805 and 1809 Napoleon stayed at the Schönbrunn. The palace was also a favorite residence of the Emperor Francis Joseph, who was born and also died in the palace.

The palace has over 1400 rooms and our tour today would take in just a few of those many rooms. We finished our morning at the Imperial Court Bakery sampling Emperor Franz Josef’s favorite dessert: apfelstrudel accompanied with coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Thus fortified we made our way to the Marionette Theater for a short performance of Mozart’s “Eine Kline Nachtmusik” before returning to the River Cloud for lunch.

Our afternoon was an opportunity to spend some unstructured free time exploring Vienna. A small group of us visited the Jugendstil glasshouse called the Orangerie located at the far end of the Schönbrunn Palace gardens. More than a dozen different species of orchids decorated corners of the Palm House where over 4,000 different exotic plants are grown. On this day of blue skies the 45,000 panes of glass shown, casting lovely shadows on the larger palms and ferns dripping in the mists created in this unusual greenhouse. It was first designed in 1880, completed in 1882 and opened ceremoniously by Emperor France Joseph on June 19th of that year.

Other explorations of Vienna included the Spanish Riding School, the Belveldere and the Albertina museums, both home to vast and impressive art collections. There was time for a café, coffee and excellent people watching before returning to the River Cloud for evening recap, cocktail hour and the customary sharing of the day’s stories over dinner.