Autumn 2021. In theory we could travel to other continents, but destinations we had in mind such as Japan or the United Kingdom were impossible to plan ahead. Instead we organised a rail trip to Eastern Europe, travelling to Berlin, Gdańsk, Wrocław, Karlovy Vary, Pilsen, Bratislava, Poprad, Vienna, Linz and Salzburg. By travelling to Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Austria, we explore an area which was in the (not too distant) past bonded together by the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and by Austria-Hungary.
Schönbrunn Palace or Schloss Schönbrunn was the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers, located in Hietzing near Vienna. The name Schönbrunn (meaning ‘beautiful spring’) has its roots in an artesian well from which water was consumed by the court.
The 1,441-room Rococo palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historic monuments in the country. The history of the palace and its vast gardens spans over 300 years, reflecting the changing tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs. It has been a major tourist attraction since the mid-1950s.
As a landmark, it is as important as Versailles to France or Buckingham Palace to the United Kingdom. Schönbrunn is inevitably linked to the story of Emperor Francis Joseph I‘s wife Empress Elisabeth, née Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria. She’s better known as Sissi from the films. But actually her nickname was spelled Sisi with one S.
In 1569, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased a large floodplain of the Wien river beneath a hill, situated between Meidling and Hietzing. The former owner, in 1548, had erected a mansion called Katterburg. The emperor ordered the area to be fenced and put game there such as pheasants, ducks, deer and boar, in order for it to serve as the court’s recreational hunting ground. In a small separate part of the area, ‘exotic’ birds such as turkeys and peafowl were kept. Fishponds were also built.
During the next century, the area was used as a hunting and recreation ground. Eleonora Gonzaga, who loved hunting, spent much time there and was bequeathed the area as her widow’s residence after the death of her husband, Ferdinand II.
From 1638 to 1643, she added a palace to the Katterburg mansion, while in 1642 came the first mention of the name Schönbrunn on an invoice.
The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodelled during the 1740–50s during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa who received the estate as a wedding gift. Francis I commissioned the redecoration of the palace exterior in the neoclassical style as it appears today.
Francis Joseph or Franz Josef, the longest-reigning emperor of Austria, was born at Schönbrunn and spent a great deal of his life there. He died there, at the age of 86, on 21 November 1916. Following the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy in November 1918, the palace became the property of the newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum.
- The Grand Tour of Schönbrunn.
- Sisi Museum, with the Imperial Apartments and the Silver Collection, at the Hofburg in central Vienna.
- Vienna Furniture Museum.
- Schloss Hof Estate, with Schloss Niederweiden.
You cannot take photos or film during the tour. It’s an Austrian disease, so it seems. Although here I understand. In non-COVID-19 times you want to manage the human wiener sausage better and taking photos slows the digestive process down.
We warmly recommend the Grand Tour. You see interesting rooms and halls the regular tour does not. Look out for Empress Zita‘s bathroom
The audioguide is okay. Not the best, but not too much yapping.
Don’t forget to visit the park. There are gardens by Jean Trehet, a disciple of André Le Notre. There’s the Neptune Fountain and the Gloriette. And much more.
2021 Rail Tour of Imperial Europe
- POTSDAM 2021 | Schloss Sanssouci.
- 1945 Potsdam Conference’s Cecilienhof Palace.
- Potsdam 2021.
- REVIEW | InterContinental Berlin.
- BERLIN 2021 | Pergamon, ‘Das Panorama’.
- BERLIN 2021 | Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace.
- BERLIN 2021 | The Bundestag in the Reichstag.
- Berlin 2021.
- By train from Berlin to Gdansk via Szczecin.
- Stopover in Szczecin.
- REVIEW | Restauracja Ritz in Gdańsk.
- REVIEW | Holiday Inn Gdansk.
- GDAŃSK | Museum of the Second World War.
- GDAŃSK | European Solidarity Centre or Europejskie Centrum Solidarności.
- A walk through Gdańsk.
- Gdańsk 2021.
- POLAND | PKP Intercity Gdansk to Wroclaw via Warsaw.
- Wrocław Museum of Architecture.
- The Dwarfs of Wrocław.
- Poland 2021.
- By train from Wroclaw to Karlovy Vary.
- Karlovy Vary.
- REVIEW | Hotel Imperial Karlovy Vary.
- Czechia’s Great Spa Town of Europe Františkovy Lázně.
- CZECHIA | Pilsen Historical Underground Tunnels.
- CZECHIA | Pilsner Urquell Brewery Tour.
- CZECHIA | Pilsen.
- CZECHIA 2021 | Cheb and its castle.
- Hotel room for one.
- By train from Karlovy Vary to Prague via Pilsen.
- Czechia 2021.
- RegioJet from Prague to Bratislava.
- Bratislava Castle.
- REVIEW | Crowne Plaza Bratislava.
- Bratislava on a rainy Monday.
- ZSSK Fast Train Tatran from Bratislava to Strba.
- The Tatra rack and electric Railway from Strba via Strbske Pleso to Poprad tatry.
- SLOVAKIA | AquaCity Poprad.
- REVIEW | Hotel Seasons AquaCity Poprad.
- Slovakia 2021.
- Poprad – Bratislava – Vienna with ZSSK’s intercity train.
- VIENNA | Restaurant Steirereck.
- REVIEW | InterContinental Wien.